Centraal Station        Debbie and I have returned from our little vacation in Amsterdam. We spent five days there from March 23 to the 27 in 2002. We had a great time, as usual, and I took a ton of photos, as usual.

        We left from Newark Airport on Friday night and arrived at Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam, on Saturday. Schiphol has only one terminal, but the place is clean, modern, efficient and very tourist-friendly. From the airport, we took a train into the city. The train took us to the Centraal Station in Amsterdam (at right) and only took 20 minutes. All trains and trams start here in the Centraal Station. How convenient to have a train that goes to Amsterdam right at the airport terminal. Another thing about the trains in the Netherlands, they are very clean, very cheap and very on time (you know who liked that last part). A train into Amsterdam runs every 15 minutes. While we Zandaam train stationwere in the airport, we bought Amsterdam Passes for only €29 each. This turned out to be a big bargain for us. Along with a three-day tram pass, it had free admission to museums, canal rides and discounts on many other things. They use Euros here now
(€ is the symbol for euros), the Dutch Guilder has been almost completely replaced. Some places still give the price in both, but we never saw a guilder while we were there. The Euro dollar is worth around 90 cents (in 2002), so it is pretty close to the American dollar. Once you arrive at the Centraal Station, you can take numerous, and many times colorful, trams throughout the city (if you look closely you see the Mercedes Benz logo on the front of the red tram). There is one tram ride that goesAmsterdam trams around the city and is good to see the sights.

        We were staying at the Inntel Amsterdam Zaandam Hotel, which is in Zaandam, a city about 6 miles northwest of Amsterdam across the North Sea Canal, about 10 minutes by train. The picture above-left is of one of the trains in the Zaandam train station that we took into Amsterdam each day. After arriving at the Centraal Centraal Station towerStation, we had to switch trains to Zaandam. We found the hotel easily enough; it is right next to the station. The room was very clean and pleasant. After a little unpacking we went back to the train station and bought tickets to back to Amsterdam. The tickets were cheap; a round-trip for the two of us was only € 6,60.

        The architecture of the Centraal Station is very interesting. This is the major train station in Amsterdam (a frontal picture is at the top of the webpage). The Neo-Renaissance red-brick railway station was designed by PJH Cuypers, who who designed the Rijksmuseum (National Museum), and was opened in 1889. The Dutch created three artificial islands, first driving 8,600 wooden piles into the water, to build the station on. It cuts off the view to the water, but makes an incredible entranceway to the city. 1,400 trains come through this station everyday. On the left is a picture of one of the two towers. It looks like a clock, but it's not. It's actually a weathervane (It's between the Z or zuiden and the O or oosten - so the wind is from the south-east). The west tower (left in top picture) has the weathervane and the east tower (right in top picture) has the clock. 

canalboat in Amsterdam                Since this was our first trip to Amsterdam, we decided to get acclimated to the city by taking a canal boat ride. Amsterdam is a city of canals. It has been called the "Venice of the North." The sky was beautiful, but it was a little cool and breezy so we took our jackets. They took a good picture of us getting onto the canal boat in the Damrak (below). It was a one-hour canal ride. The boat was glass enclosed so we were warm, almost hot. We went clockwise around the city canals (at right). We didn't know the city very well, so we didn't know where we were. After we returned to the Damrak, we started to walk around the city.

Frank & Debbie on canalboat        The next evening, we would took another canal boat ride, however, this one was free because of the Amsterdam Pass. It was getting dark so it was nice to travel on the canal at twilight. Many of the canal bridges are lit up.

        After our first canal trip, we followed the tourists and headed to the Oude Zijde (Old side) section of the city. We headed to the Oude Kerk (Old Church) and quickly realized that we had unknowingly wandered into the Red Light District. The streets was full of glass doors, with red neon lights above them, with scantily dressed prostitutes smiling at the people passing by. At night, they would have black lights in their booths, which gave their white outfits (what little there was of them) a glow in the dark effect. These booths extend around the Oude Kerk. There were sex shops and strange fountains, which even I couldn’t take a picture of.

      Debbie was not impressed with the local "Urinoir" for men. It was a green metal booth on the street, next to the canal near the Oude Kerk, that men could just go in and relieve themselves into a drain in the street. Needless to say, Debbie thought this was the most disgusting and non-hygienic thing she has ever seen. Needless too say, Amsterdam is a different city then we had ever experienced.
flagFlag of Amsterdam: The three Xs -St. Andrew's crosses- represent the three virtues of the city; Valor, Resolute and Merciful. A popular tradition also links the X's to the three threats to the city, Water, Fire and Pestilence.


De Oude Kerk

       In the center of the Oude Zijde (Old City) is a large cathedral called De Oude Kerk or "Old Church." The origins of De Oude Kerk date from the early 13th century when a wooden church was built here in an old cemetery on the bank of the Amstel river. The large Gothic church here today, with little houses clinging to it's churchsides, was built later in the 14th century. It wasn't built all at once, but started as a small stone church and was enlarged over the years. It has grown from a single-aisled church into a large basilica. The large spire, which can be seen from all over Amsterdam, was finished in 1566. A few years later, during the Alteration in 1578 (when the Calvinist took over Amsterdam and kicked the Catholics out), the paintings and statues were destroyed. Luckily the ceilings and stained glass windows were not touched. A 47-bell carillon was added in 1658. There is an incredible organ inside (if you look closely at the picture, you can see the green 'Urinoir' on the lower right-hand side).

        Like most churches of Europe, it has more then it's share of tombs inside. This includes four famous 16th century Dutch admirals (Van der Zaan, Sweers, van der Hulst and Schey), Rembrandt's first wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, and Kiliaen wan Ransselaer (1586 to 1643). wan Ransselaer was a Dutch Patroon (Patroons were rich landowners in America) owning the largest and most lucrative fur trading area in New Netherlands, the upper Hudson valley near Albany, New York. He owned the land, but never actually came to America. Ransselaer stayed in Amsterdam and had his son to run it for him (his decedent Stephen van Ransselaer founded Ransselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.) Apparently, at one time everyone of any importance in Amsterdam was buried beneath the stone floor of the Oude Kerk. Between 1300 and when they stopped in 1865, over 10,000 people were buried here.

