Mark & Mat toast his arrival. Mat’s drinking a Karne Jus, orange juice and buttermilk. Thus we learned right from the start that he’s an adventurous eater.

Here’s what’s weird about Amsterdam. I’ve spent a lot of time here. On a number of occasions, particularly 10 or even 20 years ago, I would do long-haul flights with connections through Amsterdam both on work trips alone and on vacation with Mark. It was super easy to get into the city from the airport so I or we would go in, go to a museum, have breakfast and/or lunch, walk around, just your general tourist stuff. But I had never spent a night there. Finally, that oversight has been corrected.

We had four nights in Amsterdam, two on our own and two with my great-nephew Mat who will be traveling with us for two weeks. And again I was reminded what a great city this is for walking around. The canals are beautiful, there are almost no cars, and the weather is usually temperate. Things have changed somewhat, though, since I was last here. The pot was legal then, but it’s even more common now; just walking down the streets you’re regularly smelling it. Global warming has certainly struck more intensely too: it was up in the 90s for two of our days here, way too hot for a city like this. And way, way too hot to take a boat tour of the canals in an open boat as we did.

The canals this time of year are beautiful

Some things don’t change, though, including two of the great art museums you’ll ever go to. The Rijks Museum (National Museum) has an awesome collection that, not surprisingly, focuses on Dutch art. Rembrandts for days but Vermeer and Steen and lots more. It was easy to spend three hours here and wish you could come back the next day.

This was my favorite from the Rijks Museum, a painting Rembrandt did of his son Titus dressed in a monk’s cowl. The audio guide explained that by this point in his life Rembrandt had declared bankruptcy and was actually working for Titus, as in his employee. Strange.

But the next day was the Van Gogh museum and that was every bit as good. Just an amazing collection of his work with excellent descriptions and a great audio guide. At some point you just had to wonder what the value of the collection would be. A Van Gogh that sold in 1990 for $82.5 million would be, just adjusting for inflation, $150 million today. And there must have been a couple hundred of his pieces there. You do the arithmetic.

And a really unusual piece from the Van Gogh museum. He painted this Japanese-influenced piece as a gift for his beloved brother Theo on the birth of Theo’s first son, whom he named Vincent. And that Vincent was the founder of the museum. Shortly after finishing this, though, the elder Vincent committed suicide. Terrible story, and we were reminded that Van Gogh created this incredible body of work in just ten short years. Truly remarkable.

Four days and then it was south to Cologne. We’re spending two weeks with Mat and, for him, making a series of much shorter stops so he can taste a bit more of Europe during his two-week holiday than if we did our normal three- and four-night stops. So from here on out it will be a series of two-nights stops in Germany and France before we get to Paris. Paris, naturally, deserves four nights even if you’re 14 and in a hurry to see Europe.

Mat in front of a multi-media illustration of one of Van Gogh’s most famous self portraits.

A portrait of Gerard Andriesz Bicker reminds us that obesity is not strictly a modern phenomenon

And there was food. We went to lunch twice at a seafood restaurant that offered this wonderful “plateau” of seafood

One of the most remarkable things about Amsterdam is the number of bikes everywhere. This multi-level bike parking area near the train station must hold thousands of bikes. Walking around the city you really don’t have to worry about cars – there just aren’t many – but you have to be very careful about accidentally stepping into a bike lane. That could get you killed.

Lots of flowers in Amsterdam


Another hollyhock

Parkland near the Rijks Museum

Amsterdam: bikes and canals

Canal life is good

We did a lovely hour-long tour on the canals. Unfortunately the temperature was in the 90s and the boats go too slow to generate a breeze so we baked.

An artsy view of a canal

And a bike

And more canal

Lunch at an Italian place led to this!

Mark & Mat getting ready to board Mat’s first international train as we head down to Germany