Amsterdam Canal Cruise, Canals Museum, and the Jewish Quarter

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.

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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:

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And we got some interesting views of water homes:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.”

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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.

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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…

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…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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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Other Amsterdam Posts

Travel day and hotel
Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk
Day trip to Rotterdam, architecture tour

 

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Athens: Agora and museums

Since the Athens segment of our trip consisted of only two half days and one full day, we woke up bright and early to take full advantage of our one complete day in the city. Breakfast at Economy Hotel was definitely a step down from breakfast at the Mistral Hotel, but it filled us up and had some thick and delicious greek yogurt!

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After breakfast, we headed right away to the National Archaeological Museum. My guidebook listed this museum as the top museum to visit and said that the museum boasted one of the most famous and influential collections in the world.

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The museum is fairly large, so we couldn’t look at everything in great detail, but we spent a bit of time looking at the Mycenaean Collection (from the 16-11th centuries BC, featuring lots of gold), the Egyptian collection, and lots of statues:

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After the Archaeological Museum, we stopped by the Central Market. The Central Market is somewhat similar to the shuk but with an emphasis on meat and fish. SO MUCH MEAT!!

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You can tell we’re not in Israel anymore*….

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*octopus is NOT kosher.

The Central Market also has some spice stands around the outskirts, so that might be a better place to walk around for the more squeamish:

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After the Central Market, we made our way to the Agora and stopped for a coffee. Greece had a few types of unique coffee drinks. Greek coffee is a very thick and grainy drink – somewhat similar to Turkish coffee in Israel. An espresso freddo is espresso over ice. The espresso, however, is frothed with cold water making a very foamy drink. A cappuccino freddo is the same thing except with additional frothed milk on top. Lastly, nescafe is frothed instant coffee, often served with milk and sugar (be careful – if you get with sugar they are extremely sweet!). This is an espresso freddo:

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While we finished our drinks we sat under the Stoa of Attalos which used to be a 2nd century BC shopping mall and now serves as home to the Agora Museum.

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Selfies. Obviously.

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Caffeinated and refreshed, we went to check out the Agora.

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The Agora was once Athen’s central market and the main area of the city for about 1,200 years. It was built in the 6th century BC and was the spot for political discourse and the birthplace of democracy. Today, not much remains in the area, but there are ruins indicating where great buildings once stood.

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Although most of the Agora is now in ruins, the Temple of Hephaestus still remains and is, in fact, the best preserved Classical temple in all of Greece:

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When in use, the temple was devoted to both Hephaestus and Athena. After walking through the Agora, we took a break for lunch at a nearby restaurant called To Kouti. We chose a table outside and shared some bread with a yogurt spread while waiting for our meal.

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We shared a salad with hard cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, grilled halloumi cheese, and a zuchinni souffle.

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I wasn’t wowed by the meal, but it did its job! Once refueled, we headed back to the Agora to go to the Agora Museum. The museum is fairly small but has a lot of really interesting artifacts that reflect both the styles of the time period and the developing democracy. My favorite artifact was the Athenian Law for Democracy inscribed on this tablet after the citizens of Athens voted for a new-fangled system giving every (male) citizen an equal vote:

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The Roman Forum is right next to the Agora and better preserved, so we swung by there for a quick walk-through on our way out of the area. The gate pictured below is called the Gate of Athena Archegetis and serves as the primary entrance to the forum, built in 11 BC by Julius Caesar and Augustus and dedicated – you guessed it! – to Athena.

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By this point, it was late afternoon and we were totally exhausted from walking around all day, so we relaxed at another cafe for a bit…

nescafe with milk and sugar on the left, tea on the right

nescafe with milk and sugar on the left, tea on the right

…and then walked back to the hotel for a little down time before dinner.

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Side note: graffiti is literally everywhere in Athens.

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After an hour or so at the hotel, we decided to go to a restaurant called Mani-Mani, recommended by both Trip Advisor and our guide book.

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The restaurant has a Greek and American inspired menu, and we ordered several dishes to share: a bean dip (sort of like hummus!), a salad with Greek cream cheese (which tasted a lot like creamy goat cheese to me) and figs, and a fish dish served with spinach and some sort of root vegetable puree.

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By the end of the meal, it was late so we headed straight back to the hotel to get some sleep. The next morning we slept in a little bit and met some friends to visit the Jewish Museum in Athens.

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The group we met up with are fellow Americans in Jerusalem for the year (including our good friend, Avi, from college!), and we were all on the same return flight to Tel Aviv.

The 4 nights in Greece flew by, but when I got back to Jerusalem it also felt as though I had been gone forever…funny how vacations work!

Other Greece posts

1. Getting There
2. Hydra: arrival and Mistral Hotel
3. Hydra: exploring
4. Hydra: food
5. Athens: arrival and Acropolis

Athens: arrival and Acropolis

We left Hydra on Sunday at about noon and just over an hour later we were arriving to Piraeus Port…ready to start the Athens segment of the trip!

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We took the metro from the port to our hotel which was near the Omonia metro stop. This hotel was definitely a different flavor from Mistral Hotel on Hydra.

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The name says it all.

But, the rooms were clean, the lobby was nice, the receptionists were very friendly, and breakfast was included. So, nothing to complain about. 🙂

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After dropping our stuff off at the room, we headed out right away to start seeing the sights. Unlike the total sense of relaxation on Hydra, Athens came with a certain feeling of pressure to ‘get stuff done.’ With so many famous places and museums, we wanted to make the most of our two days. On the way to the Acropolis, we walked through Monastiraki Square – one of the main shopping and pedestrian areas in Athens.