       Another interesting aspect of the church, apart from the fact that it is in the middle of the Red Light District,  are the 17th and 18th century houses built against the outside walls of the church. Above the former sacristy is a red door with an inscription above it. It's a warning for those contemplating marriage that says, "Marry in haste, repent at leisure." The church itself was in serious danger of collapsing and had to be closed from 1951 to 1979 for restorations.

De Nieuwe Kerk

Nieuwe Kerk       In the Dam and next to the Koninklijk Paleis is De Nieuwe Kerk or "New Church." The Nieuwe Kerk was built in the late 14th century and became Amsterdam's second church as the population of the city outgrew the Oude Kerk. It was partly destroyed and rebuilt again after several fires. During the Alteration in 1578, it was stripped  of it's valuables. In 1645, fire damaged everything but the facade and walls. Vying for importance with the Town Hall & Royal Palace, the Nieuwe Kerk lost out in its rivalry with the Town Hall because it was denied a tower by the city's magistrate. Inside the church, the pulpit is the focal point, not the altar, due to the Protestant belief that the sermon is more important then anything else. The pulpit, which is very elaborate for a Dutch Protestant church, took 15 years to carve. What appears to be the side of the church (photo at right) is actually the main entrance.

        Ceremonies for succession to the throne are held here. The queens of the Netherlands have all been crowned here; Wilhelmina in 1898,  Juliana in 1948 and the present queen, Beatrix was coronated here in 1980.
On February 2, 2002, the wedding between the Prince Willem-Alexander of Orange (the Queen's oldest son and heir to the throne) and Princess Máxima of Argentina took place here. Admiral and conqueror of the Spanish Armada in the 17th century and who died in battle against the French at Messina in 1676, Michiel de Ruyter, is buried here in an elaborate tomb in the right side of the church. Other famous Dutch admirals, van Galen and van Kinsbergen, are also buried here.

De Zuiderkerk

De Zuiderkerk       About two blocks south of the Nieuwmarkt in the University District within the Old City is De Zuiderkerk or "Southern Church." This church was also designed by Hendrick de Keyser. Construction started in 1603 and was completed in 1611. The Renaissance-style Zuiderkerk was the first Calvinist church to open in Amsterdam after the Alteration. It is a pseudo-basilica, six bays long, with Tuscan columns, timber barrel vaults and dormers. The white spire, red clock and onion dome are prominent landmarks in Amsterdam. In 1929, the Zuiderkerk closed it's doors as a church. In 1988, it was restored De Zuiderkerkand re-opened as a public housing exhibition center. You can go inside and climb the tower here also, but again we didn't. They have a carillon that plays on Sundays between 4 and 5 in the afternoon (which you see in the picture at left). The church here is partially hidden in the photo on the right by some canal houses on the Raamgracht.

       Architect Hendrick de Keyser is buried in the Zuiderkerk. In 1921, a memorial stone was placed on top of his tomb to commemorate the three-hundredth anniversary of his death. Richard Clyfton is also buried here. He was the Separatist pastor of Babworth's All Saints' Parish Church in England who started the Pilgrim movement. Among his congregation was future Pilgrim leader and governor of Plymouth, Massachusetts, William Bradford. Since the church was deconsecrated, they built a new floor over top of the original church floor, so the grave markers cannot be seen.

De Westerkerk

De Westerkerk       On the Western side of Amsterdam is De Westerkerk or "Western Church." It has the Prince's Canal (De Prinsengracht) in front of it and the Emperor’s Canal (De Keizergracht) behind it with open space on either side of it. The church has the tallest tower in Amsterdam at 272 feet high, topped by the Imperial Crown of Maximilian of Austria, and the longest nave of any Dutch Protestant church. The Westerkerk was designed by Hendrick de Keyser, who died in 1621, a year after work began. It was completed in 1631. The hour bell is the heaviest in Amsterdam and weighs more than 7 tons. There is also a carillon of 50 bells. The photo was taken from across the Keizergracht.

         On October 8th, 1669, the painter Rembrandt van Rijn was buried inside the church in a rental grave. However, no one knows exactly where he was buried. In 1906, three hundred years after Rembrandt's birth, a plaque was unveiled on one of the pillars in the north aisle, not far from the place where Rembrandt’s son Titus was buried.

Westerkerk tower        On March 10, 1966, Princess Beatrix and German diplomat Claus von Amsberg were married in the Westerkerk. Queen Beatrix became the Queen of The Netherlands in 1980 for those who didn't know they still had a monarchy (her husband, Prince Claus, passed away in 2002). The Queen lives in Noordeinde Palace in The Hague.

        If you climb to the top of the spire (at left), which we didn't, you can get some great views of the city. The church is only a few houses away from the Anne Frank Haus. This was the church, whose bells Anne Frank describes in her diary. Outside of the church, there is a small statue of Anne Frank. The time we were there, the church was closed so we didn't get a chance to go inside.

De Krijtberg

On Saturday night, we went to Palm Sunday Mass at The Krijtberg (The Chalk Hill). It's a Jesuit Church that is officially known as Franciscus Xaveriuskerk (St. Francis Xavier Church) on the Singel near the Spui Plaza. Many old churches in Amsterdam are known by their nicknames rather than by their patron saint. These churches were in hiding from the time of the Reformation when the city council became dominated by Calvinists in 1578 until the midst of the 19th century. It was quite normal to hear one Catholic say to another: 'I went to church last Sunday in The Parrot, but I think I will go next week to The Tree or The Dove.' Since house numbers are a fairly recent invention, most addresses were known by names, rather than by street and house number. The hidden churches took their name from their address, and kept these names till today.

Krijtberg        De Krijtberg started out as a hidden church in the early 17th century and took the recently canonized Jesuit Francis Xavier as their patron. The protestant city council knew about the more than fifteen hidden Catholic churches, but as long as money was paid they would let the Catholics have their churches. When the Catholics obtained religious freedom in the 19th century they built a new church. The current church, squeezed between small canal houses along the Singelgracht, is a tall twin-steepled Neo-Gothic building constructed in 1884. In side the church there are statues to St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius are either side of the high altar. In the 1970's, as Catholic attendance dropped, the Krijtberg was going to be demolished but was saved by parishioners who raised enough money for the churches renovation which was still going on when we were there. The photo of the church is from the Spui Plaza across the Singel.

