Archive for July 15th, 2018

July 15, 2018

Amsterdam, and another Venice of the North!

I have come here several times on business, and once with the family. Usually to these out of zone countries, I go on business and if see something interesting , planned it to come back with the family. As we have older boys, Amsterdam is a natural for many things of knowledge and life.

It is a nice city and I love the canals could live there forever. I have written on the city before so will post below for a reminder of Amsterdam.

Canals and Amsterdam

Then, will give a bit of history I like and Europe has plenty.

Amsterdam ,The city is located in the north  of Holland, but is not the capital of the province, the latter being Haarlem, located 19 km west of Amsterdam. The name of the municipality comes from the old Dutch name Amstelredamme evoking the origins of the city: La Digue (dam) on the Amstel. A small fishing village in the 12C, the city experienced a very strong growth in the Middle Ages to the point of becoming one of the main ports of the world during the Dutch golden century. The district of Wallen is the oldest part of the city, which develops around a concentric network of semi-circular canals connected by perpendicular channels, forming a “spider’s Web”. In the center of the old Town is the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, built in the 17C, on the Dam square, symbol of the importance of the city.  king William I made his residence in 1815. Since July 2010, the Grachtengordel district, delimited by Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht, has been listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. In this area is the renamed Amsterdam crushing, a tree-lined courtyard with ancient dwellings — the oldest dating back to about 1528 — housing an Anglican chapel.

A bit on the transport of course just the basis.  The city of Amsterdam has two peripheral boulevards which allow to bypass the city or to quickly cross the agglomeration. The outer ring of the city is the A10 highway; with a length of 32 km, it connects the 18 main urban routes — numbered from S101 to S118 — to the country’s main highways, and in particular to the A1 (which serves the east of the Netherlands), the A2 (which joins Utrecht, Bois-le-Duc, Eindhoven and Maastricht ) and the A4 which serves the axis drawn between Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Belgium. The second peripheral of the city is known as the “Inner Device” (Amsterdamse binnenring) or S100, and consists of a set of three quays that delimit the borough of Centrum along the Singelgracht, the Nassaukade, the Stadhouderskade and the Mauritskade. The city’s public transport network, managed by the GVB (Gemeentelijk Vervoerbedrijf), is highly developed, combining several modes of transport, both rail (tram and Metro), road (bus) as well as maritime and fluvial (ferries). The main train station is Amsterdam-Centraal which serves both the rest of the country (local Intercity trains and sprinter) as well as the international connections (Fyra, Thalys, Deutsche Bahn, etc. I have come here on the thalys trains to the Centraal station. However, most of the time I come by the  Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport located less than 20 minutes by train from the Centraal station.

Amsterdam Amsterdam Amsterdam

And now the history.  The first mention of the name “Amsterdam” in the historical documents dates back to an act of Florent V, Count of Holland from 1256 to 1296. This document, called “Amsterdam Tax Exemption” (Tolprivilege van Amsterdam) and dated 27 October 1275, exempted the few hundred inhabitants of the “Dam on the Amstel” from paying taxes on trade in their products within the county of Holland and on their bridge-dam on the Amstel, built around 1270. The bourg Amsterdam gets the status of City in 1300 or 1306,, probably by the bishop of Utrecht, and becomes an important trade place in the 14C, thanks to its Port that develops on the Damrak, downstream of the original dam.

Before 1385, the Amstel separates the city of Amsterdam into two parts of roughly equal size: the “Old Town” (Oudezijde) where the “Old Church” (Oude Kerk) is located, whose construction began around 1300, and the “New City” (Nieuw zijde) where the “New Church” (Nieuwe Kerk), built at the beginning of the 15C is located. In order to guarantee its protection, the city is endowed with canals, supplemented by a palisade (Burgwal) composed of a wall of earth overhung by a wooden palisade. When after 1385, new enclosure walls are built, the existing wall takes the name of Voorburgwal (before-palisade) while the new one is baptized Achterburgwal (back-Palisade), both in the old and new cities. In the historic center, there are still four canals/streets bearing the names of Oudezijds Voorburgwal, Oudezijds Achterburgwal, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and Nieuwezijds Achterburgwal (now Spuistraat).

