Friday, July 6, 2018

Molen van Sloten (Sloten Windmill)

On the map the Sloten windmill looks like it is way out of town, but it really isn't; it's only about eight miles from Amsterdam's Central Station. Not only is it within the city limits of Amsterdam, but it's the only windmill in Amsterdam that still pumps water and is open to the public.

To get there, we hopped on Tram One, at the corner near our house (Prinsengracht and Leidsestraat) and rode almost to the end of the line. From there we walked for about 15 minutes along a quiet canal to the Windmill. It took us maybe 30 or 40 minutes - including the walk.

Inside, the volunteers take you through just how windmills work. I didn't know each one can only lift water 1.5 meters (about five feet,) so typically a group of windmills worked together to keep a polder (an area of reclaimed land protected by dikes) dry. This particular area, which is about four meters below sea level (about 13 feet) use to have three windmills.

At the lowest level of the water-pumping mills there's an Archimedes' screw.

The screw connects to the sails (that move "anti-clockwise," by the way) by means of a system of wooden gears. They're lubricated with beeswax because according to our guide, Harry, the beeswax doesn't soak into the wood. The cogs were made to fit precisely; any other wax would cause the wood to swell and the cogs would no longer fit.

At full speed the Sloten windmill can pump over 60,000 liters (almost 16,000 gallons) of water a minute.

I found it interesting how the sails and main axle were built with an 18 degree tilt. According to Harry, the tilt is what holds all the moving pieces together; ingenious. Makes me wonder why 18 degrees - why not 17 or 19? How much trial and error did it take to figure out that measurement?

Not only was the windmill amazing to see in action, the view from the platform was spectacular. We could see some of the numerous canals surrounding the polder.

Of the over 10,000 windmills that operated in the Netherlands, most were replaced over the years by steam power and later electricity. Today only about 1,200 remain. Once a year the Netherlands celebrates  National Mill Day. On the second Saturday in May many windmills around the country, that are not usually open to the public, open their doors to visitors. How fun would that be!

We loved visiting this windmill. Sure the attached Coopery Museum was a little kitschy, but it was created by and is completely staffed by volunteers. Our €20.00 entrance fee will go to help maintain this neat site and keep it open to the public. That makes me smile.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Getting Around Amsterdam: Bikes

Riding a bike seems to be the preferred mode of transportation in Amsterdam. We did see some cars, but there's very limited parking within the city. With nightmarish parking, and the fact that Amsterdam is pretty darn flat,  biking is just easy. 

Most roads even have dedicated bike paths. Amsterdammers do not appreciate tourists getting in their way; most have bike bells and will ring them to signal for you to move, but they don't slowdown.

We loved checking out all the interesting bikes. We never saw kid carriers similar to the ones we use on Mackinac (ones that get attached to the bike and are pulled behind the bike.) In Amsterdam, they were all in front of the rider.

This sweet girl and her mom let me snap her picture while they paused for a snack. Her mom explained that it's easier to push the weight than it is to pull it.

Some bikes did have seats attached behind the adult. This bike has room for two kids - and groceries.

Others had kid seats up front. I tried for days to get a picture of a child in a seat like this one.

We didn't just see seats for kids. These two little dogs rode around Amsterdam in style.

With all those bikes, people need  placees to put them when they aren't riding. We noticed bikes parked all over the place: locked to bridges,

locked on barges, 

we even saw this three level bike parking garage. In one part of town the city is building an underground parking area to hold 2,000 bikes. It should open in 2021.

We never saw bikes parked at the at the curb on the side of the road. You know another thing we almost never saw?


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Getting Around Amsterdam: Tram

Bikes are easy to rent in Amsterdam, but since riding bikes isn't a special thing for us, we opted for tram cards instead.  We loved riding the trams.

They were very easy to use. You hop on, scan your card, and you're good to go. Each one has a driver up front and and an attendant in the back, and both were happy to give directions and verify stops for us. Plus, the stops were announced and upcoming stops were displayed on a screen.

Sometimes we got to sit and other times, especially during the typical "rush hour" times, we had to stand. When you get off the tram, you scan your card again and it deducts the appropriate fare from your card. A full ride from one end of a line to the other costs €4.00. Each of us spent about €30.00 in all - not bad for two weeks of riding. (You can also purchase an hour long pass, a day pass etc. All right onboard the tram using your credit card.)

During one ride we got a visit from the "Tram Police." The tram stopped, two officers got aboard and each person's ticket was checked to make sure he or she had scanned as they boarded. Sorry for the blurry picture, but it was the best one I got.

I asked the Dutch woman next to me if this happened often and she said it was the first time she'd been checked in all the time she'd lived in Amsterdam. She thought the driver had radioed ahead and requested them because shed noticed a man get on and not pay. As soon as the officers entered through the front door, he scooted out the back. We asked the officers what happened to people who tried to get free rides. He told me it was a €53.00 fine if you got caught. Ouch.

Marinara Socks?

Marijuana imagery is everywhere in Amsterdam, and we smell it every day. It has provided lots of opportunities for us to talk to the kids  about culture and how different countries have different thoughts about things. (We had that talk as well in the Teen Facts area at NEMO, as K was shocked that you only had to be 12 to get in.)

The other day was we were walking down the street K said, "Look mom, do you want some marinara socks?"

