Darkness in the 20th Century

Today was a sombre day. But a necessary one.

Today we learned about the Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands and how that contributed to the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a persecution of races deemed inferior to the Nazi regime, including 108,000 Jews from the Netherlands.

Focusing on the experience of the Netherlands in particular during the war, there are two different perspectives. On one hand, the Dutch were firmly opposed to the Germans and often stubbornly refused to let the Germans change their way of life. The Dutch could be seen as victims in the war, suddenly invaded by a foreign nation and placed under oppressive rule.

While the Dutch were definitely victims of war, they weren’t the most vulnerable under the Nazi regime and the level of complacence in the Netherlands allowed the more vulnerable among the Dutch to be exposed – and by exposed, I mean shipped off from Amsterdam Centraal to concentration camps in Germany.

To provide some short context: The Dutch were invaded on May 10, 1940 and surrendered only four days later. The country was simply not prepared for being involved in the war, seeing as they had remained neutral in the first World War. The goal of the Germans was to get Dutch citizens to sympathize with the Nazi movement and join the Nazi party in the Netherlands. They did this by imposing a control on public opinion: banning political parties, adapting education to favor the Nazis, killing freedom of expression (newspapers, etc.). Other measures were imposed to help the Germans win the war, such as turning in everything made of metal for the war industry and relinquishing radios (because they were often tuned into Radio Orange, a broadcast from the Queen exiled in London).

However there was resistance to these measures. And later a small group of Dutch citizens risked their lives to go into active resistance including strikes, forging documents, organizing raids on food stamps, distributing illegal newspapers and media, and helping Jews in hiding. This resistance allowed the Dutch to feel proud after the war, having survived the Nazis without becoming them.

However, later in the 60s and 70s, more details emerged about the extent of terror in the Netherlands that made it difficult to maintain this rosy image. Most notably, there were 140,000 Dutch living in the Netherlands at the start of the war and 108,000 were deported to concentration camps, among which almost all were killed. The Dutch were unaware of the brutality of the Germans and what was happening to the Jews abroad. The Dutch, naturally, tried to make life go on even after the occupation. However, this meant that often the Dutch enabled the Nazis to locate, extract, and transport thousands of Jews. The Netherlands complied with a register of the population that told the government exactly where every Jew lived. The Dutch continued to run the trams and trains to transport the Jews.

It is a difficult situation. If the Dutch had resisted, that would have almost certainly resulted in more deaths and simply placing Germans in charge of more positions in the government and infrastructure. While in lecture I definitely sympathized with the position that the Dutch could do almost nothing.

However, while in the Resistance museum and seeing the details of the Nazi regime, it became clear that while the Dutch weren’t to blame, it is almost impossible to find their position to be honorable. So much tragedy was occurring! The passivity to the Nazis for so long made it possible for them to extract so many Jews. And perhaps the Dutch didn’t know exactly what was happening with the transported Jews but it can’t take too much ingenuity to know it must be horrible.

The three museums we visited during the day after lecture offered a good look at the progression of the life and experiences of the Jews in the Netherlands.

Jewish Historical Museum

The museum was dedicated to the culture, religion, and history of Jews in the Netherlands (and the world).

What I found interesting is that the museum actually opened in 1932 but naturally when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, they were forced to close and lost much of their collection. Luckily, it reopened in 1987 to a location of four Ashkenazi synagogues.

It was nice to explore the Great Synagogue in the museum and learn more about the religious aspect of Judaism. My first time in a synagogue was actually on this trip (in Antwerpen) so this is still a very new experience for me. I learned that Stadholder William V visited the Great Synagogue in 1768 and in 1924, Queen Wilhelmina, Prince Hendrik, and Princess Juliana visited the synagogue. The plaque stated that “Dutch Jews have always been grateful for the right to live in freedom in this country.”

The museum also featured an exhibition on Jewish contribution to sound and turntables. There was also a panel on Jewish art. Most moving was the room that explained the history from the Jewish perspective of the Nazi occupation.

I noticed that the second synagogue we visited featured chandeliers similarly to the ones I have seen in in the Old Catholic Church — Toon explained that it is a traditional Dutch style. I also had to where a kippah, a cap worn by Jews when entering a synagogue (or all the time as I learned).

The Resistance Museum

The museum presented a relatively detailed history of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. There were three questions the museum presented? Adapt, join, or resist. The Dutch had three options – they could join the NSB (Nazi party in the Netherlands), they could adapt to the conditions and continue to live as normally as possible, or they could actively resist the Nazi rule. We learned that very few chose to join the Nazis, which is a comfort. However, many instead chose to adapt and to continue to try to live.

Adapting to Nazi Rule.

While in retrospect it can be shameful for many that the Dutch were so complacent, for so long it seemed that there was not point in resisting (for risk of being killed). For JK Frederiks, the secretary general of Home Affairs, he stated : “If I step down, the highest positions of the Interiro Ministry will be taken over by NSB members. The rest will be the conscription of young Dutch men into the German armed forces. I don’t care if I am maligned by principled people.” Thus, many politicians and infrastructure workers continued to work, and thus inadvertently served the Nazi party.

And there also was active resistance at times. The February Strike of 1941 saw the entire city of Amsterdam shut down for two days. Unfortunately this resulted in massive raids and killings, squashing further rebellion.

I want to also mention some of the student resistance that occurred. The Nazis had dismissed Jewish teachers in the Universities and in 1940, students in Leiden and Delft went on strike to protest this dismissal. Many students were active in the resistance. In response, the Germans introduced a loyalty declaration early in 1943 which required each student to promise to refrain from taking action agains the nazis. A refusal to sign meant deportation to Germany.

The resisting students call on the rest of the universities not to sign the declaration and in a shocking success, 86% of students do not sign.

Naturally, the universities are shut down and more than half of the resisting students go into hiding.

From my unbiased profession of being a student, it makes me proud to hear to stories of students risking their lives and careers for what they believe in.

This museum was at times overwhelming with the amount of information and media presented to us. But in a way, it is a necessity. We may have been tired and it is not exactly enjoyable to learn about the atrocities of the before but it is crucial that we learn from the past. Too often, history is quickly forgotten and quickly repeated.

Anne Frank House

And at last, we visited the Anne Frank House – a sentimental peek into the life of perhaps the best-known Jewish author. For someone who wanted to be a writer, I am so glad that Anne Frank at last became famous for her writing.

I liked that the experience of the museum consisted largely of walking through the house with the audio guide, rather than hunting plaque after plaque to read a description. It also allowed us to hear the reenacted writing of Anne Frank which was inspiring. I have actually never read her book.

It is remarkable to me how Anne wrote at such a high level and with such a command over words. She and her family struggled through so much, after already having to move to the Netherlands. At the same time, she was one of the luckier ones in relation to other Jews in the Netherlands. She had an extra year or two with her family before being sent to Germany. It is such a sad pity that she died just a few weeks before she would have been liberated.


At last we were finished. I would like to make a final note that I wish there had been some mention of the other victims of the Holocaust. In addition to the Jews, there were millions of other victims that were deemed too inferior for the master German race. These included homosexuals, Romani, Pols, Slavs, and many prisoners of war that all were taken from their homes, tortured, and often killed. In the Netherlands most of the Holocaust victims were Jewish so naturally the choice of museums made sense but it would have been nice to have it mentioned somewhere that 6 million Jews is a gross underestimate of the full atrocity of the Nazi Holocaust. 11 million non Jews were also killed (cite). The huge numbers aren’t always the most important. As Stalin is quoted as saying, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Irregardless of the numbers, it is valuable to recognize all the victims of this great tragedy.

