Today is Friday December 10, 2010. It’s the first day above freezing since we’ve been here. We’re at Gerrit’s cousin Dieuwertje, affectionately known as Dede to her family and very close friends. Dede and Berti are sisters and the only cousins left in the van Waveren side of the family. Dede lives in Zaandam, a beautiful part of Holland. Zaandam is located North and slightly west of Leiden of where Berti lives.
Gerrit and I planned to go out yesterday (the day after we arrived at Dede’s) but when we got up it was snowing, followed by freezing rain, icy cold winds – well you get the idea, I don’t have enough layers to go out in that. Instead we went for a walk to the local supermarket (Albert Heijn). On the way we watched young school boys sliding on the canals and playing with a form of toboggan. They looked like they were having a great time.
Onto today. We took the train into Amsterdam (the rail service in Holland is really amazing and puts Toronto to shame for it’s size and quality). We had decided last night that we’d try to get into 3 museums in 1 day since our time here is limited each day.
Our first stop was “Rembrandt House Museum” It’s located a short walking distance from Central Station in Amsterdam on Jodenbreestraat 4. It’s a truly amazing house, built in 1606 which is the year Rembrandt was born. He bought the house in 1639, when he was at the height of his fame for a cost of 13,000 guilders. This was a considerable sum even in those days when the average yearly salary for a worker was only 500 guilders. Rembrandt wasn’t very good at repaying his loan on the house and in 1656 he went bankrupt. Everything of value in his house was sold at auction, including a large collection of art and rare objects. Thankfully at the time a notary drew up a list of his possessions,. The historic interior of Rembrandt’s house was recently restored to its former glory and furnished with items and works of art from the master’s time, using that same list of possessions. The Rembrandt House owns an almost complete collection of Rembrandt’s world famous etchings. I think the guide said he did almost 290 of them. During our tour we were given a short demonstration of how these etchings were made a wonderful process in itself. A fascinating house to see and I would highly recommend it to anyone coming to Amsterdam for a visit.
Our second stop was the Cafe at De Waag. This building dates from 1488 when it was used as the central Weigh House for the city. It’s a wonderful cafe located beside our 2nd stop. I had a wonderful pumpkin soup with cranberry chutney served with sour dough bread. Gerrit and Dede has Croquettes served with a very hot mustard and a whole wheat bread. I had a wonderful cup of mint tea made with real mint leaves served with steaming hot water.
But I digress – our 2nd museum of the day was “De Oude Kerk te Amsterdam” or the “Old Amsterdam Church”. The original building was made of wood in 12th century with the existing church being built in the early 1400’s. The oldest grave is dated 1427. Rembrandt’s first wife Saskia was buried here in 1642 (she died on 19 June at the young age of 29). The church is undergoing tremendous renovation at the moment so access to some parts of the church wasn’t allowed. Pictures of the stain glass windows really don’t do it justice. The carvings on the choir stalls and the ministers tables are just outstanding. And to think that all of this was done by hand. The church was incredibly cold (it was warmer outside); I’m not sure if the fact that the whole ground of the church is covered with burial graves has something to do with the cold.
Our next stop was an interesting museum I read about in one of Dede’s books “Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder” which translates to “Our Lord in the Attic”. Located in the heart of Amsterdam’s bustling centre lies the 2nd to last oldest museum. The attic church was built in the 17th century by a merchant called Jan Hartman. When the Catholic religion was officially banned Hartman built a clandestine church. From the outside it was impossible to see that this remarkable house contained a secret church. The museum is currently undergoing a major renovation (seems to be a major theme with the museums in Amsterdam ). The church is a fully functioning church complete with tabernacle; communion service; choir etc. The church has undergone tremendous research to determine what paints were used at the time it was built and is being completely restored to it’s former glory.
A little history of the building as it’s really quite unique. In 1661 Jan Hartman (a merchant from the German town of Coesfeld) bought three adjacent houses; one directory on the Oudezijds Voorburgwal and two smaller properties in the alleyway behind. The family lived in the front room on the side of the house facing the canal. The church is a clandestine place of Catholic worship in an attic, one of the very few to survive and still more or less in its original state. Catholic masses were officially forbidden in the seventeenth century but the protestant governors of Amsterdam turned a blind eye, provided the churches were not recognisable on the outside. The church was constructed in 1661-1663 in the attics of three adjoining buildings. Opening and galleries were built in tow of these attics. The cross beams were replaced by two horizontal beams and iron tie-beams. Much of the construction is suspended from the roof. Our Lord in the Attic was initially known as “Her Hart” (The Heart) probably after Jan Hartman the rich merchant who built it. The church remained in use till 1887 the year when the Great St Nicholas Church – the successor to the attic church was opened. This museum is HIGHLY recommended to see. We’ve never seen anything like it. It was an interesting visit and the renovations are planned to be completed in 2012. It will be nice to go back and see the finished product.
Our final stop was the Amsterdam Library were from the 7th floor we were able to take some photos of the city. The library is a stunning piece of modern architecture, very people centric.
All in all a truly remarkable day (and a tiring one). Tomorrow we’re off on a relatively long journey (nothing seems far away here), but more on that tomorrow.