Dutch Treat, Part 2

Great Art at Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum

1. Memphis to Amsterdam’s Flower Market

4. Train to Delft to see pottery factory

2. Art at Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum

5. Matinee walk in Red Light District

3. Somber tour of Anne Frank House

6. Diamond factory and canal boat excursion

Index to 28 Photos / Page Updated Oct. 23, 2007 


By Lewis Nolan

Return To Nolan Travels Home Page

March 13, 2005, Sunday – In Amsterdam, The Netherlands


The breakfast buffet at the Jolly Hotel Carlton was excellent. I had ham and bacon on fresh, coarse bread with a couple of slices

Lewis with Rick Steves' guide

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of tomato on the side. Betty, always a light eater in the morning, went for a chocolate croissant and a cup of coffee.


There was a long serving table in the cheerful and bright banquet room that was loaded with various meats, eggs, breads, pastries, cereals, fruit and juices. We snagged a couple of rolls and a bit of ham and cheese for later snacks. Our table was next to a large window overlooking the busy Vijzelstraat beneath. We enjoyed our leisurely breakfast then embarked on one of the city walks recommended by guidebook author Rick Steves.


We walked a fairly direct route to Amsterdam’s two greatest art museums. One destination is the national gallery, called the Rijksmuseum. It is the depository of many great works of art by Dutch painters and sculptors of Holland’s Golden Age. The other is a modern addition to the central city, the Van Gogh Museum. It houses the largest collection of Vincent’s paintings in the world along with work from other Impressionists.


We walked through the Blumenmarkt, or “Floating Flower Market,” directly beneath our hotel room. We talked to a large Dutchman, about my size and age, whose son now owns one of the larger greenhouse-barges. He told Betty that he could “certify” bulbs for shipment to the United States with some special packaging. She wasn’t interested in the dozens of varieties of tulip bulbs offered for sale; the tulips are already blooming in Memphis at this time of the year so it is way to late too plant.


But Betty was interested in some grapefruit-sized bulbs that produce huge blossoms of white Amarylis, a color and variety we’ve not seen back home. She revisited the shop later in the week and bought several of the gigantic bulbs. We were somewhat disappointed that the shop’s bulb sorters were

Table at Bulldog Cafe

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not any better at sorting than those who supply Home Depot back home. Betty forced the bulbs in pots upon our return to Memphis. But in late April, huge RED blossoms bloomed rather than the expected white.


One of the first stops recommended by Steves for this particular walk is a fresh herring stand on a square called “Koningsplein,” across a busy street from the Flower Market. This is where locals flock to eat raw herring. We watched a woman gut and filet the fish but passed on sampling the Dutch delicacy. We walked several blocks up the shop-lined street. Some of the retailers are branches of ritzy chains with familiar names but most seem to be locally owned, like the Metz & Co. department store. Trams ply two sets of tracks in the Leidestrat and politely make way for the hundreds of cyclists that ride in a special bike lane in the middle of the street. Sidewalks on either side of the street were crowded with walkers on this cool but pleasant Sunday afternoon.


All the shops were open and most seemed to be doing a good business. One is named “When Nature Calls Smartshop,” which would be called a “head store” back home. It sells marijuana seeds and other pschotropic drugs. The guidebooks warn the clueless that while such products are legal they are not necessarily safe and in fact can cause powerful and unpleasant reactions.


We proceeded to one of the most lively squares in Amsterdam, called “Leidseplein.” It reminded us of Paris, with café tables spilling out onto the sidewalk. Street entertainers worked the crowd. There is something to eat for just about every taste, with “restaurant row” featuring Thai, Brazilian, Indian, Italian, Indonesian, Dutch and even American foods – including Burger King. For those wanting more of a “kick” with their meal, there is the “Bulldog Café and Coffeeship.”


The Bulldog is a signature establishment and flagship of a small chain that is licensed to sell marijuana. It has a large head of a ferocious looking English Bulldog (perhaps five feet in diameter) mounted above the door of the former police station, complete with red light bulbs for eyes. Betty informed me that one sign of pot smoking among her high school students back home is the presence of red, bloodshot eyes.  The Bulldog, like the Hard Rock Café in Memphis and cities around the world, has a gift shop that sells apparel and assorted souvenirs emblazoned with its logo. While Betty waited outside, I braved the acrid smell from the smoke pouring out the front door – it smelled

Metal iguanas at tulip bed

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like burning rope - to buy souvenir postcards to send to fellow Mississippi State Bulldog fans back home. I was in and out in less than 3 minutes, otherwise I might have gotten “high” from breathing second-hand marijuana smoke.


Coffeeshops like the Bulldog can sell up to five grams of marijuana per day to persons 18 years old and up. Here is what Rick Steves has to say about it:


“Heroin and cocaine are strictly illegal in The Netherlands, and the police stringently enforce laws prohibiting their sale and use. But, while hard drugs are definitely out, marijuana causes about as much excitement as a bottle of beer. If tourists call an ambulance after smoking too much pot, medics just say, “Drink something sweet and walk it off.”


“Locals buy marijuana by asking, ‘Can I see the cannabis menu?’ The menu looks like the inventory of a drug bust. Display cases show various joints or baggies for sale. The Dutch include a little tobacco in their prerolled joints. . .Coffeeshop owners have an interest in keeping their trade safe and healthy. They warn Americans, unused to the strength of the local stuff, to try a lighter leaf.”


