Tag - Netherlands

Let’s Talk Beginings -The Viking Longships’ Launch

Biking, busing, tramming or hoofing it, Amsterdam is a city easy to get around. It has beauty, charm, and hundreds of canals connected by 500 pretty bridges – and flowers everywhere! These 17th century canals enjoy the honor of having been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2010 and their grassy banks are perfect paths for a romantic stroll. Recently I had the great good luck to visit Amsterdam and attend an historic launching of 10 new Viking Longships as this most award-winning line expands into a new era of European river cruising. This was an auspicious occasion because, for the first time ever, a river cruise company was launching ten ships all at once – and I was there to witness it!



As that wise gentleman, Mark Twain, once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines and sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore. Dream. Discover.” That is precisely what happens on a Viking Longship. Although my stay aboard the Viking Aegir was brief, I nonetheless was able to debark a few times and explore parts of Amsterdam, experiencing some of its special treasures and causing me perhaps to dream? Yes, indeed I did.

Amsterdam – My Short but Sweet Visit
One of Amsterdam's 17th century canals

One of Amsterdam’s 17th century canals

In Amsterdam’s medieval center, there stands the Gothic basilica Nieuwe Kerk, the coronation church for Dutch royalty.  Its intricately carved oak alter was stunning and the stained-glass windows handsome despite no sun shinning through that day.  I sat in a pew hoping that perhaps I’d hear some notes from the massive, gilded organ. After some 20 minutes or so, my optimism was rewarded with the thunderous peal of Bach’s organ fugue in G minor.  Could there be a more perfect end to my church visit?

Another outing took me to Museum Het Schip (the ship), one of the highlights of the Amsterdam School of Architecture, so called because its shape somewhat resembles a ship.  Built in 1919-1921, three monumental social housing blocks designed by architect Michel de Klerk are viewed as a masterpiece and symbolize the solidarity and emancipation of the working class at the beginning of the last century. No longer were the poor condemned to live in basements and slums but now had safe, affordable housing. The Amsterdam School paid a great deal of attention to the applied arts, designing in such a versatile and expressive way that the style is often seen as the Dutch version of Art Deco. Inside, there’s a charming little post office and a floor plan that is completely decorated with furniture and objects that were available to the working class in the twenties. Remarkable is the fact that this design by famous artists and architects was to be found in these modest working class houses.

At Concertgebouw, (Royal Concert Hall), opened in 1882, I attended a concert of Brahms, Chausson and Ravel with violinist Tosca Opdam and pianist Victor Stanislavsky, their music at times bold and regal, other times  poignant and tender; at all times rendered gorgeously by this world-class duo.

Although our ship had no plans to stray afar of the ceremonial goings-on, we did take a brief cruise  down the Ijsselmeer River to Hoorn, an ancient harbor town founded in 716. This is a pretty community with monumental building facades and inviting sidewalk cafes. Sadly, no sidewalk sitting this day….waaaay too cold. However, the experience of leisurely making our water-way down the river was picturesque.

The ceremony of christening and launching a ship is based on traditions thousands of years old – to protect the ship and all who sail her.  A Babylonian narrative dating from the 3rd millennium BC describes the completion of a ship:

Openings to the water I stopped; I searched for cracks and the wanting parts I fixed; Three sari of bitumen I poured over the outside; To the gods I caused oxen to be sacrificed.”

Nooooo, let’s have none of that.  The ceremony for the ten new Viking Longships was dignified, decorous and dazzling.

The Godmother
Viking Launch

Viking Launch

For more than 4,000 years it has been a maritime tradition for each ship entering service to have a ceremonial godmother who is entrusted with the guidance of the ship to her destinations. In Amsterdam, there were ten godmothers, one for each of the ships to be launched. Distinguished, remarkable women are historically honored to become godmothers and this year was no exception. The group was chosen from representatives of a number of Viking’s valued partners and significant port and privileged-access destinations. They gallantly smashed champagne bottles against the ships’ hulls, after which there was a post-christening reception held in the Amsterdam cruise terminal.  We guests then enjoyed a divine dinner and a maiden voyage around the Amsterdam harbor.

