Jacob Friedmann

The Low Countries: Day 01 – Musea

This post is part of a series on my travels to the “Low Countries”: the Netherlands and Belgium. Start at the beginning.

Our body clocks still not fully adjusted, we got up very early Friday morning. This was also intentional; Matt wanted pictures with the “I Amsterdam” letters in Museumplein (Museum quarter) before the hoards of other tourists descended upon them. This strategy proved successful. When we arrived, we were the only people there. Shortly thereafter, a runner came by that was also astonished to see them completely free of people and we took turns taking pictures of each other.

"I Amsterdam" Sign

We are Amsterdam

Museumplein was very peaceful in the early hours of the morning. Amsterdam, we discovered, is not a city that rises early. Even most of the coffee shops and breakfast places didn’t seem to open until 8am (on a weekday, mind you), which we discovered when we stumbled into Coffee & Coconuts and were promptly told that they had yet to open. Rather than getting discouraged, we walked a few blocks to a park that was also pretty much abandoned.

Empty park

Empty park

Finally, we made it back into the – now open – restaurant where we got Wifi to plan the rest of the day and, more importantly, delicious breakfast and “coconut coffee”. The restaurant was situated inside of what used to be a cinema built in the 1920s (young, by Amsterdam standards).

Coconuts & Coffee, Amsterdam

Coconuts & Coffee, Amsterdam

Caffeinated and full, we made our way back to Museumplein and to Amsterdam’s largest and most popular museum, Rijksmuseum, or National Museum. The museum is most famous for its paintings by the beloved Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn, especially The Night Watch, which is hung prominently. It’s a giant museum that has not only art, but also artifacts from throughout the history of the Netherlands. Interestingly, the exhibits are organized by century, but they are not laid out chronologically. If you wish to see them in order, like we tried to do, be prepared to walk up and down many staircases.



We decided to go all in on museums in our first day and up next was Stedelijk Museum (Modern and Contemporary Art). It being another rather large museum, we knew we would need to maximize the time before closing, so we grabbed a sandwich from the ubiquitous Dutch grocery store Albert Heijn and ate it in Rembrandtplein as a group of Dutch teenagers photo-bombed unsuspecting tourists.

The modern art museum was…interesting. Parts were very cool. I’m a huge fan of Roy Lichtenstein and they had some of his work, along with some of Andy Warhol’s. Some of the other work required a more open mind. I think being loopy from jet lag might have helped with this because at some point Matt and I crawled into a cabinet and watched a screencast of the video game Second Life that was being narrated by a sad sounding teenager. Still not sure how I feel about that one…

Museums are exhausting and after two of them we were in need of food. The first place we attempted had a 30 minute wait to sit at the bar, which seemed like an eternity at the time, so we turned to Yelp for alternatives. We ended up at a Mexican restaurant called Los Pilones, of all places. The food was good and I was so hungry I forgot to take pictures. Won’t be the last time.

After dinner, we accidentally took a perfectly timed 7pm nap -_-. Around 9, we forced ourselves awake to go to a 400 year old bar Cafe Hoppe. This is the kind of thing that makes Europe so interesting to Americans; this bar is older than our country. Most bars in the Netherlands it seems serve two sizes of beer. I’m still unclear as to what those two sizes are. The bartender at Cafe Hoppe said “half pint” and “pint”, but if these are pints, we must be doing something wrong in the US. The bar was crowded with locals and a few tourists, both groups flooded into the streets. Behind the bar were century old barrels that used to house Gin, or Jenever, but now serve only as decoration.

Next on the list was Cafe Gollem also in Centrum. This place was awesome; a real Dutch hole in the wall. I saw on the draft menu “La Trappe” and seized the opportunity to try my first “Trappist” beer that this region of the world is famous for. Trappist beers are brewed by Trappist monks in primarily Belgium, but also the Netherlands. From what I can tell, the beers tend to be high in alcohol content and flavor. I really loved the beer, but also the atmosphere of the bar. The bartender was friendly and patient with my naivety.

Café Gollem

Café Gollem

Finally, on the walk home we did the obligatory night stroll through the Red Light District. The whole thing is wild. For reasons that are hopefully obvious, I have no pictures from that stroll home, but its novelty imprinted itself into my mind and I doubt I’ll need them. Not sure I’d care to go back, but it was a sight to behold.

Around 1:30am we got to bed. Word to the wise: Netflix restricts some of their content based on geography. Considering I lasted all of 10 minutes through an episode “the Magic Schoolbus”, it mattered little.

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