My Visit to Amsterdam

Having just learned that Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands has abdicated her throne to her son Willem-Alexander, my thoughts return to that special place where I spent a few days two weeks ago — Holland.

Where can you munch on a herring sandwich topped with chopped onions and pickles, then polish it off with a Corenwijn chaser, while watching seven million tulip bulbs laboriously pushing their way above ground to greet the springtime sun? Why, in Keukenhof Holland, of course. But where in Holland can you get a plate of gefilte fish garnished with chrane, other than in your bubbie’s kitchen?

Amsterdam is a place where surprises abound, and for the most part they are pleasant ones. Even adversity somehow morphs into something memorable. Our first trip to Holland was a stopover on our way to Israel, and my wife Bobbie and I had no idea of what to expect other than what we read in the tour books we had purchased in preparation for the trip. Therefore I thought it would be useful to learn some basic Dutch prior to our trip to the Netherlands. But after about half an hour of trying to read and listen to Dutch, I decided to abandon that hopeless enterprise and settled for scoping out the best attractions listed in several Amsterdam tour books.

There are several ways to get around in Amsterdam, and driving is definitely not recommended, nor is it necessary. Most folks take a bus, tram, train or boat to navigate the city’s streets and canals. Also, you can rent a ‘yellow bike’ if you don’t have a bike of your own. Of course, walking is always an option.

As it turned out, we did plenty of that, but mind you, I am not complaining, for it was well worth it. We were fortunate to be able to visit the Rijks Museum, which reopened the day before we arrived in Holland, after having been closed for renovations for several years. However, it was the Anne Frank House which was the most highly recommended and visited attraction in Amsterdam, second only to the Red Light District.

Think New Orleans, only with a European flavor, and you have Amsterdam’s famous (or infamous) prostitution-legal De Wallen (Red Light District). It is a district best avoided by those easily embarrassed or put off by tactless and tasteless displays of sex paraphernalia. On the other hand, if that is your thing, well, then go for it. While on the subject of taste, think Dutch pancakes.

Like Israeli hummus, Philly pretzels and Coney Island hot dogs, it all depends on where you get them. They are not all the same. I can attest the fact that Blom’s has excellent banana pancakes, and Humphries has a vegetarian tomato soup to die for, and, of course, there is Vleminckx’s for fries slathered in cheese, or a choice of a dozen or so other toppings. As for hummus, all the places we saw selling it were Halal certified dumps into which we would not even think to enter. As for the gefilte fish with chrane, we discovered you buy it in the cafeteria of the Jewish Museum — where else?

I will remember Holland for the politeness of its citizens and the willingness to assist the strangers in their midst, which we were. So now the Netherlands has a new king and the cheers of welcome to King Willem-Alexander do not in any way diminish the fondness and appreciation his subjects have for his mother, Queen Beatrix. Unfortunately, one of the world’s most progressive countries has scheduled the coronation of its new king on a day in which Jews cannot join their countrymen in celebration: September 14, 2013 — Yom Kippur.  

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