Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Begijnhof, Amsterdam


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.

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Images by TravelswithCharie

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Architectural Diversity in Amsterdam

17th century canal houses

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.) 

Pathé Theater

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.

American Hotel

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.

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Images by TravelswithCharie 


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Our Lord in the Attic



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.

The confessional

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.

Cozy 17th c bed


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Images by TravelswithCharie



Sunday, May 11, 2014

That Perfect Photo Eluded Me

I know very well that to take the perfect photo of the iconic I amsterdam slogan, 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.

5:30 p.m. 

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!

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Images by TravelswithCharie


Saturday, May 10, 2014

"Tiptoe through the Tulips"


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.

A tulip field outside Keukenhof Gardens


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Images by TravelswithCharie