Getting political

The Hague – not the capital of the Netherlands, but the seat of government. Which government? Oops, there isn’t one. But more on this later.

Today we woke up bright and early for the Hague.



Having survived the rain, we arrived at the Binnenhof – a complex of medieval buildings that house many of the governmental buildings of the Netherlands. The tour began with an informative video regarding the Binnenhof. It is a medieval castle that was built over a period of many centuries, beginning in the 13th century with the father of William II.

20170712_111432 (1)Our first stop in the Binnenhof was the Ridderzaal (Knight’s Hall), originally built as a great hall for banquets and meetings in which Knight did once attend (hence the name, Knight’s Hall).

The interior of the hall is spacious and grand. After a tumultuous history of many uses, it was fully restored in the late 19th century and is now used for the start of Prince’s Day. Prince’s Day (Prisjeesdag), is the day in which the Dutch monarch gives a speech from the throne explaining the features of the new government policy for the next parliamentary session. The monarch addresses both houses of Parliament, as well as the rest of the nation. I suppose we will receive this grand event filled with tradition once Dutch politicians decide on a government (still a foreign idea to Americans). The hall can also be used for some royal receptions and banquets.

Our next stop in the Binnenhof was the Senate – another magnificent room within the castle. The Senate is the First Chamber of the States General (the Dutch Parliament) and its members are elected indirectly by provincial councillors who themselves are elected in a direct election of the people. This reminds me of the system of the Electoral College in the United States in which citizens technically elect delegates to vote for their candidate during the election. However, in America it is considered “direct” elections as the delegates are tasked to vote for the candidate they were chosen to vote for by the people. In the past, the Senate in America was chosen by state representatives in a similar way to how the Senate functions now in the Netherlands.

Anyway, the room was very nice because of the wonderful paintings lining the ceiling, each depicting a different nation looking down on the Netherlands with intrigue. The Senate was not in session. The members of the Senate have a more limited role than that of the House of Representatives – it only meets once a week which was quite a shock to me in fact. The only role of the Senate is to accept or reject legislative proposals from the House and it has no ability to initiate or amend bills. Many members of the Senate are in fact part time politicians or have other positions.


Note the little tower to the left: that is home to the prime minister. Some call it quaint.

Ah, our next stop: Taalunie, the Dutch Language Union. A director at the union, Kevin, would be giving us a nice talk about the Dutch language.

Dutch Government

But first, let me delve into the (convoluted) system of Dutch politics. It seems every nation has its own flaws and benefits to the way they handle government and elections. Because of the system of proportional representation, the Dutch election in March resulted in 13 different parties splitting only 150 seats in Parliament. The parties have to form a majority-coalition in order to form a government to lead the people. At the moment, this governmental coalition has not been formed and since World War II, it has taken the country an average of 72 days to decide on a government after each election. Belgium can be much worse, as in 2010 it took 541 days to agree on a coalition. At our talk with Kevin, a directer at the Dutch Language union stated, this was manageable because Belgium has 5 other governments. In total, these are the governments of Belgium: Federal, Flemish, Walloon, Brussels, French Community, German-speaking community. Ah but there will be much more to talk about regarding Belgium when we go there next week. In the Netherlands the system of forming a coalition means that the party with the most representatives must form a compromise with enough other parties in order to form a sort of temporary majority party. What is fascinating to me is that the Dutch parties are refusing to negotiate with the Party for Freedom, headed by the right wing, anti-immigration candidate Wilders. While I am pleased that Wilders is shut down for now, it seems strange that the party with the second largest number of votes can be completely shut off from government proceedings if they don’t get a role in the new coalition. Thus, even though the representatives are directly elected, their dealings after the election really determine what the government will be working for. And then naturally, some representatives who were key in the negotiations could carry much more weight in the “representation” than others.

The Dutch system contrasts with the American system of politics which is designed as a “winner-takes-all.” This has ensured that only two major political parties can form, as lesser parties simply take away votes and do not contribute seats. In presidential elections, each state votes in electors for the president that will vote for one party or the other. The candidate that received the most votes in that state, will receive all of the votes for that state. So, the candidate receiving 54% of the votes in Florida then receives 100% of Florida’s electors. With congressional elections, it is a winner-takes-all system on the local district level.



Heavy rain.

We walked through the village of the Hague to taaluniethe Dutch Language Union that helps support the Dutch language abroad and the standardization of Dutch at home.


I met with Kevin, a Belgian who came to the Netherlands to work for the Union and has been here for 10 years. I was surprised to hear in Kevin’s talk that when he arrived in the Netherlands he at first felt like a foreigner and was not spoken to in Dutch, even though his first language was Dutch! The pronunciation and way of speaking Dutch is different enough across different regions of the low countries, that moving to another Dutch-speaking area can still be quite jarring. Kevin assured us that the fact that all Dutch speakers want to speak English to foreigners is do to their kindness. Though I have also heard the theory that the Dutch are simply impatient and don’t want to have their time wasted – an explanation that seems quite plausible.

Anyway, the unie was very interesting for me. My family living in Flanders, I had been noticing slight differences in the way Dutch was spoken here versus Belgium. Oh, and apparently I’m a flemerican? Sometimes I feel like I’m flaunting a false Flemish identity because I speak no Dutch and it’s a pity. Perhaps I shall take Dutch back in University to simply gain a better understanding of the language even if I don’t have the time to become fluent right now.



One of my favorite museums! It is a small museum so it was actually manageable to get through within the time frame (a relief for me). And by small, I mean it has a collection of 840 works versus a collection of 1 million in the Rijksmuseum (8000 on display).

Almost all the work seemed to be by Dutch Golden Age painters, with a high density of master painters – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, Frans Hals, Jacob van Ruisdael. And Rubens and Dyck (who are Belgian).

snapchat-776443080.jpgI headed straight for the Girl with a Pearl Earing. It is such a beautiful painting to look at. The rather simple subject is a nice relief from the sometimes complex landscapes and group portraits of other painters. A girl, engulfed with light, against a sharp black background. Her expression is perfect, her head turned slightly to look at the viewer. I paid particular close attention to the pearl she was wearing. It looks so realistic though when you look closely, it is really simply a masterful swirl of paint color. There is no clearly defined circle for the pearl which makes it seem even more realistic and reflective.

20170712_145014I also appreciated other paintings I had not heard of before, but the landscapes I recognized. For example, View of Delft by Vermeer was a lovely painting of Delft (recognizable by its church tower). I like the warm light shining on the still canal and the sky naturally filled with clouds but still warm.

I also recognized the church in a painting of Utrecht by Pieter Saenredam. And there were paintings of the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft by Gerard Houckgeest.

Ah, Old Woman and Boy with Candles by Rubens was lovely. The light from the candle gleams sharply against the contrasting complexions of a young boy and an old lady. I’m excited to see more Rubens in Antwerpen.

Many masterpieces of Rembrandt were in the museum as well, most notably (I think), the Anatomy Lesson. The corpse is so eerie and realistic, the surround men so intrigued each with a unique expression on their face. An impressive depiction of death and life.

