Exploring in the north and Hamat Gader

As mentioned in my previous post, the Shavit Family Guest House is both a lodge and a restaurant, and we were fortunate to be able to enjoy some of their delicious food during our stay there. The first night, we ate dinner at the family restaurant, ordering the signature dish of lamb casserole – cooked all day and stewed with potatoes and various vegetables. We also had breakfast at the restaurant both days and it was delicious! Like any good Israeli breakfast, there was an abundance of dips, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and beverages.

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After breakfast, we made a stop at Capernaum (where Noah and I have now been three times!) and looked at the ruins of a synagogue from approximately the 4th century (don’t mind the fact that the men in the photo below are actually looking at another camera…):

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After Capernaum, we began to drive north further into the Golan region, stopping at a lookout point along the road for some incredible views of and around Lake Kinneret. The area is called Offir lookout, and it is off of Rt 789:

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The lookout was a great find – we weren’t planning to go there and only happened to notice it off the road. In fact, we had to drive along a long, muddy trail to get there, and we almost turned back, thinking the path didn’t lead to anything. I’m glad we forged ahead!

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Given the slightly cold and rainy weather during the trip thus far (as you may have noticed from the photos), the group decided that this would be a great day for a refreshing activity. So, we headed to Hamat Gader, a hot springs spa located right by the Jordanian border and only a few miles from the point where Jordan, Israel, and Syria meet. Despite its slightly suspect location (and the fact that this is an Israeli spa, read: you need VERY different expectations than what you would expect from an American spa), visiting Hamat Gader was a lot of fun. When we arrived, we ate a quick lunch of salatim at a casual family eatery within the park and then headed to the main attraction: the hot springs!

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The hot springs basically look like a big public pool, but it is filled with thermal hot springs. Also, the natural sulfur in the water is said to have a healing and renewing effect. I am not so much of a water person, so I was content to sit by the side and watch the fun:

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After the hot springs, the rest of the day included more driving, gazing at lookout points, and a dinner on Mt. Gilboa before heading back to the Shavit Guest House for one more night (and breakfast!). Naturally, there was more rain – this time with a bit of hail!

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And I thought there wasn’t supposed to be rain after Pesach?!?!

The following day was again busy with exploration, visiting the Yigal Alon Museum at Kibbutz Ginnosar, more ruins, and a very rainy trip to Tzfat (sound familiar?!).

The day ended with a drive back home to Jerusalem, where Noah’s parents would spend the rest of their visit. We went for dinner at one of Noah’s and my favorite neighborhood restaurants, Kalo. Noah and I shared a camembert cheese sandwich and salmon/cream pasta, both of which were delicious:

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Noah’s parents stayed only a few blocks from us at the Little House in Baka – a small and casual hotel that has been very popular with the visiting parents of students in my program this year. Be careful, though, not to confuse it with the building next door: NOT little house in Baka:

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I guess those people have had one too many tourists try to come into their living room…. :)

Although Noah’s parents spent another 5 or so days in Israel after coming with us to Jerusalem, I could only spend one more day with the group because classes at Pardes were resuming. During my last day with the family, we went to the Israel Museum. Although Noah and I had been to the Israel museum before, it is a HUGE place and there were a lot of exhibits we didn’t get a close look at the first time. In particular, I wanted to look at the archaeology exhibit and the sculpture garden. I really enjoyed walking through the sculpture garden and, in particular, seeing a piece called Space that Sees by James Turrell. The piece is a large box of sorts that you enter through a walkway…

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Inside, it is a large square where you can sit and look up at the sky through the open ceiling:

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Very neat! I imagine it could be quite beautiful to see in the nighttime:

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Other posts about visiting with Noah’s parents:

Zichron Yaakov – visiting Ramat Hanadiv gardens and Caesarea
Ein Hod Artist’s Village and Acre (Akko) – Crusader’s Fortress and market

 

 

Visiting Ein Hod and Acre

After a day of touring around Ramat Hanadiv and Caesarea, Noah and I went for a morning run around Zicharon Yaakov. Initially, we thought we would just run around through the pedestrian areas and maybe look for a park, but THEN we discovered something very exciting (in particular to Noah):

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Unbeknownst to us, Zicharon Yaakov has an artillery corps museum (called Beit Hatothan) surrounded by an outdoor area featuring a memorial monument and a couple dozen tanks and military vehicles. The museum was closed (and we were in the middle of a run…), but we looked around at the tanks and such:

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You could even go inside some of them!

