It’s time to go home. The ultimate proof is my deteriorating hygiene. It’s not my fault, really. My beard trimmer was discharged somewhere between DTW and CPH, so I haven’t been able to trim the beard (I have been shaving around the edges though). Then on the flight from CPH to AMS the electric toothbrush discharged. Fortunately I still have the analog model. Still, I’m starting to look like Ted Kaczynski and if things go on much longer I won’t be able to board the plane, so it is clearly time to go home.
For the last day, I decided we should start downtown. We started with breakfast. I had a pancake with pears and whipped cream. Mom had the world’s biggest bowl of yogurt. She will be regular for ever now.
After this my plan was to start at St Nicholas church, the main Catholic church in central Amsterdam. Unfortunately, they didn’t open until noon so we stepped to the edge of the red light district and visited the Amstelkring, also known as Our Lord in the Attic.
This was just extraordinary. It dates back to the Protestant reformation, when the Calvinists banned Catholicism, and Catholics around town continued to worship in small private churches, this having been one of them. It was hidden away in the attic, but had all the things one would expect in a church. Even after Catholicism was legalized, it continued to be used for a century or so.
Some reflections on this visit. This tiny church felt holier than many others of wider renown that I have visited, and the parallel to the Anne Frank house is striking. Many similar feelings were evoked. Obviously the scope and horror of the circumstances were very different, but the similarities are inescapable.
Second, when the Dutch want to keep something secret it goes into the attic. If I ever raise an army and conquer the Netherlands, the very first thing I will do is search the attics.
Finally, I once again had mom climbing steep hazardous stairs. She really has no business on spiral staircases, but … well … these things happen. And fortunately neither of us fell – but just in case I always placed myself below mom to act as a human cushion, so she was never going to go down alone.
After Our Lord in the Attic we doubled back to visit St Nicholas, which was built in the 1880’s but looks older than its 130 years. It is a very nice church, particularly considering the era in which it was built. But it wasn’t breathtaking (I am spoiled by having seen some truly astounding churches). Notably, following on the heels of the Amstelkring, it felt empty.
It was time to take mom to the red light district. We wandered along the streets and alleys. I advised her this wasn’t the time to stop for coffee. We peeked into the windows to view the wares (quoth mom, “Did you see that fat Chinese woman back there?! I don’t know how you missed her?!”). That was the extent of it though. Mom had no interest in viewing the museum of sex, and while she has shopped in some of the worst tourist traps I have ever seen, she didn’t browse any of the stores here. It is probably better for all of us this way.
Smack dab in the middle of the red light district is the Oude Kerk, formerly St Nicholas. It was a Catholic Church until 1578 when a horde of raving Christian Fundamentalists (Calvinists) stormed the church tearing down anything that could be construed as a graven image. I think she was probably lovely in her day, but her scars are obvious. Her corpse is cold and pale from the whitewashing, her alcoves are devoid of their statuary, and she has scant stained glass or art. (It was very well lit, which I attribute to the lack of stained glass).
I imagine the sight of the horde of Calvinists looked a lot like the hordes of Muslims protesting graven images today. An apt analogy, although I suspect it would not be well received in Grand Rapids.
After a quick lunch mom wanted to do some shopping, so we went to the open air market. Although we had hoped for more, it was mostly clothes and toiletries for hundreds of stalls, with a few fruit, cheese, or fish vendors thrown in.
Two things I tried at the food stalls: waffle with whipped cream (slagroom!) and frites (French fries). These were the best fries I had here. I had them with curry sauce and mayo. The former was chosen to try something new, and it was really tasty. The latter was chosen because it is traditional and I am trying to understand it. It was marginally better in this setting, but I still don’t get mayo on French fries. Mayo is fat, and fries are potato in fat. They don’t need more fat! A flavored mayo would work as a dipping sauce, but plain mayo is illogical and just doesn’t taste that good. Well, I tried …
With one hour left before closing we finally made it to the Rijksmuseum. We didn’t have much time, but fortuitously most of the museum is closed for renovation anyway. Mom really wanted to see the Rembrandts and I also wanted to see the Vermeers. All of which were astounding. And eve though we were a bit rushed, seeing more might have overwhelmed us, no matter where the museum had fallen in our timeline. Conveniently, we have avoided being museum-ed out.
Finally a quick dinner at Restaurant Dubbel as recommended by Yelp. This is more of a gastropub, but the food was tasty (mom had tortellini, being done with meat for the next decade) and I had a Dutch steak with pepper sauce.
It was mom’s birthday so they brought the dessert (mocha ice cream – yum) with a firework. Cool!
Random observation: the Dutch smoke. A lot. They smoke probably more than any country I have visited. The cigarette manufacturers have company stores, which I haven’t seen elsewhere. I suspect at the higher levels, smoking may even be a competitive sport here. It really is that bad.
And finally, food in Denmark was much better, and good food easier to find, than it was in Amsterdam. In particular, the Danes featured a lot of local food, and seem to be more in touch with their culinary heritage.
Walking down the street in Amsterdam, they advertise food from all parts of the globe, but the only featured foods I can find that reflect the local heritage are meat croquettes, pancakes, and possibly French fries and waffles, although I suspect the latter are stolen from Belgium. The Dutch are worse than the British when it comes to food shame. Amsterdam has been fun, but if I return it won’t likely be for the food.
I bid you farewell and will see you on the other side of the Atlantic.