I've been the victim of expensive taxi drivers in Rome, Paris and Vienna even though the taxi or airport shuttle was ordered by the hotel. And I've been surrounded by gypsy children at the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris who I thought were so sweet and cute without realizing they were opening my handbag until a companion forcefully told them to go away. And recently in Italy, inside the train on our way to Rome from Padua, both of my cousins were pickpocketed as they were trying to put our luggage in the storage bins. No one is exempt from these scams, not even seasoned travelers. Just the Flight details 40 scams to avoid in various situations:
Our flight route from Amsterdam to Berlin passed over these rich patchworked fields.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
The restaurant on the top floor of the department store, Peek and Cloppenburg, not only serves a selection of entreés prepared on the spot, it also has one of the best views of what remains of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church after World War II and the modern steeple beside it. Peek and Cloppenburg is on KÜrfurstendamm. The Memorial Church is under renovation hence the white structure surrounding it.
This fragment of the Berlin Wall says it all. The dates 61 refers to the year the wall went up and 89 when the wall started to crumble. At the bottom of this fragment are two hearts representing East and West and the words "l'amour tousjours" or love always. "All free men, wherever they may live are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words 'Ich bin ein Berliner!'." -- John F. Kennedy
The amazing roof of the Sony Center spans an area of 5,250 sq. meters and is made of steel, glass and self cleaning teflon coated fabric. This umbrella like dome covers a number of restaurants, shops, offices and condominiums. It is a gathering place. The Sony Center is on Potsdammer Platz.
Salvador Dali never fails to amuse and challenge our imagination. There are 400 of his works at this museum, more than enough to while away a rainy afternoon and be thoroughly entranced by this artist! The piano fountain on a pool of water in the lobby alludes to Dali's "Fountain Flowing from a Grand Piano" where a tree is seen growing on top of it. The Dali Museum is on Leipziger Platz 7 and may be reached by taking subway S1/S2/S25 to Potsdammer Platz and is open Monday through Saturday from 12 noon to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Entrance fee applies. Please check www.daliberlin.de.
King Amenemhet III - 1840-1800 BC
The Egyptian Museum on Museum Island has an incredible collection of Egyptian artifacts including the bust of Queen Nefertiti from 1340 BC. She is surely the main draw. Taking pictures of Nefertiti's bust is not allowed.
Where to stay:
I stayed at the Amedia Hotel which is on KurfÜrstendamm in the center of Berlin yet far enough away from the bustle. It's spacious and clean and a short walk to the Ubahn on Uhlandstrasse and bus stop for buses going to the train station (and from there to the airport). There's also a supermarket nearby. The room price is quite reasonable. I booked the hotel through Expedia.
The Market Gate of Miletus
at the PergamonMuseum
was rebuilt around 1925-1929 from hundreds of tons of fragments excavated in the
ancient city of Miletus and shipped to Berlin by German archaeologists.
The original gate dates back to the 2nd century AD and was at the
northern entrance to the southern agora
or market. It was destroyed by an earthquake in the 10th or 11th
centuries and suffered damages during World War II.
On each side of the center
door are statues, one of which is believed to be that of Hadrian (with a
vanquished slave). The columns supporting the gate are Corinthian in style and
the gate itself was originally constructed from marble. However, this
reconstructed gate now consists of brick, cement, steel and the fragments from
On the floor in front of
the gate is a mosaic taken from a private home in Miletus. It depicts Orpheus with his lyre.
According to classical Greek mythology, Orpheus could charm all living things
with his music including wild animals which are found at the base of this mosaic. The Greek key symbol forms a
frame around these beasts and winged men.
Excerpt from To Heaven*
Great Heav'n, whose mighty
frame no respite knows,
Father of all, from whom the world arose:
Hear, bounteous parent, source and end of all,
Forever whirling round this earthly ball;
Abode of Gods, whose guardian pow'r surrounds
The eternal World with ever during bounds *From the Hymns of Orpheus as translated by Thomas Taylor, 1792 * * * Images by Travels with Charie
It was a 2 hour wait just
to get inside the PergamonMuseum. Luckily, the sun
was shining and it was comfortable standing outside with just a light jacket
and medium heel espadrilles. The Pergamon is undergoing renovations and a
section of it will be closed after September 2014. The main entrance is now
closed and visitors must enter from a side entrance in the courtyard bounded by
the Alte Nationalgalerie and the Pergamon on MuseumIsland.
