Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Lost luggage: what happens to your baggage after check-in

While it’s been years since I checked a piece of baggage on any of my trips every year millions of travellers still pay for the service and every year millions of bags go missing but how they are handled or mishandled is not something passengers normally see.

It’s worth noting that airline information company SITA says in it’s annual Baggage Report  that of the 4.65 billion bags checked on all world airlines only 6 bags per 1,000 are mishandled and of this number over 99-percent is returned within 48-hours with the remainder unable to be reunited with their owners who are due compensation from the airlines as prescribed in the Montreal Convention, a 1999 multinational civil aviation treaty.

Thanks to advancements in technology passengers are 70-percent less likely to lose their bag than was the case a decade ago and it’s this new technology that lead the International Air Transport Association (IATA)  to adopt Resolution 753 which mandates airlines track bags at four key points in its journey.

For a behind-the-scenes journey of checked bags Global News has an excellent in-depth look in this video.

A short walk to The End of the World

Edmonton’s scenic river valley has a number of panoramic view points, some official and others not so I was interested to learn that one popular perch that was in the latter category joined the former.

‘The End of the World’ is the informal name given to a look-out high above the North Saskatchewan River steps from the tony Saskatchewan Drive in Edmonton’s upscale Belgravia neighborhood that became a notorious hang-out and party place for those wanting to soak in the sweeping views of the city’s west end from a crumbling concrete retaining wall of the decommissioned Keillor Road that served as an unofficial  observation deck.

Despite ‘No Trespassing’ signs locals made their way to the point leaving their litter in the process which together with the safety aspect of potential falls from the steep cliff without railings and an unstable slope prompted city officials to close access and undertake a $1.5-million dollar project to both make the point safe for visitors while increasing accessibility from Saskatchewan Drive.

City of Edmonton artist rendering

Renamed Keillor Point in honour of Dr. Frederick Keillor, a medical doctor and World War I veteran who became an Edmonton city councillor, the new and improved scenic view point features both gravel trail and staircase access and a metal viewing platform.

When they initially conceived the project the city acknowledged that the riverbank is still moving but will monitor the motion and close the site should it be felt to be unsafe.

photo by author

photo by author

Even a cool breeze on a December day couldn’t take away from the majesty of the view which is one I hope other Edmontonians and visitors can experience for themselves.

New screening system speeds up security process at Edmonton International Airport

I’ll confess to not being the most patience of people when it comes to line-ups of any kind whether it be at the supermarket or airport security so it was with interest that I read about the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) unveiling its new carry-on baggage security screening system at the Edmonton International Airport.

The authority has installed the CATSA Plus conveyor system in two of the airport’s eight security lineups but over the next few months all eight queues will switch over to the new system which is designed to make the process more efficient and user-friendly for both travellers in a hurry and those who need more time

The new setup automatically feeds baggage bins into four stations where four travellers can unload their liquids and laptops at the same time and when ready push their loaded bins onto a conveyor belt for a scan in the X-ray machine.

After travellers pass through the metal detector, they can watch their belongings be sorted into two lines — cleared to fly or needing more scrutiny.

Current CATSA screening time for Edmonton International Airport can be checked online before leaving home.

The improvements in the airport security screening process are welcomed by this passenger as having practiced the routine over dozens of flights there was some annoyance being stuck behind less experienced and prepared travellers who prolonged the security screening process. Now if only the supermarket line-ups could be shortened…

 

Christmas comes to Edmonton’s Little Italy

As if part of a master plan a heavy blanket of snow was part of the scenery for the kick-off of Edmonton’s “Winter in Little Italy” celebration in this colourful north side community. The 30 centimeters of snow that fell over the weekend was likely more than event organizers had expected but added an authentic touch to the festivities.

The Little Italy area extends from 107 Avenue in the South to 118 Avenue in the North, and between 97 and 93 Streets and traces its Italian roots trace back to an immigrant influx between the end of World War II and the 1970’s but it was the 1958 opening of Santa Maria Goretti Church that really solidified the enclave as Italian. A street arch welcomes visitors with ‘benvenuti‘ on one side and wishes them goodbye with ‘ciao‘ on the other.

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At Little Italy’s modern heart is a number of family-owned businesses including the Italian Bakery and the Italian Centre Shop where fresh pasta, prosciutto and deli meats are served in the largest deli in Western Canada.

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The competing aromas from the bakery, cafe and deli make this a wonderful place to linger and soak up the sights, sounds and smells especially on a cool Winter afternoon.

Just outside the store chestnuts roasting on an open fire had me humming the lyrics to this familiar holiday song.

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Just across from the Italian Centre Shop is a seated life-size bronze statue of its founder Frank Spinelli who emigrated from a small town near near Salerno, Italy in 1951 eventually settling down in Edmonton to open a store in 1959 offering authentic Italian goods to other recent arrivals to Canada.  Over the decades until his passing in 2000 due to cancer Spinelli grew to become a pillar of both the Italian community and the city of Edmonton and was posthumously elected to the Alberta Business Hall of Fame in 2013. The snow obscures his hands which hold cards as he’s depicted playing his favourite card game Scopa, one of two major national card games in Italy.

