Saturday, March 4, 2017

2017 February London Amsterdam Trip

Saturday 18 Feb 2017
Today, we embark on our week long vacation. A whirlwind trip to London and Amsterdam. Charles and I are hoping to squeeze in as many trips as a family before the boys grow up and are independent. Not that far away. Only 4 years until Riley is in college.

Max has ballet at 890 Broadway this morning and Riles has a piano lesson around midday. Our flight to London is at 8pm, so we plan to head to the airport around 4pm this afternoon. According to the weather forecast all looks good for the entire week. In the 50s most days. Charles has created a full, challenging schedule brimming with walks, museum trips and evening performances, so as usual it looks as though we will not be wasting any time. (Click for more photos)

Sunday 19 Feb
We arrived at Heathrow and light as  feathers and with only 4 backpacks we made our way to the tube, but not without first stopping for a couple of strong coffees and some muffins. We decided to purchase Oyster travel cards which meant we could travel with ease on trains and buses without any stress. We swiped our cards and entered the station. The Piccadilly Line train ride to Covent Garden lasted about 45 mins which gave us an opportunity to sleep a little. Riley and I hadn't slept a wink the whole trip over, so we were pretty delirious for most of the day.

Check in to the Travelodge was noon, so with some time to spare we dropped our bags off and hopped on a double-decker bus and headed down the Strand and Fleet Street toward the Tower of London. Instead of going into the Tower we had another coffee break and bite to eat, then took a windy walk across Tower Bridge and back before another double-decker bus trip back to Trafalgar Square.

The boys climbed on the lions in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square; that was a huge hit and we got some fun photos. We headed to the National Gallery for a quick stop to see the Wilton Diptych, the final of the 3 Uccello Battle of San Romano (we had seen the others at the Uffizi and the Louvre), the Piero Baptism and played “Find the Pickle in the Painting” with all of the Crivellis they have.

IMG_4325.JPGWhen we finally arrived back at the Travelodge, Riley and I took a nap while Charles and Max (who had both slept on the plane) wandered off to explore. We could have slept for a year! Charles and Max were quite adventurous and enterprising. They had found a Vodafone store in Covent Garden and set up a pocket wifi for us which in hindsight, was a real blessing.

After we woke we set out for an early evening (5:45pm) organ concert at Westminster Abbey. To get there we walked along the Thames and past Big Ben which gave us a number of wonderful photo opportunities and an excellent introduction to London. The concert was short but the organist was excellent. We sat in the nave of the Abbey so didn’t really see much of the church that night. Afterward, we walked up Whitehall past 10 Downing St to Trafalgar Sq and stumbled across a great burger cafe in Covent Garden and wolfed down 4 large burgers and some fries.

Monday 20 Feb
This morning we rose late, had an English breakfast at the hotel and took off for our first destination, the British Museum. It's worth a visit just to stand in awe at the majestic architecture, but then there’s the incredible collection of artifacts inside. Our favorite part was definitely the Elgin Marbles (which became a running source of conversation, as we discussed the fact that the British had “stolen” them from Greece and when they might be considering giving them back). We saw the Rosetta Stone (which holds the key to decoding hieroglyphics) and many Sumerian and Assyrian friezes and sculptures. One highlight was the Gebelein Man, a 5,500 year old naturally mummified figure (sand dried) found outside Alexandria decades ago. He was curled in the fetal position.

After the British Museum, we bought some touristy things and made our way back to Aldwych Court but this time walked along the Strand and Fleet Street to St Paul's. We passed Dr. Johnson’s house, the Royal Courts, the original Twinings Tea Shoppe, the Temple Church, 400 year old pubs, and lots of Christopher Wren churches including the “Wedding Cake Church” (so named for its tiered layers at the top) and down the famous Fleet St. with a lovely view of St Paul's.  

We climbed all 528 steps to the cupola at the top for a view which we couldn't help comparing to the views we had from various other cupolas on our Italian trip. It was unanimously agreed that the Italian churches had the most glorious views of all, hands down. But, it was still on the top of Riley’s list of British fav's so far.