As evening drew near, I thought on the words of a poem by Hendrik Marsman called “Memory of Holland:”

            The sky hangs low and slowly the sun

            by mists of all colors is stifled and greyed,

            and in all the regions the voice of the water

            with its endless disasters is feared and obeyed.

With the Viking Longships’ meaningful and heartfelt ceremonies and the godmothers’ blessings, there will be no endless disasters! The mists were banished, the greyed skies cast out and at close of day, in the far distance – a rainbow.

If You Go:


Windmill, Art, Tulips, It’s Netherlands



Imagine wide, flat, grasslands with black and white cows, yes it’s about Netherlands. A very scenic country especially in rural areas which are dotted with beautiful villages, old farms, and of course, windmills. Netherlands provides a rich cultural heritage and is famous for its painting museums, windmills, and is known for its liberal mentality. People here welcome travelers warmly, plus so many sights make this country very nice and a great travel destination.

Cycling is one of the best part here, with paths for bicycle crossing all around the country. It’s been easy to cycle around and find your destination. Be aware with the traffic though, trams and bikes have right of way here. The Dutch drive on the right, the priority is given to traffic approaching from the right.

It’s always cold in Netherlands. You might need a jacket in the morning even in Summer. Well, it’s a northern city.  Just be aware that winds can be strong and that winters can be cold and rainy. Bring a cap that covers your head and neck to keep you comfortable. Umbrella is a very important gear to help you from the rain. But I suggest a raincoat instead, because the strong wind may break your umbrella.

Before coming here, make sure you have all the money you want to spend in cash. Most vendors only take cash, and ATMs are hard to find. And, you might want to make a budget, it’s a place with fabulous shopping.

Places to visit:


Amsterdam is a quite nice city to stroll. Rijksmuseum is a must-see attraction in Amsterdam, it has a large collection from the Dutch Golden Age. Works of Rembrandt, Jacob van Ruysdael, and Frans Hals can be found here. A very suitable place for those who seek inspiration through art. Better start looking for a place to stay here such as hostels. Amsterdam is Netherlands  most populous city and sometimes, its hard to find accommodation.


This is a town of windmills. There are 19 windmills that are fully functioning, and serve to drain excess water from the Alblasserwaard polders.

3. Zaanse Schans

nAside from its beautiful windmills, Zaanse Schans also has a traditional museum that displays traditional crafts and old Dutch houses.

4. Bulb Region

For those who are curious with the tulip flower, Bulb Region has the tulip fields. It’s seasonal though, so you might want to plan your holiday for spring season. They generally bloom in April until June.

A country uniquely blessed with beautiful sights and attractions, rich of cultural heritage, the Netherlands is a fantastic choice for an unforgettable European holiday.

Copyright © STI

Amsterdam’s “Brown Cafes”

Pub Crawling in Amsterdam, Netherlands

amsterdams-brown-cafes, cr-Pinterest

Amsterdams-brown-cafes, Credit-Pinterest

(***Please note, these cafes and pubs are not the marijuana or cannabis cafes that have been in the Dutch news from today).

“I have a pinger in my stomach” announced Blix from Norway at 5pm.

“What? Excuse me?”

“This pinger goes ping, ping. It’s telling me it’s time for a gin and tonic”.

This was a good omen, a good start to a fine evening. The conference we were attending in Amsterdam had arranged a “Historic Pub Crawl”, with five different routes, so a group of us got together to explore the pubs and bars in this city famous for pubs and bars. Amsterdam’s well-known brown cafes are everywhere, so called because of their nicotine-stained ceilings and wooden interiors. Many are so old they look as though they’ve been there forever. Since Amsterdam has just about as many brown cafes and bars as it has tulips, we were happy for suggestions on where to go.

Blix was in fine form. “There are one million two hundred thousand pubs in Amsterdam”.

“Really?” asked a guy from Australia.

“Well, I really made that up, but just look around you. There are at least a couple on every street.
There must be thousands”.

The ones we visited each had their own interesting character. Our friend, Sandra, spoke to some Dutch people at the conference and they were impressed with the chosen list, so it must be fairly representative of what pubs here in Amsterdam are really like.

