I’m in the Netherlands now! I took a train from Paris on Saturday and met up with Becca, who flew there to join me. We’re staying at a cute little hostel/hotel in the town of Utrecht, a 30-minute train ride south of Amsterdam. Yesterday, we visited the Amsterdam Palace, the Amsterdam Museum, took a canal cruise, and visited the Anne Frank House. Let’s look at those one at a time.
The Royal Palace of Amsterdam was built in 1648 to be a town hall, and remained in that function until 1808 when Louis Napoleon (brother of emperor Napoleon Bonaparte) moved to town and made it his royal residence. Many of the civic offices were turned into bedrooms and salons (like a sitting room or parlor). However, the French Empire soon came to an end and in 1813 the palace came into the hands of the William I of the House of Orange, who promised to return the building to its original public use. Today, the palace usually functions as a museum but also is used to host public functions and some government events. The audio tour was very informative as well as a bit quirky. Overall a wonderful tour. Here are some picture highlights:
Mars and Venus looking at each other adoringly from adjacent walls.
The architect put a lot of thought into the sculptures and images around the hall. This image of Icarus appears above the bankruptcy chamber, warning citizens not to be rash with their investments. Icarus, as you may know, was able to fly with the wings his father made for him out of feathers and beeswax, but he got a little too confident in his abilities and flew too close to the sun. The heat from the sun caused his wings to melt and he, consequently, fell to his death.
That’s what I call a chandelier!
The piano in this room is from Louis Napoleon’s reign
Atlas holds up the globe in the central hallway. Amsterdam considered itself to be the center of the world in the 1600s (it is true that they were the center for a lot of world trade as well as a safe haven for all sorts of people who faced persecution elsewhere).
This museum offered a pretty detailed account of the history of Amaterdam, beginning when it was founded in the 13th century up to present-day (I think the last year on the timeline was 2011). We learned that the city was built on swampland, so the buildings are held up and stabilized by long poles driven into the ground. Initially a fishing village, Amsterdam grew rapidly through the 1500s to become a vital center for world trade in the 1600s. It gained a reputation for being accepting of all people; many people came to Amsterdam to escape persecution or just to find better work, and the city was happy to take any and all of them as long as it meant continued prosperity and economic development.
Canal boat tour
We have a 48-hour tourist pass called the “I amsterdam” card (free entrance to several museums as well as public transportation!) and with it we were able to take a canal boat cruise. It was nice to sit for a while and let all the facts about Amsterdam’s history settle in our brains, and we got a different view of the city. We saw plenty of houseboats, which are more popular because regular housing in Amsterdam is not sufficient for the number of people who live there. We also got a great view of the St Nicholas Catholic church near Centraal Station:
The canal tour dropped us off in front of our last stop for day 1 in Amsterdam: the Anne Frank House. I don’t have photos to share because they’re not allowed in the main part of the museum, but I’ll tell you that it’s a very moving experience to walk through the house and read about Anne’s time there. Her father, Otto Frank, is the only member of the family who survived the war, and in creating the museum he wanted to keep the restored building virtually empty. All the rooms were stripped of furniture and other belongings after the family was taken away, and the emptiness is a reminder of the void left by those who did not come home. Anne’s diary was saved by a friend, who had been bringing them food and supplies while they were in hiding, and saw it before everything else was removed. She saved it, hoping to return it to Anne, but gave it to Otto when they learned that Anne was not coming home. He waited a while before reading it, then eventually decided to get it published, and soon it became an international bestseller.
That’s Amsterdam in a day. More from the Netherlands in the week ahead.