I bought the area ticket worth €18
which may be used to enter a number of other museums within the same day of
purchase. What I should have done though
was buy the €25 annual basic membership Staatliche Museen zu Berlin ticket so I could have skipped the
line. Well next time I know better.
This was my second visit
to the Pergamon. I was quite impressed with the Gate of Ishtar the first time
around which is why it was on my bucket list on this trip and the reason why I endured the long wait. I wavered a couple of times and thought I should have started at the
Neues Museum to view the Nefertiti first which is equally electrifying but the
line to the Pergamon never let up so I stayed where I was until I was finally
allowed into the museum at around 2 p.m.
In Nebuchadnezzar's own words
The Ishtar Gate and Processional Way
are at the top of the stairs as you enter the lobby. The gate is one of eight double
gates from Babylon
dating back to the time of Nebuchadnezzar II around 575 B.C.E. It is covered in blue glazed bricks across
which parade yellow glazed dragons and bulls. The gate dazzles like new. On one
side wall is an inscription of Nebuchadnezzar’s own words: “I, Nebuchadnezzar, laid the foundation of
the gates down to the water level and had them built out of pure blue stones.
Upon the walls in the inner room of the gate are bulls and dragons and thus I
magnificently adorned them with luxurious splendor for all mankind to behold in
awe.”* And it is truly awesome!
The Processional Way is a snippet of the
original in ancient Babylon,
but it is nonetheless impressive. Lions march along the length of the facing
walls in the direction of the gate. These well preserved fragments date back to 600 to 562 BC.
There are so many
treasures in the PergamonMuseum, particularly in the Vorderasiatisches Museum. One of
these treasures is the lamassu, an
Assyrian deity in the form of a winged beast with a human head. It is stunning
Amsterdam has always thrived on its notoriety which has brought many visitors eager to see its offbeat attractions such as the Red Light district. Another popular curiosity is The Bulldog (The Name with a Heart!) which, as the sign on its colorful façade indicates, has been around since 1975 serving some things you wouldn't normally see on a regular café menu. They claim to be the first coffee shop in Amsterdam where they now have several locations including this one at Oudezijds Voorburgwal 132 in the Red Light District. And to quote their Palace branch website, "If there is more than coffee or juice you crave, The Bulldog cafes have all the offerings". Yes, they have Karaoke too! (lol) The Bulldog has also branched into the hotel business both in Amsterdam and in Canada.
The Night Watch, Rembrandtsplein
The Night Watch is considered one of Rembrandt's masterpieces and it's possibly the most precious painting in the Rijksmuseum. The Night Watch has been vandalized twice in recent years and subsequently restored. On the Rembrandtsplein, there's a sculptural reproduction of The Night Watch over which a statue of Rembrandt keeps watch. And you can approach, examine, and touch the various characters from the famous painting. The little dog is my favorite.
When you see this sign, stay away from it and allow the thousands of bicyclists who have places to go and people to see to navigate their way without obstacles in their path. Don't walk on their lane. Or you'll hear about it!
Amsterdam is not known for its churches but the Krijtberg (Church of St. Francis Xavier) on the Singel near the flower market is a neo Gothic church from 1883 whose beauty you'll only discover once you enter the main door. Notice the vaulted ceiling, the stained glass windows, the rood screen and the ornate pulpit. There's so much to look up to. The façade though, is plain and unattractive with two pointed spires.
View from the Skylounge
The Skylounge at the Double Tree Hilton by the Central Station has one of the best views of the city and the EYE Film Institute on the banks of the Ij River. There's an outdoor seating area with gas heaters for cold evenings. This was my new discovery in a city I know so well, thanks to my good friends. I love to sit here and watch the sunset transform the city from nitty gritty to absolutely romantic!
And speaking of romantic, here's a view of the Amstel river from Café de Jaren. Eat slowly and enjoy the view. Cheers!
Behind this nondescript door is an enclave in the center of Amsterdam. This was once the home of the Beguines, single women whose mission was to care for the sick. The first recorded document of the Begijnhof dates back to 1346 when a certain Cope van der Laene gave the Beguines the Beghijnhuis (house of Beguines).
Courtyard of the Begijnhof
The door from the Spui leads into a courtyard surrounded by traditional 17th-18th century houses which were completely renovated between 1984-1987. It's a different world as you cross the threshold. But for the noise created by the visitors, it feels as if Amsterdam is miles away. Though just outside the door, depending on the day of the week, there are outdoor cafés and musicians playing to the crowd. Or if it's the weekend, there might be a book or art fair on the Spui.
