Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Amsterdam June 5 & 6, 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 7, 2015

Well, here we are in Amsterdam, and it’s all been very interesting so far. We flew in from London at lunchtime yesterday and were met by the tour leader, a nice young man called Nick Gordon who has a PhD in history but escaped from academia and is now making a living as a tour guide. We were escorted to our hotel in a swish Mercedes Benz, but things went downhill from there because the hotel is disorganised and they didn’t manage to get our room ready until late in the afternoon.  These things happen, I know, but it was hard not to be a bit fed up – and we weren’t the only ones…

But apart from that it’s been very nice. Nick took us on a walk around the historic canals area and pointed out various palaces – though as you’ll know if you’ve been to Amsterdam, a Dutch palace is quite modest compared to everything else in Europe. Most of them are five stories high but they are narrow and if they have any gardens at all they are around the back of the building where you can’t see them. Missing also are the grand churches that you see in Europe’s capitals, I’ve only seen one church and it was quite ordinary.


Anyway, after the walk we had a ‘welcome’ dinner which was very nice and (based on previous experiences of Dutch domestic cuisine) not how I expected Dutch cooking to be.  Alas I forgot to take my camera so I have no pictures, but we had numerous small courses, beautifully cooked and creatively presented.  We were very impressed!

In the morning Nick gave a talk about the long and complicated history of the Netherlands, and then – armed with knowledge about the hostility to Catholic Spain – we visited the Church in the Attic. This was a hidden church where worshippers came together in secret to avoid persecution. There was even a small confessional, and a little baptismal font. I know that religious persecution was widespread all over Europe, but still this little church was a vivid reminder that certain kinds of worship could result in a visit from the Inquisition during the period that the Spanish were in control here.

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From there we went to Rembrandt’s House, bursting with wonderful paintings and portraits and drawings by the great man.   They have tried to recreate the house as it was in his time, using the documentation from when he was made bankrupt to know how it was furnished.  There are paintings hanging on the walls as they would have done in his day, when apparently he displayed his work in the front rooms of the house for buyers to come and purchase.  You can see some of them here,  but of course it is nothing like actually being there.  I didn’t take photos because I thought we weren’t allowed to, but I have some postcards to use when I scrapbook this trip when I get home. My favourite room was his studio, which is a lovely light-filled space near the top of the house, and you can stand right there in the same place that he stood beside his easel. I wonder what he would have made of his home becoming a tourist attraction…

We had lunch at a restaurant called Senses and once again the food was excellent. All my preconceptions about Dutch food have now been laid to rest!

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We now have the rest of the day at leisure. So we’re putting our feet up for a bit, and will go out again later on, to brave the Saturday night crowds and the young people whizzing about everywhere on bicycles.

6 Responses to “Amsterdam June 5 & 6, 2015”

  1. Jonathan said

    Keep the photographs coming! I feel as if I’m there with you 🙂

    That’s a big attic!

    • Lisa Hill said

      LOL, yes indeed, I confess that I had imagined a very small altar in an ordinary English attic, and this certainly wasn’t like that! But the name isn’t as inappropriate as it seems…
      According to our guide Nick, it was common for the good burghers of Amsterdam to store large quantities of stuff in their large attics, which are more or less the same size as the floors below. It was a way of controlling the availability and pricing of the goods they imported. When the ships returned from, say, the Spice Islands, with a cargo of pepper, there would have been a glut of it and the price would fall. So they stashed it in their attics and released it onto the market in small quantities to keep the price high. If you look at the photo at the top, you can see that all the top floors have a protruding bar sticking out? That was for the winch, to haul the goods up into the attic…
      So a church in an attic isn’t as bizarre as it seems, but I really can’t see how they kept this one secret. If you look at the picture of the room with the altar and the pews, it’s the same room that has the organ at the other end. There was no way that the purpose of the room wouldn’t have been immediately obvious, and surely if there were that many pews required, there must have been a lot of people going in and out on a Sunday morning which would have been suspicious even to the dopiest Inquisitor! I shall ask Nick more about this tomorrow…

      • Jonathan said

        Yes, it’s difficult to see how it could have been that secret. Maybe it was tolerated as long as it was out of sight.

  2. Lisa Hill said

    Yes, I think you must be right. The authorities would have turned a blind eye as long as the numbers stayed small.

  3. kimbofo said

    You haven’t read Herman Koch’s The Dinner, have you? 😉

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