        Palm Sunday Mass took about an hour and a half. It was in Dutch so it wasn’t easy to follow. Lack of sleep and the heavy use of incense were having its effect on us and we struggled to keep awake. The church pews were not very comfortable either. They were very high, someone who shall remain nameless couldn’t reach the floor with her feet.

A Short History of Amsterdam

logo             Amsterdam was founded as a fishing village around the thirteenth century. In 1264, a dam was built on the river Amstel, hence its original name Amstelredam, dam on the river Amstel. 11 years later, Floris V, the Count of Holland, grants Amstelredam freedom from tolls when crossing his land. In 1296, Floris, who had become fairly powerful, was murdered by his rival, Lord Gijsbrecht van Amstel IV (this would result in the downfall and exile of the van Amstel family).

             The early "Amsterdammers" acquired a talent for trade and from the fourteenth century onwards trade with the Hanseatic cities flourished. Medieval Amsterdam's chief exports were herring and beer. It was during this time that early forms of canal houses started to appear. Amsterdam gained city rights in 1301, granted by Guy van Henegouwen, the Bishop of Utrecht, but this was only a confirmation of the earlier rights given to the city by the Lords of Aemstel.

            Amsterdam suffers two devastating fires in the 15th century and by 1480 built a defensive wall around the city (after the second fire, which destroyed three-fourths of the city) the city passed a law against using wood for buildings). In 1482, control of the Netherlands goes to future Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian. In 1506, the Netherlands passes under the rule of Charles (who will later become the king of Spain and then the Holy Roman Emperor). By this time, the population of Amsterdam reaches 12,000 and it had become the main power in the province of Holland.

            Anabaptists (Protestants) demonstrate in Dam Square in 1535 which leads to mass executions and 40 years of religious turmoil. The Edict of Blood in 1550 decreed death for all Protestants. In 1555, Charles V abdicates and King Philip II of Spain (the one who married Queen Mary of England and later sent the Spanish Armada to invade England) becomes ruler of the Netherlands. By this time, the population of Amsterdam reaches 30,000.

            As the Protestant Reformation swept through Northern Europe, Calvinism started to grow in power in the Netherlands. As a counter-measure, Philip II sent the Duke of Alva, nicknamed the Iron Duke, to the Netherlands with an army to suppress the Protestants. The Dutch resented Spanish taxes and feared the methods of the Spanish Inquisition. This resentment fueled Dutch protests about their rights, liberties and religious toleration upon which their wealth from free trade depended.
William of Orange            By the late 16th century, the Dutch War of Independence, under Protestant William of Orange (great-grandfather of King William III of England who would be assassinated in the town of Delft in 1584), began against the Spanish which would develop into the 80 Years' War. Although originally on the Spanish side, Amsterdam switched sides in 1578. The Calvinists kicked out the Catholics in what has been called "The Alteration." However, freedom of religion was re-instated, a very positive move at the time. Despite the attempts by the Calvinists, Amsterdam remained a Roman Catholic city, and Roman Catholicism remains the major religion in the city to this day.

            With the help of Queen Elizabeth of England, the Netherlands, led by William's son, Maurice, was able to become free of Spanish rule by 1604. However, as religious wars continued to rage throughout Europe, many people were looking for a place of refuge where they would not be condemned for their religion. Wealthy Jewish families from Spain and Portugal, prosperous merchants from Antwerp, fleeing the destruction and ransacking of their city by the Spanish and the Huguenots from France all sought refuge in Amsterdam.

Rembrandt            At the end of the 16th century, Amsterdam experiences a Golden Age (1585-1672). Some of the most important historic buildings date back to this period, like the town hall in the Dam Square (now the Royal Palace), the Westerkerk, Zuiderkerk as well as a large number of canal houses. In 1613, Amsterdam started work on it's triple rings of large canals, bordered by beautiful houses, around the city. With this, the city expanded as Amsterdam became the most important port in the world and an international center for banking. Amsterdam's ships sailed to North America, Indonesia, Brazil and Africa, building an impressive empire in the process. A Dutch settlement in the Americas was called, "New Amsterdam" (modern New York City). The Dutch navy would fight the British and the French for control of the seas. Amsterdam also saw a growth in the arts. Famous painter Rembrandt van Rijn (at left) lived and worked in Amsterdam.

             The 18th and 19th century saw a decline in the prosperity of Amsterdam (though they did remain wealthy). Wars against England and France eventually took their toll on the city and trade was lost to London. Nevertheless, Amsterdam managed to consolidate its prosperity from 1672 to 1795, despite the predicament the Republic was in. Amsterdam remained a major staple market and managed to retain its position as the financial center of Europe.

            However, in 1795 the government of the patrician oligarchies was overthrown and the old Republic ceased to exist. Soon the French, under Napoleon, occupied the country. From 1795 to 1813, Amsterdam suffered badly from the economic recession, reflected by the stagnation of the city. Many houses were vacant and some even collapsed for lack of maintenance.

            At the end of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution reached Amsterdam. New waterways to the sea and to the river Rhine river improved communication with the rest of Europe and the world. Amsterdam got a new lease on life, but never reached the same supremacy as before. Amsterdam started to develop the area beyond the Singelgracht.

             World War I did not affect Amsterdam as the Netherlands remained neutral, although trade and industry suffered. Between the wars, the Dutch built a dike separating the Zuider Zee from the North Sea, thus creating the Ijsselmeer. Because of this, rivers flow into the Ijsselmeer, so the waters to the east of Amsterdam are no longer salt water, but fresh water that can be used for drinking.

