Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: November 2018

A Craft Beer Amsterdam Amble

With a range between innovative and edgy young local breweries to more established historic tasting houses and well-stocked beer tap rooms, Amsterdam’s craft and specialty beer scene is vibrant and strong. I visited five notable haunts from Amsterdam’s heady beer scene drinking it all in.

Brouwerij ‘t IJ

Brewing some of Amsterdam’s best-loved craft beers since 1985 in a formerly vacant municipal bath house next to the city’s largest wooden windmill is Brouwerij ‘t IJ,  founded by local musician Kasper Peterson who was looking to grow his experimental home brewing into a commercial enterprise by producing Belgian style beers that weren’t being brewed at the time in Amsterdam.

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The old municipal bath house proved a perfect place for a brewery since it had a water supply and drainage system, easy-to-keep-clean tiles and steam generator. Some of the original physical features of the building remain including separate entrances for men and women.

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After more than twenty years into Brouwerij ‘t history Peterson stepped back and Bart Obertop and Patrick Hendrikse took over and continue brewing the distinctive kind of quality beers ‘t IJ has become known for.

Since demand far exceeded supply a new brewery was opened near the original location in 2013. Public tours are offered regularly at the original brewery and at EUR 6 with a free beer won’t soak beer enthusiasts but note only twenty spots are available for each tour and are only sold at the brewery the day of the tour and no advance reservations are accepted.

I tried the Amarillo Red IPA which is less hoppy to me than most IPA’s so is an easy drinking beer which is available only at the brewery. The name is taken from the Amarillo hop and not the city in Texas.

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There’s more about the brewery and its history in this video but a quick look at all of Brouwerij ‘t  beers posing around Amsterdam.

Brouwerij de Prael

The Brouwerij de Prael is tucked away on a narrow side street in the Oudezijds (Old Side) neighborhood of Amsterdam which is one of the oldest parts of the city known for its famous or infamous Red Light District. The current notoriety of the area notwithstanding the brewery is sighted on a canal that as early as 1300 was a beer quay where beer was imported from Germany on wooden ships before later being the site of Amsterdam’s first breweries.

The brewpub, which is off an alley and not too easy to find, welcomes thirsty patrons with a street level bar as well as an upper seating level with a funky assortment of wooden tables, chairs and modern chic industrial lamps.

Around the corner from the brewpub is the brewery itself and tours are offered frequently seven days a week. I joined a Friday afternoon tour with friends opting for the admission with one beer for EUR 8.50 through the online reservation site.

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Brouwerij de Prael was founded in 2002 and of its beers are brewed on site only using organic ingredients.

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In keeping with the handmade and authentic ethos the beers are all brewed, bottled, and labeled by hand on-site.

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After a few pints before and after the tour my favorite beer is the Weizen, a light and fruity German-style Hefeweizen beer  as I prefer the Weizen and Kolsch beers to IPA.

Proeflokaal Arendsnest

The Dutch word proeflokaal translates as ‘tasting room’ and with 50 craft beers on tap there are no other Amsterdam ale houses that own the word like Arendsnest. Located on the grand Herengracht canal a short walk from Centraal Station, Proeflokaal Arendsnest has rustic copper pipes, mahogany walls, and bartenders sharply dressed in waistcoats. An extensive list of craft beers greets visitors and after a long while trying to decide I chose Dutch Eagle Pale Ale, a light, fruity beer that went well with the warmer end-of-Summer evening. Note that the lower prices on the board are for smaller 220 ml glasses which are a good way to sample a variety of beers without investing in a whole pint of each.

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photo by author

Beer Temple

The owner of Proeflokaal Arendsnest, Peter van der Arend,  opened the BeerTemple in 2009 and this hole-in-the-wall steps from Dam Square specializes in American craft beer with some 35 beers on tap and another 200 in cans and bottles.

 

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Unlike the bright & pristine  Brouwerij ‘t, the Beer Temple is a little rough around the edges with a narrow, dark interior and stickers covering the walls but its the location and beers that keep the masses returning.