In the 16C, the population revolted against the successor of Charles V, King Philip II of Spain. In fact, unlike Charles V whose firm policy remained very sensitive to social and religious developments in his provinces in the Spanish Netherlands, Philip II showed intransigence in religious and political matters, which generates strong  opposition. The revolt quickly degenerates into a row war – to which Amsterdam rallies from 1578 and leads to the independence of the seven northern provinces of the Spanish Netherlands, under the name of the United Provinces. The year 1578 is also marked by the overthrow of the Catholic government of the city during the episode of the Alteratie, which sees the Protestants taking power without bloodshed.

The 17C is considered the golden age of Amsterdam because it at that time became the richest city in the world. After the hegemony of the Golden Age, the 18C saw the decline of the city’s prosperity. Eleven years after his arrival in power in France in 1799, emperor Napoleon I was able to extend his empire to the Netherlands, which were annexed during the First Empire in 1810. Amsterdam thus acquired the status of third city of the Empire, alongside Paris and Rome, the brother of Napoleon I, Louis, imposed as ruler of the Kingdom of Holland from 1806 to 1810, decided to make Amsterdam his capital when he arrived in The Hague in 1806.  In 1808, he moved to the capital, and settled in the town hall which  he made it his Royal Palace.

After the ousting of the French troops by the Russian and Prussian armies in 1813, the new monarch of the House of Orange Nassau again chose The Hague as a place of residence, and as seat of the States General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Amsterdam remains, however, the capital of the Kingdom of the Netherlands from 1815 to 1830, alongside Brussels.  Nearly several difficult decades, the second half of the 19C is marked by a new life for the city, often considered a second golden age. The construction of the North Sea Canal in 1876, which supersedes the canal of Northern Holland, helps to facilitate links with the major ports and major metropolitan areas of Europe, opening up new commercial horizons to the city.

Even if Holland remained neutral in WWI it suffers greatly economically and hunger of the population . During WWII  nazi Germany invades and take control in May 1940.  One of the most famous episodes of the war took the story of the young Anne Frank , hidden for 25 months wiht her family and friends below a store in the center of Amsterdam, before found and deported to  nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen.  At the end of WWII another period of hunger and economic hardship came in.  At the end of the reform, the new boroughs are Centrum, Nieuw-West, Noord,, Oost, West, Zuid, Zuidoost, and Westpoort. Legal prostitution is limited geographically to the “red districts”, which   consists of a network of alleys containing several hundred cabins rented by sex workers. These offer their services behind a glass door usually illuminated with red. The most famous red light district of Amsterdam is De Wallen, which has become a major tourist attraction over the years. However, it is also possible to find cabins in the Spui district and south of the Singelgracht.

Some of the things to do and see in Amsterdam are

Department stores such as de Bijenkorf founded in 1870. The high-end boutiques are located mainly in the Pieter Cornelis Hooftstraat (often abbreviated as “P. C Hooftstraat” or “PC”) and Cornelis Schuytstraat, located close to the Vondelpark. Two of the liveliest streets of Amsterdam are the narrow medieval street of Kalverstraat, located in the heart of the city near the Dam Square and Nieuwendijk which corresponds to its extension north of the square. Among the main shopping areas, the Negen Straatjes (literally “nine small streets”) consist of nine narrow alleys within the Grachtengordel, the system of concentric canals. Warmoesstraat, one of the oldest streets in the city, is known for its many coffee shops, sex shops and the nerve centre of the city’s leather community. The streets of Haarlemmerdijk and Haarlemmerstraat have been designated as the best shopping streets in the Netherlands by many publications.

The Bloemenmarkt is a permanent flower market. Located on the Singel and stretching between Muntplein and Koningsplein, it is the only floating flower market in the world. The shops are located on boats stowed at the edge of the canal, which is a legacy of the time when all the trees and plants were to be routed daily from outside the city via the canals. The city also has a large number of open-air markets such as the Albert Cuyp market, Westerstraat, Ten Kate and the Dappermarkt. Some of these markets operate daily, such as the Albert Cuyp and Dapper markets, popular with tourists and renowned for the variety and exoticism of the products that are offered. Others, such as the Westerstraat market, are organized on a weekly basis.

