A   B - Canal

We got back from Amsterdam last night, and had an amazing time! I’m putting together a slideshow of photos at the moment, but this is really a kind of a journal about some of my impressions. It’s kind of long, a few posts in one I think ;) with lots of different things touched on …

On Friday night after work we took the Eurostar (a high-speed train that crosses under the English channel between Britain and France) and arrived into Brussels in Belgium late that night.

Michael lived and worked in Brussels before we married and so it was really nice for him to be there again, revisiting some familiar places and memories from that time. We spent most of Saturday in the city and managed to fit in lots – the beautiful Grand-Place (see photo below of the Town Hall), the Mannekin Pis (a little statue of a peeing boy),  the Royal Palace and Gardens, the Cathedral, and we couldn’t leave without tasting melting Belgian chocolate straight from a fountain! Yum. I’m hoping to include a photo of this in the slideshow :).

We travelled from Brussels to Amsterdam in the late afternoon on Saturday, which was only a couple of hours or so on the train, and then spent the summery evening wandering through this beautiful city, by the canals and over the bridges. Amsterdam is a wonderful city with so much to see. The first time I visited was with Michael nine years ago in the summer of 2000. We had these Euro-rail tickets and spent two months backpacking across the continent jumping on and off trains in these wonderfully remote villages in France and Italy, and in small towns in the valleys of these breathtaking ranges of mountains in Austria and Switzerland. I even got to go back to where I was born in Germany all those years later. It’s all such a treasured memory.

The thing with our visit to Amsterdam back then was that it really stood out. I remember the canals and the trams and the bicycles and the stunning Rijksmuseum. It was only a day that we were there, and I always hoped for the chance to visit again :) I’ve put together a few thoughts of the things that stood out for me in Amsterdam below, and also from the day in Brussels. I’ll be posting the slideshow really soon, so do visit again if you’d be interested in these …


Our Lord in the Attic

This was really amazing. Sitting on the bank of a canal was this lovely townhouse like any other of the lovely townhouses there. But this one was not like any other. Back in the 1600s a wealthy merchant named Jan Hartman bought this expensive property. Hartman was Catholic and his son was training for the priesthood. At the time,  Catholics were prohibited from worshipping publicly in Amsterdam in the aftermath of the Reformation in Europe. So Hartman did something incredible. He set about building a church in the attic of his home. A secret church contained within his very own walls. We climbed the centuries-old-stair-case, floor boards squeaking beneath us, and stood there in this church in the attic. It was amazing. The art and sculptures of the apostles, Peter and Paul.  A decorated altar and behind it an exquisite altarpiece rising high to the ceiling of John the Baptist baptising Jesus. A thurible even hung from the ceiling – I just learnt the word for that :) – you know those ornate kind of containers for the burning incense. There’s an organ there, and even a small confessional! For over two hundred years Hartman’s attic served as the place of worship for Catholics living in the city of Amsterdam. The great thing is that I was allowed to take photos inside and so I’m hoping to include some in the slideshow. 


Bridges and Canals

I love the cities in Europe where canals flow through the city centre. Amsterdam is one. Full of canals and boats and bridges. It’s very romantic. I read somewhere that the Dutch have this saying, something like although God created the rest of the world, the Dutch created the Netherlands, because so much of the country is below sea level, its land reclaimed. A highlight of our time was a cruise that Michael and I took along the canals and out into the harbour – a view of the city from the water. The photo above is one of the canals we came across on our first evening there.


Bread and Cheese

The variety of food is something I love about travelling to different countries. It’s one thing that intrigues me about Europe that the countries have such proximity, yet such difference in both language and the typical foods enjoyed. We came across this little boutique-type cafe for breakfast one morning, and it was exquisite. Farm yoghurt with slices of strawberry, and melon and purple cranberries. Crusty bread with matured cheese and grainy mustard. It’s not that it was necessarily out of the ordinary but it was the freshness and the flavour and I guess you could say the ‘wholesomeness’ of the foods we tried which was what struck me.


Sex and Drugs

The red-light district of Amsterdam is infamous. Sex shops and sexual images seemed to be much more in your face in general it seemed to me. Another thing is that marijuana is legal in the Netherlands. When you walk passed some of the ‘coffeeshops’ it’s like walking through a cloud of cannabis. It’s kind of weird for something that I’m used to seeing as illegal and illicit, to be so OK. I remember on one of the evenings, we went into this mini-supermarket to buy some chocolate (important to try chocolate in every country ha, ha) and on the counter was this rack of little packets of marijuana, like you would choose a packet of gum.