Beer tastings are held every Sat.  at 12:30 PM and the day-long tour More Beer Tour combines the Beer Temple with affiliated watering holes Proeflokaal Arendsnest, Craft & Draft, and ‘Cause Beer Loves Food for a movable feast of craft beer.

Cafe ‘De Laurierboom’

History is around every corner in Amsterdam quote literally as I found while wandering the Jordaan district and happening upon Cafe ‘De Laurierboom’, a local pub for the past 150 years. It wasn’t the history however but rather the sidewalk seats that drew me in so I ordered a pint and plopped down to watch the neighborhood glide by.

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With locals far outnumbering tourists De Laurierboom is one of the last real ‘brown’ cafes, local watering holes with dark wood and smoke-stained walls. 

I ran out of time to visit all the exceptional brewpubs, tasting rooms and breweries in Amsterdam so will plan a return trip to visit those I was unable to sample this time around. Any reason to return to my beloved Amsterdam…

Amsterdam ArenA Stadium Tour

As I was staying at a nearby hotel and being a huge football fan I couldn’t resist signing up for a guided tour of the Johan Cruyff Arena, the largest stadium in the Netherlands and home of famed Dutch professional football club AFC Ajax.

The stadium was previously known as the Amsterdam Arena (stylised as Amsterdam ArenA) until the current 2018–19 football season when it was officially renamed in honour of legendary Dutch footballer Johan Cruyff after his March 2016 passing. Cruyff (spelled Cruijff in Dutch) is widely considered to be among the sports greatest players winning the Ballon D’or as top player three times and helping Ajax (pronounced Eye-yacks) capture the European Champions League title four times. A proponent of what came to be called ‘total football’ Cruyff moved to FC Barcelona, managing after his playing career ended and helping to build a struggling Spanish club into one of the elite teams on the planet.

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Opened in 1996 after a three-year construction project the 55,000 seat stadium offers guided 75-minute tours daily throughout the year except for match days and concert events.  The tours include a visit to the pitch level, dressing room visit except when in use as they were during  my visit, press box high in the stands, media center where pre & post match interviews are held and the Ajax ‘Gallery of Fame’ trophy room. Tours may be confirmed online in advance for EUR 15/CAD $22 but as I was visiting in low season with tours less likely to sell-out I paid at the stadium ticket office and used a Smartsave discount coupon to save 20%.


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Football is war as our tour guide pointed out that the Mercedes seats in red & white Ajax colours the home team rest on are heated while the all-red seats reserved for the visiting team aren’t. Heated seats during cold Winter matches is one edge the home team enjoys and may make a difference between winning & losing.

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The tour includes a visit to ‘the tunnel’ which is where both teams line-up after existing their respective dressing rooms and wait to head up to the pitch to the cheers of thousands of rabid football fans.


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The press room holds the footballing media who grill team coaches and players about the match. and tour participants were invited to sit in the hot seat for photos.

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Near the end of the tour a visit is made to the Ajax ‘Gallery of Fame‘ which hold the 118-year-old football club’s impressive array of trophies and cups including its four European Champions League Cups. Ajax is only one of a trio of clubs along with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid to have won the title four times.

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While my schedule didn’t synchronize with Ajax to attend a match at the Johan Cruyff Arena taking the tour is the next best thing so would highly recommend it to football fans visiting Amsterdam.

Say Cheese, Say Alkmaar

In researching day trips from Amsterdam I considered a few national treasures such as Zaanse Schans for its cluster of windmills and the historic city of Haarlem but decided to take in the centuries old Alkmaar cheese market as it both fit into my schedule and my love of cheese.

One of only a few remaining traditional Dutch Cheese markets, Alkmaar had cheese scales as early as 1365 and began their cheese market on the town square or Waagplein in 1593 . It’s not actually possible to buy cheese at the market itself as it’s a demonstration of how this merchants’ market operated in times gone by however, the demonstration, which takes place in front of the medieval weighing house, is surrounded by many specialized stalls where it is possible to buy all kinds of cheese (and non-cheese) related products.

