May 1st, 2007

Amsterdam, the capital of The Netherlands is about an hour away from Munich by air.  You are able to drive there if you have 8 hours to spare when the 663 air miles translate to 828 km on the highways.  Think of Amsterdam and you’ll think of pretty milk maidens (yes, “Susu cap Junjong in Malaysia”), tulips, clogs, dykes and of course windmills. In modern day Amsterdam, you might have to scrub the windmills and add on Museums, the notorious Red Light District, legalization of recreational drugs (cannabis is freely sold all over Amsterdam), loads of bicycles and the Queens Birthday celebrated in Orange.  We are here for the latter.

'The Netherlands”, local lingo for “The Low Lands” is a country under sea level.  Holland is a province of The Netherlands where Amsterdam is the capital.  A large amount of land in the country has been reclaimed after pumping water out into the sea.  As a matter of fact, the Amsterdam International Schiphol Airport is 6 meters below sea level.  You are able to see a lot of canals, locks and bridges which form a network of waterways, each one higher than the other as water is pumped out to sea.  These canals then provide for a unique feature in Amsterdam.  People use it as a transportation channel – mostly for recreational boating and tourism and to live on, with 2,500 houseboats in Amsterdam’s canals.  With a great amount of waterways, it wasn’t long before we went on a canal tour – it was a great way to see Amsterdam.  Of course being Asian, we stood out but people were very nice and left us pretty much to ourselves.  English is widely spoken here.

Bicycles are used (and stolen) in large numbers by both men and women.  In fact, we’ve seen people in full business suits, evening dresses and of course in casual wear on these bikes zooming through the streets of Amsterdam… some still talking on their mobile telephones and eating.  Most of Amsterdam is easily accessible by foot and we had a 72 hour public transport ticket to save us some energy.  The many museums and other attractions were accessible to us by tram but the subway and bus is always within handy reach.

We loved the Dutch pancakes called Pannekoek or poffertjes and the Croquette (large sized meat balls) although not so hot on the Herring (fish), at least towards it awful pong.  While enjoying our pancakes, we were treated to a “show” by a young man, dressed in nuclear green mini outfit flashing to his pals right in front of the pancake restaurant as a dare.  Being desensitized to such liberalism, the Europeans didn’t even batter an eyelid at this amusing antic and continued eating while we were choking on our pancakes.  These pancakes, which were about 30cm in diameter, were filled with all sorts of sweet or savoury things.  We tried the “Dutch Pancake” which was filled with cherries, cream and ice-cream as well as the “Thai Pancake” which had chicken curry, sweet peppers, onions and potatoes in it … yummy!  Pretty Dutch Maidens took our orders and served us pancakes at the “Pancake Corner” where we had breakfast each morning while their burly bodyguards kept a keen eye on them, presumably to keep them safe.  Walking through the streets, we not only saw many Chinese Restaurants (of course, the most being in Chinatown) but also several Indonesian and a Malaysian restaurant.  Dinners for our evenings have been Indonesian and Malaysian with Dutch pancakes for breakfast.

Oh yes, the story of the little boy who saved his town from a flood disaster by plugging his finger in the dyke wall, is a myth.  A young Dutchman cared to explain to us, while we were enjoying a canal tour that the story was about a fictitious tale made up by the yanks about a little boy named Hans Brinker in a town near Haarlem, north of Amsterdam.  In the story, he left his finger in the dyke all night and was discovered the next morning by the Vicar but the CSI fans among us can tell that a lot would have happened (frostbite, search and rescue squad, eel bites etc.) before morning for this story to have any sense of reality about it.

We visited “Molen van Sloten / Kuiperijmuseum”, a working windmill about 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam.  The only windmill open to the public, it is one out of nine remaining working windmills in Amsterdam, with the others dispersed in the countryside.  With little information but “just a 10 minute walk on the Tram 2 line”, we worked out where we would need to disembark the tram and in which direction we should walk.  Determined to see the windmill, we dodged tramways, canals and walked about 2 km. 