Charles asked an attendant where the tomb of Wellington was located and she replied condescendingly, “The big hooorse, in the front”. We did find the tomb but the horse was up so high that it was impossible to see. The imposing tomb is out of proportion in its position in the church. We made an excellent decision to take a break just across from St Paul's in Paternoster Square and noshed on tasty toasted sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and thirst quenching lemonade. While we ate the boys played ping-pong on conveniently placed tables in the square. The weather was sunny and warm so off came the jackets and they enjoyed the physical activity.

We made our way across the Millennium Bridge to Southbank to view Shakespeare's Globe then took a very quick look inside the Tate Modern to note the architecture and interior space of the old Battersea Power Plant before crossing the Waterloo Bridge and heading back to our hotel for a rest. At 6pm we headed back across Waterloo Bridge, our destination--Royal Festival Hall, to see our second concert Berlioz La Nuit d’Ete song cycle performed by Sarah Connolly and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. They are famous for their use of original instruments dating back to the early 1800s. It was a delightful evening. The boys were captivated, as were we by the mastery of musicians and Sarah Connolly's angelic voice. The Mendelssohn Italian Symphony closed the program. They performed a version of the symphony that Mendelssohn revised but never put into circulation because his sister, Fanny, didn't like it!

Charles couldn't have made a better choice. It was perfect in every way. High on art, we made our way to the river's edge to snap a few night photos and videos, then back to Covent Garden and some dinner. The boys leap-frogged all the way back to our hotel and eventually fell into bed.

Tuesday 21 Feb
This morning after breakfast we headed out on foot through the theatre district, Leicester Square and up to Piccadilly Circus, eventually ending up back at the National Gallery. This time we looked at Rembrandt, Bosch, El Greco, Caravaggio, Vermeer, Bronzino, Ingres, Turner, and Impressionist artists Seurat, Pissarro, Van Gogh, and Rousseau.

Upon exiting the Gallery we paused to greet our friend atop the column (Horatio Nelson, or ‘Neal’ for short, as named by Max), and the 4 majestic lions which we had climbed our first day in London. Today, unfortunately, the lions were fenced off and no one was allowed the pleasure of climbing them.

We made our way down Whitehall Street towards Westminster Abbey and passed 10 Downing St, home to Prime minister of Britain (Theresa May), taking a photo next to the horse guards along the way. Due to our forward thinking, excellent tour guide Charles, who had bought tickets in advance, complete with audio guides, we waltzed right into the Abbey. Before leaving, we stopped for tea and scones, sticky date, lemon slice, and brownie slice at the Abbey cafe.

At Riley’s suggestion, we headed for the Sherlock Holmes Museum on a double-decker bus. It was the most wonderful ride up Regents Street.  Once again, smooth sailing having purchased our handy Oyster cards. After Sherlock (which Riley thoroughly enjoyed), we headed back to Aldwych Court, Covent Garden and our hotel, on another double-decker bus down Oxford Street.

Later that evening we made our way to The British Library to look at some of its most treasured items; original scores of  Bach, Mozart and Debussy, Bibles dating back to the 6th Century, the Gutenberg Bible, and the famous Magna Carta. Truly inspiring. We found a terrific burger cafe, for dinner. Their huge burgers, milkshakes and fries had us waddling back to the hotel  (that is, all but Max, who with his endless boundless energy leapfrogged all the way back over every pole he could find.)

Wednesday Feb 22
Today we viewed the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. We stayed for most of the very long procession thinking that at any stage things would become more exciting. Sadly, not much gave us reason to stay to the end so given our limited time, we headed to The Tate where we knew we would be see some incredible art, some gorgeous luminous Turners and a variety of famous British painters, and we did.