20170712_150427And I’ll mention As The Old Sing, So Pipe the Young as I liked the joyfulness of the painting even if it is depicting a moralizing message that the acts of your parents are mirrored in your children. It reminded me sharply of The Merry Family by Jan Steen which also taught that your children will imitate the deeds of their parents.


The fruit is so luscious, I am hungry.


20170712_164010At the end of the day we had a special treat – an concert by Toon at his hidden church. On our way there we say some interesting signs of the Hague – the stork which forms the coat of arms of the Hague. And Mondrian artwork throughout the city (which eventually made me discover that Mondrian is from the Hague and this was the 100th anniversary of his style).

But back to the organ! Toon took us to the Old Catholic Church in the Hague which was once a hidden church though not so hidden (so the church had to pay a fee in the 17th century to the village in order to get the police to avert their gaze). It is really beautiful and looks new and shiny – it’s a spacious room but not a cold, cavernous cathedral.

And the organ music was divine. I liked the first piece (by a Dutch performer) the most. Also it made me realize how effective churches are for concerts.

Here’s a short video of his performance. And another.

Caterpillars bring good luck

Just like bird pooping on someone’s head, caterpillars are known for bringing good luck. Actually I just made that up but we did have a surprise tonight – a caterpillar was found on the salad of a student at dinner. Not exactly pleasant but the hostel gave every one of us free drinks as compensation (which turned into 5 pitchers of beer but what can you do?).


Heaven on Earth

The rising sun gently shook me awake — haha I mean after five alarms, I rolled out of bed at 7:05 and rushed to get some clothes on and some breakfast in. Admittedly, I’d had a wild night before (studying Latin for two hours).

blogging on the train

Blogging on the train

Besides me being late and Janet being missing and the class leaving Esmée we all made it to Amsterdam Centraal and were narrowly saved by Toon running to a nearby train and realizing it was the one we needed.


I learned more about trains today from a random passenger — only Intercity (IC) trains have bathrooms and wifi and second stories. Since our train today is lacking these amenities a passenger told us it’s the Sprinter train. They do seem new though.

I am currently writing this blog at 120 kilometers per hour. Wow, I’m fast!

Next stop: Leiden Centraal.


On our way to the Universiteit Leiden, we strolled by a number of sites.

First, a town gate from 1669. At this point we are quite familiar with these gates or poort as they are called in Dutch. This gate is located along the canal Morssingel and thus the gate is called Morspoort (note that in Delft we saw the gate called Oostpoort, east gate).


Each city that I have encountered in the low countries (including the ones in Belgium), seem to have previously been fortified by a city wall and four poorten (east, west, north, south) to let the goods and people inside. Of course, as the city expanded beyond its walls most of the walls have been destroyed but some gates and towers along the wall remain (see yesterday’s blog on the Schreierstoren!). It makes sense that the oldest parts of cities are often segments of the city walls or defense, as these buildings of stone would have been made exceptionally strong. That reminds me – the oldest building in Antwerp (which I visited) is Het Steen, a fortress built around 1200.

Back to the Morspoort though — the hidden treasure of the gate is near the top where it holds the keys to heaven. Keys? The city motif depicts keys because St. Peter is the patron saint of the city and St. Peter is traditionally depicted grasping keys – the keys to open the gates of heaven.

Does that mean I am in heaven right now? Perhaps Leiden should begin advertising itself as “Heaven on Earth”?

We walked briskly by the birth place of Rembrandt – a place once described by a Leiden professor as “so ugly I never want to show it.” Did I mention I sometimes love the eigenwijs quality of the Dutch?

We also cruised by a nice windmill next to a canal. The bridge over the canal can open up to allow taller boats to go through (a site that I have seen with great wonder on my bike ride Saturday).

the windmillAccording to some, the windmill is of Rembrandt’s father though our tour guide for Leiden assured us this was only a myth. One can dream, but dreams of made of windmills.



canals in leiden

All the Dutch towns have such beautiful canals!

At long last, we made it – the Universiteit Leiden. We were given a short historical lecture (without any advertisements to study abroad at Leiden).


I must say I appreciated the lecture greatly because it gave a nice summary of the history of the Netherlands which we have been studying, but from the perspective of a single town. It is one thing to know that William of Orange flooded parts of the Netherlands in order to keep out the Spanish but to hear it from the perspective of people living in Leiden humanizes the ordeal of the Dutch citizens. When Leiden was under siege, William of Orange pierced the dykes near Rotterdam which flooded the once-marshes around Leiden, preventing the Spanish soldiers from camping. And when William’s men arrived, Leiden was saved!

The teacher in Leiden who gave us the tour was very honest, admitting that certain claims of Leiden weren’t true. I appreciate this frank Dutch attitude. For example: the University was founded in Leiden in 1575 because William of Orange needed a University and Amsterdam (the second largest town) was occupied by the Spanish. I suppose Leiden was second choice, but look at their University now.

Shall we continue on the tour?

More tour of Leiden


seal academy building

There was an interesting seal placed on the side of the Academy Building which depicted William of Orange gazing approvingly down on Dutch soldiers kicking out the Spanish from Leiden. I liked to hear the perspective of the Leiden professor who was quite critical that the university depicted something like that in the “21st century.” And the Academy Building in itself brings back reminders of the 80 Years War – the whole reason it was available to the university was because it was once a chapel for Dominican nuns. The victorious Dutch following the war removed all the Catholics and thus had all these available convents, monasteries, churches, etc.

We stopped by the buildings in which the American Pilgrims lived before continuing their journey to North America. This is quite amazing because while I had vaguely heard about the Pilgrims having to stop by other European nations before coming to America, I never knew the details. The fact that they came to Leiden and then still continued across an entire huge ocean is quite remarkable!

We stopped by Gravensteen, a prison now turned University building.

We stopped by two Hofjes (or Hoofken as the Flemish might say back then). These are the almshouses with formed a nice courtyard. After the Catholics were expelled, these almshouses took over their role as a caretaker of the poor and disadvantaged (elderly, etc.). We have also seen these in Delft and Amsterdam. One of the hofjes we saw was very interesting, however, because the famous Delft painter Jan Steen lived and worked there!

fortress of leidenLast stop: the town fortress Burcht van Leiden. Called a “shell keep,” its purpose was to protect the city’s inhabitants and goods in times of flood or attack. It provided a nice view from the top and (thankfully) everyone survived the slippery spiral staircase (did I mention it started to rain?).

Museum Volkenkunde

The Museum had an immediate attraction – pick up sticks. This game that I had heard of but never played. Large sticks in a bundle outside of the museum all tangled up, the object of the game being to remove a stick without disturbing any of the others.

Enough games, let’s enter the museum.

The Museum contains a diverse collection of items from Africa, China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Latin America, North America, Oceania, and Asia – all the continents! I noticed particular emphasis from Indonesia and Japan. For Japan there was “cool Japan”, a historical view of the worldwide popularity of Japanese culture, and from when the Dutch were given exclusive rights to trade with Japan.

One thing I realized while in the museum is that I have an educational gap – I know so little about Asia (both East Asia and the Middle East). History education back in the states consisted of three years of American History, one intense year of European History, one year of Geography, and one year of Ancient History (Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc.). My sparse knowledge of Asia and the world come from a year of world history when I was 12 years old. And being a product of European exposure, I often choose to delve deeper into European history (specifically with this program the low countries yay). I don’t necessarily crave a similarly in-depth look at, say, Japan, but it would be nice to understand the background and a comparison of what the rest of the world was up to when Julius Caesar was stabbed, or when King John signed the Magna Carta, when Rembrandt painted the Night Watch, etc.