Het Houten Huys, 1528
One of the oldest houses in Amsterdam, the Houten Huys (black façade) dates back to 1528. Many of the earlier buildings in the Begijnhof were made of wood. Two big fires in 1421 and 1452 razed buildings on the property. The Beguines rebuilt the houses using brick.
Behind the Houten house is a wall with colorful plaques of biblical themes from 16th century. The topmost plaque is Christ the Savior, and below are Jacob's Dream, Elijah, Flight to Egypt, the Sacrifice of Abraham, the Golden Oven (from Nebuchanezzar's time), in Emmaus, and one inscribed 'TGELOOF. These plaques have beautiful stories to tell.
The Chapel of the Beguinage
The Chapel which is dedicated to St. John the Evangelist and St.Ursula is another hidden church in Amsterdam. The exterior of the chapel gives no clue that there is a Catholic church within. This was the result of the Alteration when Protestants wrested power from the Catholics and forbade them to attend mass. The Beguines started construction of their new chapel in 1665 after their own church within the property was confiscated and given to the English. The sign above the door says English Reformed Church which is across from the chapel. But this is now a Scottish Presbyterian church. Two houses were bought and joined to form the chapel. It was completed in 1682. There were 150 Beguines during that year. The last Beguine, Sister Antonia, died in 1971. Nowadays, the Begijnhof is home to single women (who are not Beguines).
There is a mass in French at 11:15 am every Sunday. It's a small community and the service is both intimate and tranquil. It's perhaps my favorite place to worship in Amsterdam.
During the Dutch Golden Age, wealthy merchants built magnificent homes along the canals of Amsterdam. Today we associate Amsterdam with its 17th century canal houses. But a walk around this compact city reveals a healthy dose of Art Deco, Dutch Art Nouveau, and modern structures. Amsterdam is a city that embraces diversity (in more aspects than one) with aplomb.
Eye Film Institute Netherlands
Across the Ij River and easily accessed by a free ferry, the Eye Film Institute reigns as the principal attraction of the Overhoeks urban district. It is the Dutch film culture and heritage museum which opened in April 2012. The EYE was designed by a Viennese architectural firm, Delugan Meissl Associated Architects. An article on April 10, 2012 in the ArchDaily described the EYE building as follows: "On the interface between land and water, between historic centre and modern development area, the building adopts many faces from each viewpoint, thus finding itself in a constant dialogue with its surroundings." I view the EYE as rising from the waters of the Ij and is one with it. (In fact, it stands on pylons embedded in the river below.)
Even if you don't want to watch a movie, you can always go to Pathé theater for a drink at the bar. And this is one heck of a bar! There's no mistaking the Art Deco façade which sets Pathé apart from its neighbors. The bar is in the lobby which has been thoughtfully furnished to reflect the era. I stood below the lighted dome in the foyer and watched mesmerized as it changed color from green to red to purple. When I finally had enough of the kaleidoscopic colors, I turned around and spotted a beautiful painting on the wall. As I was crossing the foyer to get a closer view of the painting, I happened to glance down and saw this eye popping carpet. This carpet was redone in 1984 using the same Moroccan thread ( but not the original design). It was flown back to Amsterdam in one piece courtesy of KLM Airlines.
Construction of Pathé started in 1918 and it opened in 1921 after Abraham Icek Tuschinski, its owner, spent 4 million guilders for a top rate theater. Renovations to the theater took four years, from 1998 to 2002. Nothing was spared to restore the theater to its former glory. As a footnote, Tuschinski and his family died at a Nazi concentration camp.
I have passed by the American Hotel many times over the years but not until recently did I notice the façade which faces the Leidsekade. What stopped me in front of the hotel were the life-size statues representing the world's continents suspended in a row between the windows. These statues were added during the expansion and renovation of the hotel under the management of the architect W.G. Kromhout. Kromhout preserved the original building in its Viennese Renaissance state while the new building was constructed in the Dutch Art Nouveau style. The American Hotel is a charter member of Historic Hotels Worldwide.
For the architectectural buff, Amsterdam is a treasure trove of buildings both old and new and well worth exploring. That's why it's always fun to travel to Amsterdam where surprises abound.
In the years following the Alteration in 1578 when power was transferred from Catholics to Protestants, an ordinance was passed in Amsterdam prohibiting Catholics from openly celebrating the mass. Jan Hartman, a rich merchant, bought property on Oudezijds Voorburgwal in 1661 and started rebuilding the three houses on that property to accommodate a hidden church on its top floors.
