Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Europe 2016, Day 1: Arrival in Amsterdam

My initial flight on the afternoon of May 17 was from San Francisco to Seattle. Here at Sea-Tac, I waited to board my flight for Amsterdam. Mount Rainier looms in the background. My 11.5 hour flight from Seattle to Amsterdam was made more tolerable by the fact the plane was only half full.

Catching the proper train from the Amsterdam airport to the main train station in central Amsterdam proved way more confusing than I had expected, maybe because I was operating on about 1 hour of sleep in the past 24 hours.  I arrived here at the Neo-Gothic Central Station just before 2:00 pm on May 18.

I was determined not to make the same mistake I've made on previous trips to Europe and take an afternoon nap upon arrival.  Instead, I forced myself to walk around the city for the rest of the afternoon and evening.  It rained for a short time in the afternoon, and then there was an intense short downpour with an early evening thunderstorm, but otherwise the weather was fine. I walked through the Jordaan Neighborhood, where my rental was located, and admired the canals.

In the evening I walked over to the "Red Light District" - the neighborhood famous for its legal prostitution on full display.  I was expecting this to be a run-down and scummy section of the city, but it became obvious to me pretty quickly that there is no such thing as run-down or scummy in Amsterdam.  The entire city is clean and well maintained.  In fact, the Red Light District was every bit as scenic and clean as the rest of the city.  And instead of drug dealers and homeless people, I mostly saw tourists.

 A couple more photos in the Red Light District .

On the right is the "Old Church".  This was the medieval city's original church, constructed over about 300 years, starting around 1300.  Ironically, this church now sits in the center of the Red Light District.

Bronze sculpture embedded in the cobblestone right next to Old Church.

Europe 2016, Day 2: Amsterdam

Morning of May 19: One of many canal photos.

Near my apartment rental in the Jordaan Neighborhood: The Cow Museum. Just because...

During the late morning I toured the Anne Frank House, which was located just a few blocks from my apartment rental.  The tour was very informative and moving.  Photos were not allowed during the tour through the house, but I was able to take a photo while having lunch here in the museum's cafe. That's a photo of Anne Frank on the wall.

In the afternoon I toured the Rijksmuseum, an art museum with the best collection anywhere of the Dutch masters, including Vermeer and Rembrandt.

"The Milkmaid", 1658, Johannes Vermeer

Rembrandt's most famous painting: "The Night Watch", 1642

 "Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem", Rembrandt, 1630.  Rembrandt was only 24 when he painted this.

 Behind the Rijksmuseum, on the Museumplein, looking across the reflecting pool.

 I am Amsterdam!

 On my walk back from the museum, I had lunch near this beautiful canal.

 Enjoying an evening glass of wine in Dam Square with the Royal Palace in the background.

Nighttime canal picture with full moon.  I believe this is the Princess Canal (Prinsengracht). The towering spire of Westerkerk (Western Church, built in 1631) is at center. This was a big day of walking: 13.5 miles.

Europe 2016, Day 3: Amsterdam

I spent a lot of time walking through the neighborhoods of Amsterdam on my final full day in the city (May 20)

At the "Hash, Marijuana, and Hemp Museum".  Ha!

A change of pace: Some modern architecture and art.

I spent the late afternoon and evening touring two fine art galleries, located next to each other on the Museumplein.  This photo was taken from the entrance of the modern art museum (Stedelijk Museum) looking towards the Van Gogh Museum.

View from in front of the Stedelijk Museum looking towards the Concergebouw (classical music venue)

The Stedelijk Museum at dusk. This museum had an eclectic mix of modern art, including a few Picassos.

Vincent van Gogh, "Self-Portrait with Straw Hat", 1887.  I toured the Van Gogh Museum during the evening since my guidebook informed me that crowds would be lighter then. The museum was packed.  I was scolded by a museum employee for taking this photo.  The other museums in Amsterdam allowed photos, but not the Van Gogh.

It was a fine warm evening as I took a leisurely stroll back from the museums.  Here is moonrise at the Mint Tower.  The Mint Tower marks the location of the limit of the old walled city, and severed as one of its original gates.

 Final stop at the Royal Palace.

Europe 2016, Day 4: Amsterdam to Berlin

 On my way to breakfast during my final morning in Amsterdam (May 21).

 At Amsterdam Central Station, waiting for my train to Berlin.

The view after stepping off the train at the main Berlin Train Station (Berlin Hauptbahnhof).

Berlin Hauptbahnhof is Europe's largest train station. And what a beauty!

My first meal in Berlin included very traditional German food and drink.

I took a late afternoon and early evening stroll into the western portion of Berlin (my apartment rental was in what was formerly East Berlin).  Here is my first view of the imposing Reichstag, Germany's Parliament Building.

 Front view of the Reichstag.

 Arrival at the historic Brandenburg Gate.  Brandenburg selfie!

 Next to the Brandenburg Gate: The US Embassy.

 Brandenburg Gate

 Brandenburg Gate at dusk.

 Near the Brandenburg Gate: Opportunities for a ride on a bed!

 Parliament offices spanning the Spree River.

Europe 2016, Day 5: Berlin

 On my way to breakfast on May 22nd I walked past the New Synagogue.

After figuring out the Berlin subway, I made a journey to the far western portion of Berlin to check out a couple of museums.  One was Museum Berggreun, which had this cool spiral staircase.

Museum Berggreun has a substantial collection of Picassos, including this one called "Dora Maar with Green Fingernails", 1936.  Dora Maar was one of Picasso's mistresses.

I returned to the central part of Berlin in the afternoon to tour the Berlin Wall Memorial. During my senior year in high school I wrote a term paper on Berlin during the time when the city was first divided between east and west. Ever since I've had an interest in Berlin history and this memorial was fascinating. Most of the wall was torn down in the 90s when the city was reunified. Here is one of the last remaining intact sections of the wall.

This portion of the memorial, called "Window of Rememberance," is dedicated to the East Berliners who died while trying to escape to the west.

 Berlin Wall selfie

View of the wall from the roof of the memorial's Visitor's Center.  You can see both the inner wall and outer wall along with a guard tower.

These metal plates trace the route of one of several tunnels dug under the wall. 57 people escaped to the West via this tunnel. 

The image on the building in the background is from a famous video clip showing an East German soldier jumping barbed wire to gain access to West Berlin when the wall was being constructed in 1961.  The rusty rebar in the foreground marks the route of the former wall.

Late in the afternoon I stopped at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe.  The memorial consists of over 2500 gravestone-like pillars.

Panorama of the memorial

Another panorama of the memorial taken from a rooftop restaurant across the street where I had dinner.

 From inside the memorial

Prior to sunset, I walked through the huge Tiergarten Park (sort of like New York's Central Park) and stopped to take photos of the Tiergarten's centerpiece: Victory Column.  Barak Obama gave a speech here when he was running for President in 2008.   This was a long day with a lot of walking.  My fitbit told me I walked 14 miles on this day!