And in trying to learn a bit more, this summer I went to China. Most of my original fascination with going was the fact that it is so different from the West and that I know nothing about the country or its people. And while I feel like I learned a lot about the people and the land, I still don’t really know its history – especially not that of the rest of Asia (I also know zero Chinese, you don’t pick it up just by hearing it).

Anyway, I simply felt in the museum when looking at all of the foreign pieces that sometimes I had no context of what I was viewing. Sure the placard gave a little description of the piece but it doesn’t explain when they were made? What type of people made these works? What are the purpose of these sculptures? Why do they even have them? Who are the famous sculptors of Buddha? For the Rijksmuseum I understood the historical background of the paintings I was looking at (the Golden Age for the 2nd floor I saw anyway) and we had just learned about many of the painters.

Perhaps a bit of lecture or reading regarding the other cultures we were seeing would have been helpful. Especially learning about the culture of Indonesia, Japan, the Caribbean before the Dutch arrived would have been interesting. But alas, there is so little time.

Regardless, let’s look into some things I saw, shall we?

hindu god


Ooh an elephant creature called Ganesha, a Hindu god. Hinduism was one of the religions on the Indonesian islands when the Dutch arrived – primarily in the island of Bali. Upon researching a bit about this elephant god, I found an interesting story. Apparently, the young Ganesha was posted on guard duty at the door of his mother Parvati’s bathroom. When the supreme god Shiva wanted to enter, Ganesha refused and in fury, Shiva ordered his men to destroy the boy. All of the men were defeated so Shiva severed off Ganesha’s own head. When Parvati heard of this, she demanded that Ganesha be brought back to life so Shiva plopped the head of the first animal he found onto Ganesha — an elephant’s head. So much story behind the gods in Hinduism. It’s so different from Christianity in which everything we “know” about God is from the stories in the Bible that take place with humans.


dollsAnother interesting thing I spotted – a doll collection for Queen Wilhelmina. It was given to her as a birthday present. It reminded me of the dolls in the Rijksmuseum, even though those were intricate doll houses and these were huge dolls meant to teach the Queen what ethnic groups lived in her Indonesia. It’s curious how having and ‘playing’ with dolls back in the 17th century was a respectable hobby — reserved only for the wealthy. However it seems that – as today – the dolls were something also reserved only for women.


Some Japanese tattoos (apparently considered as criminal by the Japanese)

Western tourist taking photo of Inuit native in the arctic region of Canada. It’s a very good likeliness of a tourist.


And so many serene, praying Buddhas.


After the museum in a shocking turn of events we continued to walk… and we walked all the way to Delphi, Greece — otherwise known as the delicious restaurant in Leiden with all-you-can-eat salad (Americans are very much into “all-you-can-eat” foods). Sadly, I couldn’t take much advantage of the salad because the dish I got was simply too good.

gablestone-leiden.jpgAh, and as we were walking, I passed by a gable stone (gevelstenen) which casually denoted a building was from 1644. We have seen a few of these in Amsterdam (as pointed out by Toon) but this time I was able to spot the gevelstenen myself and understand its significance (yay I’m learning).

After a good day, the real question is what to choose? Universiteit Leiden or the Utrecht University? Hmm… I suppose I’ll have to attend both and return with my comprehensive review. Sorry to keep you in suspense.

Dag Leiden. Tot next year (we’ll have to come back on a Wednesday to see the Pilgrim Museum :D).


Maritime Madness

Monday Maritime Madness; my alliteration is going through the roof.

Maritime: connected with the sea, especially in relation to seaborne trade or naval matters.

Related to seaborne trade? Well the Dutch can tell you plenty about that. The Netherlands was the center of trade particularly during their Golden Age in the 17th century – a coastal nation often below sea level had long focused on the sea.

Naturally we started the week off in church with a lecture on the Colonial History of the Netherlands, that is, exploits that occurred across multiple oceans and seas. But before taking to the high seas, the Dutch had contributed to maritime progress back home. They built systems of canals in which boats could transport passengers and goods intracity (within) and intercity (between). And bordering the North Sea, the Dutch also had much experience with fisheries and ships before the Golden Age.

To give an example of the latter, the past Saturday I biked past by the island Marken and the town of Monnikendam.

WatershipsIn the 17th century the people of Marken devoloped a unique watership, designed to carry water in its holds. These ships were used for fishing and the transport of live fish. Monnikendam was also a known fishing village and shipyard.

The development of technology for shipping and shipbuilding gave the Netherlands a  competitive advantage abroad when the 17th century rolled around.

Beyond the image of tech-savvy Dutch, I encountered the origin of the darker side of the Dutch Golden Age within the West (WIC) and East (VOC) India Companies. The Dutch established trading posts in present-day Indonesia (Dutch East Indies), eventually colonizing the island. Pure Dutch were considered higher class over mixed or Asian races. They also introduced an agricultural policy of government controls known as the Cultivation System in which farmers were mandated to deliver a fixed amount of specified crops.

Much more sinister however, is the slave trade organized by the WIC (West East India Company). In Suriname, a colony in South America, there were sugar, coffee, and tobacco plantations run by slaves. And the island Curaçao was taken over by the Dutch in 1654. It became a huge international slave market in which slaves came to Curaçao from West Africa before being traded to North America or Suriname.

These atrocities form a contrast to the glorious picture of the Golden Age represented by the art and prosperity of the time. It is the intercontinental trade that allowed the Netherlands mainland to be so prosperous during the golden age. The abundance of painters and the funds available for even regular people to buy paintings clearly shows that the country was doing well. But that came at the cost of some people abroad – it is true that some of the success of the trade was due to the oppression of native people abroad in Indonesia or the outright use of slavery in the West.

It is true that many in the mainland didn’t even know or think about the details of what was going on abroad. It took until 1860 for Max Havelaar to expose the oppression in the Dutch East Indies. Abolition of slavery in the mainland and a tolerance to immigrants in the mainland could make it easy for the Dutch to forget about their slavery abroad.

Regardless, it struck me that we tend to disassociate genres of history from their timeline. We learn in a day all the details of the colonial history of the Netherlands. Before, we have a lecture on the Golden AGe painters of the Netherlands. It is only in looking back and writing this that I realize we have to put those two stories together. The political progress on the mainland, the idyllic canals, the gorgeous paintings all occurred while slavery was happening abroad. In a way, the colonial empire financed the mainland. While looking at a Rembrandt, nobody considers the slave trade going on that allowed Rembrandt’s society to function but at the same time it must be remembered that the prosperity of some came with a cost

Het Scheepvaartmuseum


The Het Scheepvaartmuseum is the National Maritime Museum, which houses the second largest maritime collection in the world. Everything in the museum is dedicated to the maritime history and progress of the Netherlands, specifically the colonial history of Netherlands’ past.