Charles dropped us at the hotel and met with Lars Payne, a music engraver with whom he has been working over the last couple of years. They were just finishing up a reduced orchestration for a production of Giselle for Julie Kent in Washington. Then we met up at the Royal Opera House where Charles had organized for Elizabeth Ferguson to take us for a tour through the ROH.  She was so generous with her time. We wove our way through the back corridors of the theatre, up to the rooftop cafeteria, across the “Bridge of Aspiratins" that links the Royal Ballet School to
the theatre, out into the auditorium and we even went into the Queen's Box (complete with dining room and LOO. How many people can boast of seeing the Queen of England's Royal Opera House private bathroom?) and finally out into the busy streets of Covent Garden.

Not quite ready to eat, we took a brief walk through Chinatown. We dined Italiano style at the Spaghetti House (Charles wasn't too happy that we were ushered downstairs. He wanted a table with a view of the street and bustling Covent Garden goers). We were glad just to find a restaurant with food that appealed.

Happy and well fed, we returned to the hotel. Charles went off to meet his friend Peter Manning who is concertmaster with the ROH orchestra.  We met them both at stage door around 6.50 for a 7.15 show. The show was splendid. There was a change of casts, which we felt was to our advantage. Lauren Cuthbertson (Aurora) wasn't dancing due to illness. Her replacement (Yasmine Naghdi) had just had her debut as
Aurora on Saturday. She was truly gorgeous,
very confident, assured and technically seamless. Our seats were very close to the stage, with a view into the orchestra pit too. Right across the way from the Queen's Box which we had been in earlier in the day. I couldn’t stop thinking about her “loo” as we glanced around the auditorium during intervals. The boys were excellent audience members. Both had many thoughts and comment to share about our evening out. Tomorrow we leave for Amsterdam. Our bags are packed and the boys asleep as I write. It has been a wonderful few days, we have covered a great deal, and had a ball doing it, truly wonderful memories and experiences for the boys to dream about and sleep on.

Thursday Feb 23
After an early breakfast we checked out of the Travelodge and headed for the Covent Garden Tube station, caught the Piccadilly Line 3 stops to Green Park, and transferred to the Victoria Line for Victoria Station. From Victoria Station it was smooth sailing all the way to Gatwick Airport via the Gatwick Express. Once checked in, our flight was delayed an hour. Time for a little catch up on diary entries and brushing up on Amsterdam touring. It should be a breeze, but you never know.

We are finally in Amsterdam after an eventful trip over. Winds of 60 miles an hour caused lots of flight delays, ours being one of them. We were on the tarmac for 2 hours before taking off and it was a bumpy descent into Amsterdam, but the pilot was  great. He informed us every step of the way as to weather conditions and how long before take off etc.  The  train ride into Amsterdam was eventful too. The trains were running with long delays and VERY very crowded (not unlike Times Square on a VERY busy day). Our arrival time of 2pm slowly became 5.30pm, pushing our arrival into Amsterdam Centraal station and Lelie Canal View House in the Jordaan neighborhood to 6.30pm.

It was yet more eventful navigating from Centraal Station to our House. There was no obvious taxi rank, and we were unprepared to catch a tram as we had planned on arriving during daylight, and making our way along Damrak, the main street, toward Dam Square  veering right to Leliegracht 34-B, our house. It was dark, windy, rainy, not as we had imagined it would be, but, Charles was a calm, composed tour guide from beginning to end. Even when we found our house, contacting our host did require some patience. The boys were real troopers.
It's still windy outside, but at least, now we are inside, and stocked with supplies for the next few days (thanks to Charles and Riles) from the local store. Best of all, we have wood fired pizza from the cafe right downstairs. We are staying in the top 3 floors of a traditional Dutch house that we found via AirBnB. It sits above the pizza cafe in the Jordaan area and has a lovely canal view, or so we are hoping. Hopefully tomorrow we will wake up to a lovely sunny day and a beautiful canal view.