 Through a set of timber gears and axels, the energy of the wind caught by the large sails of the windmill is converted to work, such as a water pump in the windmill we visited.  Windmills are also used in timber mills (to saw wood), the flour mills (pounding grain to produce flour) and to generate electricity although the latter is less reliable since one can not guarantee availability of wind.  The Sloten windmill was used to pump water from a lower canal, into a higher larger canal before the water was finally pumped out to sea by a much larger pump.  While smaller channels of water was pumped to larger canals using a waterwheel, Sloten windmill which has an output of 60,000 liters of water a minute, used a corkscrew turbine arrangement to move this large body of water.  The Sloten windmill is still in operation, although draught conditions has meant that it doesn’t have to do much but tourism work.

During the second world war, the Windmills were also used as a communications channel by the Dutch resistance movement.  By positioning the sails appropriately, it was used to warn others of the coming of the Nazi’s and also that it’s safe again.  These days, it’s still used in similar circumstances for instance, to mark of mourning the passing of the Queen. We were told by the windmill tour guide that Sloten was where famous 17th century artist Rembrandt lived in his early years. He was the son of a miller although we were unsure if his father worked in the Sloten windmill.



The Sloten windmill gave us a prelude to Rembrandt in Amsterdam.  Following this, we visited the Rijks Museum where the greater part of Rembrandt’s collection, called “The Masterpieces” were held. As with most museums in Amsterdam, entry preceded with a long queue but the pleasant weather and good company made things move a lot quicker – we made friends with an elderly French couple who are also visiting for the Queens Birthday weekend.  This is where Rembrandt’s famous painting The Nightwatch was displayed.  We were very fortunate to see the Rembrant work, Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet as it was on loan from a private collector and was on its second last day of display.  It was simply quite amazing to be able to stand within ˝ meter from these magnificent works of art and to admire the detail and handiwork.

Rembrant House / Museum Het Rembrandthuis” was the home of Rembrandt until he died in 1669.  Here were able to see Rembrandt’s paintings, original etching plates, the etchings, paint making tools and other instruments used by Rembrandt.  We saw a life demonstration of how a print was made from the copper etchings in the old days.  The 4 level home was used by Rembrandt to paint most of his masterpieces and live in.  It had nice sized rooms, crammed hallways but a narrow spiral staircase and quite a large studio where Rembrandt could use soft cloth to control lighting on the subjects he painted.  We understood later that a hoist existed on the outside help hoist heavy further up from streets and into the homes.

Following on with the Rembrandt trail, we also visited “Museum Van Loon”, a home which was built in the 17th century and was first occupied by Rembrandt’s most renowned pupil, Ferdinand Bol.  This home was tastefully decorated, had a pretty garden courtyard and further on, a garage for their horses.  The “Van Loon” family, co-founders of the Dutch East India Company VOC has been the current owners since 1884

The present Queen Beatrice, proclaimed April 30th the Queens Birthday after the birthday of her mother.  With the Royal family name being “Orange”, the Dutch adopted the colour orange as its official colour.  Jeanette’s favourite colour, it is used to signify “The Netherlands” and on April 30th, is celebrated in one big street party as one million outsiders descend on the city of Amsterdam to celebrate the Queens Birthday in Orange.  Orange t-shirt, pants, underwear, hats … everything orange.  On this day, thousands of street stores run by ordinary people are set up.  In fact, a couple of days before this event, store spots on the streets are already marked in chalk by prospective store owners for the day.  The entire city of Amsterdam is closed to public transport … In actual fact it gets so rowdy that many people from within Amsterdam will leave the city for the day to escape the chaos.  On this day, we were in fact stuck as our hotel located in the fringe of the city centre was just on the border where public transport had stopped operating.  It took some planning to be able to arrange for our airport shuttle to pick us up with ample time to get out of the city and to the Schiphol International Airport for our journey back to Munich.

All in all, Amsterdam was fun and people were friendly to us.  As much as we saw and learnt, we also left behind many things due to lack of time. 

Our new set of clogs will remind us of the tremendous fun we had here in Amsterdam until we will return some day.  Perhaps then, we would visit cities like The Hague, Rotterdam and The Golden Circle.


Jeanette and Raymond Han
April 2007

To see pictures, please click on the appropriate tile below


Queens Day 2007