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The Spinelli statue sits in Giovanni Caboto Park named for the Italian-born explorer and navigator that settled in England and we know by his anglicized name John Cabot whose second voyage in 1497 made him the first European to explore the coast of Newfoundland since the Vikings some 500 years prior.

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The park was originally called Patricia Square Park named for Princess Patricia, the daughter of Canada’s Governor General, Prince Albert, the Duke of Connaught, and patron of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry but in 1981 the local Italian community requested a change in the name to better represent its neighbourhood and culture.

Horse drawn sleigh rides took visitors along Church Street, a stretch of 96th Street that’s home to a dozen different churches, cathedrals and temples. The City of Edmonton in 2017 took the first step toward establishing this area as a historical and cultural destination by preserving current buildings through restrictive zoning bylaws.

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Edmonton’s Little Italy is worth visiting year ’round however it’s especially festive ahead of Christmas so well worth an afternoon detour and evening meal. My visit proved to be a timely antidote to the bland big box stores and generic shopping malls that occupy so much retail space in the city and it was refreshing to stroll the street sampling the goods at a number of family owned and operated businesses and feeling the sense of community that still exists in this corner of the capital.

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.

photo by author

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.


video by author

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.

photo by author

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.

Flight Review: Icelandair Boeing 767

After flying Icelandair’s workhorse Boeing 757 aircraft on a number of occasions I flew one of its four larger Boeing 767 between Amsterdam and Reykjavik and enjoyed the economy experience on this shorter flight.

As with all Icelandair aircraft that are named for Icelandic volcanoes this aircraft bears the name Eldgjá after an 8 kilometer-long  volcanic fissure in south Iceland.

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The twin-aisle Boeing 767-300 jets are configured to seat 262 passengers – 80 more than the Boeing 757 -and with the increased passenger capacity the airline uses them on its most popular European routes including Amsterdam and Copenhagen and to key North American destinations  New York, Chicago and Boston.  Eldgjá  was given a cabin retrofit before it entered Icelandair service in February, 2017 after almost two decades flying for Air New Zealand .

As I usually travel solo one of the things I’ve always appreciate about flying the Boeing 767 is that it features a two-seat on either side of a center three-seat section so occupying a window seat means I only have to step past one other passenger instead of two as is the case with a narrow-body aircraft with a single center aisle and three seats on either side as the layout on both the Boeing 737 and 757.

The economy seat pitch – the space between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front of it – ranges from 31 – 33 inches on Icelandair’s Boeing 767 while the seat width is 17.8 inches and in an era of shirking personal space on board these measurements make for a more comfortable in-flight experience on the 3-hour flight Amsterdam – Reykjavik but would be even more appreciated on longer flights.

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Every seat has an inflight entertainment monitor with access to a choice of television, movies and music but note that “B” and “F” seats have a black box for the entertainment unit located beneath the seat which reduces foot and storage space. A USB port also allows charging of devices.

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The airline boats of having 49,380 minutes of entertainment available to view which includes newer movie releases such as Tomb Raider and Black Panther and older films including The Lion King and Pulp Fiction along with televisions series , documentaries and Iceland travel videos. Bring you own ear buds as earphones are sold for EUR 8 or CAD$12  by flight attendants shortly after take-off.

Icelandair flights do not include free meals bur rather a choice of buy-on-board food from the Saga Kitchen including pizza, sandwiches and small pair of burgers from Reykjavik-based ‘Hamburger Factory’. Prices are fairly high for in-flight fare but you can save a few Euros if you take one of the combo deals with food & beer or save 20% by purchasing your onboard meal up to 48-hours prior to departure. Payment for snacks, beer or food is by credit card only but members of the Saga Club frequent flyer program may redeem their points but since point levels cannot be verified while in-flight a credit card is also needed in case the member’s account has an insufficient number of points to pay for the purchase. I used some of my accumulated points to pay for food and it worked fairly smoothly except in one case where my credit card was charged in error. Membership cards are sent out after an account earns its first points and this card should be presented to the flight attendant with a clear statement that you wish to redeem Saga Club points for a food purchase.

The Icelandair boarding process is by row numbers from back-to-front of the aircraft instead of the zone system introduced by all major North American airlines in recent years. For flyers like me travelling on ‘Economy Light’ fares which do not include checked bags it was nice not to have to be concerned about finding overhead bin space when in a late boarding zone as is the case with most other airlines. The whole boarding process wasn’t as smooth as it could’ve been as the announcements made at the gate at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport weren’t loud enough to be clearly heard above the chatter of the masses squeezed into a narrow boarding gate.

Many flights arriving into Keflavik International Airport near Reykjavik do not pull up to a jetway so passengers walk down stairs to waiting buses for the short ride to the terminal. Since Icelandic weather can be breezy and cool I’d recommend having a sweater or coat handy for this fresh air disembarkation process.

photo by author

The Icelandair economy service on this flight matched those on my past journeys to and from Europe so there’s much to like as the crew is friendly, the in-flight entertainment and food service solid if a tad pricey, the seat comfortable and no extra fees for advance seat assignment. My ticket Edmonton – Amsterdam via Reykjavik was half the price of the non-stop KLM flight on the same route so Icelandair offers high value for a pleasant economy flying experience and would happily save money while flying them on a future trip to Europe.

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