The Oude Kerk (the “Old Church”), located in the heart of De Wallen district, which was consecrated in 1306. The oldest wooden building dates back to 1425; It is the Houten Huys (“Wooden House” in ancient Dutch) which is located in the Begijnhof. This is one of only two wooden buildings still present in Amsterdam and one of the few still visible examples of Gothic architecture largely influenced by the French culture, Baroque architecture develops strongly throughout the 18C as evidenced by the Royal Palace on the Dam.

Three canals are reserved for residential development: the Herengracht (“Canal of the Lords” in reference to the Heren Regeerders van de Stad Amsterdam, the reigning lords of Amsterdam), the Keizersgracht (literally the “Emperor’s Channel”) and the Prinsengracht (the “Prince’s Channel”). Built during the Dutch Golden Age, they form the so-called “golden boot” (Gouden Bocht) 179. The fourth and most peripheral of the channels is the Singelgracht, which is seldom mentioned on the maps since it is a generic term for all small peripheral channels. This channel should not be confused with the Singel, the old canal that surrounded the medieval city and which is located more in the center of the city, in what constitutes the hypercenter (Binnenstad).

Amsterdam Amsterdam Amsterdam

The Krijtberg (1642), a former Catholic clandestine church of the United Provinces, is one of many such churches (the Schuilkerken), which developed while non-Calvinist cults were tolerated provided that no outside sign is shown. Ons Lieve Heer Opsaler is also in this situation: built between 1661 and 1663 in an attic by a wealthy Catholic merchant, it was clandestine. The Oude Kerk (“Old Church”), built in 1306 and having for Saint-Patron Nicolas de Myre, is the the oldest church in the city and is also one of the oldest monuments in Amsterdam. Originally built in the form of a Roman Catholic church, it became a Calvinist church following the Reformation in 1578. It was built on an ancient cemetery, and continued to welcome the bodies of citizens of the city until 1865. In total, it has 2 500 tombs where 10 000 Amsterdam, including Jacob van Heemskerk, Frans Banning Cocq and Saskia van Uylenburgh, Rembrandt’s wife, are buried. It is now on Oudekerksplein, right in the heart of the Red Light District.

The Nieuwe Kerk (“New Church”), located on the Dam, was built only a century later and completed in 1408. Built in a Gothic style, it is the national Church of the Netherlands but also a major place of exhibitions. In particular, it is the place of the investitures of the sovereigns of the Netherlands. The Queens Wilhelmine, Juliana, Béatrix and King Willem-Alexander were inducted into it. On February 2, 2002, there was celebrated the marriage of Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange with Máxima Zorreguieta Cerruti . Located close to Amsterdam Central Station, St. Nicholas Church in Amsterdam is the largest Catholic Church in the city. It was erected between 1884 and 1887  and is the third Church in the city to bear the name of Saint Nicholas.


Four churches dating from the 17C and designated by a cardinal point, are located in the center of the city. The Noorderkerk (“Church of the North”), built especially for the inhabitants of the Jordaan, is of modest size. The Westerkerk (“Church of the West”), located on the Prinsengracht, is on the other hand the largest church in the Netherlands and has become one of the symbols of the city, especially because of its peculiar architecture, the crown of the Emperor Maximilian of Austria which covers it and its carillon adorning its steeple. The Zuiderkerk (“Southern Church”), located towards the Nieuwmarkt, was the first church in the city to be built especially for Protestant worship between 1603 and 1611. Finally, the Oosterkerk (“Eastern Church”), also of modest size, is no longer used for religious services since 1962.

The Amsterdam Zoo, nicknamed Artis, is named after the Royal Society of Zoology Natura Artis Magista (“Nature is the Master of Art”). It is one of the oldest in the world (the main building dates from 1838) located right in the city center, its ambience contrasts strongly with the surrounding urban bustle. It features an aquarium (built in 1882), zoological and geological museums, a planetarium and a library.

The most important museums in Amsterdam are located on the Museumplein (“Museum Square”). This space was created at the end of the 19C on the grounds of the previous international and Colonial exhibition of 1883. The square is almost entirely covered with lawn, except for the northern part, covered with gravel and in the center of which is a long rectangular basin which turns into a skating rink in the northern winter of the square is bordered by the Rijksmuseum of Gothic architecture. This museum opened in 1885 and underwent a major renovation between 2003 and 2013. The Rijksmuseum has the largest and most important collection of Dutch classical art.