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After the run and a quick breakfast at the Purple House, we drove to the nearby hilltop village of Ein Hod. Ein Hod is an artist’s village with winding streets, tons of galleries, and it is nestled within a forest of JNF trees:

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Walking through the village, many of the streets were dotted with sculptures and public artwork:

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We enjoyed wandering around and following signs to various galleries throughout the town:

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After a leisurely morning in Ein Hod (which ended with a run to the car during torrential downpour!), we drove to Acre (pronounced and sometimes spelled, Akko). Acre is located in the Israeli northern coastal plain, and it’s an area that has served an important historical purpose throughout time, providing a coastal link to the central Middle East. For a time, it was the headquarters of Crusader knights, and much of the area’s current attractions/focus is on that time period. Before exploring the fortress and knight’s hall in the area, we paused in the town’s busy market for a delicious lunch of kebab and salatim:

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After being revitalized by lunch, we toured the Crusader’s fortress – it’s still an incredible (and slightly terrifying!) compound after all these years:

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The exploration of the fortress was followed by a return to the busy market for a more thorough exploration:

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Our walk ended at the port that made this area such an important strategic location:

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After leaving Acre, we took one final drive of the day to the Shavit Guest House at the base of Mt. Arbel where we stayed for the next two nights. The Shavit Guest House is a small, family-run lodge/restaurant. The family was extremely nice and welcoming, and they were also eager to offer help and suggestions when planning activities. We arrived to the guest house just as the sun was setting, so Paul worked on taking some nice photographs with his fancy new camera…

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…and I found a friend:

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Other posts about visiting with Noah’s parents:

Zichron Yaakov – visiting Ramat Hanadiv gardens and Caesarea
Exploring in the north and Hamat Gader spa and hot springs

Visit to Zichron Yaakov

For the second part of Passover and through the following week, Noah and I had very special visitors:

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Noah’s parents visited for about 10 days, and we had a great visit. It was a lot of fun to have visitors, and it was also a real treat to travel more throughout the country and see some new places. To begin the visit, Noah and I met his parents at the Tel Aviv airport.

Small interjection about one of the “so Israel” things that I love about this country, the man waiting at the arrivals corridor next to us was reading the Talmud Bavli. Oh, Israel. <3

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When Noah’s parents arrived, we picked up a rental car at the airport, and then drove together to Zichron Yaakov. Zichron Yaakov is at the base of Mt. Carmel, south of Haifa and was founded in 1882 as part of the First Aliyah movement. The settlement was founded by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, a Zionist, French Jew who provided the financial backing for much of the first aliyah movement.

In Zichron Yaakov we stayed at the Purple House, a lovely place that Noah’s mom found on Air BnB.

Adorable, yes?:

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AND, with a lovely garden:

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Upon our arrival, we went for dinner at a restaurant called Casa Barone at the Beit Maimon hotel. It was kosher l’pesach and had various meat-y items – I had a burger with fries (the restaurant was dark, so no good pics).

The next morning, we had a nice breakfast at Cafe Kilimanjaro, a coffee shop that Noah’s mom found to have a lot of good reviews on Trip Advisor.

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Breakfast was delicious…

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…and Noah ordered the cafe’s signature drink – some sort of chocolate/coffee mixture:

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After breakfast, we strolled a bit around Zichron Yaakov’s main pedestrian street, peeking in windows and (of course) posing with statues:

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The day’s primary activities began with a trip to the gardens of Ramat Hanadiv – beautiful sprawling gardens in the memory of Baron Rothschild.

