Tag Archives: Amsterdam

Holland Part 7: Hotel Reviews in Amsterdam

Holland Part 1: Falling for Amsterdam
Holland Part 2: Jewish History in Amsterdam
Holland Part 3: Snapshots from The Hague
Holland Part 4: Meet Mondrian
Holland Part 5: Welcome to Leiden
Holland Part 6: Thanksgiving in Leiden

Since this was a last minute trip, I had to cobble together points for the Amsterdam portion of our stay. It turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. The first couple of nights, we stayed at the Renaissance Amsterdam Hotel (Marriott) for 40,000 points a night. A stone’s throw from the central train station, I loved the location. The rooms were not huge, but not closets either. As a Marriott gold, I often find the “upgrades” are not really upgrades. But gold gave us free breakfast, which more than makes up for the standard room.

2017-05-30 18.05.362017-05-30 18.05.372017-05-30 18.05.392017-05-30 17.48.002017-05-30 17.48.042017-05-30 17.36.522017-05-30 17.36.58Our last night in Amsterdam, we tried out the new Hyatt Regency on the other side of town. Only a couple of weeks old, I thought the hotel was lovely, but I definitely preferred the location of the Marriott. The hotel is situated right on the Singelgracht canal, and our room had a view of the water. Two other positives about the Hyatt: 1) It’s a block away from the Weesperplain subway stop; 2) As a category 4 hotel, it qualifies for the anniversary free night for holders of the Hyatt credit card – a rare thing for western Europe!

2017-06-03 12.50.212017-06-03 12.50.442017-06-03 12.51.162017-06-03 12.51.522017-06-03 12.59.412017-06-03 13.38.452017-06-03 12.58.562017-06-03 12.58.582017-06-03 12.59.03The view from our room:

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Both are great hotels, but my Marriott status and my location preference made the Renaissance the clear winner. See the below map with the Marriott in Red and the Hyatt in purple. The blue pins represent classic Amsterdam sights.

Hotel map.jpeg

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Holland Part 2: Jewish History In Amsterdam

Holland Part 1: Falling for Amsterdam

Apologies in advance for the marathon post, but it seems fitting to group the Jewish sites together. Together, they tell a story of Jewish prosperity and extermination in Holland. It is not a pretty story, but a story that must be told.

M an I visited a number of important Jewish sites throughout our time in Amsterdam. While some are beautiful, most are sobering, a reminder that Amsterdam’s once prosperous Jewish community came to an abrupt halt on May 10, 1940 when Nazi Germany descended on its neighbors to the west.

We started with a  self-tour of the Portuguese Synagogue (Esnoga) in Amsterdam’s old Jewish center, a stunning historical building that should be on your to-do list.

While many European countries persecuted and evicted the Jews throughout the Middle Ages, Holland’s relative tolerance made it a safe harbor for many Jews, especially Spanish and Portuguese Jews fleeing devastating pogroms and the infamous Inquisitions.

In 1665, the Jews of Amsterdam built a new synagogue that was, at the time, the largest in the world. Finished in 1675, the synagogue still looks the same as it did more than 300 years ago.

**IMG_9356The building itself is huge, so huge I had trouble capturing its size on my camera.

*IMG_9347The main sanctuary is beautiful, just beautiful.

***IMG_9396***IMG_9409***IMG_9422***IMG_9424***IMG_9435We made our way upstairs to the women’s section (men and women sit separately in Orthodox synagogues.)

***IMG_9486***IMG_9487***IMG_9491***IMG_9512**IMG_9508**IMG_9514***IMG_9522We made our way back outside to tour the grounds and the library of historical treasures. The below picture is a sukkah – the hut-like structure Jews eat in on the holiday of Sukkot.

**IMG_9528A small sampling of the synagogue’s many silver and gold treasures.

**IMG_9578*IMG_9470Here we are touring the synagogue’s candle room. If you are fortunate to attend services in the main sanctuary, you can see all the candelabras lit up. M and I attended night services, but it was held in the much smaller and newer winter sanctuary (the 300-plus year old sanctuary does not have heat).

*IMG_9540Below is an outdoor washing station for the kohanim (priests) to wash their hands during services.

*IMG_9543Below is the mourning room for funeral services.

*IMG_9544*IMG_9545Our last stop was the treasure chambers, where we saw many stunning historical relics, including Torah scrolls, prayer books, and other ritual items.

*IMG_9561*IMG_9569*IMG_9570*IMG_9571After our visit to the Portuguese Synagogue, we made a quick stop at the Jewish Museum across the street, which is constructed out of four old Ashkenazi synagogues. We only had an hour, so we did a quick tear through the exhibits, including a history of the Jews in Amsterdam and an array of Jewish relics.