The pubs focus on beers, mainly Dutch and Belgian, but many also have Dutch gin (Jenever). Be aware that these beers are very strong, and can go quickly to your head if drunk quickly. After two pubs and three strong beers, one guy kept saying, “ We need food.  I need something solid”. Tram lines and curbs are a bit rough around the city and it’s easy to trip even if you haven’t been drinking. All beers have the alcohol content listed on the menu, which is a good idea, as many are really strong—some, at 10%, like wine.

Apparently many locals don’t pub crawl really; they go to one place and stay there, or perhaps go to two places. But for us visitors it was a great way to sample a variety of pubs. You can combine the beer drinking with pub food, or eat at one of the many restaurants around.

We focused on the Spui, and Leidseplein, one of the liveliest squares in Amsterdam, with theatres on one side and many restaurants and cafes on the other three, but you could also focus on Rembrandtplein (named after the famous painter of the “Nightwatch”, who lived in a house just a few blocks away), or the Nieuwmarkt, adjacent to the famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) Red Light District. We “crawled” around the following six pubs over three evenings, as we ended up staying and chatting to locals in each one for a long time.

1. HOPPE, on the Spui, a small triangular plaza between Amsterdam’s two busiest shopping streets, Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat. There are two parts to this famous pub. The section on the right has been a bar since 1670 and the interior reflects a rich history. The sand on the floor is refreshed each day, no music is played and there is standing room only. The left part is bigger, with seating and music.

Hoppe is very popular, especially on Fridays, with the crowd spilling out onto the sidewalk on summer days—friendly, well-dressed folk coming after work. It’s a proving ground for new Heineken products, as they’re launched here first, and it’s also the originator of genuine HOPPE jenever. Service is great with excellent barmen, so sit at the bar or on a bench or just stand outside with a Heineken and enjoy!

2. DANTE is on Spuistraat, a few steps up from Hoppe. It is much bigger, as it’s a bar, restaurant and gallery, showcasing many works of Herman Brood. He was a rock-and-roll hero of Holland, who was known as much for his art as for his excesses. Other modern art also adorns the walls and you can wander around to admire. The restaurant and its terrace face Singel Canal, and the bar has a heated terrace on Spuistraat. Inside is decorated with beautiful Italian marble and wood, but we sat outside on the terrace, overlooking tables on the sidewalk. Young people crowded the tables, and loud pop music blared. A very friendly young waiter suggested Vos, a Dutch beer, strong and slightly sour tasting, served in big goblets.

3. De SWART is next to Hoppe, with some tables outside facing the Spui, where we sat and watched the world go by before the sun went down. To get your order, push your way through the small, very crowded bar inside. We had Belgian Palm beer here, a lager type, somewhat similar to Heineken.

4. DE SCHUTTE (The Marksman), at 13 Voetboogstraat, not far from the Spui, has some tables outside but the best part of this (literally) brown cafe is inside. Walk up steep dark wood stairs to where the action is—a huge area, open to the street with big windows. There are lots of small brown wooden tables on a brown wood floor and a big bar, the high ceiling decorated with used tea bags dangling down!  I wonder how they stay up there? A second big room is decorated with many bright pop posters on the walls. The pop music was quite loud, but not

People of all ages, some tourists and many locals, can choose from a huge selection of tasty Belgian beers. We had St Louis Kriek beer, cherry flavor—only 4.5% alcohol content—kinda like a beer cooler. Many Belgian beers are fruit flavored. There’s a limited food menu (chops, salads) but the platters were huge and smelled delicious, and could be a good snack with your beer. Be warned, a good, strong Belgian beer can be a meal in and of itself.

5. DE ZOTTE (Belgian for drunken fool) is a great little brown cafe, not far from Leidseplein, at Raamstraat 29, which offers about 160 beers (many Belgian). Coffee is also possible, which some people did order. “Bieren Van ‘t Vat” is “beers on tap”, in two four-tap brass towers that offer a tasty Amstel, Hoegaarden, La Chouffe, Brugs, Brigand, Palm or Leffe. We had Leffe Blond (in a small goblet with Leffe written on it), 6.6% alcohol, a lager type. Each type of beer is served in a special glass (different shape and size) often with the name of the beer engraved on the glass. Then we tried Westmalle, a Trappist beer, served in a larger goblet, a much darker color, 7%, with a slightly sour taste. The Trappist monks are famous for liquor of all sorts.  Note, Rochefort beer is 10% and thus really potent!  One of our party had Kwak beer, an amber malty beer, served in a double flask, a tradition since 1791.