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At the gardens, we watched a brief movie about the Baron Rothschild and then spent a couple hours walking through the various garden paths and admiring the trees and flowers, as well as visiting the grave of the Baron whose tomb is within the gardens:

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After the gardens, we drove to Caesarea and explored the ancient ruins there. The ruins included – among other things – a Byzantine fortress wall, Roman theater, and various rooms and storehouses used by the area’s previous inhabitants:

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My favorite part of the ruins was the Herodian amphitheater:

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The ruins were right along the coast which provided some great views of the water:

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The area was quite sprawling and a bit overwhelming to make sense of without a guide, but luckily there were some informational panels smattered throughout the ruins providing information:

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After leaving the ruins, we made a quick stop at the (impressively intact) remains of the Roman aqueduct and then went back to the Purple House for a relaxed evening:

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Other posts about visiting with Noah’s parents:

Ein Hod Artist’s Village and Acre (Akko) – Crusader’s Fortress and market
Exploring in the north and Hamat Gader spa and hot springs

Pesach in Israel

Every year, at the Pesach seder, I (and Jews all over the world) say l’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim (next year in Jerusalem).

And am happy ecstatic to say that I have finally fulfilled this yearly wish. WOOHOO!

As I’ve said on the blog before, a HUGE highlight of spending this year in Jerusalem is to experience the Jewish holiday cycle in Israel. The feeling of being in a culture that not only acknowledges Jewish holidays but celebrates them in the public sphere and embodies the meaning of the days in the (agri)cultural realm is amazing to experience. From all the excitement I’ve felt during Sukkot, Chanukkah, and Purim though, I think Pesach takes the cake.

Pesach (Passover, in English) is a week-long (8 days in the diaspora) holiday commemorating the exodus of the Israelites form slavery in Egypt. Highlights of the story include Moses, 10 plagues, a stubborn Pharaoh, and the parting of the Red Sea…maybe you’ve heard of it. :) During the holiday, Jews are forbidden from eating chametz (leavened wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt). Ashkenazi Jews are also prohibited from eating kitniyot (legumes) because they can be ground into flour and may sometimes be confused and/or processed with chametz (this prohibition doesn’t apply to Sephardic Jews). These restrictions are tied to the Torah’s command to eat matzah (unleavened bread) during the holiday in commemoration of the bread the Israelites took with them when they fled Egypt. The aforementioned bread was, in fact, unleavened because they were in such a rush to flee there was no time to let the bread rise.

In addition to eating matzah, a holiday highlight is the seder (or two seders in the diaspora). The ritual of the seder derives from the Torah’s command to tell the story of the exodus to your children. Thus, the seder is a ritualized dinner/ceremony that involves amazing food, 4 cups of wine, the recounting of the Israelite’s liberation from Egypt, and lots of singing! It’s notoriously long (one part of the seder mentions a group of rabbis whose seder went so long they were still discussing when it was time to say the morning shema – ie, until sunrise the next morning!). The seder Noah and I went to this year ended at about 1:30am, but I had a classmate who was at her seder until 5:30am! I don’t think I could have gotten through that one without sleeping…

And now, highlights of spending this holiday in Israel…

1. kosher l’pesach foods

Not only are chametz (and kitniyot for Ashkenazi Jews) prohibited during Pesach, but any foods that could have come in contact with forbidden foods during processing/packaging are also forbidden. Thus, many Jews only eat foods during Pesach that are certified as kosher l’pesach (kosher for Pesach). One of the most exciting kosher l’pesach finds available in Israel this year was Ben & Jerry’s charoset ice cream. Charoset is a traditional Pesach dish enjoyed at the seder. It is a sweet mix of apples and/or other fruits, wine, and nuts, and it is symbolic of the morter Israelites used to create bricks for the Egyptians:

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2. It’s easy to kasher your dishes