View of the organ from the first gallery
Ludovicus Reiniers, a priest, acquired the property in 1739 and kept the church open for worship. Our Lord in the Attic remained the parish church of Catholics living in the area for over 200 years until St. Nicholas Church (in front of the Central Station) was consecrated in 1887. Soon after a group of Catholics bought the property to save it from demolition. It was reopened in 1888 as a museum, one of the oldest museums in Amsterdam. Masses are still celebrated on first Sundays of the month from October to May at 11 a.m. (Check their website for dates of masses.)
The ceiling and second gallery
It's literally a breath of fresh air to visit this secret church as there were few visitors when we were there during Easter break. Unlike other destinations in Amsterdam where you have to contend with the crowds to get a good view of an icon or a painting, to find a seat in an outdoor café and to have room enough to walk the familiar streets without a bicyclist careening towards you, it's a breeze to slowly walk through the various rooms and intimately connect with this 17th century canal house. If only walls could talk.
Aside from the church, there are interesting rooms to see including the imposing drawing room of Jan Hartman 's family, the bedroom with a bed in a cozy closet (to keep the cold out), the tiled kitchen, the Chapel of Mary, the confessional and vestuary. Typical of canal houses of the 17th century, visitors must climb and descend on steep stairs, one careful step at a time. I was particularly impressed with a well preserved quadriptych of the Resurrection which unfortunately was neither properly identified nor part of the audio tour.
The Ressurection (not sure of the title)
Our Lord in the Attic is in the heart of the red light district though this specific area has now been "gentrified". There are more restaurants and cafés in the neighborhood and no obvious "red light" businesses. The museum is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 am to 5 pm and Sundays from 1 pm to 5 pm. The entrance fee is €8 as of this writing and this includes an audio guide. Large bags are not allowed in the museum and must be left in lockers in the reception area. The address is Oudezijds Voorburgwal 40 and is a short walk from the Damrak. For more info check this: www.opsolder.nl.
I know very well that to take the perfect photo of the iconic I amsterdamslogan, I must wake up at 5:30 a.m. and run over to Museumplein (at the back of the Rijksmuseum) before the tourists and visitors arrive in droves. But it was too cold to get up that early and besides, I kept late nights with friends sipping my favorite fresh mint tea leaves in one of many cafés on the Leidseplein and Rembrandstplein. So I shouldn't be disappointed at all with the images below since these were taken in late afternoon at the height of the King's Birthday weekend celebrations.
Everyone is hanging out in front of the slogan or should I say, all over the slogan. There's absolutely no way of getting a clear view of it. Notice the colorful orange accessories worn by many. It's the theme color of the House of Orange from whence the new King descended. These folks had been partying on the streets of Amsterdam all day long.
I have an almost unobstructed view from the back.
Not too difficult to read?But it's not quite the same.
So I tried again the following week, same time, late afternoon. But I could only fit the entire sign by taking the photo from the side. I was using my IPhone and I haven't mastered the panoramic setting yet. I really should wake up early next time.
And I don't mind if I'm tagged a tourist because I'm engrossed in taking pictures of this fun icon. I'm up to the challenge!
Though I've visited Amsterdam many times, I've never been to the tulip fields. During this recent trip, I made it a point to go to Lisse to see the profusion of colorful tulips at their peak. It was beautiful to stroll around the 32-hectare Keukenhof Gardens. While it was overcast, it wasn't cold at all and a few sprinkles didn't warrant an umbrella.
There are more than 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths grown at Keukenhof. The incredible variety of tulips and amazing colors are every photographer's dream. This is truly a feast for the eyes.
The flowers are artfully planted in diagonals, horizontals, verticals, patchwork, and many elaborate patterns. There's a windmill on site, a Japanese garden, a stream running through the gardens, fountains and playgrounds and so much more. You just need comfortable shoes and well rested legs for the long walks.
"And if I kiss you in the garden, in the moonlight
Will you pardon me?
And tiptoe through the tulips with me." Tiptoe through the tulips
The Beatrix Pavilion was transformed into a tropical wonderland of phalaenopsis, cymbidium, and oncidium to name just a smattering of these beauties. There are so many varieties here to admire. I can only wish I could raise such healthy orchids.
Keukenhof has been named the "Most beautiful spring garden in the world". It's open from March 20 to May 18 in 2014. (March 20 to May 17 in 2015). To get there, take Bus 858 from Schiphol Airport. Buy your ticket from the Information kiosk. The round trip bus fare and entrance fees were €19.00. Arrive early at the gardens to avoid the crowds. Opening time is 8 am. Check their website at www.keukenhof.nl for more detailed information.