The northwest of the Museumplein houses the Van Gogh  Museum to commemorate the visit and living of Van Gogh in Amsterdam.  The museum is house in one of the rare examples of modern building in the district and host an important  permanent collection.  Next to the Van Gogh Museum is the most important modern art museum in the city, the Stedelijk Museum. Built at the same time as the square, the building was inaugurated in 1895. The Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum (“Dutch Maritime Museum”) is home to the world’s richest marine collection. There are paintings, models, weapons or maps of maritime geography. The Amsterdam Museum (formerly Amsterdams Historisch Museum) is entirely dedicated to the history of the Dutch capital through works of art and various documents. The Anne Frank House, where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis before her deportation in August 1944.

The Heineken Music Hall is a concert hall located near the Amsterdam ArenA which hosts the great concerts of internationally acclaimed artists. It also hosts numerous electronic music festivals such as the Amsterdam music Festival, opened its doors in 2012, and welcomes international artists . The Paradiso a room of Spectacles and a cultural center located in an old church of Amsterdam, built between 1879 and 1880 near the Leidseplein, one of the tourist and cultural centers of the city.

Some of the webpages to help you plan your trip here are

Tourist office of Amsterdam:

Holland tourist office on Amsterdam:

There you go ,you have a whole wonderful northern city to see and a couple days at least. I with the canals can be there much longer …

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!




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July 15, 2018

The still medieval Krakow Poland!

Let me bring you up to a wonderful find in Europe. I was taken away by some friends on a business conference to be held in a city never been before. I took this advantage with little expense on my part and went alone. It was a pleasant surprise finding another jewel in the vastness of our Europe.

This is Krakow or Cracovie in French, in Poland the eastern reaches of the European Union. The trip went well and nice memories of it still lingered, I might be back in October again if all goes well.

Let me tell you about my previous blog post here: Krakow Poland

Krakow has a variety of architecture from Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance a reason for its recognition. All the more so, that during WWII, it remained intact.  Capital of the Lesser Poland , it is located 300 km south of Warsaw, on the Vistula river. Dating from the 7C, it is one of the oldest and most important cities in Poland, whose architectural heritage is very well preserved. The historic city is located at the foot of the Wawel Hill. Krakow was, before Warsaw, the capital of the Poland and is often considered the true center of the country with its traditions and over 1 000 years old history. It is the cultural and scientific center of the country, with the Jagiellonian University of Krakow, the second oldest university in central Europe (1364); that of Warsaw dates from 1816. Karol Wojtyła was Bishop and then Archbishop of Krakow, before becoming Pope in 1978, the first non-Italian pope for 455 years.

Brief on transports:  There is a large tramway  network connecting the majority of the districts with the city center and complemented by a bus network. This set is managed by the SIKiTL . A large part of the historical center of the city was transformed into a pedestrian zone leaving a place for horse carriages, cyclo-cabs and electric vehicles destined for the visit of the city.  The central station  (Dworzec Główny) is located just outside the old town. It forms an ensemble with the bus station, served by numerous regular bus lines, local, regional, national or International. The airport Jean-Paul II is located 11 km west of the center of the city,and the one I used as the rest walking is superb. There is a STR Special train shuttles from the central station serving the airport in 15 minutes.

A bit of history I like:

According to the earliest testimony that has been reached , of the Bishop of Krakow, Vincent Kadlubek, who lived from the late 12C to the beginning of the 13C, an imaginary ruler, Krakus (or Krak), founded the city of Krakow on the hill of the Wawel above the Dragon’s Den (the Dragon of the Wawel of the name of the cliff that dominates the Vistula) that he had just killed. This legendary king, Krakus, gave his name to the city of Krakow. The first historical writings show the Slavs settling on the banks of the Vistula in the 8C. The history of Krakow begins before the creation of the Polish State, as the capital of the people of Vislanes. It indicates that the prince of the Vislanes was baptized. It is possible that Krakow was a vassal, ally or even part of Great Moravia, then a vector of Christianity in the region. The Legend of the dragon, reminiscent of that of Saint George, could be a reminder of the abandonment of paganism. When Great Moravia was destroyed by the Hungarians, Krakow was administered by the Kings of Bohemia.