The atmosphere and ambiance are great, dim and noisy with many buzzing conversations almost drowning out the jazz music, sort of homey with a collection of old bottles on top of a shelf behind the bar, and walls decorated with beer signs and posters; a plain scrubbed wooden floor, and a few plain wooden tables; candles on tables and the bar. It was very crowded so we were lucky to get two bar stools and space at the bar. A few tourists mingle in with the locals, many young guys, but also couples, some eating a meal too. Some of the drinkers also ordered just bread, a good idea with the strong beer. It seemed to be more a young person’s bar as we saw more young people than older. The very friendly bar tenders were just two young guys, in jeans and open shirts, doing an amazing job and coping with all the people.

6. At CAFE EIJLDERS, just off Leidseplein, at Korte Leidsedwaarsstraat 47, the ambiance is different to de Zotte—more open, airy, light, like a lounge with some tables and booths inside, and tables in a glassed-in verandah jutting onto the narrow street. It boasts background music, tiled floor, lights as well as candles, a big vase of fresh lilies on the bar and framed bright pictures of flowers on the wood-panelled walls, and no beer signs. Very relaxed bar tenders in black and white and bow ties serve unobtrusively.

We met the friendly resident black cat, which sits on the piano a lot of the time, but sometimes comes onto the table and people stroke it. This is a popular local place as many locals play cards or backgammon in some of the booths. We had Belgian Duvel beer, in a bottle, 8.5%, which is light in color, similar to Leffe.

Even though it looks more up-market, the prices are pretty good. We went back another night for espresso coffee and calvados and only paid 18 euro for 2 espressos and 2 calvados. Coffee (or tea) is always served here with a biscuit or a chocolate on the saucer, which is a nice touch.

Heineken Experience: Heineken Brewery, Amsterdam

Heineken experience, Cr-griffinstewart.com

Heineken experience, Cr-griffinstewart.com

Holland is famous for making good beers, one of the most well-known being Heineken, a Dutch pilsener.  To all the beer lovers out there, young and not-so-young, alike, let’s go on The Heineken Experience, which opened in 2001. It has since been extensively remodeled and reopened in November 2008.

We’re in the old brewery building constructed in 1867, no longer brewing beer but converted into 3,000 square meters of special exhibition space on four levels.  We enter the small Omnimax-like theater and stand against rows of metal bars, unsuspecting.  Lights dim, and the floor becomes a shaking platform (similar to that in the Academy of Sciences Museum in San Francisco where we experience the simulated 1906 San Francisco earthquake).

“Hold on Tight. Let’s go”.

We’re a beer bottle going on its journey.  We rush forward along the conveyor belt in rows, then in single file.  Boom.  Sharp turn to the left, and swoosh, we’re covered in cleanser and rinsed.  Dramatic music and flashing lights as we move on to be filled.  Gallons of golden beer pours into bottles, and we rush forward to have the level checked.  Ding, our neighboring bottle is kicked out for not having the right amount of beer.  Shudder, shake, the journey continues under flashing red and green lights.  Click!  Without stopping, we get a cap.  And sloop!  A label is slapped on.  Now we’re in double rows again.  Jerk, stop, jerk, stop.  We are shunted forward in groups of twelve and moved onto a box.  Clack.  The box closes and the lights get dim as we move slowly onto a truck.  Room lights come on and the shaking platform stops.

Wow, we survived the bottling process. In Heineken’s Zoeterwoude brewery alone, 500,000 bottles are filled every hour, so our speed was probably not exaggerated. With appropriate dance music and flashing lights, and the movements below, this clever use of the shaking platform is a novel way of getting people to understand the bottling process; they experience it as a trip.

This was one part of the 1.5-hour self-guiding tour that lets us look into the world of Heineken. We enjoy the 18 points on the tour at our own pace, walking through malt silos, peeking inside the mash coppers and standing inside the lager cellars where young beer was once matured.

