The second full day in Amsterdam was just as busy as the first! First thing in the morning, we went to buy tickets for a morning canal cruise.
Canal cruises – one hour boat rides along the canals – are very popular in Amsterdam and there are a lot of different companies you could go with. We decided to go with a company called Reederij P. Kooij, although I suspect most companies would offer a pretty similar program. The canal ride offered some interesting information about the city and some great views of canal houses:
And we got some interesting views of water homes:
Overall, the cruise was fun but it was sometimes hard to see outside the window because it was raining and getting fogged.
After the cruise, we went to the Museum of the Canals – a fairly new museum that has an interactive exhibit showing how the city was built on swampy marshland (spoiler: by driving long piles – aka, huge stakes – into the ground) and how the current canal system was designed and came to be.
The museum was interesting and presented its information in an unique format that I thought was fun, but I don’t think this would be a ‘must do’ if you’re pressed for time in Amsterdam.
After the museum, we went for a quick lunch at the Amsterdam chain, Bagels & Beans:
The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring and seeing the sights of Amsterdam’s old Jewish Quarter. In the eastern side of the city, the Jewish Quarter was the crowded and busy home of Amsterdam’s Jews since the 16th century. Historically, Amsterdam had been something of a haven for Jews escaping persecution throughout other parts of Europe. While equal rights and fair treatment were not completely extended (for example, Jews had to buy citizenship, couldn’t join guilds, and were forbidden to marry Christians), there was a degree of religious tolerance that wasn’t enjoyed elsewhere in Europe. At the beginning of the Nazis’ rise to power, the Jewish population of Amsterdam doubled (from 60,000 to 120,000) as it accepted Jews fleeing from Hitler. Tragically, Nazi forces eventually occupied Amsterdam as well and murdered almost the entirety of the city’s Jewish population. At the end of the war, only 5,000 (out of 120,000) remained alive.
Today, what was once the Jewish Quarters is dotted with various memorials, museums, and Jewish historical sites that remind visitors of the area’s former inhabitants. We started our exploration of the area by looking at a memorial statue of Baruch Spinoza, a Jewish philosopher and theologian whose progressive thinking placed him in conflict with community leaders of the time:
Next to the Spinoza Statue was a memorial to honor the dead of the Jewish resistance. The black stone is inscribed with a quote from Jeremiah which reads, “If my eyes were a well of tears, I would cry day and night for the fallen fighters of my beloved people.”
Next, we went to perhaps the two biggests current sites within the Jewish Quarter: the Joods Historisch Museum and the Esnoga.
The Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish History Museum) gives an overview of Jewish life in Amsterdam from the 16th century through the present day. While it had an interesting exhibit on the Holocaust, the museum focused on a broader picture of Jewish life, emphasizing the vibrancy and practices of pre-war life as well as the situation of the current Jewish community in Amsterdam. My favorite part of the museum were video interviews that visitors could watch relating to historical events and present circumstances experienced by Jews in Amsterdam.
Close to the Joods Historisch Museum is the Esnoga – an enormous synagogue completed in 1675 for Amsterdam’s Sephardic Jews. The building in quite impressive…
…and the mere fact that a building of this grandeur could be built for Jewish ritual life illustrates the relative tolerant tendencies in Amsterdam at that time. Inside, the building has wooden benches, beautiful chandeliers holding candles (there is no electric light), and large pillars supporting the building.
The Esnoga synagogue sits within a larger courtyard that houses other rooms and services such as a smaller winter synagogue (with heat), a mikvah (traditional Jewish bath for ritual purity), a kitchen, and storehouse.
Something interesting that Noah and I noticed when visiting the Jewish museum and synagogue was that the security at these buildings was much less than what is typically found at other Jewish sites in Europe. For example, there was no security entrance at the Esnoga, and the museum only had one basic metal detector (vs. many other museums I’ve been to which include body and bag scans, proof of identification, etc.). We wondered if the relative leniency in Amsterdam was a result of non-violent attitudes towards Jews post-war as opposed to other places in Europe which have continued to deal with anti-Semitic acts and attacks from post-war even until the present day.
The last stop in the Jewish Quarter was the Auschwitz monument in Wertheimpark (a small, canal-side park). The monument was fairly simple – broken mirrors and an inscription reading, “Auschwitz – Never Again.”
After a full day of exploring (unfortunately, often in the rain!) we were tired and ready for dinner. We went to a vegetarian restaurant near our hotel called Bolhoed. We ordered a tzatziki appetizer, bean/cheese enchiladas, veggie casserole, and a chocolate/peanut butter mousse for dessert.
And just for fun, we saw – in action – the way people get furniture upstairs in spite of the extremely small canal house staircases!
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