Anne Frank            During World War II, German troops occupied the city on May 15, 1940. During the Nazi occupation, about 100,000 Jewish people were deported from Amsterdam to concentration camps, almost completely wiping out the Jewish community in the city. Anne Frank (at right) and her family were among those people deported. Before the war, Amsterdam was the world's center for the diamond trade. Since this trade was mostly in the hands of Jewish businessmen and craftsmen, the diamond trade almost disappeared. Amsterdam is still important, but the city of Antwerp in Belgium is the main center for diamonds today. By September of 1944, the people of Amsterdam hoped for liberation, as the German armies were on the run after their defeat in Normandy and Allied troops had crossed into Holland. However, the Allies defeat at Arnhem (depicted in the movie A Bridge Too Far) forced the people of Amsterdam to endure a harsh winter of depravation. The Germans held on to the Netherlands as the Allies bypassed them and pushed into Germany. It wasn't until May 7, 1945, (two weeks after Hitler's suicide) that Canadian troops entered Amsterdam liberating it from the Nazi's.

            The sixties and seventies put Amsterdam back on the map, for reasons other than trade. The tolerance of soft drugs made the city a popular destination for hippies, and the squatting of unoccupied buildings became widespread. Riots and clashes with the police were frequent. In 1980, while Queen Beatrix was crowned the new Queen of The Netherlands in the Nieuwe Kerk on Dam square, a group of protesters outside fought against the police.

             Today, Amsterdam is the largest city in The Netherlands with 800,000 people. Although the seat of government is at Den Haag (The Hague), Amsterdam is still the nominal capital.  It is situated on low-lying ground at the confluence of the Amstel and the Ij rivers near the Ijsselmeer. Amsterdam, like much of Holland, is below sea level. 


        As I mentioned earlier, Amsterdam is ringed with canals. Originally they were built to move goods around, earning Amsterdam the nickname, "Venice of the North." Today, they are a great way to view the city. When the winters are very cold and the canals freeze, the Dutch put on their ice skates and travel around the canals just like Hans Brinker (though this is very rare). As you can see, It wasn't cold enough for us to do that either. The canals get dirty and are flushed out at night on a regular basis.
       In 1613 work was begun on the three major canals (Herengracht, Keizersgracht, and Prinsengracht). City planners designed a system in which the large canals were connected by smaller transverse canals to make travel by water more convenient throughout Amsterdam. They decided that the wealthy would live facing the major canals, while the connecting canals were set aside for the middle and lower classes. Thus began the popular comparison with Venice (though Amsterdam has more canals than the Italian city).
       Amsterdam's canals have another added feature, hundreds of bridges! These bridges, some as old as the canals, provide a glimpse into Amsterdam's past, and make wonderful observation points for photographing the city or just watching the boats go by. At night, many of the bridges are lit up and make a beautiful reflections in the water.

Amsterdam canal De PRINSENGRACHT (The Prince's Canal)
De PRINSENGRACHT (The Prince's Canal)
Now, that's careful parking!
(Looking toward St. Nicolaasserk)

De BROUWERSGRACHT (The Brewers Canal) canal
De PRINSENGRACHT (The Prince's Canal) De BROUWERSGRACHT (The Brewers Canal)

canal canal
(Looking toward St. Nicolaasserk)
The shape of the canal house at right gives a strange illusion
De KEIZERSGRACHT (The Emperor's Canal)

        We continued exploring, we never realized that there are so many canals in Amsterdam. Almost every street has Debbie by the canalsa canal, especially in the Oude Zijde section. Four major canals ring the city (gracht is the Dutch word for canal). They are, extending out in order, the Gentleman’s Canal (De Herengracht), the Emperor’s Canal (De Keizergracht), the Prince’s Canal (De Prinsengracht - photo above) and the Singel. The Gentleman’s Canal is considered one of the prettiest. Almost every canal is full of house boats (there is a big housing shortage in Amsterdam).  There are also numerous smaller canals, of which the Brouwersgracht (The Brewers Canal - photo above) named after the many breweries that use to line the canal, the Bloemgracht (the Flower Canal), the Leliegracht and the Raamgracht near the Zuiderkerk (the first Calvinist Church in Amsterdam) are especially pleasant.

        Of course, along with the canals are a couple of thousand bridges. Some large for heavy traffic and some small for people and bikes only. Here is Debbie on one of the smaller bridges in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam car        Its fun to walk around the city, but you have to be careful. They have about a billion or so bicycles going in the city. The streets are narrow, so you have to be careful not to be run over by bicycles, cars or trams. Driving a car seems totally out of the question. The streets are very narrow and their is very little parking. However, some Amsterdammers do own and drive cars. Though as you can see from this picture, some of  the cars can be quite small. You can also see in the picture that there is not much of a railing between the road and the canal (here it is about four inches high) so it wouldn't take much to accidentally drive into a canal. We were told that it does happen on occasion.

Canal House in Amsterdam       The Netherlands is known for its unique architecture, and that architecture is best exemplified in its door framecanal houses. In a country where land is precious people squeeze themselves into every available space. Most of these buildings are less than 30-feet wide (you were taxed on the width of your home's facade) with three large windows. To make up for this shortfall, the Dutch learned to build up, and use steep narrow staircases to maximize space efficiency. Since you can't get furniture up those stairs, many of the houses are built to protrude, or lean over the street they face. At the top is a beam with a pulley so that large objects can be lifted in through the windows. The Dutch brought that space-saving sensibility with them to the New World when they founded New Amsterdam, which became New York. Large parts of New York City still have three- and four-storyAmsterdam door "brownstones" stacked next to each other like canal houses in their fatherland.

        Most of the canal houses were topped with gables. Gables come in many different styles and could be fairly ornate. Some serve practical purposes and can indicate a specific type of building, such as a warehouse. Others styles came and went with the fashions of the time.

       The building above-right, built in 1886, has an ornate step gable. They have walking tours along the canals where you can see some of the famous or the more decorative canal houses. Other aspects like doors and windows can also be very ornate. I love this carved wooden door on the left.

Magere Brug       Not too far from the Willet-Holthuysen Museum and the Rembrandtplein is the Magere Brug (bridge) over the Amstel River between the Keizersgracht and the Prinsengracht. Of Amsterdam's 1,280 or so bridges, the Magere Brug, or “Skinny Bridge” is the most famous. It is a traditional double-leaf, Dutch draw-bridge connecting the banks of the river Amstel. Approximately every twenty minutes, the bridge opens to let boats through. The original bridge was built in 1670 and was said to be so narrow that two people couldn't pass each other. As the traffic on Amstel increased, a wider bridge was built in 1871 to replace the old narrow one. At night, it is all lit up with lights.

