Sunday, January 23, 2011

Weekend in Rotterdam & Amsterdam

It’s been awhile since I’ve stepped foot on Dutch soil, the last time being a 7 hour layover on our way to Cairo in 2005, and before that on a post-uni backpacking trip with my college friend in 2004. Only a 40 minute flight from London, it was inevitable that we would eventually find our way back to Amsterdam at some point during our time in London.
Last weekend Keenan and I found ourselves once again in The Netherlands, this time for a New Years event organized by one of the divisions in my Rotterdam office. They kindly invited the IDD team and our spouses/partners to attend the “Asian Tiger” themed party (yes, very Dutch…that is to say, very quirky) in which Asian attire were required. Keenan and I wore our matching turquoise blue Indian sari and kurta to the event, while other colleagues wore Japanese yukata, traditional Indonesian or Filipino outfits, or Vietnamese ao dai.  The evening featured a beer tap pouring endless pints of Amstel lager, Asian food, and you wouldn't believe it, Dance, Dance Revolution…yes, very quirky, but it was good fun socalising with colleagues outside the office.
Since I have never been to Rotterdam before, I arrived early on Friday to explore the city and do a bit of work before the event in the evening. Rotterdam, Holland’s second largest city and Europe’s largest port, was severely bombed during World War II in Hitler’s quest to conquer The Netherlands in a single day, thereby securing strategic position for his planned invasion of England in the Battle of Britain. Today Rotterdam is completely rebuilt as a modern port city with a touch of Dutch quirkiness.
The company put us up in a hotel near the Old Harbour, a good base from which to explore Rotterdam. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative; it was rainy, cold, and windy – the worse combination. Armed with my trusty “brollie,” I quickly walked to the harbour to see as much as I could without getting drenched or blown away by the wind. I managed to take a few photos around Rotterdam, including the famous Cube Houses, which were featured in Jackie Chan’s Chinese movie “Who I Am.” It’s ashamed that I didn’t get to see the rest of Rotterdam… next time. 
Taking advantage that my company paid for the IDD team's flights and our partner's too, most of us decided to stay in Amsterdam for the weekend. So Saturday afternoon we made our way to Amsterdam, but thought it was best to part ways as we all had different agendas and interests during our short city-break trip.   

Not much has changed in Amsterdam in the last five year – bicycles still dominate the streets, canal houses still retain its picturesque charm, gouda is still the king of Dutch cheeses, and of course there is still the whiff of a certain “skunk-like” smell in the air. Ahhhh....good ol' Amsterdam.

Keenan and I spent Saturday afternoon wandering around the canals starting from our hotel off of Rembrandtplein Square to the Noodermarkt food stalls near the eclectic Jordaan neighbourhood. Holland is famous for its brightly colour tulips, and Amsterdam even has a picturesque Floating Flower Market near Leidenplein selling tulip bulbs among other assortment of plants and flowers. Tulips are spring-blooming perennials so if want to see the crayon rows of tulips in full bloom, visit Holland in late spring. It is suppose to be quite pretty. Noodermarkt was okay; I expected it to be like Borough Market with loads of food stalls for a walking lunch, but it seemed like a lot of vendors were closing down for the day as it was approaching 3:30 pm by the time we arrived, plus the weather wasn’t great. 

Later in the evening, we planned a fun dinner at Tempo Doeloe, an Indonesian restaurant on Utrechtsestraat, to celebrate ten years as a couple. We splurged and ordered the 25 plate rijsttafel istemew (rice table) paired with a bottle of crisp white wine. The little dishes of Indonesian curries were presented in order of spiciness – mild, medium, and hot. Keenan, a food lover of all things spicy, couldn’t wait to tickle his taste buds with some chili spices and curry powder. Every thing was delicious and the atmosphere was fun and intimate. The last dish, decorated with a yellow habanera pepper, was smothered in chili seeds. I didn’t dare, but Keenan did, and it was so hot that he immediately started beading sweat down his forehead and chugged down a large glass of water. Be warned, and don’t let me tell you I told you so…
There’s so much to see and enjoy in Amsterdam besides the “coffeehouses” and the Red Light District, but if that’s what you’re after, no judgment at all. Amsterdam also has some vast urban parks and a string of world-class museums, including the Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum (partially closed for refurbishment). Having done the museums in the past, we made it a priority to see Anne Frank’s House over the weekend regardless of how long the queue was. 
The tour of Anne Frank’s House, hidden in the secret annex of her father’s office building, gives an intimate insight of how the Frank family lived hiding from the Nazi forces. Tipped off by an anonymous individual, the Nazi eventually arrested and shipped the Frank family to Auschwitz, where Anne, her sister, and mother died just months before the liberation in 1945. The only survivor, her father Otto, later found her diaries and spent the remaining years of his life transforming the old house into a museum, campaigning for peace and justice, and turning Anne’s aspiration of becoming a writer a reality. The Diary of a Young Girl, chronicling the last two years of her life, was published in 1947.
Brunch at Pancakes!:
Our short-city break was unfortunately coming to an end. We stopped by Vleminckx, a hole-in-the-wall stand famous for its crunchy French fries, before heading back to the hotel to pick up our bags and bid farewell to a lovely weekend in Amsterdam. Until next time...

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