Upon first entrance, we were impressed by the glass ceiling which offered a view of the sky, cut by geometric lines. The design was inspired by “compass roses” on atlases. The compass rose is a figure on maps used to display the cardinal directions.


amsterdam shipThe museum was quite fun because it offered an adult playground — otherwise known as the replica ship Amsterdam, built 1985-1990. It was an 18th century cargo ship for the VOC but was wrecked during its first voyage in 1749. By wandering through the boat, I was able to have a glimpse of life on a ship in the 18th century. There were hammocks lining one deck which were surprisingly comfortable (perhaps our hostel should take some notes). A cargo hold demonstrated the use of blocks and tackles in order to more efficiently lift heavy cargo boxes – it is a system of pulleys with rope threaded between them. It was quite interesting because the boat showed examples of about 5 different types of blocks and tackles and I could try to lift the boxes and feel the difference. The more supporting rope segments in play, the easier it is to lift the load. Lifting a 80 kg load with only one pulley was impossible for me. Using a double lock, lifting the same weight proved quite easy.

More on the boat, it was nice to actually view the architecture of the inside of a ship – a design that seems to be borrowed in certain buildings. For example, the Hall of Knights in the Hague has a ceiling that is apparently built to resemble an upturned ship.

Also I embraced the Dutch flag that waved on the deck of the ship. Perhaps embracing the flag shouldn’t mean touching it, but here’s the picture.

Perhaps let’s peak inside the museum itself. The museum held a large collection of atlases which were very interesting – giving an idea of what people thought the world looked like in different stages in history.

For example, in the 1600s, California was depicted as an island. How did this phenomenon become so widespread? In 1622 the Dutch captured a Spanish vessel and found the map on the left on board, depicting California as an island. As the Spanish were the ones exploring the area, the Dutch took the maps to heart and it soon became all the rage to depict California as a map among European mapmakers.

This story is very fascinating because it reveals the challenges of creating accurate maps in a time of rudimentary tools and no aerial imagery. Also, since many countries were at war with each other, sharing geographical information wasn’t always a strategy. Thus, the Dutch probably saw their “insight” as California as an island as a valuable and lucky discovery.

The museum also had a number of paintings related to ships and the seas that took to my liking.

Image result for the battle of gibraltar cornelis claesz

The Battle of Gibraltar – a maritime battle on April 25, 1607 between the Dutch and the Spanish in the midst of the Eighty Years War

I also noticed an interesting painting depicting a ship dumping what seemed like sewage into the ocean. Knowing that it was mentioned that the canals and harbors had to be continuously deepened, I correctly guessed that the ship must have been a scraper to keep the harbor deep and was dispensing the soil out further into the ocean.




A common characteristic of almost every Dutch city – some canals, a church, and city walls and defenses.

This evening I was able to get a peek at the second oldest building in Amsterdam – the old wall tower Schreierstoren, originally part of the city wall, meant to protect Amsterdam’s harbor. Henry Hudson set sail from the tower which would lead to the discover of New Amsterdam (present-day Manhattan).

According to Wikipedia, it was built in 1481 but according to the plaque on the tower itself, it was built in 1487. Further research seems to confirm the 1487 date of building (so I decided to make a little edit in that Wikipedia article).

Anyway, the tower has now been converted to its true noble purpose – a touristic cafe. But I must say, it was quite enjoyable to grab a drink inside the walls built centuries ago.

In truly Dutch fashion, it started to rain during our dinner and we had to dash back to the hostel.

Het regent pijpenstelen!

Fiat Lux! In addition to learning Dutch, I am now also learning Latin with Professor Toon. Quite the useful skill when reading Latin inscriptions scattered everywhere throughout the old city centers.

Bonum nocte!


Some photos of my day…

Zaanse schans is a neighborhood famous (among tourists) in the Netherlands for its collection of well-maintained windmills from the 17th century.

In the seventeenth century, zaanshe schans became the center of the shipbuilding industry for the Netherlands. Windmills were used for a variety of tasks, most notably as sawmills.

We were able to learn a bit more about this history in the Zaanse Museum (yay Museum Kaart!), though the photos with windmills are where it’s at.


swans at zaanse schans

The views were very idyllic.


And for a dinner snack we had more Dutch delicacies – poffertjes. They are little mini pancakes with a moist batter inside, served with cream, powdered sugar, and butter.

Quite delicious, thank you.

Lost in Amsterdam

Just some comments on my day.

Cruising among the idyllic canals of Amsterdam, through the maze of shops and cobblestones, the stream of happy pedestrians. Then you realize your biking partner is nowhere to be seen amongst the sea of bikers.

And okay, maybe I got lost on a random island in Amsterdam Noord and then my phone died and I biked 10 miles more than I ever intended but alls well that ends well as Tintin would say.

Meh, sometimes your plans don’t work out exactly as expected, and that’s okay. We must venture onwards.

Avocado Show


Before I biked, I ate. The Avocado Show is an apparently famous restaurant in which all the dishes are made of avocado. It is amazing. The hour wait time was definitely worth it (we could go to a nearby cafe).

The atmosphere is very cute and the food is so beautiful it is almost a pity to eat it – I say almost because it was really quite delicious.

2 Wheels

Time to burn off those calories. Renting the stayokay bicycles, we ventured off through the streets of Amsterdam. Except we went back to the hostel because Andre needed to change his shorts. Then I went back once I lost Andre. Alas, onwards!

This was my bike path, traveled counter-clockwise.

bike path.png

There was a lot of water. From all directions there seemed to be water. First, I crossed a number of canals to get the Amsterdam Centraal. From there, I took a ferry across the IJ (waterfront of Amsterdam) in order to get to Amsterdam Noord. From there I made my way to an island accidentally and returned to find myself by the idyllic bike path along the Markermeer lake. Often, there was water on both sides of the bike path – the large lake to my right and smaller lakes or polders to my left.


The polders – an artificial plot of land formed by draining the water from the marsh or lake. When viewing the water levels on the left and right of me, I could see that the sea on my right was higher than the polder meadows on my left!

cows biking

An Abundance of Cows


At long last, I made it to Monnickendam (the old fishing and shipbuilding village). From there, it was a straight road back to Amsterdam (though I did have to occasionally ask locals for directions).

Spoiler – I made it back.


Tot ziens!

Dutch and Delft

Dutch language lesson today!

In a fun and engaging lecture, Professor Esmée taught us the basics of Dutch conversation.

Ik ben goed. Hoe gaat het met je?

Now when going through the city and looking at signs I sometimes spot some Dutch that we learned or that I have picked up. (Carlo from the future went to Monnickendam and the sign that denoted the end of the town said “tot ziens!”)

Also we read a newspaper article that was entirely written in Dutch and had to piece together the meaning. It was remarkably encouraging to complete this task because I was able to understand the main points of the article and essentially translate a lot of it, to my surprise! The Dutch grammar isn’t a big impediment in understanding the language — as Esmée taught us, a dictionary would be much more valuable to the language learner than a grammar book.

The main challenge I foresee in learning Dutch is being able to speak properly – speaking requires rapid understanding and forming of sentences. Also, the issue of clear Dutch pronunciation in order to sound normal.

De kerk, once again

We also received a rare treat from Toon – a look at the treasures of the church. Toon allowed us to see and touch two of the chalices used by the church for communion. They were huge chalices, I’ve never been in a mass with such big ones used. The intricate design was beautiful and they were made of silver and gold. We also were able to see some tapestries the church had – including the cloth to be placed over the chalice and the clothing worn by the priest. Fascinating fact Toon told us — the priest’s clothes we were shown came from an wedding dress. Naturally, the handmade garments were extremely expensive and difficult to make. So a wedding dress (which was only worn once) would be donated to the church so they could further use it. They cut off some pieces of the dress and converted it! Smart.

