Monday, 4 April 2016

AMSTERDAM: The Hungry Birds Food Tour; Anne Frank House; Kartika Indonesian Restaurant

Good Morning everyone...this is the post for April 3. We started out our day by meeting up with our 'Hungry Birds' Food Tour group on the southwest corner of Weteringschans and Westeinde. We were greeted by a vivacious girl named Rachel (originally from Singapore). All introductions were made. We waited patiently for two others who were lost, Wes and Ginger, from Tampa, Florida. After half an hour (and no Wes and Ginger), we started our tour. I will tell you of a few of our favorite stops!
Rachel, our gregarious guide, lead us to our first stop. It was a quaint little bar named 'Café Bowman' which was apparently a typical bar in Amsterdam. Each of us was served a Dutch traditional shot called 'Oudejenever' containing 38 percent alcohol. This drink was smooth and aromatic. It is a juniper berry flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands. What a way to start the tour - a little on the unusual side. (I tried a few sips even though I knew it was a shot). Rachel, who is really a "Thirsty Birds" tour guide, happily specializes in alcohol. Here is a picture of Café Bowman:
Then on we went to a fabulous Kaashuis, (cheese house) called 'Tromp'. Apparently Dutch people on the average eat about 16 kilograms of cheese each per year. This was such a fabulous little place. We all crowded in and sampled a variety of cheeses with red wine. We raised our wine glasses and said, "Proost!, which is "Cheers!" in Dutch. This was a delicious experience and the hosts of the cheese shop were so friendly.
Rachel cheerfully lead us to our next stop which was a place called Klaver 4 (4 leaf clover) to sample delicious, white asparagus soup. This was quite nice, as we were seated upstairs at a long table and were able to visit with each other. By this time, Wes and Ginger had caught up to us. Wes started to complain bitterly about the problems they had experienced with GPS, and even got into some issues that he had experienced on other vacations, but his pleasant wife Ginger, patted his head and said, "It's all in the past now, Wes'.
After the soup, we were given numerous, small shortbread-like cookies. The cookies had crushed lavender in them which offered quite a pleasant taste. We continued weaving through the crowds while Rachel held a little yellow bird on a stick up in the air, which was meant to guide us! At least it wasn't a red balloon or umbrella. Our next stop was at a little walk up cafe on the street called 'Vleminckx Sausmeestrs' for crunchy, hot fries served in a paper cone. On the side was a large dollop of mayonnaise with peanut sauce and raw onions!
I must say, when you are on holiday, taking time to go on a food tour is a very fun experience. Not only do you wind your way through various interesting streets and see sights you may not see otherwise, it is also amazing to watch people engage with each other when the magic of food is involved. And it was at this point Rachel took us through a really interesting place called "Begijnjof" - one of the oldest inner courts of Amsterdam. It was like a garden with beautiful, quaint lodgings all around. This group of historic buildings formerly housed Beguines - a group of religious women who lived in community without taking vows. Apparently these women could leave if they wished to marry. It was a beautiful, quiet refuge in the midst of a bustling city.
We also stopped at a cute little shop called 'The Happy Pig'. Here we were served crepes with chocolate and banana filling, as well as another crepe which had a fig and cheese filling. The lady who made the crepes and runs the shop was bubbling over with enthusiasm!
So while there were other foods we tried such as deep fried croquettes and herring, included in the tour, I'll add this last detail about our day with Rachel. We ended up at a pub called 'Hoppe' which was dark and full of character. Hoppe was established in 1670! Some people opted to drink Heineken or Amstel beer. I enjoyed my sparkling water. This bar was referred to as a 'brown bar', because over time the walls turned brown from smoke. There was even sand on the floor because in older times the patrons liked to use chewing tobacco and afterwards spat the sticky gobs on the floor. The sand made it easier to sweep up at the end of the day. Now the sand is there because it still contributes to the old atmosphere. So, it was here we said farewell to new friends.(Personally I would have like to finish over a nice strong coffee, since we all had just enjoyed a large chocolate cookie)!
Ron and I walked back to Rembrandtplein to see the large cast iron statue of Rembrandt created by Louis Royer in 1852. It's the oldest surviving statue in an Amsterdam public place. In 2006, bronze cast characters from 'The Night Watch' were added on the square in celebration of Rembrandt's 400th birthday. Here is a picture of the Rembrandt, as well as some of the other bronze sculptures:
Also in the park were trees with large, breathtaking blossoms that I wasn't familiar with and discovered they are the blossoms of the magnolia flower.
By this time, we needed a break and found a teensy café called 'Rainarai' situated right on the corner of Prinsengracht and Lauriergracht (can you believe these names?) We found an available bench and sat for two hours in the warm sun watching people drive by on bikes of various styles and designs. Boats drifted down the canal. So pleasant. Nearby sat a little Dutch family of four, who were enjoying the company of each other on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
After our nice break in the sun, we walked to the nearby Anne Frank House. We were thankful we had pre-ordered tickets which allowed us to by bypass a very long line up. I took a picture of this little bronze statue in memory of Anne:
What is there to say about Anne Frank? Such a beautiful, young and vibrant girl who was full of life and looked forward to becoming a journalist and a novelist. It was a memorable experience to walk through the museum and into the home where Anne, and her family, lived hidden for two years in 4 secret rooms at the back of the home (the annex). It's hard to imagine the constant vigilance required to keep safe. And then, to be betrayed by a neighbor! When walking through the home and up the narrow staircases, (no pictures allowed), I was captured by the history, but it is impossible to imagine the terror that must have been experienced on a daily basis here. The whole house is bare of furniture, as Otto, the father of Anne Frank, requested it to be. Although there are 300 visitors each hour to this home, I never felt crowded or rushed. People moved quietly through, each person lost in their own thoughts. This is a wonderful tribute to Anne Frank, her family, and to the millions of Jewish people who were murdered by the Nazi's in the second world war.
So we left the Anne Frank house and started on our way to a restaurant called Kartika. Earlier in the day, Ron phoned and made a dinner reservation, as it was a highly recommended Indonesian restaurant. We arrived a bit early but the friendly staff were able to accommodate us. The restaurant was small and cozy. Since we were interested in sampling a variety of the food, we ordered a Rijsttafel (rice table) for two. The meal consisted of an assortment of small dishes of chicken, beef, vegetables, sauces, and, of course, rice. The tastes of each of the 10 dishes were unique and flavorful (they like to use coriander). It was a tasty and enjoyable meal.
Afterwards we caught the nearby #1 tram and returned to our apartment for the evening after a busy day. We were so tired, we fell into bed, and that's why I'm behind on my blog now! Good night, Karen

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