The next leg of the journey was much shorter, our destination being the Dutch capital city of Amsterdam – this was to be our first visit. Through the website airbnb we had booked 2 nights accommodation in an apartment in the De Jordaan quarter, next to the “De Wittenkade” (White Quay).
We found the accommodation to be very comfortable and would recommend it to anyone thinking of visiting the city: http://bedandbreakfast.jandeboerweb.nl/
From chatting with our host, we learned that this was a busy shopping period in Holland, as it was the eve of the feast of St Nicholas, which falls on the 6th of December. Traditionally it seems that Sinterklaas arrives in Holland by ship, from his homeland of Spain, dressed in a long red robe and mitre.
He then rides on a white stallion through the city centre in a festive parade accompanied by his loyal servant called “Zwarte Piet” or “Black Peter” and other servants who hand out goodies from their bags. On the evening before the feast each child, prior to going to bed, places one of their shoes (or traditionally a clog) next to the fireplace. In the shoes are placed a carrot and perhaps some straw, as a treat for Saint Nicholas’s trusty steed. During the night it is said that Sinterklaas sends out his servants to deliver “surprises” for the children (by climbing down the chimney, rather like Father Christmas).
Traditional treats of this festive period include: Chocolates in the shape of letters of the alphabet, ginger spiced biscuits, aniseed flavoured gingerbread, almond pastries, fondant candies, carrots made from marzipan and mulled wine.
It was bitterly cold, with an icy north wind and it had started to snow as we set out to explore the city. There had been some snowfall already, in fact it was so cold than some of the canals were freezing over.
Yet, Amsterdam’s cyclists continually whizzed by, totally undeterred by the slippery road conditions.
We meandered our way on foot through the mesmerizing maze of pedestrian streets that make up the main shopping area of the city. These were thronged with an array of cosmopolitan tourists scouring the hundreds of fascinating stores for Christmas gifts and souvenirs. In search of a cup of coffee, to thaw ourselves out a little, we entered the grand Magna Plaza shopping centre which is full of trendy designer boutiques. This impressive building dates back to 1899 and had once been the city’s main post Office. I greatly admired its grand architecture and in particular its elegant colonnades and glass domed ceiling. In the spacious foyer the was an enormous and lavishly decorated Christmas tree.
We continued on foot and made our way towards Amsterdam’s unique floating flower market.
Here there is a huge assortment of blooms, plants, bulbs, seeds and even Cannabis starter kits, in addition to clogs, blue traditional blue delftware, knick-knacks and mementos.
Next we headed to the old historic quarter of the city through narrow alleyways and streets full of interesting little shops, coffee houses and bars.
Then to the traditional picturesque network of canals, crossed by arched bridges. Of course bicycles are to be found everywhere, chained to every conveniently sited lamp-post or iron railing.
The waterways are lined with tall narrow tightly packed merchant’s houses, with high pitched roofs, some with ornate gables and facades. These residences were designed and built in this manner to overcome the heavy property taxes of the time of construction, which were based according to the frontage or width of a dwelling.
By chance we stumbled upon the Chinese district and were surprised to find the Buddist He Hua Temple.
Two days was just not enough to fully explore this interesting city, no time to explore all the museums and so many other places of interest.
This will have to wait until our return ….. perhaps next time a visit in the Spring or Summer months?