Sunday, May 11, 2014

Thursday, May 8 --  Amsterdam Redux II

We got an even later start it seemed this morning.  Again, we were our own masters with no obligations and a prediction of rain, so why hurry?  Coffee and stroopwafels in the room got us off to a good Dutch start. 

Today’s adventure mirrored yesterday’s to the extent that we spent lots of time going from one vehicle to the next.  The shuttle led to the airport which led to Centraal Station; this time we experimented with the Amsterdam Metro.  Arjan the concierge had told us which trams came closest to our ultimate destination but David decided that the Metro was our best bet.  Besides, we had ridden a tram yesterday, so this would be something new.

We exited the station itself and headed for the entry to the underground Metro station.  There may have been a way to get to it from inside Centraal but we did not see it.  The main rail station is not as hospitable as the airport terminal and we did not spend time looking since we knew we could get to the Metro from the outside.

The underground was just as trash-strewn as the train station with wrappers flying in the wind and garbage cans overflowing with fast-food wrappers and soda cans.  We asked for a bit of guidance to be safe and combined that with path-finding skills to arrive on the platform just before the subway train departed.  We had only two stops before we got off, so we know we couldn’t get too lost.  If our stop was not number two, we would get off at number three and go in the other direction.

Don’t laugh.  We have done this.  On a trip to Osaka in 2008, we had a native guide who led us around on the local subway and Japan Rail systems.  He got confused by the automated ticket machines in the stations and could not figure out how much money to deposit until a member of the group helped him.  More to the point, we traveled on a train of some sort [Metro or JR] in the wrong direction.  He realized his mistake before we left the platform and we did, in fact, take the next train back to our starting point.

 We had no such trouble today in Amsterdam and Waterlooplein [Waterloo Square] was right where it was supposed to be.  We came here to visit the Jewish Historical Museum, part of the Jewish Heritage area in, naturally enough, the old Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam.  We had passed the area while on a ship’s tour last week.  It is near Gasson Diamonds where we looked but did not buy and also only a few minutes’ walk from the apartment Skip and Fran have rented for the week.

The weather gods have continued to toy with us.  During the cruise, most of our tours were held in good albeit windy weather.  We may have worn windbreakers but it was mostly sunny except in Amsterdam where it has been chilly, windy and often wet.  Even temperatures in the mid-50s feel raw in a stiff breeze.  Today was such a day.  In fact it was so raw, and the hour approaching noon again, that we walked past the Jewish Historical Museum and found a warm-ish café at the end of the block.

There were perhaps a half-dozen cafes, but we picked the one which seemed to have customers.  We worked on the assumption that they could not all have been wrong.  We found a table inside – eating at a sidewalk café is very Continental in good weather but not on such a blustery day – and ordered sandwiches on French bread.  The bread appeared to be a mini-baguette, but we have seen so much bread in the Netherlands that it all is starting to look the same.  MA had a goat cheese sandwich and David had what was billed as the Italian with some salami and cheese.  We had sodas for the second straight day and cappuccinos, too.  The bill was not outrageous, the food was hearty and the people-watching was fun.
Torah scrolls

The bema
We were not sure what to expect at the Museum; names can be deceiving.  This one was not for the museum gave a history of the Jews in the Netherlands and especially Amsterdam from the 1600s onward.  Before we got to that, though, we visited the Old Synagogue.  Just as the Lloyd Street Synagogue in Baltimore has become the local Jewish museum, so has the one in Amsterdam.  In place of pews, we found learning stations which explained customs, holidays and rituals of both the ultra-Orthodox and more modern Orthodox Dutch Jews.  Most of the stations had audio-visual presentations of some aspect of Judaism aimed primarily at non-Jews.  Visitors could also see film clips of “contemporary” Jews from a decade ago discussing the same topic as the basic lesson.  If the lesson was on a holiday, visitors could view a film featuring a discussion of how it is observed today.  Even though we knew what to expect, we still watched most of the films.

The bema [altar] sat in the middle of the main floor as was the custom many years ago.  Surrounding the second floor was a balcony which is where the women would have stood because the genders were strictly separated during religious observances.  The synagogue’s original Ark, the storage place for the Torahs, was still in the sanctuary.  Unlike the bema, it was blocked off so visitors could not get too close.

Looking up at the balcony
Looking down from the balcony
The balcony housed the first phase of the history of the Dutch Jews, 1600 – 1900.  Showcases held artifacts from the earliest days of the Jewish community.  There were old books, drawings and some reproductions all designed to show what life was like over the years.  As we progressed through the displays, we learned, for example, that Amsterdam was a center for Jewish publishing with books in Hebrew coveted by Jews and Gentiles alike either for their religious content or as learning tools and references.  There was a showcase filled with several rows of antique leather-bound books, all printed in Hebrew.  Later displays dealt more with individuals who were important in the community as it tried to assimilate into mainstream Amsterdam.

An antique book printed in Hebrew
We crossed into a connected building for more showcases and explanations, this time for the history of the Jews from 1900 to the present.  At the beginning of the “story,” there were commercial items and products developed by or supported by the community, many of which became popular across the society.  As we progressed toward more recent times, the themes got darker as Hitler and the Nazis came to power.  Many of Holland’s Jews were rounded up and sent to extermination or work camps and many of those who somehow survived moved to other countries after the war; the memories and fears were too strong for them to return.  As a result, the Jewish population of Holland is now just a fraction of its pre-War size.

When we were finished our walk through the Museum, it was time to go, but the weather gods were angry and it was raining steadily.  We had considered going around the corner to the Portuguese synagogue but were dissuaded by the conditions.  It was easier and more comfortable to hustle to the Metro station and reverse our morning’s course.  Back we went but somehow missed the Starbuck’s in Centraal Station.  Still, we had become pro’s at finding the right platform so our trip was without incident. 

When we arrived at Schipol, we weren’t quite ready to continue to the hotel.  We walked the shopping concourse without any success and the realized that we had had missed Starbuck’s in town. There are several at the airport, but we decided to have pistachio gelato instead.  It was still too early to grab dinner at one of the many restaurants there, so we took the shuttle back to the hotel where we found that the housekeeping crew had jarred the power cord from the computer and it had zero battery life.  We have been using the computer to charge the other electronics, so they were low on power as well.  We ended up in the hotel coffee shop again and had a comfort meal of the goulash soup and tostis.  A tosti is simply a toasted cheese sandwich but the waiter was surprised when we asked for them by their Dutch name.  He had to check in the kitchen to be sure there was bread available but returned with good news.  Ma had a cheese tosti and David had ham and cheese.  Soup and a sandwich – the perfect meal for a rainy day.

Tomorrow – the rest of the “connection”


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