The walk from Alkmaar Station to the Waagplein is a short 10-minute stroll with sidewalk plaques whetting the appetite for cheese.

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The Waagplein or ‘weighing square’ has been extended several times in the course of two centuries and was enlarged no fewer than eight times before it reached its current dimensions, a very visible reminder of the importance of cheese trade for the city.

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As soon as the market opens, the samplers and traders in their white coats go to work inspecting the cheese which is more involved than checking its exterior. Cheese is knocked on and a special cheese scoop used to obtain a piece, which is then crumbled between the fingers and smelled. And, naturally, it is tasted to assess the relation between taste, and the percentages of fat and moisture. After the cheese has been cut, the number of holes – also known as eyes – are inspected. The holes in cheese are caused by non-harmful lactic acid bacteria during the maturing of the cheese. A perfect cheese has eyes that are evenly spread throughout. A cheese without eyes, known as a blind cheese, is considered to be of inferior quality.


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The wheels of Beemster cheese are transported around the square on wooden racks or barrows which are lifted by a string and leather shoulder harness. Each barrow holds 8 Gouda cheeses of of which weight 12 – 13 kilos. Carrying a heavy barrow (25 kilos) weighing about 130 kilos is not easy so the carriers walk with a special “cheese carriers’dribble”, a particular walking rhythm to make it easier.  The colour of the barrow and carrier hats indicates it’s one of four forwarding companies.


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Once carried to the Waagebouw the cheese is weighed and prices negotiated.

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The Waag building is a Dutch national monument that began its public life in the 14th century as a chapel before being converted to a weighing house in 1583, a role it retains to this day.

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Alkmaar’s tourist office is located in the building and can help with recommended walking tour routes. There’s an excellent Alkmaar city map here.

There are other cheese markets in Hoorn, Edam, Gouda, and Woerden however the Alkmaar Cheese Market is oldest, largest and most famous cheese market in the Netherlands so is well worth a visit.

There are Alkmaar sights to see beyond the cheese market including the De Boom National Beer Museum which is a few short blocks away from the Waagplein. This unique museum is appropriately housed in a former brewery and shows visitors the tools, equipment and machines used in brewing over the past two centuries.

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In the cellar is the Proeflokaal de Boom, or tasting room, where stellar Dutch beer may be sampled in a cozy pub atmosphere. I opted to try the Weizen wheat beer brewed in Wijlre since 1340 by Brand, the Netherlands oldest brewery which is now owned by Dutch global brewing giant Heineken.

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Between the cheese market square and the rail station is the Grote Kerk,a 15th century Protestant church dedicated to Saint Lawrence but now not used for secular services. Maintained as a city landmark a highlight is the soaring organ installed in 1645 and is considered one of the most important and beautiful organs in the world.

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As everyone cycles in the Netherlands even a smaller city of 100,000 like Alkmaar has a two-tiered bicycle parkade adjacent to the main railway station.

 

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Alkmaar is an easy and direct 35-minute train ride from Amsterdam Centraal Station with day return tickets costing EUR15.20 when  bought at station kiosks. The Alkmaar Cheese Market is held every Friday morning 10 AM – 1 PM and every Tuesday evening from the first Friday in April until the last Friday in September.

Unsung Utrecht; Ancient City, Modern Soul

Like a college student living in historic housing,  Utrecht is a city steeped in Dutch history that lives in a very modern world, moving with the times rather than having been left behind in a glorious yesteryear.

Utrecht’s modern side manifests itself for most travelers arriving by rail at the glass and steel wrapped Utrecht Centraal Station, the largest and busiest railway station in the Netherlands with some 175,000 passengers passing through its sixteen platforms daily.  Adjacent to the station is the Hoog Catharijne, an upscale, two-floor shopping center with 150 shops, boutiques and restaurants that sprawls over a 6-block area of the city center.