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At the square, we grabbed sandwiches at Everest, a Greek sandwich chain.

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With restored energy from the food, we continued on our way towards the Acropolis:

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The Acropolis sits on a hill at the highest part of Athens. Due to its height, Acropolis Rock, sometimes called the “Sacred Rock,” was used for sacred purposes since neolithic times. The ancient Greeks built several temples on Acropolis Rock, most of them honoring the city’s namesake, the goddess Athena. The temples built here continue to appear incredible and majestic, and the architectural designs found at the Acropolis have played a big role on architecture within the Western world. To enter the Acropolis, we climbed the hill, snaked through a park, and finally approached the front entrance, called the Propylaia:

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Since the Acropolis sits on such a high point of the city, there are some pretty incredible views looking down…

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…including a neat view of the Temple of Olympian Zeus:

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We especially enjoyed spotting Lykavittos Hill which we planned to go up later that day:

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After entering the main area of the Acropolis, we headed straight to the Parthenon.

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The Parthenon served as a temple to the goddess Athena, and in ancient times a huge gold statue of Athena was housed inside. The sheer size of the temple and columns were really impressive to see. There’s currently a restoration project going on, hence some of the scaffolding you can see in the pictures.

After the Parthenon, we crossed the pathway to look at the Erechtheion. According to myth, Poseidon and Athena battled to rule the city that would become Athens. Athena was selected for the position because she produced the first olive tree to represent what she could offer the city (hinting to the later significance of olives in Greece). The Erechtheion is built on the spot where this battle was said to occur, and within the building are two separate temples: one to Athena and one to Poseidon. Caryatids (sculptures of women, acting as columns) support one side of the temple (the left side in the picture below). The caryatids on display at the Acropolis are actually copies of the originals. Of the six real ones, 5 are in the New Acropolis museum and 1 remains in the British Museum.

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After our fill of sightseeing, we made our way to the New Acropolis Museum.

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This museum opened in 2009 and has really interesting architecture. The floors are made of glass, and looking down you can see excavations of an old Christian village. The museum itself houses many of the original marbles from the Acropolis. While at the museum, we learned that Greece has reclaimed many of these marbles as the result of political pressure being placed on Britain to return the artifacts to their rightful owners.

After the museum it was already dark outside, so we decided to alter our original plan for the evening. We had been planning to hike up Lykavittos Hill and then enjoy dinner at the top. Since it was darker and later than ideal, we decided to take the funicular to the top instead of walking:

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Views from the top were amazing!

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We enjoyed a light dinner at a restaurant on top of the hill before walking back – exhausted! – to the hotel for bed.

 

Other Greece posts

1. Getting There
2. Hydra: arrival and Mistral Hotel
3. Hydra: exploring
4. Hydra: food

Lutefisk

Lutefisk is a culinary delicacy of the Nordic countries. Delicacy might be a bit of a misnomer…

Lutefisk is made from aged fish and lye. It is gelatinous. It is stinky. Its name literally means ‘lye fish.’ Yeah…

As I mentioned in my previous post, after hiking around Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse, we headed into Two Harbors proper to go to Heritage Days. Heritage Days is a multi-day event of parades, music, activities, and general festivity in and around downtown Two Harbors. When we stopped by Two Harbors on Thursday night, we asked directions from someone out on the street, and they told us (after giving directions) to come back the following day for the Lutefisk Throw. It is (and I quote), “the best thing that happens in Two Harbors all year.”

Well, with that recommendation, how could we refuse?!

And that is how we came to be in downtown Two Harbors for the Lutefisk Throw on Friday afternoon.

When we first arrived at Heritage Days, we wandered through a few booths selling clothes, art, knick-knacks, food, etc.

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Finally, we found the music stage where we were told the Lutefisk Throw would be.

You are probably wondering what a Lutefisk Throw is. We were also wondering.

Luckily, the band played an introduction song to the event to help clear things up. The song went like this:

Here comes that Norsky bunch, they’re gonna throw some fish now.
Lutefisk, better stand back, you know they’re gonna throw some fish now.

Lutefisk. Lutefisk. Lute….fisk.

Yes, those are the real lyrics. Here’s the rundown:

Each year the Sons of Norway face off with the Swedes at the Two Harbors Heritage Days Lutefisk Throw. Each team attempts to throw frozen lutefisk (gloves are worn because it is so gross) across a tarp and into a bucket, and the team who successfully sinks the greatest number of lutefisk in the bucket wins.

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There was even an honorary first throw of the game:

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IS THIS REAL LIFE?!

This was not a high-paced game, and when we left (after three rounds), the score was 1-0.

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After leaving the Lutefisk Throw, we stopped by the other big Two Harbors tourist attraction (har-di-har)…the 3M museum! Inside this  building is the most comprehensive and informative exhibit on tape:

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Oh yeahhh.

Even though 3M started with tape, as you are probably well aware, they have now expanded to many other products:

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And they’ve even made contributions to the field of science! Check out these butterfly tracker stickers that 3M created to help scientists learn about migratory patterns.

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My thumb is in the picture to help illustrate the size. Just in case you were wondering. 🙂

On the way out, I met this fellow.

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Why was he in the 3M museum? Still unknown.

Other Two Harbors posts
Betty’s Pies
Grand Superior Lodge
Gooseberry Falls and Split Rock Lighthouse