Bolesław the Valiant, first king of Poland, was crowned in Krakow in 1025. In 1038, Krakow became the capital of Poland. From 1072, Saint Stanislas, patron saint of Poland, is Bishop of the city. The Kings of Poland resided in the city of Krakow from 1305 to 1595, and where they were crowned. In 1364, King Casimir III of Poland (Casimir the Great) founded the Cracow Academy (current Jagiellonian University; the second oldest university in Central Europe.  Poland has to face the power cravings of its neighbouring countries, Prussia and Russia having views of this territory. Tadeusz Kościuszko launches a last insurgency movement from Krakow to try to maintain the independence of Poland but this ends in a failure and in 1795, the country is divided between Prussia, Russia and Austria that inherits from Krakow ( Incorporated in the province of Galicia).  The year 1809 brings the liberation to Krakow which is integrated into the Duchy of Warsaw. Between 1815 and 1846, it became a “Free City” (Free City of Krakow) with limited sovereignty. In 1846, after a new attempt at rebellion, Krakow passed under the direct control of the Austrian Empire. After the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Austria granted autonomy to the Galician Province in exchange for Polish loyalty. Krakow is once again a national symbol.

During WWI, the Krakow troops fought alongside the central empires with Germany and Austria in order to achieve greater autonomy, following a promise made jointly on 5 November 1916. In September 1939, Krakow fell into the hands of the Nazi Wehrmacht following the sharing agreement between Hitler and Stalin in Poland. It became the capital of the occupied Polish Territories not integrated into the Reich, the general government.  The district of Kazimierz is currently experiencing a strong tourism revival, mainly due to the success of the film by Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s list, made on the spot. The filmmaker’s work highlights the role of a German industrialist who saved hundreds of lives by working in his factory of Jews promised to a certain death. With the Ghetto pharmacist, Tadeusz Pankiewicz, he was given the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” of the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem. Too bad the Gulag effect on Poland are hardly mention and the suffering under Communism.  Visitors now go to the scene of the filming and discover restaurants, cafes and bookstores drawing from the Jewish past of the city a original theme. The Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow is the largest event of its kind in the world in a community without local Jewish population.

Things to see that  like are:

The parks are great even if no time to see all of them, the best are Krakowski Park, Jordan Park ,and Błonia Park. There is a great number of Religious buildings such as 48 Catholic churches, 10 millenarian churches, 8 Protestant temples, 5 Buddhist temples, and 48 Orthodox temples, so says the city.

The Royal Castle designed in Italian Renaissance architecture, and the St. Stanislas and Wenceslas Cathedral Basilica of Krakow on the Wawel Hill where King John III Sobieski is buried. The old medieval town (Stare Miasto in Polish) with its large square (Rynek Główny, the largest medieval square in Europe, lined with colorful mansions of the 14C and 15C in the middle of which is the Sukiennice , a hall filled with small Souvenir shops. The floor of this Hall with portraits contains a museum of paintings and sculptures of the 19C of very good quality. On the east side of the Square thrones the Basilica of Santa Maria and the statue of Adam Mickiewicz; since September 2010, under the slab of the square, you can visit a new interactive museum that talks about the Krakow of the Middle Ages.

Krakow Krakow


As said , dozens of old churches and museums such as the  Jagiellonian University dating from the 14C; Kazimierz, the historical center of the Religious and social life of the Jews of Krakow. The old Theater ,and the National Museum of KrakowCzartoryski Museum (Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt), the Bunker Sztuki museum on modern Art; Contemporary arts museum of Krakow , inaugurated in 2011. Polish Aviation Museum, and the Oskar Shindler museum.

Krakow Krakow Krakow

There you go wonderful Krakow, some webpages to help you plan your trip here are

Tourism on Krakow

Poland tourism on Krakow

It is indeed worth a detour while in this part of the world. Enjoy the re post,now with a bit more on the history I like.

And remember, happy travels , good health, and many cheers to all!!

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