Her brother rolled his eyes and reminded her its marijuana not marinara.  Poor girl, now every time one of us sees pot leaf socks for sale, she hears, "Look K - marinara socks!"

She's been a good sport about it though, and it's given us all a good laugh.

Thrifting in Amsterdam

Amsterdam has a thriving second hand market - you just have to know where to look. We found a number of high-end vintage stores, the more every day thrift-type shop, and a flea market. The Kilo Store is similar to a Goodwill  store in the US - except everything was sold by the kilogram. Several thrift shops did not allow photography inside - even if you made a purchase.

In the Kilo Store, everything was color coded -

just put your item or items on the scale, 
and then punch in the color to get the price.

We found prices for new clothing Amsterdam to be high (by our standards.) €150.00 (about $175.00) for a women's shirt or summer dress was not uncommon. Given such high prices, the high (again, by northern Michigan standards) prices in the second-hand shops shouldn't have surprised us. Shirts ran in the €15 range, while sweaters were in the €25 to €30 range. The cheapest clothing, by far, was at the Waterlooplein Flea Market. S found a long sleeve denim shirt he wanted, and since we've got a washer and dryer in the house, we picked it up for €4.00 (about $4.50.) One booth even had used lederhosen. Lucky for Allen there was nothing in his size!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Care for a Pedal?

From the moment the kids saw the pedal boats out on the canal, they wanted to give it a go.  It's one of those things I probably never would have done if I was on my own, but we had a great time.

The best part was, the kids were willing to do all the work. Well, not quite all of it - I had to navigate and Grandma helped ensure they followed the navigation rules for inland waterways. (Stay to the right, big boats have the right of way, etc.)

"Hey Grandma, what's that green thing over there?"

We found one - an elusive public urinal. My mom had told the kids about them, and we'd been keeping our eyes open for days - hoping to see one. And there it was  and occupied no less!  

We saw lots of  interesting sites from the  pedal boat and had a fantastic time. So much so, the kids have already asked if we can do it again.

Rembrandt's House

As we were walking to Rembrandt's House, we happened on Rembrandt Square and this really  interesting "statue" of The Night Watch. Since it was fairly early in the day and there weren't too many people around, we had fun walking around and visiting with some of the figures. It was really cool;  I felt like I was walking into  the painting.

Not too far away is the house Rembrandt lived in from 1639 to 1658. According to the museum, he bought it for an outrageous sum and then didn't pay the mortgage. Instead he bought all sorts of interesting things, many of which he kept on hand for he and his students to practice with.

When he went bankrupt, the house was sold and his belongings were inventoried and put up for auction. Incredibly the inventory survived, so the museum is a fairly faithful representation of what was in there in Rembrandt's day. The inventory was done by the room, so they even know where each item was in the building. The museum also had copies made of furniture pieces that were visible in etchings he did that show inside his home.

The etchings were probably my favorite part of the museum. We could take photos of the room with the press, but not in the room with original prints and copper plates. They're so fragile, the paper prints are swapped out every three months. (The museum has an extensive collection of original plates and prints.)

In the room where they believe he worked there was a guide explaining how created his paints; one of them was actually just sand, river mud and oil. He's the only painter to ever use this mixture, so when they discover paintings with this formula, they can be certain they are works by Rembrandt.

If you happen to visit the museum, be sure to listen to the children's audio tour after you listen to the adult version -  it will make you smile.

Monday, July 2, 2018

DNA Spray?


DNA spray? What's that? 

S started noticing these signs in shop windows all over town and was really curious about them. After a little bit of research we learned they're an anti-robbery system. Above the door is an orange box, that can be triggered by an employee if there is a robbery. When triggered the box  sprays a super fine mist on anyone passing by. The tiny particles are detectable by UV light and contain a unique DNA sequence - specific to that location  - tying the offender to the scene of the crime.

NEMO Science Museum

There is no way my family could visit a city with a world-renowned science center and not visit. Us not stopping at NEMO would be like us not eating our way through the Albert Cuyp Market - impossible.

There were pulleys to work,

 bulbs to light,

compounds to identify,

and dikes to build.  The dike building area was probably the kids' favorite part of the entire museum.

Something like two-thirds of the Netherlands is subject to flooding, so flood control is important in the Netherlands.

Before you read on, 
be aware that this next bit is rated PG-13.

On the level of the museum dedicated to learning about the human body there was a "Teen Facts" area - dedicated to teaching kids all about puberty. It was the kind of thing you'd never, ever  see in an American science center. Parts were about the changes that occur during puberty, but quite a bit of it was about developing sexuality and sex. For example:

The directions on the French Kissing display read:

Feel like French Kissing?
  1. Put your hand in a tongue.
  2. Be as creative as you like!
  3. Make it a beautiful sight!
Part of the display was for kids 12 and older. In fact, to get into that area you had to type in your birth year to get the gate to open. I can't post pictures of much of that area because, by American standards, the displays would be rated R  (masturbation, orgasm, birth control, etc.)

However, some parts were very informative. There were three curtained off areas called the Peepshow. In each booth kids could, according the NEMO, "learn about sex and sexuality without prying eyes or people who think they know better."    As a learning tool for kids whose bodies are changing and feeling things they've never felt before, it was really well done. If you want to read the signs, click on them and they'll get big enough for you to read the text.

We left the museum through the back and walked down the steps to the water. Such an interesting building...