While Pesach is lots of fun and full of merriment, one aspect of the holiday that can take quite a bit of effort is kashering the kitchen. Many observers of Pesach prepare their kitchens for the holiday by either using special kosher l’Pesach dishes or kashering their current dishes for specific use during the holiday. The point of this ritual is to ensure that the dishes used to prepare food during Pesach don’t have any possible remnants of chametz. In the U.S., many Jews have specific kosher l’Pesach dishes. Here in Jerusalem, however, it’s made very easy to kasher the current dishes in your kitchen. In the days leading up to the holiday, small kashering stands pop up in nearly every neighborhood around town. At the stand, you can get your dishes dunked in a large pot of boiling water, thus having them kashered for the holiday:

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3. Search for chametz

The night before the holiday starts and the first seder, it is traditional to do a search for chametz. The search includes seeking throughout the house for pre-placed pieces of chametz. The search is to be conducted by candlelight, and when a piece of chametz of found, it is brushed by a feather into a wooden spoon and then placed in a paper bag. Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds a little weird, but it’s actually a really fun ritual that is intended to symbolize the attention and care given over to searching the house for chametz. The morning after the search for chametz (the morning before the holiday starts) the bags of chametz are burned. Noah and I didn’t have a feather and we were scared of using a candle (we’ll work on this for next year…), so we did a modified version of the search:

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4. Delicious food

Some people complain about Pesach food…I guess they just really miss bread. I have always loved traditional Pesach foods, and I don’t generally have any trouble with sticking to the dietary guidelines of the holiday. This year, Noah and I hosted a dinner on the second night – a seder night in the diaspora but just another intermediate night of the holiday within Israel. I did an insane amount of cooking for the meal (good thing Pesach only happens once a year!), but I had a lot of fun deciding what recipes to make and prepping in the kitchen. For the meal, I made two recipes from the kosher cookbook, The Modern Menu by Kim Kushner. I found this cookbook in an airport and really wanted to buy it. Unfortunately, I had to satisfy myself with remembering only a couple recipes – I definitely want to get the book when I am back in the states! From that cookbook, I made roasted chicken with a fig/pumpkin sauce and roasted potatoes:

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The meal also included tsimmes (recipe here)

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Brussel sprouts (recipe here):

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Vegetable kugel (recipe here):

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and a gluten and dairy-free (amazing) chocolate cake (recipe here):

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Even Noah, who is inexplicably not a huge fan of chocolate really liked this cake – I’ll take it as a success!!

Wow – so much food!

And, as a special Pesach gift from Noah’s parents during the holiday…

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You may ask…

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Because it’s organic, authentic, and fun.

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Yay!

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5. Pesach culture everywhere!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…a huge part of the fun of Jewish holidays in Israel for me is really feeling like the holiday is part of the culture – everywhere. Growing up in America, I always felt like Jewish holidays were unknown in the public sphere – or were maybe visible to the keen observer in between the Christmas Trees and Easter eggs. In Israel, Easter came and went in the midst of Pesach, and I literally didn’t even know it had happened! It’s hard to describe how remarkable that seems coming from American culture to Israeli culture, but it feels like a very special part of living in Jerusalem this year. Here are a few bits of holiday spirit from out and about this Pesach season…

  • a welcoming sign at the Tel Aviv airport wishing visitors a happy Pesach:

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  • Hag sameah‘ chocolates (featuring holiday-appropriate pyramids!) from Aroma wishing coffee-drinkers a joyous holiday:

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  • Even Coca-Cola was on the hag sameah bandwagon:

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6. It is SO EASY to eat kosher l’pesach around Jerusalem!

Seriously, even if you wanted to buy foods forbidden for Pesach in Jerusalem, it wouldn’t be easy to find them. Grocery stores look like this…

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…with non-kosher l’pesach foods sealed off and not available for purchase. Restaurants kasher their kitchens and create Pesach-friendly menus for diners (pictures below from The Grand Cafe – note the shakshuka served with matza!):

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What’s more, Israel knows how to do Pesach really, really well. So well, in fact, an innocent observer might not even realize anything is unusual at the restaurants since there are potato-flour imitations for basically everything (pizza, sandwiches, pasta…you name it!). Here is some potato bread that seemed to be at almost every restaurant throughout the holiday:

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A final comment about the special-ness of the holiday is the general sense of excitement and festivity all around the country. Unlike in the U.S. where different school systems have their own spring breaks, the whole country in Israel is on break for Pesach. This means there are families and kids everywhere. The country is abuzz with festivals, events, and entertainment. Moreover, there are an enormous number of tourists who descend on Jerusalem during Pesach – motivated in part by the reasons listed above but also as a harkening to the historical Jewish pilgrimage to Jerusalem every Pesach that took place during antiquity.