Amsterdam Sports

Ajax logo              Like most places in the world, football (or soccer in America) is the top sport in Amsterdam. The main professional club is Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax or AFC Ajax.  The club is historically one of the top-10 football clubs in the world, and one of the three clubs that dominate Dutch football, the other two being Feyenoord Rotterdam and PSV Eindhoven. AFC Ajax is one of only four clubs to have won all three major European trophies at least once (the European Champions Cup, the European Cup Winners Cup and the UEFA Cup). They play in the KNVB or Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbal Bond (Royal Dutch Football Association). They are the most successful team in the league winning 29 titles (as of 2005). They wear white jerseys with a large horizontal bar down the front. They go by the nicknames "Godenzonen" (Sons of gods) or "Joden" (Jews). They play in the 51,859 seat Amsterdam ArenA which opened in 1996. The arena is also the home of the American football tear, Amsterdam Admirals. They even have an American fansite called Ajax USA.

                The club was founded in Amsterdam in 1900 in a bar on Kalverstraat. For a name, The founders chose a notorious and bold Greek warrior: Ajax. In 1934, Ajax moved to De Meer Stadion in east Amsterdam, where they would play until 1996. De Meer stadium was an unusually small stadium for such a large club, but the small stadium also created a cozy atmosphere. De Meer was demolished to make way for a housing development after Ajax moved to a new stadium in 1996 (sounds like Ebbetts Field).

                 Football season in the Netherlands runs from the beginning of August and ends at the beginning of May. There are 20 teams in the league. The team with the best record is considered the champion. Ajax has accomplished this 29 times. Three Dutch teams then get to compete in the UEFA Champions League (a prestigious championship of the most successful football clubs in Europe which was inaugurated in 1955). The KNVB championship team automatically goes while 2nd place plays 5th place and 3rd place plays 4th place, with the two winners going.

                 In 1957, Ajax qualified for their first European Cup (for-runner of the current UEFA Champions League), winning two games before being eliminated by Vasas SC of Budapest 4-0. They returned again in 1960-61 but were eliminated early by Fredrikstad FK of Norway. The late sixties saw a real emergence from Ajax. They qualified for the European Cup in 1966-67 losing in the quarter-finals to Dukla Prague. The following year, they lost in the 1st Round to powerhouse Real Madrid. In 1968-69, Ajax advanced all the way to the European Cup finals but lost to AC Milan 4-1 in Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid.

                Two years later during the early 1970's, AFC Ajax dominated European club football by winning the European Cup in 1971, 1972 and 1973 (they defeated Panathinaikos FC of Greece 2-0, FC Internazionale of Milan 2-0 and Juventus FC of Turin 1-0). The success had two main causes: the highly disciplined coaching by Rinus Michels (who developed the concept of Total Football or "Totaal Voelbal") and the genius of Johan Cruijff (often spelled Cruyff outside the Netherlands). Ajax string of championships ended in 1973-74 when they lost 2-0 to CSKA Sofia. Between 1978 and 1986, Ajax qualified for the European Cup five times.

               In 1995, after a nine year absence, they returned to the UEFA Champions League (they renamed it in 1992) and advanced all the way to the finals. In Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna, they defeated AC Milan 1-0 on a goal by Patrick Kluivert late in the game for their fourth championship. The following year, AFC Ajax again advanced to the finals only to lose in penalty kicks to Juventus FC of Turin. They qualified again in 1998-99.

               Ajax has qualified every year since 2001-02 (6 straight times) for a total of 23 times. In 2003, they advanced to the semi-finals before losing 3-2 to eventual winner AC Milan. In 2006-07, they lost in the Third Qualifying Round to F.C. Copenhagen.

                 The Ajax fans have the very remarkable tradition of using Jewish and Israeli symbols to express their allegiance. Regularly, the supporters wave large Star of David flags and scream Joden! Joden! ("Jews! Jews!") to fire up their team. Die-hard Ajax supporters call themselves "F-Siders" or "Joden" -- Dutch for "Jews" -- a nickname that reflects the team's and Amsterdam's Jewish roots. The nickname for Ajax fans dates back to before World War II, when Amsterdam was home to many of the Netherlands' 140,000 Jews and the Ajax stadium was located near a Jewish neighborhood. Most Dutch Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and little remains of Amsterdam's old Jewish quarter. But the tradition survived. Ajax currently has no Jewish players, the last player with Jewish roots being Daniel de Ridder.

The Dam

Dam Square        On Sunday, it was sunny with some clouds out, but still cool. We explored almost the entire city by foot. Just a five-minute walk down the Damrak from Centraal Station takes you into this jam-packed square, full of locals and tourists day and night, called The Dam. It was created in the 13th century when a dam was built across the river Amstel to prevent the Zuiderzee sea from flooding the city (the photo looks up the Damrak toward the Centraal Station in the distance). During the sixties, the square was renowned for its Dam Square hippies, and the laid back and relaxed character of this densely pigeon populated square lives on.

        At the west end of WWII MonumentDam Square is the Koninklijk Paleis and the Nieuwe Kerk. In the east side of the square is the National Memorial, an obelisk flanked by two lion statues, erected in memory of Dutch soldiers and members of the resistance who died in World War II (at right). In the north part of the square, next to the Damrak, there is a 15th century wall statue to Sint Nicolaas (St. Nicholas) on one of the buildings (left). Sint Nicolaas is the patron saint of sailors and is thus important Sinter Claesto Amsterdam. December 5th is the principal Dutch day of giving presents called Sinterklaasavond so he is also called Sinter Claes (sounds familiar).  Madame Tussaunds museum is on the south side of the square. Around the square, there are food stalls, restaurants and shops, so we stopped at one for breakfast.

         As you leave The Dam, you can walk south along either the Rokin or the Kalverstraat, both large shopping areas. The Kalverstraat took it's name from the old livestock market that used to be held here during the 15th century. Debbie and I stopped in a  few stores, but didn't do too much shopping. The Rokin is a wide avenue that is built along where the Amstel River used to flow.