Naturally, these artifacts came from long before 1914. Toon explained that when the Catholic churches were turned into Protestant churches (after the 80 years war, as we learned), they would toss all the Catholic decorations and items from the church outside onto the streets. At night, Catholics came and collected the precious items. Thus, households treasured many of these religious items and passed them down from generation to generation – that’s also how the hidden churches had some of its items. It is remarkable how much hidden history there is regarding the churches due to the Protestant revolution.


Delft, the idyllic hometown of both Esmée, Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Johannes Vermeer, and partly to William of Orange. Delft was once a residence to William and where he was brutally shot and killed in 1584 in the midst of the 80 Years War.

the museumWe visited the Museum Het Prinsenhof – the residence in which William was shot – which provided more of a background of the 80 Years War. We last discussed the war when we visited the Hidden Churches in Amsterdam – the Dutch victory over the Spanish meant that Catholic rule was overthrown and the Netherlands turned Protestant again. We were able to see the bullet holes in the wall from where William was shot. Apparently accession to the nobility and a cash prize had motivated a citizen to claim William’s head (unfortunately for the shooter, he was caught by the Dutch).

I noticed a lot of the city and countryside paintings in the museum were filled with more sky than land, mirroring what Professor Esmée taught us on our day to the Rijksmuseum. Being flat, the Dutch landscape doesn’t always provide that much interest and thus the sky filled with clouds was given special attention. The Dutch sky is rarely fully blue and can look so interesting with shades of light and dark, monstrous and happy. (Carlo in the future made sure to gaze at the sky a lot during his Saturday bike ride).


For example: more than half this painting of Delft is of the sky

The museum taught us more of the specifics about the Eighty Years War, which provided some crucial context in understanding the Golden Age. In 1581 the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was formed after the Dutch beat the Spanish armies. While war continued until the formal treaty in 1648, the mainland of the Netherlands was not threatened. This explains the fact that the 17th century was the Golden Age for the Netherlands even though the Dutch were apparently at war for 48 of those years.

The museum showcased not just paintings but also some insight in the technological progress of the Golden Age. Anton van Leeuwenhoek was born and worked in Delft. He was a microbiologist and developed the first microscopes which allowed him to discover unicellular organisms. I learned about him back in primary school. He was portrayed in a painting of an anatomy lesson on display. I’m not a huge fan of the corpses but I believe Anton can be found on the bottom right of the painting. According to the plaque, many spectators came to these anatomy lesson which is an interesting form of entertainment for the 17th century I suppose.


An Anatomy Lesson – and Anton van Leeuwenhoek

Delft, the city

As with every new city, I found it lovely to walk through its cobblestone streets and enjoy both its history and food.


Nieuwe Kerk – also the second largest tower in the Netherlands

Our first stop was the Nieuwe Kerk – so called “new” because it was built in the 14th century (so modern!) instead of the 13th century Oude Kerk. We couldn’t go to the Oude Kerk because there were four weddings we saw through Delft and one of them was having a reception in the Oude Kerk. But, this allowed us the chance to see the Nieuwe Kerk which housed William of Orange – the same William who was shot in his Delft home! I was very impressed. The church also serves as a burial ground for the rest of the Orange family, a tradition that continues to this day – the most recent burial being in 2004. According to the church, the stench of the rotting corpses made it quite unbearable to be a parishioner and thus later only royalty were able to be buried. However, Johannes Vermeer is buried in the Oude Kerk (amazing!).

For our free time, we decided to book a specialty private tour (aka Toon 😄), who gave us a nice taste of the city. We first decided to stop by the free cafe which built in 1966. They gave us free coffee and we were seated on a boat on the canal – great service I must say! Then we visited the East Gate, built in 1400. It is the only remaining city gate in Delft and the oldest part of the city besides the church (of course). It is quite fascinating that the brick and stone has lasted for so many centuries and that we can continue to marvel at the cities defenses. In the past, a wall would wrap around the entire city and people and goods could only enter through the city gates. This was often further enforced by a moat around the city. On Tuesday, during our walk through Amsterdam, Toon explained that Amsterdam once had these city gates and walls though only remnants remain. As the city expanded beyond its walls, the walls were often destroyed.

east gate

The East Gate. circa 1400


On our way back to the Grote Markt, we stopped by Klaeuwshofje, a beautiful courthouse built in 1605. The inscription on the entrance states something along the lines of “those who plant their seeds in the poor courtyards will have the riches harvest.” The “richest harvest” is a metaphor for rewards in heaven. Good thing our tour guide can read Middle Dutch! This message matches with the fact that the houses around the courtyard were almshouses – charitable housing run first by the Catholics for those who could not afford it. This reminded me of the almshouses we saw in Amsterdam on another tour with Toon – they also formed an idyllic courtyard.


Back to the Grote Markt! The Grote Markt is a town square that seems to be present in every town or city I’ve visited thus far in the low countries. The church (Nieuew Kerk) is on one side and the Town Hall on the other. We found a good restaurant behind the Town Hall and had a delicious meal (did I mention fries and lentil stew). Luckily they were able to accommodate such a large group and able to get our food out quickly! It turns out that we weren’t late at all and the entire class took the train back home.

Lastly, the train ride back home.

I must review the train toilets. Wasn’t horrible, I mean it wasn’t like a porta-potty but my goodness. The train was lurching back and forth and I had to fight to stay on the toilet seat (too many details?). But the most interesting part is the flushing – a long tunnel opens up and everything shoots down the chute onto the train tracks below. Shocked, I looked down and saw the tracks zooming by. So if you ever find yourself on a Dutch railway perhaps skip the toilet – or go for the novelty of it, your choice. Or perhaps this is a common thing on trains but we simply don’t have them back in California.

Tot ziens! 🎑


Rise and shine. Speaking of shine, I’m grateful – it’s been sunny for the past few days.

Of course we had our morning mass – that is, sit in the pews and listen to a fascinating lecture on the the Golden age era of paintings in the Netherlands. And I do mean fascinating – for such a small country, the Netherlands were incredibly productive in their art production. Today many in the states don’t think too much about the low countries but it played such an important role in the history of Europe, its art, and culture. I’m glad we took a look at some of the more famous paintings located in the Rijksmuseum before we went so that I had some background and some things to look for and recognize. The painting analysis was very interesting – the stories and subtle messages included in so many paintings make it fascinating to learn more than just the pretty picture staring at you in the face. Oysters as a flirtation measure… hmm.

Off to the Rijksmuseum.

First off, the museum building is beautiful, built in 1885 (practically yesterday in Dutch history). But, the museum is so large I didn’t get through one floor! Luckily I saw most of floor two which contains the most famous paintings of the museum – all the names we discussed in class: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, Pieter Claesz, Ruisdael, Avercamp.

1200px-the_nightwatch_by_rembrandtI was wonder-struck by the Night Watch, it was so grand – a colossal work of art. The dark shadows hiding intricate details yet illuminating a mysterious girl. It is so large that the people seem to be real soldiers walking out of the painting. I appreciated the infographic that the museum provided which gave some more information regarding the painting and its history. It seems that one of the most famous works of genius to scholars today was not as appreciated back then – some people who had paid to be in the painting were upset that they were dark or hidden (that’s true).