*IMG_9597The history of Holland’s Jewish community has a tragic end, like so many other Jewish communities throughout Europe. The exhibit walks you through the Nazi invasion and occupation of Holland, and the subsequent annihilation of the Jews.

In the early 1900s, Amsterdam’s Jewish community totaled approximately 60,000. By the start of World War II, it had more than doubled to 140,000 Jews. Six years later, in 1945, only 30,000 traumatized Jews remained.

*IMG_9599IMG_9602We caught a glimpse of the main sanctuary of one of the four original synagogues.

*IMG_9608In the basement of the museum, there  are a handful of intersting artifacts and paintings.

*IMG_9638*IMG_9641*IMG_9642*IMG_9650*IMG_9657*IMG_9661*IMG_9663*IMG_9669Later in the week, we stopped at Hollandsche Schouwburg (the Holland Theatre), the National Holocaust Museum, and the Anne Frank House, possibly the most popular tourist spot in all of Holland.

The Hollandsche Shouwbrug was a Dutch theater that was turned into a Jewish theater after the Nazi occupation in 1941, and then served as a deportation center. Today, it is a small museum and memorial, worth a bit of time if you are interested in Jewish history.

According to the museum:

Built as a theatre in 1892, the Hollandsche Schouwburg became the main playhouses in the district… In September 1941, as one of the many anti-Jewish measures introduced by the occupying forces, its name was changed to ‘Joodsche Schouwburg’ (Jewish theatre). From then on, only Jewish musicians and other performing artists were permitted to perform here – to an exclusively Jewish audience… On 20 July 1942, the occupying forces seized the Hollandsche Shouwburg as an assembly point for deportations. In total, over 46,000 Jews were imprisoned within the theatre’s walls prior to deportation to the transit camps Westerbork or Vught. From there, they were deported to an almost certain death in the concentration camps and extermination camps in Germany or Occupied Poland.

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The names of all the Dutch Jews who were murdered by the Nazis

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An outdoor memorial dedicated to Holland’s Jewish community

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A memorial wall

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A tulip memorial with hand written notes

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A note in Hebrew

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The front page of the newspaper the day Germany invaded Holland

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A photo of Dutch Jewish children with their obligatory stars

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A photo of Dutch Jews being rounded up

The National Holocaust Museum is across the street, and still undergoing finishing touches when we visited. The buildings used to house a nursery and a Christian Culture School. During World War II, some of the adults snuck Jewish children out of the nursery when the tram rolled by obscuring the Nazis’ view across the street. According to a plaque at the museum:

Across the street from the Kweekschool is the Hollandsche Schouwburg, where in 1942 and 1943 more than 46,000 Jews were held captive while awaiting deportation. Jewish children were confined to the Creche next door to the Kweekschool, from which they were sent on to Westerbork transit camp and later deported. In January 1943, Johan van Hulst consented to an illegal plan to bring children from the overcrowded Creche into the Kweekschool daily for an afternoon nap. Gradually, the Jewish employees of the Creche and Director Van Hulst established a bond of trust, and they were able, starting in April 1943, to arrange for many Jewish children to escape through the Kweekschool to safety. Some 600 children from the Creche were saved.

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View of the museum with the tram running by

IMG_1178The first floor had an array of photos and items from children who perished in the Holocaust.

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Edith Rolef (b. 1926) and her twin siblings Ilse  and Gerd Rolef (b. 1929). On May 28, 1943, Gerd was murdered in Sobibor. On February 11, 1943, Edith and Ilse died in Auschwitz.

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Drawings the children sent to their parents in Germany

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The museum’s backyard serves as a kind of memorial

IMG_1210The downstairs space is reserved for special exhibits. During our visit, we were lucky to catch a exhibit celebrating the recently discovered photographs of the husband and wife team, Annemie Wolff-Koller (1906-1994) and Helmuth Wolff (1895-1940).

Helmuth was Jewish, while Annemie was not. The couple fled Munich for the Netherlands in 1933 after the Nazis rose to power. They built a successful photography business until the fateful day on May 10, 1940 when the Germans invaded Holland. Five days later, the couple attempted suicide, assuming the end was near. Helmuth died, but Annemie survived, and continued with her photography throughout her life. During the war, she was active in the Resistance, and took many portraits, many of Jews. Some of these portraits were used for forged ID papers or applications for certificates of non-Jewish descent. Annemie printed the latter photographs with blonder coloring to help substantiate her clients’ case.

These photos were thought to be lost for decades. It turns out, all of Annemie’s negatives were saved and recently found. For the first time, they are available for public viewing.

