Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Going Dutch

So, welcome back to me after my summer break. School Masses are being booked, meetings arranged etc etc for the coming months... so definitely time to think back to summer travels.
My now annual time-on-my-own took me this year to Dutch capital Amsterdam. After last year's fun trip on Eurostar, I decided to repeat the experience. So, like last year, it was St Pancras direct to Brussels through the Tunnel, but then north to Amsterdam via Antwerp and Rotterdam, rather than west to Bruges, on the also superfast Thalys train.
Before going I chose a hotel in A'dam close to the station as I wanted to make a few trips out of the city. I looked first at one on the internet which I thought would be out of my league, only to find one hotels site offering a fantastic deal - so my accommodation was great, excellent staff, breakfast was included and the restaurant was good enough to have an evening meal there on a few days.
Weather was great on the whole, so it was in sunshine that I set out on my first morning's exploration of the Old (or east) Side of the city centre. Now, yes, I know, A'dam is (in)famous for its red light district, but if I say I plunged into its narrow streets at 9.30am, you must take my word that it was in order to reach two of the sights that are located right in the middle of it!
"Our Lord in the Attic" is a Catholic chapel (left) hidden away in the attics of three adjacent houses. The Reformation forced the Church underground (or up in the roof) in the Netherlands, like here in Britain. Several of these chapels were constructed, but only one survives. So, rather bizarrely, you climb up through a house only to find a Baroque church three floors up, with adjacent lodging for the priest.
Moving on, and trying to ignore the, er, street life, I then visited the Old Church, the original church of the city, now Protestant of course, and denuded of its Catholic finery. Lastly, before lunch, I paid a visit to the Rembrandt House (below). Here he lived most of his adult life, though he overreached himself financially, and ended up having to sell up. It has been refurnished to look as it did in his day. As a great admirer of Rembrandt I was fascinated.
By now it was time for baguette and drink in the lovely street cafe outside, watching the world go by. In the afternoon I strolled slowly back through one of the main shopping areas, Kalverstraat, but found it heaving with people, and on the edge of seedy in a way. I was relieved to turn into the great oasis of peace that is the Begijnhof (below). These were great institutions, Catholic communities of women who were not nuns but often widows or single ladies living in community around  a chapel. You find them dotted over the Netherlands and Belgium. Amazing to find it right in the middle of the bustling city. A wedding was going on in the church, and I sat a while before heading back to my hotel and a traditional Dutch hotpot. Tomorrow... Anne Frank and the New (or west) Side.

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