Friday 6 May 2016
Arriving in London via Hong Kong, after 24 hours 25 minutes in the air, we took the 15 minute ride on the Heathrow Express to Paddington station. A lady dismounting the train wasn’t quite fast enough! Her bag was still inside as the door closed with just the handle protruding from the door.
A short tube ride and a short walk had us at the very comfortable Charlotte St Hotel.
We spent the evening dining at a local Italian Restaurant with Evan and Kristin, friends from NZ.
Saturday 7 May 2016
We enjoyed a fantastic breakfast at the hotel.
Sylvia has been here before. I was surprised by the extent of the flat land, green fields and waterways. The taxi from the runway was quite long, at one stage crossing a motorway before proceeding through an area with a bus depot on one side and houses on the other. For a while it was like the pilot was going to drop us off in town!
An efficient train and tram ride got us to within 300 meters of the Banks Mansion Hotel, situated on the banks of the Herengracht (canal) in the centre of town.
Picturesque towers that once served to help guard the city still stand, long since surrounded by the ever expanding city.
Some lean out at quite an angle up to the first floor then go straight up for the floors above. Were they built like that to gain a few extra square meters on the upper floors or did the builder have a problem with his plumb bob? With a lot of these buildings being three to six hundred years old there are many theories. This is truly the Venice of the north but with much better maintained buildings.
The tour took us past the house of Ann Frank, the church where Rembrandt is buried, and along past the central Railway station. Bicycles are stacked up everywhere here including under bridges and on wharfs. Apparently over eight hundred thousand are in town – more bikes than people. Most are old and upright and speed amongst the pedestrians and cars with what seems like an unchallenged right of way. About ten percent of these are stolen each year.
Sunday 8 May
We took a stroll to the Vondel Park where people ran, strolled and even slept on the grass, enjoying the sunshine. Tulip gardens stood out in various parts of the park, some on islands in the waterways.
Next was a visit to the WWII Resistance Museum, which was established in the eighties. Well laid out, it told the story of the Dutch early surrender after Rotterdam was bombed five days into the German invasion and how various factions of the community sided with the Germans, others set up a resistance movement and assisted in hiding people who were destined for concentration camps. There is also a section on the role of the Dutch East Indies role during the Pacific war.
Another short stroll took is to the Canal Museum. This is a very interactive museum more about the building and expansion of Amsterdam than the canals. They paid for the expansion of both the city and its fortification walls by selling off lots of land in advance.
Interestingly piles for the houses were driven 15 meters through the soft marshy land into the sand below. All these were driven by hand using a suspended block and many ropes off the main rope with twenty plus people hauling up and dropping a heavy weight on the wooden pile. The top of the piles are left buried under ground with a footing on top to prevent air getting to the piles and causing rot.
Monday 9 January
We took up Anne’s suggestion and hired a couple of upright bikes. With Sylvia in the lead and navigating we made our way across town to the Amstel River. There is a wide sealed bike and sometimes car road that runs alongside the river.
Reaching the picturesque town of Oudekerk aan de Amstel we cross the river and head back down the other side.
At midday Sylvia heads to the airport for her flight Montpellier. I get on the Inter City train (not very fast) for the 7 hour trip to Metz in eastern France. All the way to Brussels the land is dead flat. Every bit of land that is spare is growing something or being prepared to grow something. Grass has been cut and hay bailed.
The traditional Dutch windmills are few. Towering above the land in many places are the big power generating mills.