The tour is a fun combination of nostalgia and present-day technology, a very innovative way to use the old brewery and turn it into an exciting, slick show.  It’s really good value for money, as 15 Euro gets “the show”, 2 beers and a free gift (for us, a Heineken glass in a Heineken tin). The first taste of refreshing beer is after the bottling experience in the Brewhouse Bar overlooking the old brewhouse with its red copper brewing tanks (like big copper kettles).  Mirrors sparkle above the elegant bar with its flowers and old-world charm.

Then we go into the lager cellars that were used for maturation of young beer and have slanted walls (no, we’re not drunk), as it was essential that no beer remain in the tanks when it was drained out.  Here we can see (and test) the drum kit built by the famous drummer, Cesar Zuiderwijk of the Dutch pop group Golden Earring, for the official opening of the Heineken Experience in 2001.

From 1867 to 1988 many millions of hectolitres of Heineken beer were brewed here, before the Heineken Brewery in Zoeterwoude took over production.  It was a Reception Centre for 10 years, then became home to the Heineken Experience in May 2001.  In 1968 Heineken merged with Amstel Brewery, so now green Heineken and red Amstel are in the hands of one company.

It’s the world’s most international brewing group with operations in more than 170 countries: every year more than 70,000 ocean containers filled with bottles, cans and kegs are shipped to destinations on every continent.  You can see that “Heineken can travel” in the exhibition room Taste the World of Heineken, with scenes of Heineken and its distinctive red and green signs all over the world on computer screens. These colors are also reflected in the shop (next to the second tasting room), which has attractive, trendy stuff. We bought beer mugs—blue Delft Heineken and red Delft Amstel.  We also succumbed to huge Amstel beach towels!  So we can still experience the World of Heineken back home.

Brewing beer is an old trade, perhaps as old as humanity itself.  Much has changed and improved but the brewing process has in essence remained the same, the essential ingredients being malt (from barley), hops, yeast (special Heineken ‘A’ yeast isolated in 19th century) and water. Large colorful informational boards tell about barley and hops, and a “dummy scientist’ sits in a simulated laboratory guarding his discovery of the special yeast.

Water is important in the brewing process, as an average of seven bottles of water is needed to make one bottle of beer.  Like other concerned environmental groups, Heineken realizes that clean drinking water is a valuable and shrinking resource globally, so they try to reduce water use and help with improvements in water purification. They were the main sponsor for the international TV documentary series, “Water, the Drop of Life”—we can see a few excerpts on TV screens.  Enjoy life and good beer, but with respect.

They also sponsor big sporting events in tennis, soccer, and rugby, such as the US Open and the Rugby World Cup Sevens, and music events such as Heineken Jazzfest in Puerto Rico and the Heineken Beat in China.  Watch excerpts on multiple screens in the Heineken “Stadium”, complete with tumultuous cheering.

In the second tasting room, called the ‘See You Again Bar’, people enjoy the pop music, swaying and “dancing”, people of all ages and nationalities, so it’s obviously very popular.  Many, including us, sit on the floor as the few tables are always full.

A great time is had by all.

The brewery is in an area called De Pijp (the Pipe), known today as the Latin Quarter of Amsterdam due to its cosmopolitan population.  This is a lively area with many cafes and restaurants, and the Albert Cuypmarkt, where you can buy practically anything under the sun.


Daily 11am-7pm (last entrance 5:30pm). Closed 1 January, 30 April, 25-26 December and half day on 24 and 31 December. Cost: Adults 16 euro (you can buy tickets online for 15 euro); children 8-15, 12 euros; special rates for groups. Free on Amsterdam Holland Pass Address: Stadhouderskade 78, 1072 AE Amsterdam. Take trams 7, 10,16, 24, or 25 from Central Station and get out at Heinekenplein for Heineken Experience. www.heinekenexperience.com (you must be legal drinking age to enter this site)

Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

Anne Frank

Anne Frank

By Vivienne Mackie,

In these troubled times it is even more important that we do all we can to try and promote peace and understanding between peoples.  The Anne Frank House and Foundation in Amsterdam is an important example of a place trying to address these kinds of issues. Visiting the house gives one an insight into how a young girl felt about what was happening to her, and around her, during dark years in World War 2.