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A portrait of the couple

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The couple at a photoshoot on the beach

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Examples of the Annemie’s many portraits

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From the description: Ruth’s mother Marta asked Calmeyer’s bureau to certify her daughter as ‘half Jewish.’ She claimed that Ruth had been born from her relationship with an ‘Aryan’ Dutchman who often traveled to Germany, and who submitted a statement to the same effect. It was a lie, but when Ruth had her measurements taken by the German anthropologist Weinert in the Hague, it had been concluded that she had ‘Aryan’ features. Ruth survived. 

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A view of the theater from outside the museum

We also toured the famous Anne Frank House, but photos are not allowed. It is a sobering but fascinating exhibit of life for the Franks during Nazi occupation in Amsterdam. If you are planning on visiting, I highly recommend purchasing tickets well in advance, or you will be stuck waiting in this line that wrapped around the block and then around the next block.

IMG_1284.JPGM used his press pass to get us press tickets so we were able to skip the line and go right in at our appointed time.

All in all, there are plenty of important and interesting Jewish sites in Holland. As I walked through these sites, it was hard not to ask myself “What if?” What if Hitler never came to power? What if Anne Frank had survived instead of dying a mere couple of weeks before liberation? What if the Portuguese Synagogue had been bombed to smithereens like so many other Jewish synagogues?

There are no answers. There are just the stories of all the people and places that came before us. It is a a story of persistence and struggle, life and death, and the undeniable truth that these stories are part of our stories. History is the preamble to our lives.

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Holland Part #1: Falling for Amsterdam

Going to Holland one week after we got back from Iceland and Ireland was a crazy idea. But what’s that saying about all the best ideas being crazy ideas….?

Our Iceland/Ireland trip was long on the books when M got invited on a press trip to Holland to see an exhibit celebrating the 100th anniversary of theDe Stijl movement.

M couldn’t pass up a free press trip to his favorite country, and I had never been to the Netherlands. So even though I knew I would be exhausted, I used my Chase miles to book a KLM flight via Flying Blue.

We planned a couple of free days in Amsterdam on either end of the press trip, and joined up with the Holland tourist office on a jam-packed itinerary that took us to The Hague and Leiden – two key cities of the De Stijl movement.

M promised me I would love Amsterdam, and he was right.

Amsterdam is a unique city with its own culture, feel, and architecture. Of course, there are the famous canals. I did not adequately appreciate how pretty they would be or how much I would love exploring the maze of streets and waterways.

Our first day, we walked all around the city, covering nearly seven miles of canal ogling. We had no agenda, no museums, no exhibits, just pure exploration.

Amsterdam mapWe started at our hotel, the Renaissance Amsterdam (Marriott), and made our way to Dam Square – Amsterdam’s historical center just south of the central train station. It’s a great place to people watch, grab a snack, or snap pictures, like I did of this street performer.

***IMG_9006***IMG_9027We continued south, looping around the Singel canal to the floating flower market, enjoying the sites along the way.

**IMG_8913**IMG_8897**IMG_8946**IMG_9045**IMG_9119@IMG_9162The floating flower market is exactly what it sounds like. You can buy all kinds of plant seeds, flower bulbs, wooden tulips (which we already have plenty of), and other souvenirs, including your own cannabis starter kit. Because who doesn’t need a cannabis starter kit?

***IMG_9062***IMG_9066***IMG_9072*IMG_9083*IMG_9087*IMG_9092*IMG_9094*IMG_9095M suggested that we check out an old-fashioned Dutch windmill at the Eastern Docklands, so we continued southeast along the Amstel canal. We passed de Schaduwkade monument, a memorial to the 200 Dutch Jews who lived in the neighborhood before the Nazi occupation.

**IMG_9133Nearby you can check out Magere Brug, a narrow historic bridge for pedestrians and cyclists.

**IMG_9117We stopped to watch the biggest boat crossing we have ever seen.

*IMG_9174We continued to Oosterpark, which turned out to be a beautiful surprise.

***IMG_9206**IMG_9194Okay, so this was weird. In Holland, if you’re a man (and super lazy), you can just pee outside in an outdoor urinals. Let me just tell you from personal, first-hand experience, they do not shield as much as you might think.

**IMG_9200Finally, we made it to our windmill at the Eastern Docklands, and enjoyed a breather  at a Dutch beer garden (beer for M, water for me).

**IMG_9260***IMG_9241I love the geometric architecture.

***IMG_9254**IMG_9272After that, we made our way back to the hotel. Of course, there were more pictures.

**IMG_9690Here is the view of the central train station at dusk.

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Our first day in Amsterdam was tiring (starting with a flight snafu that involved a last- minute refuel stop in Brussels and an hour-long wait for our luggage), but awesome. I can’t believe it took me so many years to visit this incredible city.

 

 

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