As for prices, four marijuana joints (with or without tobacco) sell for €12, nearly $5 each at current currency exchange rates, according to Steves. Marijuana and hash are also available by the gram for roll-your-own, or pipe-smoking varieties such as Black Widow, Amsterdam Whjte, Thai Baby and Jungle.


A final comment on marijuana. No, we did not. Not then. Not ever.


Like other European cities we’ve visited, Amsterdam seems to have a pastry shop on every block. Betty sampled some at one of the La Croissantiarie shops near the Bulldog Café. I drew a strange laugh from a clerk when I asked her to tell me what a “boo-gee” is. Once she figured out that I was really asking about what the Dutch call a “Brodjie (pronounced broh-jawh),” she explained it is a sandwich. The word appears on menus and shop windows. It describes just about anything edible the Dutch put between two slices of bread, as in the Grinders of New England, the Po’Boys of Louisiana and the Subs of the West Coast. Betty speculated that the word “boo-gee” must have an entirely different context (perhaps sexual rather than food) because of the clerk’s reaction to my inquiry.


Just off the Leidseplein square and a few blocks from the Rijksmuseum is a celebrated colonnade that is as tall and long as a two-story house. It honors Dutch chess champion Max Euweplein and serves as an entrance to a courtyard that contains a large chessboard with two-foot high pieces. The lintel of the colonnade, which looks like something out of ancient Rome, is solemnly inscribed with the latin phrase, “Homo Sapiens non urinat in ventum.” It seems that is the wording that appealed to Max’s sense of humor. It translates into “Don’t pee into the wind.”


Nearby is a locally famous, former church that was converted into a music hall. Among the performers who played there – when it was decorated in psychedelic colors - in the 1960s were the Rolling Stones. Called Paradiso, it is still a venue for bands as well as a source of joints that are legally smoked during performances. Across the street is a large tulip bed decorated with lifesize, metal replicas of large iguanas basking on the grass and on the brick retaining walls.


We paid €9 each to visit about 400 of the finest pieces in the Rijksmuseum collection. The cavernous museum is undergoing a renovation

Betty by Rijksmuseum

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that will take several years to complete. The main building is not as big as the Louvre in Paris or the V&A in London, but it is huge – perhaps two square blocks.

Curators have taken the best of the best, condensed and installed an exquisite show in a modern, satellite building. We rather enjoyed being able to focus for an hour or so on the finest masterpieces in a relatively small area rather than having to troop through miles of corridors. On display were priceless paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals and other artists of Holland’s Golden Age. It was during the 17th Century that the Dutch were a leading world power because of shipping and trading prowess. Among the places they founded was New York, then known as New Amsterdam. Seeing the much-copied, original art paintings as well as such other works of art as ceramics and decorative pieces made of precious metals was a treat.


A short walk from the Rijksmuseum is another well-visited attraction, the Van Gogh Museum. It (admission is €10 for adults) houses about 200 paintings once owned by Vincent’s younger brother, Theo, a Paris art dealer who largely supported Vincent during his short life. The Museum has the largest collection of Van Gogh’s work in the world plus some of his personal possessions such as letters. It also includes many of the lesser works of other impressionist contemporaries including Gauguin, Manet, Monet and Pissaro. 


Many of Van Gogh’s paintings on display were familiar to us. Some were slightly different twists on familiar themes in much of his brushy work, including sunflowers, wheatfields, seascapes and self-portraits (done for practice to avoid paying model fees). There was a large group of animated Italians going through the Museum. Most looked to be teenagers under the watchful eye of their teachers. An advantage European students have over Americans is that travel distances to important cultural and historic centers are relatively short.


We walked back to the hotel through amazingly crowded streets, jammed with trams, cyclists, walkers and a few cars. We saw a policemen giving a young woman on a bicycle  a ticket, probably for failing to observe a traffic light. It took perhaps 30 minutes to reach our hotel, conveniently located right in the middle of the central city. In all, we probably walked 5 miles on this day.


It was nice to relax in our comfortable room and admire our superb view of the Flower Market, the canals, the old clock tower at eye level from our 5th floor room and the busy urban movement on the streets beneath. On this chilly afternoon, we were treated to looking out the window and seeing over the space of 40 minutes the full range of Amsterdam weather - sunshine, sleet, rain, snow flurries then patches of blue sky. Like in other European hotels we’ve stayed in, there are no ice machines in the Jolly Carlton. Worse, there are no insulated ice buckets. Reluctant to pay tips for repeated room service delivery of ice, I asked for (and got with a smile) a plastic bag of ice at the bar just off the first-floor lobby. I quickly learned that London Dry Gin is far superior to the vaunted Dutch Gin, at least to that I tried.


Our bad experience with last night’s hotel pizza was still fresh in our mind. I was reluctant to pay €29 for the catch of the day, sole, at the hotel’s Caruso Restaurant. We asked a desk clerk for a seafood restaurant recommendation. He warned that seafood in Holland is expensive, which was surprising since the North Sea fishery is just outside the harbor. It turned out the seafood place the clerk suggested on Rembrandt  Plein (Square) about three blocks away had changed hands. But the menu looked varied and reasonably priced so we dined at Ristorante Pinocchio. I had some very good blackened and grilled salmon. Betty thought her ravoli tasted like Chef Boyardee’s canned variety. But the huge salad and mountain of French fries we split were quite good.  The ambience was charming and our Italian waiter, Ezra, who turned out to be a co-owner of the new restaurant spoke impeccable English and delivered excellent service. 


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