By reading Anne Frank’s Diary one is personally confronted with the reality of persecution, and she has become the “face” of the millions of victims of the Holocaust, victims because they were Jewish and different. Today people are still being persecuted and murdered for being different, which makes a visit to the Anne Frank House meaningful. Many people want to see the actual hiding place where she wrote her diary, which has created a paradoxical situation in which hundreds of thousands of people every year want to visit this place, one of Amsterdam’s most hidden and secretive during the war years.

The house, erected in 1635, is narrow with a considerable extension out back, which was enlarged in 1740. It was this design that made feasible the Secret Annex, where eight people hid for two years.

The house opened in 1960 as a small museum, and the front part of the building (the former business premises) was rebuilt as reception and exhibition space. But as more visitors came, more space was needed, so a new building was constructed next door and the old building was restored to the way it was during the hiding period.  The new building opened in 1999.

The Diary was first published in Dutch in 1947, was published in English in USA and England in 1952 as “The Diary of a Young Girl”, and has since been translated into many languages. From 1947 till his death in 1980, Otto Frank, Anne’s father, received and answered thousands of letters from children all over the world.  He hoped that Anne’s book would have an effect on their lives and help them work toward unity and peace. The Diary appeals to people from all cultures and lifestyles and it has elements that are universally recognized by young and old alike.

The Anne Frank Foundation hosts many educational conferences and workshops, which focus on a diversity of topics such as the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, discrimination, prejudice, and war. The spacious exhibition room in the new building is suitable for the contemporary themes the Foundation wants to address, by spreading Anne’s message of peace throughout the world. There are permanent exhibitions on Anne’s life, on war and anti-Semitism, and temporary displays on current issues.

Each of the spaces in the House-Museum is dimly-lit, with many informational boards in English and Dutch, and quotations from the Diary that somehow capture the essence of each space. Each quotation is heartbreaking, as we can imagine Anne speaking.

The warehouse on the first floor in front, the kitchen and the Private Office on the second floor, and the offices of the helpers, all set the scene for the hiding place, as the atmosphere and style of these rooms is gloomy, transporting us back to those dark days in the 1940’s. The third floor has the storeroom in front of the house, and the movable bookcase that hides the doorway up into the Secret Annex, the hiding place at the back.

The actual hiding rooms are now empty but the walls are the originals, with pencil marks showing how the girls (Anne and her sister Margot) grew while in hiding, plus Anne’s walls decorated with postcards, a few photos, and pictures cut out of magazines.

It’s a sobering thought that eight people lived here for two years, cramped, tense from trying to be quiet and wanting to go outside.  Today all the people going through the house and exhibits are silent, or speak only in whispers, as they try to make sense of what they are seeing and experiencing.

The modern building next door is in stark contrast to the cramped dark Annex. Two large display rooms show graphic pictures of conditions in concentration camps and what happened to all the helpers and those in hiding after the arrest on August 4, 1944. Only Otto Frank, the father, returned. One can also see the original diary, and examples of the hundreds of editions in about 60 languages. The awfulness of it all hits one in the face again.  I am not alone in asking…why?

There is also a restaurant, a bookshop, and a large computer room with interactive activities on Anne and the other people involved in the hiding.


Address: 263-67 Prinsengracht.  Walk from Dam Square along Raadhuisstraat, over three canals.  Turn right at the huge Westerkerk, which is next door to the museum.  Or, take trams 13, 14 or 17 or buses 170, 172 and 174 to the nearby Westermarkt stop.

Entrance: euro 9 per adult, euro 4.5 children 10-17, children under 10 free.

Open: March 15-September 14: daily 9am-9pm, Saturdays 9am-10pm and in July and August 9am-10pm daily.

September 15-March 14: daily 9am-7pm, Saturdays 9-9.

Closed Jan 1, April 6-9, May 4, May 17-19, May 28, for Yom Kippur (in 2012, on Sept 26), Nov 3, Dec 25, 31.

The official web site is http://www.annefrank.org/