I think that’s a basic summary of my experience spending this Passover in the holy land – may I have the opportunity to say l’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim in Jerusalem again!

Bike culture in Amsterdam

Although I’ve recapped the activities of my 5-day trip to Amsterdam…

posts here:

Travel day and hotel
Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk
Day trip to Rotterdam

…I would be remiss to conclude a recap of my trip without mentioning the incredible bike culture in Amsterdam. Yeah, yeah, it’s legendary, but I still couldn’t help being amazing when basically every.single.road had a protected bike lane along it. Not only were there bike lanes, but also bike traffic signals, bike parking garages, and bike culture was clearly strong enough to be considered a primary means of transportation for more than just the most committed segments of the population.

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Wow – this sure would be a fun city to bike in! Before the trip, Noah and I had thought that we would definitely rent bikes one day and do some sort of bike trip or tour. Unfortunately, when the weather was very different than we anticipated (ie, rainy and cold instead of sunny and warm) biking no longer seemed like the best activity for the day. Still, we loved seeing so many bike paths and bikers. It reminded me a little of my beloved Minneapolis (admittedly, this may be the first city I’ve seen to really rival – and dare I say, succeed – Mpls’ bike path system).

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Oddly enough though, with all these bikes, I didn’t see one helmet. Hmmm…

helmet [source]

One other noticeable difference between the Amsterdam streets and others I’m familiar with was the abundance of electric vehicles. Even the taxis were electric – we got from the airport to the hotel in a Tesla Model S!

There were charging stations for electric vehicles along almost every street. Here’s a picture of a charging station near one of the canals by our hotel:

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And a nearby charging station with a Tesla plugged in:

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Yes, Amsterdam certainly seems to be a good city for the eco-conscious!

Day trip to Rotterdam

After a great three days in Amsterdam, Noah and I wanted to take a day trip to another city in the Netherlands. Rotterdam was an easy day trip and offered some interesting sights related to architecture, so we thought this would be the perfect destination! Trains from Amsterdam to Rotterdam run frequently, so getting there from the Amsterdam Centraal Station wasn’t too much trouble. Unfortunately, the express train we had planned to take was cancelled (surprise surprise!), but the local train only took about 15 minutes longer, so it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.

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Adventurin’…

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Rotterdam is known for its unusual and modern architecture. The city was basically entirely destroyed in World War II, so the entire landscape shows a very ‘new’ look, and it seems that the remodel opportunity was used to have some architectural fun. Architecture is an interest of Noah’s, so he was especially excited to see the city. We used an app (Rotterdam Info) to guide us on an architecture walk through the city.

The first stop…Rotterdam’s Centraal Station – this was easy since our train from Amsterdam arrived there!

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Rotterdam’s main train station, this building was revamped and reopened to the public in March 2014:

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Right near the train station were several other interesting buildings including Groot Handelsgebouw, an enormous business center that covers a building block of 720 x 275 ft. Also, this is the style that once symbolized post-war reconstruction in Rotterdam:

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Delftse Poort are high-rise office buildings just across the street from Centraal Station that immediately give the city a metropolitan feel. These buildings are an imposing 495 ft. tall and have a mirrored facade:

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De Calypso is a colorful building with sloping walls. Inside are apartments, offices, shops, and, naturally, parking:

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And, to make things even more fun, there’s an oddly shaped church attached to the end of De Calypso:

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The Westersingel canal (a primary canal in Rotterdam that runs from Chinatown to the Museum Quarter) has interesting sculptures dotting the pathway along the water. The name for this route is Beeldenroute Westersingel (Westersingel Sculpture Route). There are 17 sculptures featured, created by artists from around the world:

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The end of the sculpture walk brought us to an odd (and apparently somewhat controversial) statue. The statue’s official name is ‘Santa Claus.’ but it is known at the Buttplug Gnome (hence, the controversy as to whether this type of statue should be displayed by the city). It is supposed to be making a comment about pop culture.

