Tour of the gardens of the Floriade flower festival just outside the city limits for the whole morning. Tour of the famous Rijksmuseum after lunch in the Museum Quarter followed by a walk to Leidesplein Square. Dinner in Nieuwmarkt followed by a walk in Oude Zidge - the red-light district of Amsterdam. Remembrance Day Memorial service at Dam Square.
|Floriade and Amsterdam:|
1. Floriade (aan het Meer)
2. Rijksmuseum (Museum Quarter)
3. Leidesplein Square
4. Chinatown and Zeedijk
5. Nieuwmarkt and the Waag
6. Red Light District
7. Dam Square (Remembrance Day - 4th May)
Rijksmuseum - official site
Floriade - official site
After having breakfast and descending down the steep staircase of our hotel, we proceeded to the hustle and bustle of Damrak to catch our bus to the Floriade. Since we were unfamiliar with the area to the Floriade, we took a tour bus that we booked at the hotel yesterday. Unfortunately, the clouds that arrived yesterday evening had remained. Despite this small setback, there were lots of passengers that were determined to make the most of this trip.
As our bus drove to the Floriade, our guide presented a short history of Amsterdam and famous pointed us to some famous landmarks. We learned about the history of the canals and their importance in establishing trade routes between Amsterdam and the surrounding towns of Haarlem, Leiden and the history of some of the windmills near the city limits, the draining of the lake that now occupies Schipool and the old city gate to Haarlem. However, our history lesson of Holland lasted for only 30 minutes when our bus pulled up at the festival entrance at and on our way into the Floriade.
For a festival that has only been held four times last century (1960, 1972, 1982 and 1992), the exhibitors seemed to make the most of this time to produce one of the most unique and beautiful flower festivals in the world. The Floriade consists of four sections, appropriately named bij het Dak ("Near the Roof"), naast de Berg ("By The Hill") and aan het Meer ("On the Lake"). There are entrances for each section. Since our bus had dropped us at aan het Meer, we entered the Floriade from here.
The large lake on Aan het Meer bears clear evidence of its name for this section of the Floriade. We decided to go right to the gardens of Europa and Azie. Here we walked around the gardens of Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and Belgium as well as the sleek, futuristic building of Haarlemmereer. Other than its cool lines and the running water near its entrance, we could also get really good views of the lake, the gardens and the long bridge of De Verbinding. We then proceeded on passed the aan het Meer ampitheatre towards Azie (the Asian gardens).
The Japanese garden would be the first garden we would encounter in Azie. One of the highlights of this area would be the running streams of the water garden. The garden seems to take a life of its own with the sound of running water from the small waterfall and its running streams. However, the gardens of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Pakistan seem to pale in comparison as they all seem to just concentrate on displaying or selling various items native to their home country, that could be used for decorating people's gardens or homes.
Surprisingly, the day was still early, so we crossed the long steel bridge of De Verbinding to Natuurgebieden. Perhaps the most unusual section we have encountered, each garden seemed to follow a more modernist theme, or a theme that broke away from my definition of a conventional garden. But the garden that took our attention was the Kijk een Bos Sound Garden near the barbecue area of the lake. Foot buttons can be found on the garden trails which activate the sounds. Funny as they sound, the garden seems to feel more alive with hoots, whistles and howls coming from our feet stepping on the buttons. In some cases, it really made us look around as if something unusual or beautiful was perched up in the trees.
The tulip gardens of Bloeminrijk was next on our agenda. Here, the tulips seemed to explode in a kaleidescope of colours across an ordinary parkland of trees and shrubs. It was amazing how some of the most simplest things such as tulips can brighten up an otherwise dull and overcast day. Unfortunately such colour would be shortlived since tulips flower between March and May. Thus we were fortunate to have gone to the Floriade today, despite the poor weather. And when the slogan "Feel the art of Nature" was formed from blooming tulips, it was not hard to see why it had to be worth going to the festival.
Later in the afternoon, we headed back to Amsterdam since our ticket did not allow us enough time to explore the Floriade. After having a fast food lunch, we caught a tram to the Rijksmuseum. This would be trickier than we thought since it seemed that not many trams go to the Rijksmuseum. Thus, we only had less than a couple of hours to tour the museum, where we would see the famous painting "The Night Watch", a self portrait of Van Gogh and other Dutch paintings by Rembrandt, sculptures and dutch costumes, the treasure chamber and the Doll house. We missed the Battle of Waterloo which is located on the 1st floor, main building.
At 6pm, the Rijksmuseum closed for the day, so we walked towards Leidesplein, which was about a 10 minute walk from the museum. Leidesplein bears a strong resemblance to the West end of London, with its theatres and cinemas, buskers, and throngs of people in and around the square. We walked around the Leidesplein for another 10 minutes before catching the tram into the city around the Chinatown area for dinner.
The walk from Centraal Station to Nieuwmarkt took us about 10 minutes through Zeedijk. As this was Chinatown, there were lots of Chinese and Asian take aways and restaurants, but it still felt as small as the one in London. We eventually settled down for dinner in a fairly crowded and old, but cheap restaurant. After we had our fill of good chinese food, we continued our walk until we got to Waag in Nieuwmarkt.
The Waag has a spotted history dating back to the 15th Century where it was the scene for public executions. However, in 1617, the Waag became a weigh house or "waaggebouw" for produce, thus giving the building its current name, After closing in the 19th C, the building served as a fire station and a museum before becoming the restaurant "In the Waag".
We left Nieuwmarkt to go into the more seedier area of Amsterdam, the Red Light District, a few blocks east of Nieuwmarkt. Home to hemp and prostitutes, the Red Light District provides a different yet darker side of this beautiful city, ironically concentrated around the area of Oude Kerk and the canal along Oudezijds Voorbugwal and Achtegurgwal. In Oudezijds Achterburgwal, brothels and adult shows such as Casa Rosa had windows of prostitutes and pole dancers flaunting themselves to the amazement of onlookers, only closing the curtains at the slight appearance of cameras (so it's wise not to take pictures here). Further down, the occasional coffee or hemp house would appear selling products ranging from hemp pet food to marijuana and hemp lollies.
Around 9pm, we headed east to Dam square to take our tram back home when we passed the Remembrance day memorial ceremony. A large crowd had gathered around the square, where Queen Beatrice was leading the precession at the National Monument. A path had also been formed from the National monument to the the Koninklijk Palais, lined by what appeared to be members of the armed forces. We stayed for another 15 minutes before heading back to our tram stop back to our hotel, but taking a detour through Nieuwendijk to get to Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal.
It was obviously another packed day as visitors to this wonderful and colourful city, from the vibrant colours of nature in the Floriade, the history in the Rijksmusuem, the art and culture that emanates in Leidesplein and Chinatown and the darker and seedier area of the Red Light District. And walking through to the Remembrance day ceremony in Dam square provided the fitting end to our day. Definitely a day to remember...