Station Utrecht Centraal by Raymond Snijders CC BY SA 2.0

A short walk away however is the ancient side of Utrecht, a fortress town founded by the Romans in A.D. 47 which became an outpost of Christianity with the seat of a bishop in the 8th century. This religious importance was enhanced and expanded in the Middle Ages through the founding of the Dutch Republic in the 17th century and as a city of churches Utrecht is home to more restored medieval religious structures than any other city in Europe.

The symbol of the city and the tallest church tower in the Netherlands is the Gothic Dom Toren or Dom Tower which at 112 meters high makes for a useful landmark in the historic city center.

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Completed in 1382 the tower was part of the St. Martin’s Cathedral until the nave collapsed in a 1674 storm and as it was never rebuilt the tower has been free-standing every since.

Regular guided tours of the tower can be reserved in advance online or in person at the Utrecht Tourism office on the square at the base of Dom Tower. The 465 steps to the outdoor observation level are mercifully taken in stages to allow visitors to catch their breath in memorable medieval surrounding as in this chapel.

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About halfway up the tower tour participants walk through a gallery of hanging bells, some of which were cast in 1505 and weigh 32,000 kilograms. These bells can still be heard on Sundays, religious holidays and special occasions.

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At 80 metres up is the Dom Tower’s carillon dating from 1664 and made up of 50 bells which can be played manually or by a mechanical means. These majestic bells play a melody every fifteen minutes that can be heard all through the city center and our tour group was at the right place at the right time to enjoy a front-row performance.


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The Dom Tower bells have been known to honour popular modern musicians upon their passing which in recent years included Prince, David Bowie, electronic artist and DJ Avicii and Aretha Franklin.

Emerging onto the viewing gallery at 95 meters visitors are given an excellent vantage point over historic Utrecht although the view is in places partially obscured by scaffolding that’s been erected as part of a four-year restoration and maintenance project to the tower’s exterior. On a clear day the edge of Amsterdam 42 KM to the northeast is visible on the horizon.

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Utrecht’s historic heart is home to a number of canals, the most famous of which is the   Oudegracht (Old Canal) which winds its way from south to north in a 2 KM course.

Tower of the Cathedral ( Domtoren ) seen from the Oudegracht by Michielverbeek  CC BY SA 4.0

Utrecht University is the Netherlands largest university and lends this city a youthful outlook with a huge variety of cultural events, second only behind Amsterdam in the most events in the Netherlands.

I thoroughly enjoyed my short visit to Utrecht as it’s a compact, walkable city   cloaked in history but with a very modern heartbeat that combine to give the city its unique appeal.

A walk through Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter

In past visits to Amsterdam I’ve taken in the Anne Frank House which is a must for anyone visiting the Dutch capital but as tickets to the museum need to be booked months in advance due to very high demand this trip I decided to spend the day instead in the Jodenbuurt which is Dutch for “Jewish Neighborhood” to see a section of the city I hadn’t explored in-depth before.

The area around Waterlooplein , also known as the Plantage district, became the center of Jewish Amsterdam in the l6th and 17th century having received an influx of Sephardic Jews fleeing religious persecution in the Spanish Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. Known for its religious tolerance Amsterdam’s Jewish community swelled over the centuries to around 80,000 by World War II however only an estimated 20% survived the Holocaust. Today, the city has a small Jewish community of around 15.000 which has helped preserve, maintain and create a number of important monuments and memorials that are well worth visiting.

After exiting the Waterlooplein Metro station I began my journey at the nearby National Holocaust Memorial Hollandsche Schouwburg which began it’s public life in 1892 as a Dutch theatre before being designated as a Jewish theatre by the occupying Nazi’s in World War II who used it as a prison and deportation center for Dutch Jews being sent to concentration camps.

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In the memorial hall 6,700 surnames pay tribute to the 107,000 Dutch Jews whom the Nazi’s deported never to return with an estimated 80,000 having passed through the theatre.

The ruins in the rear of the building have been made into a memorial and is a somber place brightened a bit on each side by tulips, the national symbol of the Netherlands, which carry wishes for a better future from visiting schoolchildren.