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Moving right along…SHOPPING!!!

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Lijnbaan, the busiest shopping street in Rotterdam, was the first pedestrian shopping area in Europe. There was a large mix of stores including popular American brands I recognized as well as smaller boutiques:

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Just off of Lijnbaan is the City Hall building. There’s a street running under the center of the building!

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Interesting window shopping continued at the Beursplein, also sometimes called the ‘shopping trench’ because it is a below street-level pedestrian shopping area:

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Walking through the Beursplein led to a momentous occasion…my first Swatch! Noah is a big Swatch fan, and I finally let my envy of his cool watches get the better of me:

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The Grote of Sint Laurenskerk (often called Laurens Church) was built sometime in the late 15th or early 16th centuries and is the only surviving late-Gothic building in the city. Today, the building is used not only by tourists and churchgoers but also for concerts, lectures, and other large events:

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After all this sightseeing, Noah and I were hungry for lunch and excited to stop for a bite to eat at one of the most interesting buildings we saw…Markthal:

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Markthal (Market Hall) is a recently-opened indoor food market with shops, stands, produce vendors, restaurants and more. Of course, I would love this sort of food market no mater what, but the building itself is part of what makes this place really interesting. The building is built with apartments and offices forming a partial oval around an open-air center area. In this picture, the internal area extending from the large central window is the open-air market while the exterior ring is office buildings and apartments:

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Inside…food, food, food!

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From the inside, the ring of offices/apartments looms high above all the action, and the dividing wall is decorated with flower images:

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Here is a view to the outside from the center of the market:

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So neat!

After lunch, we looked at a couple of the other neat buildings in the immediate vicinity. Directly across the street from Markthal was Bibliotheek Rotterdam, Rotterdam’s public library:

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Also across from the Markthal are the iconic cube houses:

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These houses were designed by an architect named Piet Blom. His vision was to make the houses look like trees and have the complete unit appear like a forest.

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One cube house is a small museum of sorts where visitors can go inside and see what it would be like to live inside one of these houses. From the inside, the design seemed like a pretty inefficient use of space to me, but it was fun to get a view from within! Here’s a peek out of the attic window:

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Our last adventures of the day were to walk along the Nieuwe Maas (the large river running through Rotterdam) and to visit the Het Nieuwe Instituut.

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The wind next to the water was incredible. I literally thought I might be blown away, so we didn’t spend too long there before seeking cover on a different walkway. The Het Nieuwe Instituut is a contemporary museum about innovation. Unfortunately, our visit was a bit disappointing because half of the 4 exhibits were closed or not completed. There was a fairly detailed exhibit on 3D printing though….if that’s you’re thing. :)

Other posts from the Amsterdam Trip

Travel day and hotel
Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk

 

Anne Frank House, Amsterdam Museum, and Oude Kerk

While I was able to get advance tickets to the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, there were no online advance tickets available for the Anne Frank House. From the website, it seemed as though there are only a small number of advance-purchase tickets available to the Anne Frank House for any given day and they sell out well in advance (I didn’t see any tickets available until late May!). Since this is one of the most popular attractions in Amsterdam, I knew we would should expect some high waiting times in line (and, in the days prior to the visit, I saw long lines snaking around the blocks near to the museum).