Koninklijk Paleis        The Koninklijk Paleis (Royal Palace) in the west end of the square was originally built as the the Stadhuis (town hall) of Amsterdam (the Nieuwe Kerk is just to the right in the photo). They started building it in at the end of the 80 Years' War in 1648 with Spain. Workers had to drive 13,600 wooden piles into the ground for support. Designed by Jacob van Campen, it reflects Amsterdam's feeling of confidence after beating the Spanish and enjoying her Golden Age. Inside there is a large hall with maps of the eastern and western hemispheres inlaid in the marble floor. When Napoleon occupied the Netherlands, he had his brother Louis Napoleon declared the emperor of the Netherlands in 1808. Louis took the palace as his royal residence. After the French left, it became the Royal Palace. Although it is no longer home to the Dutch Royal family, the palace is still used to hold official receptions.


Frank        One of the more popular plaza in Amsterdam is the Leidseplein. This square is one of the liveliest squares in the city and a busy tram intersection. The square developed in the 17th century as a wagon park for farmers and peasants to leave their carts here before entering the city center. The name comes from the Leidsepoort, which once marked the end of the main road from Amsterdam to Leiden. On our first day here, we stopped for a beer (bier) and a soda at the Heineken Cafe. You can probably guess who had what. We came back here on Tuesday, after spending the morning in the Rijksmuseum Museum, for lunch and a couple of Heineken weissbiers (for me of course).

        The people in Amsterdam are very friendly and almost everyone speaks English fluently. The days were cool, but people still sat outside at the cafes. Unfortunately, it became a bit colder at night, so not many braved the temperatures to sit outside. Late Monday afternoon, after visiting the Van Gogh Museum, we came back here to have coffee and hot chocolate in an English Pub. This time we sat inside.

Stadsschouwburg       Around the Leidseplein is the Stadsschouwburg (at right). It is a red bricked Neo-Renaissance theater that was built in the last century. Up  until 1986, it was home to the Dutch national ballet and opera companies. Today it stages plays by local drama groups. When Amsterdam's top soccer team, Ajax, wins important games, crowds crowd in the Leidseplein to cheer for the team members who gather on the theater's balcony. Ajax plays in the Dutch Football League (remember their football is our soccer) and has won 29 championships along with four European Cups and two World Club Championships.

       The American Hotel is also here. The original hotel, with it's American motif, complete with bronze eagle and wooden indians, was torn down in 1901. The current Art Nouveau style hotel was built the following year. Inside is the Cafe Americain, an Art Deco style restaurant, where Debbie and I had dinner one night. When you leave the Leidseplein, you can walk along the busy Leidsestraat, across the main canals, back toward the center of the Amsterdam like we did one night.


Rembrandtplein        One day, after visiting the Anne Frank Haus, we had lunch at an outdoor café in the Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt plaza). It's between the Amstel River and the Herengracht across from the Old City. It was originally called the Botermarkt, after the butter market held here until the mid-19th century. In the center of the plaza is a park with, you guessed it, Rembrandt's statue. It was erected here in 1876, giving the square it's new name.

        The Rembrandtplein is a very colorful square lined with pubs, restaurants, cafes and hotels and is thus a tourist magnet (as can be seen in the photo at left). At night, when all of the neon Lunch in the Rembrandtpleinadvertising signs are on, it becomes even more colorful. A popular center for nightlife, it also includes traditional Dutch pubs which play real Dutch music and serve Dutch beer.  Our lunch at an outdoor cafe was very enjoyable as was my Amstel bier (I was impressed that Amstel made a draft weissbier which is my favorite). Local musicians play for you as you eat and drink and then pass around the hat for a Euro or two. When we were there, there was a bagpiper playing for us. It didn't seem traditionally Dutch, but it was fine.

        You might be wondering by now why you don't see any pictures of Debbie holding up a beer. Well, let's just say you never will. Anyway, from here we walked to the Willet-Holthuysen Museum and the Magere Brug.

        Not to far from Rembrandtplein is the Bloemenmarkt (The Flower Market) on the Singel. This is the last of the cities floating markets. Mostly selling flowers, the stores are permanent floating barges on the canal. On Sunday, we strolled through there and bought some refrigerator magnets, however we skipped the ‘interesting’ postcards. From there, we walked past the Munttoren (Mint Tower) and along the Amstel River.


Dutch bar in Amsterdam       In the Old City, not to far from the Nieuwmarkt, is Waterlooplein. This square dates from 1882, when two canals were filled in to create a large market square in the Jewish quarter. The area originally called Vlooyenberg, a place built in the 17th century to house incoming Jewish settlers. The square now takes it's name from the famous 1815 battle that ended Napoleon's bid to re-conquer Europe.

        Debbie and I went to the Rembrandt House Museum. After walking through Rembrandt's house we went to the “Experience Holland” next door. It's a 28-minute light and 3-D movie on the Netherlands called “Experience Holland.” It was all right. Afterwards, we walked over to the Waterlooplein which also has a large open flea-market that sells everything and anything. We walked through it, but didn't buy anything. Next to the bridge over the Zwanenburgwal across from Rembrandt's House, is this interesting canal house with a bar and outdoor cafe that appears to be tipping over.


       Not to far from the Spui plaza is the Begijnhof. This is not a traditional square with cafes and restaurants but an enclosed courtyard dating from the early 14th century. Nothing survived of the earliest dwellings, but the Begijnhof, which is cut off from Amsterdam's traffic noise by houses, still retains a sanctified atmosphere. We had to walk through an arched entrance to see it. The Begijnhof was originally built as a sanctuary for the Begijntjes, a Catholic sisterhood who lived like nuns, although they took no monastic vows. The beautiful houses overlook its well-kept green garden, include the Amsterdam's oldest surviving house, the Het Houten Huis. It dates from around 1420. On the adjoining walls, there is a fascinating collection of wall plaques with biblical theme. Southern fringe of the square is dominated by the Engelse Kerk (English Church) which dates from the 15th century and possesses its original medieval tower. Originally a Catholic Church, it was confiscated during the Alteration and then rented to a group of English and Scottish Presbyterians in 1607. We were told that some of the original Pilgrims may have worshipped here while they were living in Amsterdam before coming to America on the Mayflower to establish the Plymouth Colony in 1620. We wanted to go inside, but there was a wedding going on.