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photo by author

Access to the memorial is open to the public without charge daily except for Jewish holidays.

Across the street is the National Holocaust Museum which opened its doors in May 2016  however development is ongoing over the next few years. ‘Phase 1’ of the museum up to 2018 will see part of the ground floor of the building being used for presentations, exhibitions, lectures and films. The story of the Holocaust will be told by temporary exhibitions in an artistic format and using personal historical accounts.

Nearby tucked away in a corner of Wertheim Park is the Auschwitz Monument which consists of 6 broken glass mirrors on top of urns with the of ashes of Holocaust victims who perished in Auschwitz. This monument, entitled ‘Nooit meer Auschwitz’ (Auschwitz never again) by Jan Wolkers, was unveiled in 1977 but moved to its present location in 1993.

‘Auschwitz monument’ by FaceMePLS used  with CC By 2.0 

The park, the oldest in Amsterdam, is named for 19th century Jewish banker and philanthropist A.C. Wertheim and was opened to the public in 1812.

A rugged statue commemorates the February 24, 1941 strike of the Amsterdam dock workers to protest persecution of Jews stands in front of the Portuguese Synagogue. The strike, which spread to all walks of Dutch life with 3000,000 joining within two days, is considered to be the first large scale public protect against the Nazi’s in occupied Europe and was the only mass protest against the deportation of Jews to be organized by non-Jews. The monument unveiled in 1952 by Queen Juliana is called ‘De Dokwerker” and was sculpted by Mari Andriessen, a Dutch artist who during the war refused membership in the Nazi-led artist union and hid Jewish friends in his home to save them from deportation at grave risk to himself.

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While not a Jewish monument or memorial the Resistance Museum is within the Plantage neighbourhood a few blocks from the Hollandsche Schouwburg and examines how the Dutch people reacted to their occupation by Nazi Germany between 14 May 1940 and 5 May 1945.

I was interested to learn that early in the occupation the Nazi’s went fairly easy on the conquered Dutch nation seeing them as Aryan brothers even releasing Dutch soldiers captured during the German invasion and five-day fight for the low country so the resistance movement was slow to develop. That changed when the widespread persecution of the Jews began and the 25 February, 1941 strike broke out with more active underground resistance building up until the April, 1945 liberation of Amsterdam by Canadian troops.

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The museum has an excellent free audio guide that describes the artifacts on display.

One of the most beautiful synagogues of the world dating from 1675, this Sephardic synagogue is in fact a whole religious complex with the synagogue, archives, a mortuary, and a library with more than 25.000 books and 560 manuscripts in Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Greek, Arabic and Yiddish.

 

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Across the street from the Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam is the Jewish Historical Museum which is housed in four restored 17th and 18th Century Ashkenazi synagogues.  The museum was founded in 1932 but was closed by the Nazi’s and much of the collection was lost.  After reopening in a different location in 1955 the museum – the only one of its kind in the  Netherlands to focus on Jewish history, religion and culture – has occupied its current address on Nieuwe Amstelstraat  since 1987.

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The Jewish Historical Museum’s permanent exhibition follows several themes such as the role of religion and tradition, links with Israel, the persecution of Jews during the Second World War, personal life stories and the mutual influence of Jewish and Dutch culture.

The memorials to those loved ones lost in the Holocaust are literally at your feet as I found while strolling a leafy side street. Amsterdam has 400 memorial cobblestones, which have been placed in front of the former homes of Holocaust victims as part of a commemoration project that a German artist began in Berlin in 1996.

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While in the district it’s worth a detour to the Rembrandt House Museum on the Jodenbreestraat  or “Jewish Broad Street” because  although Rembrandt himself was not Jewish his paintings often reflected his 17th-century life among Jews in the city.

Rembrandt lived and worked in the house between 1639 and 1656 and the historic interior has been reconstructed.

I would highly recommend a day-long walking tour of Amsterdam’s Jewish Quarter as after four centuries Jewish history is Amsterdam history.

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