Sunday, September 7, 2008

Amsterdam (Part 1: Intro)

On Saturday Laura and I visited the infamous city of Amsterdam, which is the capital and largest city in The Netherlands despite the fact that the government is actually situated in The Hague. This was the first of what will surely be many trips because there is much to see and do in Amsterdam (beyond just hashish and hookers).

We arrived by train to Amsterdam Centraal railway station and the sight of the largest assemblage of bicycles we had ever seen - a three story parking garage housing upwards of 5000 "fiets." From the train station, there is also a pretty good view of Amsterdam, shown below.

View from Amsterdam Centraal.

We started our sightseeing in Dam Square. Among the dam sights in the dam square was the Royal Palace, built in 1648 and used today for official state functions. If you look closely at the bottom of the picture, you will see a signage for the Dutch Homeless Cup, which is a rather bizarre effort to give homeless people something to do other than beg for money. Why playing soccer is better than getting a real job is far beyond my grasp, and surely my first thought at this sight would have been "those silly Dutch" - if not for the fact that I recently read Gainesville, FL is trying to start a team and that there is a Homeless World Cup.

The Royal Palace and Dutch Homeless Cup.

The National Monument, a tall white obelisk, also stands in Dam Square as a World War II memorial. The Nazis occupied Amsterdam from 1940-1945; Anne Frank and her family were in hiding there from 1942-1944. Laura and I saved most of the World War II history sights, such as Anne Frank's house, for a future visit.

The National Monument (World War II memorial).

We also visited the Begijnhof, a quiet courtyard surrounded by historic buildings which has largely sheltered women since 1636. According to Rick Steve's Amsterdam guide, the estrogen in the area reached critical mass during the Crusades, when most of Amsterdam's men went off and got themselves killed.
The Begijnhof.

It turns out a bunch of famous artists were Dutch. We mentioned M.C. Escher last week but Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh were also Dutch and they are proud of it. We visited two museums in Amsterdam: the Rijksmuseum, which featured a ton of Rembrandt's work; and the van Gogh Museum. I was astonished to read that for as famous as he is, van Gogh first put brush to canvas in 1882 and died only 9 years later of two self-inflicted bullet wounds to the chest.

Laura in the statue garden of the Rijksmuseum.

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