The House opened at 9:00am, so Noah and I got to the line at about 8:30 – there were already over 100 people in front of us (yes, that is the line snaking up the block and curving to the right):

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Within the next half hour before the museum opened, the line increased to a few hundred (I couldn’t even see the end!):

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Holy cow – this was quite the line! We waited close to two hours in line before getting into the museum…good thing I brought my book! Inside the House, no photos were allowed, and it was very crowded. Basically, everyone walked through the rooms in a line, reading the information on the walls and looking at some of the artifacts on display. It was definitely a worthwhile visit, and I found it particularly interesting to see who was in the crowd of visitors. The Diary of Anne Frank is the Holocaust book that has achieved the greatest degree of worldwide popularity, and as such it seems to have become a symbol and point of connection to the Holocaust within communities and people that might not generally have much in the way of Holocaust education and exposure. As someone who has had a higher degree of Holocaust education (and especially after my Heritage Seminars trip to Poland in January), I found it very interesting to see the difference in people and feeling at the Anne Frank House.

After the museum, Noah and I visited the Amsterdam City Museum. This museum is enormous – something we unfortunately didn’t realize until we were already there. The museum includes a ‘DNA’ exhibit where visitors can learn about the basic history and ‘makeup’ of Amsterdam:

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Beyond the DNA exhibit, there are exhibits on art, culture, and social movements throughout essentially all of Amsterdam’s history. We were disappointed we didn’t realize how large and thorough the museum was before going because we timed the visit in such a way that we were tired after only an hour or so there – I felt like it could have taken half a day at least to see everything!

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Before too long we left to rejuvenate with lunch at the Luxembourg Cafe (my burger was great!):

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A complete pick-me-up wasn’t complete though until post-coffee. Coffeecompany is a chain around Amsterdam, and the swanky looking interior caught my eye:

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It turned out this was a very nice coffeeshop – high quality espresso, freshly brewed coffee for each order, and some interesting espresso drinks (like a more authentic version of the flat white – Starbuck’s new menu addition). I ordered a regular coffee which was brewed in front of me using an aeropress:

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After coffee and lunch, we did some sightseeing around Dam Square. Dam Square is in the center of the city and derives its name from the fact that it was at this location that the Amstel River was dammed and, thus, Amsterdam was created – originally, Amstelredam. Today, the square is bordered by some pretty impressive buildings. Most namely, the Nieuwe Kerk (Amsterdam’s principal church when it was built in the early 15th-century):

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And the Koninklijk Paleis:

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This building’s current name (Palace), however, is slightly misleading because the building was originally built to be the city’s town hall and didn’t have any royal occupants until the French occupation of the city (1795-1813).

From Dam Square, Noah and I ventured further into the city center to see the Oude Kerk and have a peek into the Red Light District. The Oude Kerk is one of the city’s most beautiful churches…and it happens to be right in the middle of the Red Light District. The church has been here since the mid-13th century and became something of a pilgrimage site after there was a purported miracle that occurred here. The story of the miracle is as follows: a dying man took communion here and threw up his Host. When it was thrown up, the cracker was thrown onto a fire, but it didn’t burn up. The un-burned cracker was then put on display and people would come to see it – hence, pilgrimage site.

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The church was quite impressive, but I felt most of place’s spirituality was dampened through distraction from the rest of the environs:

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After the Oude Kerk and Red Light District, we walked to Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest green area, to relax and stroll around a bit before dinner:

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On Saturday night (two nights before), Noah and I had tried to go to Moeders one of the [few] Dutch restaurants recommended in our guide book. Unfortunately, when we got there we were told that they were totally booked. I called later to make a reservation and they didn’t have any availability for two days (!), so I made a booking on the only available night. If difficulty to get a table corresponds to quality of food, then this place must be pretty good!

The environment at Moeders is a lot of fun (the name means ‘mothers,’ and the walls are covered with pictures of peoples mothers!

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Noah ordered a fish special and I ordered vegetarian hotchpotch – a Dutch dish made with mashed potatoes, veggies and cheese:

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We shared a dessert called ‘Dutch delights’ that had small samples of a few traditional Dutch desserts: spiced biscuit ice cream, small pancakes, and custard with fruit curd.

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Yum!

Coming soon…a recap of our last day in the Netherlands and a trip to Rotterdam!

Other Amsterdam Posts

Travel day and hotel
Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Day trip to Rotterdam, architecture tour