I was fascinated by Milkmaid by Johannes Vermeer. It was nice to see in person the traditional elements of Vermeer that we had discussed in class. For example, light from the windows on the left was streaming into the scene – from the left side as is classic with Vermeer. The way the light shines across the wall is so pure and real – it feels like the morning has just arrived.

Also in class we considered it to be a “still life” which became clear when face to face with the painting – everything feels quiet and still except for the dripping of milk into a basin. The woman feels perfectly still and serene as she gazes solemnly into the bowl of milk. I really enjoy paintings of a domestic setting – there is something raw and honest about these portrayals. And the realism in this painting is amazing – the bread is created with a series of dots of light which looks makes it look deliciously crusty. And the sharp blue tablecloth really feels real.

Talking to Toon about this later I learned that the metal box in the right corner was a foot warmer – you put hot coals in the metal box and then place it under a table or chair to warm yourself. It’s like Vermeer gives the viewer a slice of history – a secret view of a housemaid doing her chores in a countryside house. Going back to the Milkmaid being a slice of history, it reveals the plentifulness of the time. In the Golden Age, food was plentiful and suffering lessened. In a clearly simple countryside home, the table is still filled with bread and milk.

The question is – is the housemaid content or forlorn? The shadows on her downcast face make it unclear.

Other paintings

It is interesting how the paintings not only provide beauty but also are an important tool in resurrecting history. I remember viewing two paintings related to the Peace of Munster, for example. As I read on the plaques next to the paintings, the Peace of Munster was the treaty between the Dutch and Spain in 1648 in which the Spain finally recognized the independence of the Dutch republic and officially ended the 80 Years War (yay!). One painting was the Ratification of the Treaty of Munster which portrayed the signing of the treaty – two copies are shown: one for the Dutch and one for the Spanish. Then there was another interesting painting, Banquet celebrating the Treaty of Munster, in which the crossbowmen’s guild celebrates the signing of the Treaty with quite some revelry. Everyone is joyful and passing around the drinking horn. Both were painted in 1648 and reveal the history that transpired – one the Treaty, and two, the attitude regarding the Treaty.

Other paintings are a clear work of beauty but also provide interesting information. For example, Fishing For Souls, is a wonderful masterpiece of art and also a perfect metaphor for the struggle between the Protestants and Catholics at the time. Painted in 1614 (in the middle of the 80 years war), the painting depicts the Protestant North Netherlands on the left side and the Catholic southern Netherlands on the right side. They are fishing for souls in a large lake, in which the Protestant’s catch is much greater. This confirms what we learned in lecture about the Protestant became dominant in the larger Northern Netherlands, while the south remained Catholics (who later revolted and became Belgium). The south had been absorbed by the Netherlands during the 80 Years War but was culturally and (as we see) religiously separate from the rest of the Netherlands.


Ultimately the art provides an endless look at the history, culture, and mentality of people at the time the painting was made. While it doesn’t explain everything (art isn’t a photograph), it can reveal a lot. The numerous household scenes reveal what households may have looked like, or what they aspired to be. The doll houses portrayed in the museum reveal the pastime of wealthy ladies. The portraits of generals and paintings of outposts in Brazil and the Dutch East Indies give insight into the adventures of the Dutch and the scope of their empire long ago. Did you know that the Dutch still have three islands in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands? Of course you did.

After our expedition to Rijksmuseum concluded, I had to get some exercise – what better way than climbing the I amsterdam sign?

carlo i amsterdam sign 3

I’ll be back to the museum soon to see the rest of its treasures! 😮


tower of utrecht.jpg

Utrecht, forever fulfilling my need to play in boats on water.

It was nice to get out in the morning and have the day in a new city. Utrecht did not disappoint- the moment we got off of the train we were greeted by the tower of Utrecht, Domkerk, the tallest historical tower in all of the Netherlands.

We ventured into a garden of the church in which we were literally greeted by two cats wandering around (yes, there were old church sculptures in the walls, but I mean…. cats).



Regarding the sculpture drawings on the walls however, they depicted a Catholic story with St. Martin, the patron saint of the Domkerk. Of course, the cathedral has been a Protestant church since 1580 when the Protestant Dutch won their war of independence against the Spanish (see yesterday’s entry 🙂



The nave (middle section) of the church collapsed in 1674 (wikipedia thank you) and there were never funds to rebuild it. Thus, when we visited there was a huge tower and a large nave and then simply an empty middle section. It make sense as it takes centuries for the churches to be built. The inside looked similar to the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam, though it was larger and more beautiful I will say. I always enjoy entering the cool silence of a cathedral. We missed the chance to climb the tower (by three minutes!) but that allowed us the opportunity to go paddle-boarding (more on that later).

Going back in time a bit here, we first went to the University of Utrecht in which we went to the Maskeradezaal – a beautiful room with lovely drawings on the white walls. Wow, the were really working hard to impress us. Did I mention free food and coffee and tea?Did I go to the right university? Haha.



Though the presentations seemed to be an advertisement for the University of Utrecht it was interesting to learn more about the European system of higher education and how international studies could work. I appreciate that Berkeley partners with universities abroad. The city tour was also interesting and I appreciated exploring learning the history behind things and visiting some of the university buildings and library. But, I am grateful we had plenty of time to explore on our own as well (at a faster pace 😉).


Afternoon Mischief

Given four hours free to explore was the perfect chance to explore some things that we hadn’t tried in Amsterdam. It became rather warm – in fact I have been surprised with the generally sunny weather here in the Netherlands, I was expected more clouds (i’m not complaining!).

Ice cream. Hazelnut and chocolate seems european to me. I told you this was philosophical.

And boats. Whenever I encounter an ocean or body of water, boating always sounds awesome to me. I had never been paddle-boating and while perhaps not the most leisurely option for boating it was fun and a good exercise. Exploring from the canal itself literally gives a different perspective so I found this to be an education experience — we saw a fountain, more cats and dogs, shops and restaurants spilling right up into the water, so many long tunnels and bridges that are wondrous to cruise under.

We were out on the water for an hour. Getting back was a little bit tricky because we had to orient our boat backwards and we — I — had some challenges in steering backwards and crashing into another boat on the canal. The owner of the boats started to laugh at us after around 15 minutes of spinning around and crashing into things. Eventually he helped us climb out and then oriented the boat by hand. Alls well that ends well.

It is rather amazing how the low countries have developed into a nation of canals — used not just by ostentatious tourists like us. Naturally they were historically used for the transport of goods, the Netherlands being a major trading nation with the rest of the world. Also, they could be readily used as a sewage system though thankfully those times are over. Today they are much more recreational within the cities but I know there are canals running from city to city that serve as a necessary form of transportation of goods. Instead of many trucks on the roads, relatively large cargo boats can transport goods through the canals. Another way to reduce congestion!


It’s interesting how Americans have decided to eat their foods borrowed from Europe. Foods that Americans have for breakfast like pancakes, waffles, and omeletes are eaten here as a snack or lunch/dinner. Anyway, we (basically the whole class I think) went to the recommended Dutch pancake place Pancake Bakery Muntkelder — down a flight of steps, right by the canal. Here’s my professional review: nice atmosphere, grand location, fair prices. They have this amazing deal which is unlimited panckakes for 14.5 euros — keep in mind that one pancake alone is 8 euros. Went for that right away, thinking “I can eat like five pancakes.” Haha two issues – it takes like half an hour for them to make each pancake and you have to order them one at a time. Also the pancakes are pretty big! Anyway, I got raisins soaked in rum – Boerenjongens which made the raisins really sweet and the pancake exceptionally tasty. It’s like this very large crêpe rather than the think pancakes we have in the states. To go I had mushroom which is a nice savory pancake. (Perhaps I should have switched the order I ate those in.)