Wild day. It was a travel day that became chaotic because of a violent storm that had 60+ mph winds blowing through England and Holland. The plane did take off 2 hour late and made record time to Amsterdam because of the wind! However, unbeknownst to us there is a football semifinal here this weekend and there were many "hooligans" who had come from England at the airport train station. The train officials cancelled several trains because of either the weather or overcrowding. The hooligans were frightening, without affect, eager to hurt and fight, loud, obnoxious and disrespectful (interesting that we don't really have that syndrome in America). Poor Max was beside himself, he can't even stand a smoker much less disruptive mobs. The platform finally cleared and we took a less crowded train into Amsterdam (cabs were nonexistent). The weather was still rainy and blustery and there were still NO taxis at Amsterdam Centraal. We walked to our AirBnB (as we had planned, but not in a storm!) and arrived several hours late to find that all had gone. It took a while before we managed to get in but finally did. It's the top three floors of a fantastic Dutch house on the intersection of two canals, the Keizersgracht and the Leliegracht. However, the wind was so strong that it had blown out two of the windows on the top floor. It was pretty cold and drafty up there as one could imagine. Within an hour there was someone here to fix it. That was nice. We eventually had dinner (there’s a pizzeria on the ground floor), got supplies, did the wash and are ready for the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh tomorrow.  Never a dull moment! cb

Friday Feb 24
Ahhh, how lovely it was to wake up this morning to a windless day, a quiet attic bedroom, and sunshine. We took the opportunity to sleep in this morning. Downstairs, the living area of our apartment was filled with light. We had a lovely cup of Earl Grey tea, some toast and cereal in the sunlight flooded room overlooking the Canal. (Not such a bad way to start our first real day in Amsterdam) We headed down our very steep spiral stairs out onto Leliestraat, through the quiet Jordaan neighborhood, passing interesting shops and quirky cafes to our ultimate destination, the Rijksmuseum. It is situated on the Museumplein and shares its location with Vondelpark, the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum and the Concertgebouw--a feast indeed for the avid art lovers.

The Gallery of Honor, a grand room, houses many of the works of famous painters of the Dutch Golden Age. We were particularly captivated by the Vermeer collection which has such beauty and stillness, depicting everyday scenes of Dutch lifestyle. We poured over Vermeer’s Woman reading a Letter, wondering what was in that letter, and how she might be feeling), we admired The Love Letter and took time to ponder over the color of the shutters and the everyday activities of Dutch life in The Little Street; View of Houses in Delft. Unfortunately, The Milkmaid was off on tour somewhere.

We viewed some paintings by Frans Hals and Jan Steen. We spent quite a bit of time with Rembrandt pouring over his famous Night Watch which lies at the far end of this imposing and spacious gallery. We compared the figures in this painting to another to its left and unanimously agreed that the Night Watch had much more life and movement in it than the static very posed painting occupying the adjacent wall. Apparently, this famous painting earned him no money at all. They stiffed him! Max (the money man in the family) couldn't believe that.

Continuing on, we wandered through the rooms which held some of paintings of Avercamp. We all agreed that his joyous winter ice skating painting was amongst our favorite. We combed the painting, pointing out birds, broken spikes, and even bare bottoms. We took time to admire the very luminous Dutch still-lifes (which gave us inspiration for a “let's see who can count the most bugs competition”) and passed through other rooms detailing Dutch history from 1200 until 2000. A self portrait by Van Gogh and Dutch countryside scenes with windmills and cows captured our eyes and our imagination.

The Museum cafe looked pretty inviting at this stage, a welcome rest for the legs and something sweet for the belly. The museum shop also had many a tourist temptation. We purchased a few small items and exited the Museum.

Since we hadn’t had the opportunity to walk the Amsterdam “City Walk” the day we arrived, we wove our way back toward our house incorporating some of the sites along the way. We passed the flower market (no flowers yet obviously due to the season, just a plentiful supply of tulip bulbs ready to be bought and planted in the spring), stopped for pancakes just opposite, walked down Klaverstraat (one of the main shopping streets), peeked into the tiny Catholic Church (De Papegaai - Petrus and Paulus) tucked away, almost hidden between the shops, and out into the Dam Square (Centre of the historical city). This is where the fishermen settled upon the marshy banks of the Amstel River in 1250. They built a ‘damme’ blocking the Amstel river and Amsterdam was born.