Beers of Amsterdam

Heineken           Some of the most famous beers in the world come from Amsterdam. The most famous of them all is Heineken. In 1863, 22-year old Gerard Adriaan Heineken bought a 16th century brewery and started brewing his famous beer. He was shocked by the drunkenness in Amsterdam caused by gin drinking that he wanted to brew a healthy beer. Today, Heineken is the second largest producer of beer (over 2.5 billion gallons). It is also the largest exporter, shipping a half
billion gallons of beer a year, in their famous green bottles, around the world.

Amstel           Another famous beer started a few years later. In 1870, Baron C. A. de Pester began a brewery next to the river in Amsterdam which gives it's beer it's name, Amstel. Today, Amstel  is the second largest exporter of beer in the world. In America, it's Amstel Light is the number one imported light beer. However, Amstel makes ten different kinds of beer. In 1968, the two beer companies, Heineken and Amstel, who were bitter rivals, decided to join forces and merge.

           Amsterdam also makes some other good beers like Wieckse Witte and De Koninck. Another famous Dutch beer, though not from Amsterdam, is Grolsch which has it's origins going back to the 17th century.


Anne Frank Haus            On Monday, we visited the Anne Frank House. This is the building that Anne Frank and her family hid for over two years from the Nazi's during World War II and she wrote her diary. They hid in the annex of the building at Prinsengracht 263 (facing the Prince’s canal) where Anne’s father, Otto Frank, also had his business. The Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer hid there with them. The doorway to the back annex was concealed behind a moveable bookcase constructed especially for this purpose. The office personnel knew of the hiding place and helped the eight people by supplying them with food and news of the outside world. On August 4, 1944, the hiding place was discovered. The people in hiding were arrested by the Gestapo (Nazi secret police) and deported to various concentration camps. Only Otto Frank survived the war.

Anne Frank House        Today the house is a museum. We walked past it on Sunday and saw the long lines so we decided to go early on Monday. There was a line, but it wasn’t bad, it cost only € 6,50 each. You see a few videos in a larger modern building next door. Then you walk through the front part of the building (below), which had offices and a warehouse. You see Mr. Frank's office. After that, you go though the secret annex past the swinging bookcase in the back of the building. All of the rooms are the same as they were in 1944 when Anne Frank, her family and the other Jewish people hid for 28 months from the Nazi’s. The rooms are empty now except for Anne’s pictures that she pasted to the walls of her room (where she wrote most of her diary); all of the furniture is gone because the Nazi’s confiscated it after the families were arrested. In the multimedia space, visitors can go on a “virtual journey” through the Anne Frank House, accessing background information about the people in hiding and World War II. The museum gets very busy and the lines can get long. That's why we went first thing in the day. After this we walked around the nearby Westerkerk and then headed across the city to the Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt plaza) for lunch.

Willet-Holthuysen Museum        A short distance from Rembrandtplein is the Willet-Holthuysen Museum on Herengracht facing the canal. It's a large 17th century canal house owned by a rich Amsterdam merchant named Pieter Holthuysen and then his daughter and son-in-law, Abraham Willet. Today it is furnished in the luxury style of 18th and 19th century merchants (Oh boy, is it ever!). These people knew how to live. Some of the rooms remain unchanged, while others, such as the kitchen and the Garden room, have been restored in the style of the 18th century.

       The picture here is of one of the fireplaces in the museum. As you can see Holthuysen's and the Willet's lived in style. You should see their bedroom! All of the rooms are set up as if the families are going to come home at any minute.

        Later on Monday, we took a tram to the Van Gogh Museum in the Museum District between the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum. The Van Gogh Museum entrance is on the PaulusWheatfield with crows Potterstraat. The museum has a very interesting architectural design and contains the largest collection of van Gogh's paintings in the world. There was a small line. We paid the € 26 for the two of us to go in, which I thought was quite expensive. Van Gogh's work is organized chronologically into five periods, each representing a different phase of his life and work: The Netherlands, Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy and Auvers-sur-Oise. They also had a special exhibit, Van Gogh & Gauguin. We saw a lot of Starry NightSunflower paintings and one of his last works, Crows in the Wheatfield (above - we bought a copy of this print which is now hanging in our living room at home). They had a recreation of Van Gogh's studio. We spent about an hour in there. We bought some prints in the gift shop. They put them in these long blue triangular shaped boxes that scream "tourist". We had seen many people walking around the city with these same boxes. Now we joined them. The picture at left is a wall mural of one of Debbie's favorite paintings, Van Gogh's Starry Night on one of the streets in Amsterdam.

        On Tuesday it was cloudy so I didn’t take too many pictures. We took the tram to the Rijksmuseum. RijksmuseumAmsterdam's Rijksmuseum, the National Museum, is the largest museum of art and history in the Netherlands. It was opened in 1800 as the Nationale Konstgallerij (National Art Gallery). After moving from place to place, Architect P.J.H. Cuypers designed this historical building using a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance styles. It was officially opened in 1885. The building is very large and historical and receives over a million visitors a year. The cost was € 8,- each, but we got in free because of the Amsterdam Pass. We first went through the wing with the furniture and dishes. They do have a couple of interesting Dollhouses. We went into a special exhibit on the 17th Century Dutch painter, Michail Sweerts. From there, we went to the main hall also called the Night Watch Hall, which features the museums main attraction, Rembrandt’s The Night Watch (below). If you visit the Rijksmuseum, come to the main hall first. Other works exhibited numerous Dutch painters like Vermeer, Frans Hals and Jan Steen. Also, there is a part on Dutch history. We got to the museum at 10:15 and left at 2:30. We spent over 4 hours inside! If you go here, go to the main hall first. By the time we got there, we were a bit tired.