Okay wow I wrote a lot about pancakes. Sorry. Though I am glad to have experienced a type of traditional dutch dish, beyond the characteristic bread and cheese.

Tot later.


Kerk again deze morgen.

I know, I know, I’m practically fluent in Dutch. 😂

Our first true lecture in the kerk. A fascinating look at the Identity, Politics, Culture, and History of the Netherlands (not necessarily in that order).

I was particularly interested in the four pillars of the dutch identity:

Zunig Gezellig Gewoon Eigenwijs
economical, thrifty, careful cosy, homey, sociable ordinary, normal, simple stubborn, self-willed

Esmée explained how these are four crucial values for the Dutch. One interesting clash I noticed is the zunig virtue about being careful about what you share. At the same time, the Dutch might leave their windows wide open to the public in order to prove that they have no secrets and live an ordinary life — the gewoon virtue. But, in Flanders apparently this virtue isn’t necessarily shared and you’ll find all the front windows closed. Ah a difference between Flanders and the Netherlands! Oh, sidenote! After hearing gewoon and dank je wel being pronounced almost with a “v” sound, I realized this was different from what I was used to hearing in Flanders (more of a “w” sound). I voiced this thought to Esmée who also confirmed it. Another difference I suppose. And okay, yes, the roads are better, the windmills more plentiful, the tulips bright. But… culturally, Belgium and the Netherlands were together at some point – before 1830 to be precise (as we learned in today’s history lesson).

It’s great being able to learn about this from a truly Dutch perspective of our Professor / assistant. This reminds me how glad I am that we are essentially given a month long tour by two Dutch academics who know the area so well.

Anyway, back to the concept of zunig – I found that to be the case in Flanders as well. People are more reserved. I can definitely imagine that it would be difficult to get into one’s “personal sphere.” This practice of being less open is definitely more traditional and conservative – perhaps the image of a tolerant dutch society is more a combination of zunig and eigenwijs — that is, the freedom to lead a private life and not have the government to control what citizens do (ie. gay marriage, euthanasia, drugs).

And I’ll take the eigenwijs mentality to heart and make sure to bicycle boldly through the streets without regard to traffic rules. Just kidding…. Though I suppose the sense of not wanting to be told what to do mirrors that in the USA – though I would find it uncommon in the US to question one’s boss.

In regards to the Dutch conversation, Esmée states: “Not necessarily very philosophical questions. [The Dutch are] pretty serious and pretty practical.” I find this interesting.

Back to the day – as a class we traversed the city streets on a loop from Vondelpark to Amsterdam Centraal and back down to the old Civil Orphanage. Let’s take a stroll


A classic. In the mid-19th century, it was built as as a slice of nature in the ever expanding city of Amsterdam.




A stop by its stately entrance. More to come Thursday (cliffhanger I know).


Yes please. It is a rather amazing how many of the main canals were built in the 17th century. Also reminds me of a scary thing I learned about the Netherlands – its main line of defense agains rising sea is a mountain of dunes by the shore. If sea levels were to rise that could be a real issue.

Side note – We passed by the outside of a hidden church in which some components were moved to our lecture Old Catholic Church. Did I mention churches are a theme in this blog post?

Gable Stones

To mark the homes. We also passed by the Amsterdam coat of arms in three different occasions.

Red Light District

On our way to the Oude Kerk we passed by the Red Light District of Amsterdam, a network of streets filled with bars and shops displaying prostitutes.

A much less infamous version of this exists in Antwerp as well. I was shocked when I walked with my uncle through some streets filled with half-naked women in front of windows. However, it is only permitted in three streets and the legalization allows Antwerp to limit the once-huge expanse of prostitution in the city. I suppose I was more prepared for Amsterdam then but it seemed to me to be a much larger sprawl here in Amsterdam – and more dirty. However perhaps the decriminilization of it allows it to be regulated. While the job of a prostitute always sounds horrid to me, it seems that you are less vulnerable and dependent on a dealer if it is a legal and protected profession. I would be interested to learn more about what Esmée thinks about it though.

Oude Kerk


Back to more wholesome subjects – like the sacrilege of the St. Nicholas Church in 1578 when the Protestants took over and turned the church into the Oude Kerk (to be fair, disrespect and persecution has gone both ways for a long time). When the Dutch won their independence from Catholic Spain, they turned all the churches Protestant and reverted back to a Protestant order of living.

The interior of the church looks so barren, like a cavernous skeleton, in comparison to the colorful catholic churches I am used to seeing. However it is still so grand. (UPDATE: it was fascinating to see the paintings of the Oude Kerk in the Rijksmuseum by Emanuel de Witte!).

Our Lord in the Attic

lady in the attach viw

Our Lord in the Attic was really a wonder – a beautiful testament to the ingenuity and determination of the Dutch. The upper three stories of a canal-side house were transformed into a full Catholic church in 1663 when the Catholics lost their right to worship freely. Thankfully so-called “hidden churches” were permitted which allowed Catholics to worship within their own homes and left undisturbed if there were no outward showings of the Catholic faith. Thus, a completely banal house (banal for Amsterdam is a gorgeously tall structure beside a canal) could become a church.

I was simply very impressed with the whole homemade structure which was surprisingly beautiful and carefully ornate. It is a contrast from the huge gothic cathedrals I have seen previously yet I was just as taken away. If anything, I think mass at a hidden church like this would have been quite nice – the intimate surroundings and the strong community who knows of this hidden church. I would love to go back in time a few hundred years and experience a mass in this hidden church. (Good thing I know Middle Dutch.)

The Old Orphanage

old orphanage

Passed by the entrance of the Old Orphanage in Amsterdam. It did have an idyllic square.


Originally built for the Beguines in the 14th century, the courtyard survived and the surrounding houses were continuously purchased by Catholics, even after they were persecuted when the Protestant Dutch took over after the 80 years war. They obviously had their church in the courtyard but when that was converted to a Protestant church, the community catholics built a hidden church directly across from the original church in the houses! I found that to be a bit funny 😀 This hidden church was quite large and looked more like a normal church, just small (it wasn’t built in an attic, like Our Lord in the Attic).

Originally built for the Beguines in the 14th century, the courtyard survived and the surrounding houses were continuously purchased by Catholics, even after they were persecuted when the Protestant Dutch took over after the 80 years war. They obviously had their church in the courtyard but when that was converted to a Protestant church, the community catholics built a hidden church directly across from the original church in the houses! I found that to be a bit funny 😀 This hidden church was quite large and looked more like a normal church, just small (it wasn’t built in an attic, like Our Lord in the Attic).


Wait, I want to live here.

Beer, Fries, Coffee (in that order)

After our hike, we rewarded ourselves with a refreshing drink at Café Hoppe from 1670 – one of Amsterdam’s oldest cafes. We tried some beer from a local Amsterdam brewery which refreshed us enough to try the Dutch fries next door. And yes, there was a coffee shop across the street. Quite the interesting combo.


Happy 4th of July! 🎆🎉