After a brief rest at our house, we headed for the Van Gogh Museum around 6pm. It was fairly crowded when we arrived, we think partly due to it being Friday and partly due to a singles night at the gallery. We fulfilled our mission and were treated to some of the most wonderful Van Gogh’s imaginable. An impressive collection for sure.  Unfortunately, the Wheatfield with Crows was in restoration, a great disappointment. Our premature exit can be blamed on what Riley and Max described as obnoxious, loud, raucous, head banging music, that started up soon after we arrived and didn't stop during the length of our visit.

Once outside, we paused briefly in the Museumplein to enjoy the view at night, saw a shooting star, and took a quick pic. We meandered back through the cobbled stoned streets, across bridges and canals, enjoying views of cosy Amsterdam apartments, fancifully pondering a possible Dutch lifestyle, (could the Barker family live here? How would that be? What if we owned one of these lovely Dutch homes overlooking a canal? What if we spoke Dutch? What if...?). It's fun to dream and imagine, to have this pleasure and good fortune, a wonderful vacation, an opportunity to view and sample this culture outside and quite different from our own.

Tonight we pretend. We are Dutch residents. We live in this lovely Dutch home overlooking the canal. Tomorrow we return to being tourists and our last day in Amsterdam to visiting the Anne Frank Museum and enjoying a performance of the Dutch National Ballet.  

Saturday Feb 25
We visited the Anne Frank Museum this morning, which was very moving. Needless to say, we didn't leave feeling elated. Quite the opposite. It's hard to comprehend that time in history or the fact that we as humans have the capability to perform such horrendous acts. We are fortunate to be staying but one block from the museum, and in fact not far from any of our chosen tourist destinations.
We have decided to spend a relaxed afternoon inside, watching the people go by on foot, bike and in boats along the canal. It really is lovely having a view. Thank you Charles. You are simply a No. 1 tour guide and the very best of room gods.

Later this evening we walked to the area around the Theatre in search of food. Riley wanted a burger, Max sushi, and Charles and I--Wagamamas. In the end Max won the lottery. We found a conveyer belt sushi restaurant which was to all of our liking then home to rest before the show.

At 7.30pm we headed back towards the theatre, to watch the Quadruple Bill that began at 8.15pm. Two of the pieces had familiar choreographers, Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon. Both pieces, were new to us. The other two, were completely foreign. Max has very specific taste, and also great allegiance to ABT. For him, nothing came close to Alexei’s piece. We all unanimously agreed. Alexei’s piece was musical, human and moving. The 2nd piece choreographed by a British choreographer was themed around ‘The Little Prince.’ It was interesting and the male dancer wonderful, infact, all the dancers were wonderful, strong, flexible and versatile. We hope this vacation has broadened Max’s views on the dance world. He has had a taste of some different companies, different theatres, different programs from the one he knows and loves. It can only broaden his thoughts on dance and be of value in the future when he is perhaps deciding on making dance his vocation.
Sunday 26 Feb
This morning, the journey from Centraal to Schiphol Airport was a breeze. We caught an 11.20 train, and had plenty of time to go through security. Our plane departed Amsterdam at 1.45pm with an estimated arrival time into New York at 3:55pm. Tomorrow life goes back to normal. The kids are back at school and Charles is off to Washington early in the morning to conduct for Julie Kent’s first big event (her own version of Giselle) as Artistic Director of The Washington Ballet.
Looking back on these past 7 days, we have certainly squeezed an awful lot into our vacation. The boys have yet more memories to treasure and a broader understanding of another part of the world. When they next look at a map, a photo in a book, a piece or art, a form of transport pertaining to London or Amsterdam, they will be seeing it through new lenses and eyes. Their view of the world just became a little more interesting.
These family vacations are precious indeed. Soon, only a few years from now, our boys will be on their way, forging paths of  independence, and rightly so. And so, we have, we hold, we cherish, and we let go. We are rich in life, love and memories. We are fortunate indeed. (Click below on Max for more photos)
 Click on the photo for more London Amsterdam Photos

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