Monday, September 17, 2012

Europe - Pit Stop 5 - Zaanse Schans

It was our last day in Amsterdam and we decided to venture out of the city for a bit. I wanted to visit one of the open air museums and we decided on Zaanse Schans. It's about a 15 minute train ride and then a 15 minute walk to the museum from Amsterdam. 

Unlike the other museums, this is an open-air museum.  It almost feels like you are visiting a small countryside town. They have re-created a 17th century Dutch town and is devoted to the traditional lifestyle along the Zaan. Zaan was once lined with hundreds of windmills. Today it's heavily industrialized and houses a giant corporate chocolate factory. 

I'll now let the pictures speak for the place.
A typical windmill as you enter the town 
Sid posing in front of the windmill 
Plenty of tourists just rent bikes and bike around the museum 
The lush green scenery 
Picture perfect, straight from a fairy tale

We toured one of the several old fashioned windmills. This particular one was used for grinding the spices. Try to choose a windmill that is spinning, that ways you will be able to see more action inside. 
This man selling delicious gelato caught my attention. His cart was small but full of colorful objects. The two brass lids are huge pots where he keeps the gelato. The gelato was creamy and simply delicious!!
The gelato cart
There are plenty of museums all around and in some places you could pet animals :) I don't know who was more scared, the goat or me??
It was a beautiful day and i thoroughly enjoyed just walking around aimlessly. The sun was warm and bright and it was a scene straight from fairy tales. It was unbelievably picture perfect. Our next stop was the Clog museum (or the wooden shoe workshop). This one in particular is more engaging that the other attractions. You can catch a live demonstration of how clogs are made.

Colorful clogs from different regions of Netherlands were beautifully displayed in the museum. Excitedly, I tried one on but decided against buying it. They were a bit heavy and would require getting used to it. I loved the bright colors and the patterns imprinted on each one of them.
Sid, tries his hand on these, finally after a few attempts manages to perfectly balance on it :) 
The De Catharina, Hoeve Cheese farm is really a giant cheese shop which shows you how cheese is made. A costumed Dutch maiden explains the process in detail and in the end dispenses samples of cheese hoping to allure customers into buying some :)
At the cheese making museum
Spotted this cute post on the way
Zaanse Schans is a fun place to visit for a few hours during the day. There is a festive mood in the air and people are generally very relaxed and happy. They are lounging in their boats, drinking and having a good time. You might catch a live band playing in the evenings.
A live band entertaining the crowd

There are not very many food options at the museum. In fact to be precise there might be only two places to eat. We decided to try the De Hoop op d'Swarte Walvis. They have beautiful outdoor seating and an ambitiously priced menu. The food is nothing to rave about, but it's probably the best you will get out there. 
Outdoor seating at the restaurant
Chicken Wrap
Tomato soup
The best experience about this outdoor dining was the live music. Every few minutes there were boats and boats of sailors singing out loud. It was so much fun to watch them. What a festive feeling :) I've never quite experienced something like this and loved it!! Here is a small video:

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Zaanse Schans and would highly recommend it if you are visiting Amsterdam. It's unique, fun and a very Dutch experience!! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Europe - Pit Stop 5 - Amsterdam - Day 2

I woke up excited!! Pancake bakery, Van Gogh museum, Red Light was going to be a fabulous day!

After downing a cup of green tea, we quickly got ready and walked out straight to the Pancake bakery. The rumor has it that they have one of the best pancakes in town :)  We were promptly greeted with a long queue. Almost a 40 minute wait. Well like obedient kids we stood in line patiently waiting for our name to be called. Once seated, we ordered the yummiest pancakes!!
Pancake bakery 
The wait was absolutely worth it. In a few minutes, 2 huge pancakes were staring at our face screaming out loud -- EAT ME!! And eat we did, like no one's business...they were delicious!!! BuRRRPPPP !!! 

Chicken and cheese pancake

More bicycles

Lovely outdoor cafe 

Street signs
Typical homes in Amsterdam
After we stuffed our faces with delicious pancakes, we headed out for the very famous Van Gogh museum.  The wonderful tram transported us to the museum for less than 2 euros each. The next 2 hours were delightful!!

I absolutely loved the Van Gogh museum. We already had tickets to the museum (thanks to our concierge) so we skipped the lines and went in. Bought the audio guide and went straight to his collection. The experience was amazing, the paintings were arranged in chronological order and each one had a beautiful story to tell. Stories about his struggle as an artist, the world around him, the various influences and stages of his life and the world around him,  I stood and stared in amazement at each of the 200 odd pieces of creativity. Listening to stories so meaningful and so touching. Here is a glimpse of what might have been his last painting before he shot himself.

Wheat fields with crows was Van Gogh's most powerful and fiercely debated paintings. Some see this painting as his suicide note put to canvas, while others have a more positive approach to it. The painting is turbulent, and certainly conveys a sense of loneliness in the fields - a powerful image of Van Gogh as a defeated and solitary artist in his final years
Wheat fields with crows  - Van Gogh
I Love Amsterdam!
I came out of the museum wanting to paint like him :) What a foolish thought!! The museum shop is stacked with everything Van Goghyyyy. Don't worry if you can't paint like him, you certainly can own clothes, mugs, magnets, calendars, etc etc with his paintings on it. They left no object out!!  We decided to walk back to our hotel. Maybe a 2-3 mile walk. And glad we walked because we passed some amazing boutiques on the way that left a deep hole in my pocket!!  I specially love this sign on the way and thought it was neat. 

We walked through Jordaan, a characteristic neighborhood filled with cafes, boutiques, bookstores and art galeries. Things unique and common to Amsterdam, but no other city in the world. Here is a picture of the typical houses in Amsterdam. They crowd together shoulder to shoulder. Most of them have big tall windows to bring in as much light as possible. Along the rooftops are Amsterdam's famous gables that come in all shapes and sizes. They are false fronts to enhance the roofs. 
Van Zuylen cafe - famous for its variety of beers

I was extremely excited for the evening. We were going to check out the Red light district and instead of going alone we decided to take Randy Roy's Red light district tour. This is a 90 minute walking tour and I highly recommend it for anyone who is a first timer at the red light district. Our tour guide Kimberly was  extremely knowledgeable and had a good sense of humor. She knew the area well and did a great job and our group was small and very manageable. We felt very comfortable and safe and I enjoyed the tour.
Red Light District 
Unesco Heritage homes 
One of the canals in the Red Light district 
One of the oldest bars in Amsterdam 

After a wonderful tour of the red light district, we walked back to our hotel. There was a sudden urge to eat some delicious dessert and so we decided to go check out the apple pie at Winkel. This apple pie is hands down the best I have ever eaten. It was delicious!!! And the best part is, it costs only 3 euros :)
They have the best Apple tart and it's only 3 Euros :) 
The walk back to our hotel was beautiful. The canals were all lit up and sparkling. The city looked gorgeous and romantic. Such a beautiful and fun city. I loved every bit of day 2.