        The Night Watch, the most famous painting in the Rijksmuseum, actually has another title, Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch. Rembrandt painted it in 1642. The painting includes eighteen actual militiamen (also called Arquebusiers) who all paid Rembrandt to be in the painting (except the drummer who Night Watchwas put in the painting for free) making it a kind of team picture. The captain, Frans Banning Cocq is wearing the red sash and is giving orders to his lieutenant, Willem van Ruytenburch, who is dressed in gold. Some of the other people were added to make the painting more interesting. What makes this painting so different was it wasn't the typical group portrait with everyone sitting around a table or posing in rows but rather the people in it are in motion walking toward the viewer. It looks like a snapshot of a group in action rather than a posed portrait.

        At almost 12 feet high and over 14 feet wide, it was a lot bigger then I thought it would be (above right is only a portion of the actual painting). Incredibly, the painting was originally bigger then it is today. When it was moved from it's original location, the Great Hall of the Arquebusiers, in 1715 to the Town Hall on the Dam Square (now the Royal Palace), it was too big to fit on the wall. The 'brilliant' solution they came up with was to trim off parts of the paintings from all of the sides. A particularly large piece was cut off the left side. Unfortunately none of these pieces were kept. Three of the original militiamen in the painting were thus removed (I guess they may be entitled to a refund). It was moved to the Rijksmuseum in 1815 and finally to this building in 1885. It has only been moved once since then and that was to a protective bunker during World War II.

       A small historical note; Frans Banning Cocq (in black with red sash) was born in 1605 and, eight years after Rembrandt painted him, became the mayor of Amsterdam. He died in 1655 and is buried in the tombs beneath the Oude Kerk (though they don't know exactly where - opps, lost another one).

        We visited Rembrandt’s House near the Waterlooplein. We got a discount here also. It was near closing, but we saw the entire exhibit. Rembrandt worked and taught in this house Debbie & Sean Conneryfrom 1639 until 1660. He lived on the ground floor with his wife Saskia,  who died here in 1642. Rembrandt continued to live here with his son Titus. Many of his famous works were painted in his first floor studio while he taught students in the attic. The tour takes you through the room where he worked in and his bedroom, his bed was interesting.
        We also visited the Madame Tussaunds Wax Museum which is in the Dam Square near the Royal Palace. They are the best wax museums in the world. Debbie and I had gone to the original one in London back in 1997. They have since opened one in New York City. The have a great exhibit called, "Amsterdam – The Golden Years" which was very interesting. They recreated a 17th century canal along with other scenes of earlier days in Amsterdam. They also had their usual collection of current political leaders (Bush, Clinton and Blair) and stars (Monroe, Gibson, Oprah, Schwarznegger and Connery, but they had no Cher). They also have a lot of Dutch pop and sport stars, which unfortunately, meant little to us. Can you believe that Debbie is trying to take Sean Connery's drink away from him?


            Aside from all of the outdoor cafes in Amsterdam, there are an incredible amount of restaurants to choose from. On Saturday night, after Mass, we found a restaurant to to far from the Krijtberg. It was a small place on Rozenboomsteeg near the Begijnhof called De Rozenboom. It was a three-story restaurant with only five tables per floor so it was quite cozy. We had a couple of Chicken Cordonbleau’s. They were fine and the beer was good. My desert wasn’t great, but Debbie had a nice pancake thing with chocolate, which made her happy. The dinner was very inexpensive, around
€ 38. After dinner, we took our first tram ride back to the Centraal Station and our train back to the hotel. We were tired and it had gotten colder. 

Da Waag            On Sunday night, after our twilight  canal trip, we went for dinner in De Waag. The Waag is a multi-turreted building in the middle of Nieuwmarkt square. It was built in 1488 as part of Amsterdam’s defense system. It still looks like a castle today. They used to have public executions here in the square and kept the condemned prisoners in the "little gallows room". Later they had an anatomy theater there so surgeons could dissect people. Today is it a very nice restaurant that is lit with over 300 candles burning inside, most of them in large chandeliers giving the place an incredible atmosphere. Dinner was very good, as was the wine (a Californian cabernet). Just think, we travel to The Netherlands and order an American wine. I really liked the desert, a creme boulet with raspberry ice cream. Debbie had a chocolate (of course) tart with mango sauce. Overall, dinner was great and only cost € 94,10 which is not bad considering it’s one of the more expensive restaurants in the city. After dinner, we walked back through the Red Light District and those friendly natives, to the Centraal Station to get our train back to the hotel.

Amsterdam street signs        On Monday night, we walked to the Leidseplein and had dinner in the Café Americain, which is in the American Hotel. The Café Americain is decorated in art deco and is very comfortable. We had our best meal here. Debbie had duck and I had pork with mushrooms and spinach. We had a good French Beaujolais to go with it. Dessert, although it took forever to arrive, was incredible. Debbie had a white chocolate mousse (Debbie thinks white chocolate is sacrilegious) and I had a banana and honey tart.  If you come to Amsterdam, you must visit this place. The service is not fast, but the food is certainly worth the wait. From there, we decided to walk all the way back to the Centraal Station (to walk off desert). The picture at right is of the sign in the Leidseplein giving directions.

Tourist        On Tuesday, our last night, we looked at a number of restaurants until we found one on Spuistraat (a street off of the Spui plaza) called Haesje Claes. It was a little touristy, but it had a nice atmosphere. It had an old look with wooden walls and candles. Dinner was good and so was the wine (a ’99 Chateau Le Payeal – Bergerac), but we skipped dessert. Dinner was only € 59,90. We skipped desert not to save money (or calories), but to walk back to The Waag for their dessert. This time I tried the coffee ice cream with white chocolate topping and Debbie had the same as the first time we were there (a chocolate tart with mango sauce). My dessert was good, but not as good as the creme boulet that I had there on Sunday.

          On Wednesday, it was time to go home. We checked out of our hotel early and took the train back to the Centraal Station. We walked down the Damrak and got some breakfast before heading to the airport. The fresh squeezed orange juice was very good, of course, Debbie didn’t have any – it had pulp in it. Back at the station, we got a train back to Schiphol Airport. Check-in only took 40 minutes. All in all, Amsterdam is a fun place to visit.

HEY! There's one of those tourist carrying one of those blue Van Gogh Museum boxes!

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