Monday, February 25, 2013

Amsterdam in a day

On January 5 we went to the city of Amsterdam (the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands) . . . . what can I say about Amsterdam that is not inappropriate to post on my blog. . ?!?

I guess I could tell you about the historical buildings of Amsterdam . . . It was here in Amsterdam that the Frank family hid in the walls of one small house and where the diary of Anne Frank was written.  We were able to view that same house from the outside as well as a statue of Anne Frank.  Had we wanted to see the inside bad enough we could have stood in a line that was several hours long . . . we decided, however, that it would be more beneficial to see the rest of the city as we were only there on a day tour.

Westerkerk is a protestant chrurch built from 1620-1631.  It is here in this church where the famous artist Rembrandt Van Rijn is buried. We were able to find a bit of piece inside this church as we sat and enjoyed the music and remaining Christmas decorations.

We walked by the Royal Palace, which is one of three palaces in the Netherlands at the disposal of Queen Beatrix by Act of Parliament. The palace was built as a city hall during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. The palace is open to visitors most of the year . . . just not when we were there. . .

Amsterdam is built on a series of canals which makes the city quite lovely.  There are also more bikes than cars.

There is a 1956 World War 2 monument set up on Dam Square which was quite moving. In the words of Wikipedia,” The central element of the monument is a concrete conical pillar 22 metres in height, covered entirely by white travertine stone. On the front of the pillar is a relief entitled De Vrede ("Peace"), consisting of four chained male figures, representing the suffering endured during the war. To either side of these central figures are two male sculptures representing members of the Dutch resistance, the left figure symbolizing the resistance by the intelligentsia and the right figure symbolizing the resistance by the working classes. Weeping dogs are at their feet, representing suffering and loyalty. Above the central relief is a sculpture of a woman with a child in her arms and doves flying around her, representing victory, peace, and new life. A relief of the back side of the pillar shows doves ascending into the sky, symbolizing the liberation.”

The red light district is as crazy as everything you have heard . . . and we witness it all . . . probably not going back.  *yikes* There are comfy “coffee shops” which specialize in a product other than “coffee”.  Window shopping has a whole new meaning in Amsterdam.  *double yikes* Even the tourist shops throughout the city held many different items that should only be seen in the back corner of some dark, dingy, heavily guarded against anyone-younger-than-18 store.  I was in a state of shock and it was with a sigh of relief that I left that city . . . it is probably a lovely place in the summer . . I just don’t think I will go back to see if it is or not . . . 

On the way to the city, our tour bus stopped at a cheese factory that also produced the classic wooden clogs.  It was delightful! We were given demonstrations of how the clogs were made as well as the cheese.  We also received samples of the cheese which caused us to break down a buy a few.  I also bought a neat half-made shoe for the storage of my pens and pencils.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Salzburg, Austria

While on our "Christmas" tour of Bavaria we decided on a little visit to Salzburg. The main highlight of this trip was to see the Hohensalzburg Castle . . . as well as the lovely Christmas market I was told about. We used our handy-dandy GPS to get us into the country but had no idea where to go after that. There were no clearly marked signs for Hohensalzburg Castle and we ended up driving in circles for about 30 min or so. We finally parked in the first place we could find at the base of the mountain and figured if we kept walking up we would eventually find it. . . and we did!! It was a little deserted as it was the day after Christmas and it was raining, but we were able to eat lunch as well as visit several rooms inside the fortress which were more like a museum of various items that would have been found during that time period.
(view of the Alps from inside the castle)
(Salzurg city)
(another view of the Alps)

Hohensalzburg is one of the largest castles in all of Europe and construction originally began in 1077. It was built atop the Festungsberg mountain (of which we managed to walk both up AND down) and has some interesting history. In the 19th century, it was used as barracks, storage depot and dungeon before being abandoned as a military outpost in 1861. It also served as a prison during World War I.

We then walked down into the city center for the fabulous Christmas market. It was huge!! My husband bought me a smallish ceramic mushroom for our house and we were able to visit the Salzburg Cathedral. We then walked all the way back to our car on the other side of the city. . . we must have walked about 4-5 miles that day. . .no joke!! I just asked Clayton! (he keeps me from exaggerating too much)