Our only experience of the red-light district was in broad daylight at 8:30am on a Monday morning when we were looking for a museum. Amsterdam is far from awake at this time of day it seems, and as we walked those dead streets, which only whispered of the night before, I thought of the stories of this incredible evangelist I once heard in New Zealand. His name is David Pierce, and he and his wife Jodi lived and ministered in Amsterdam, going to those Jesus did, and would have. The prostitutes, the drug addicts, the destitute. And they told them about Jesus. In his book, David wrote about these women; prostitutes behind windows, backlit with red fluorescent lights, passers-by making their choice. In the light of day, I thought about David’s description of these very streets. And then I thought of this story of Jodi, his wife, reaching out to these women with God’s ferocious love. This is the excerpt from his book:

‘“If Jesus came to Amsterdam,” I said to my colleagues, “he would go to the discos. He would know the names of all the bartenders and he would be friends with all the prostitutes. The Bible tells us that Jesus was a friend of sinners; but we may say, ‘What about my reputation, my witness?’“

I told the story of how my wife had struck up a friendship with a particular girl with whom she talked about Jesus. “The only way she could see her was to go behind the window and talk with her, while I waited on the street. Men would walk by and think that Jodi was also a prostitute. This made me very angry. But if my wife was going to show God’s love to that girl, she had to be willing to be mistaken for a prostitute … What does the good shepherd do? He leans down, picks up the lost sheep, puts it on his shoulders and carries it home.”’

Reference: Pierce, David, Rock Priest (1993, Trans-Atlantic Publications) 88.


The Potato Eaters

Van Gogh is an artist whose life I find really interesting, and there are so many pieces of his art I love. It was a big highlight during our time in Amsterdam to go to the Van Gogh Museum. One thing I really liked about our time there was learning more about him as a man. I didn’t know his father was a minister, and that for a time he considered becoming an evangelist.

I really enjoyed his paintings. I don’t always feel like this when I visit art galleries. I think what it was for me is that the scenes he created actually really drew you in. There was a story in them. There was a period in his career where he studied and painted the poorer people who worked the land. There was one painting there, a masterpiece of Van Gogh’s called The potato eaters, where this family huddle around a table, sharing a meal of potato and hot tea. The colours are sombre. The only light is this low-hanging lamp with a flickering candle.

As I say, the scene really drew you in. There was this real sense of the hardness and also the modesty of their lives. That this togetherness, after the sun has finally set, and after a day of back-breaking labour, was their reward. A few hours of family and togetherness, and a meal so hard won.

I read part of letter written by Van Gogh about this piece and he speaks of the honesty of manual labour and of wanting to show this idea that the hands in the dish of potatoes are the same hands that tilled the earth to harvest them. 


Palaces and Cathedrals

In Brussels there were waffles with icing sugar, an arcade of chocolatiers with their pyramids of truffles, and the beautiful Grand-Place with its Saturday morning flower market, but it was the Royal Palace and the Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula that possibly made the biggest impression on me.

It was the opulence of the Royal Palace. It was staggering and exquisite and made you hold you breath. There were these chandeliers for example, lots of them, I counted nine in just one section of the ball room, and they were the size of giant Christmas trees hanging from the ceiling, laden and dripping with crystals. Like you’ve never seen. It was amazing. Such wealth. I could say more, but truth be told, I’m so tired as I write this now. Thanks for staying with me this long too, ha, ha.

But one last thing. And this was stunning. It was the Baroque pulpit in the Cathedral. Wow, I was fixated. It really was magnificent. The pulpit was made by H. Verbruggen in 1699 and it was like this floor to ceiling narrative of Genesis to Revelation. At the bottom were Adam and Eve, apple in hand, being banished from Eden with the cherubim and the flaming sword “to keep and guard the way to the tree of life” Genesis 3:24. Above Eve, a skeleton hovered, symbolising the entrance of sin and death as part of the human condition as a consequence of the fall. I’ve taken lots of photos and will include one or two in the slideshow.

I will leave it there for now :). Hopefully that gives a sense of some of what we did and what we saw on our holiday in Belgium and Holland. The photos will follow soon :) …

A   B - Town Hall Grand Place


~ by Birgit on September 1, 2009.

11 Responses to “Impressions”

  1. dear birgit loved your piece on amsterdam. good read. have seen you on rev/ genesis tv. regular viewer. reading on the drug users and prostitutes and street people it occured to me christians often say god has a plan and purpose for all of us. But how can we as christians look at these poor unfortunate people who have little [ more beggars / homeless] and say this is gods plan for them. i cannot get my head aroud this. it cannot be god,s plan can it? i suppose i struggle with suffering from a christian perspective . god bless antony ward

  2. Tremendous, Birgit! I always love reading about your journeys. You describe the places so well it makes me itchy to go see them for myself. All in good time, I do believe I will make a jaunt through Europe in my lifetime. My mouth is watering to see that slide show!

  3. Wonderful Birgit! Wow:) It was great reading these glimpses of your trip and seeing it through your eyes. Thank you for sharing it with us, I’m looking forward to the photos!

  4. What wonderful “impressions” you have Birgit . . . made me feel like I was right there with you :)

  5. Thank you for sharing your impressions. I wish I could go there, too! Reminds me of the book “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (which is actually a painting).

  6. […] I give a bit of background about the hidden church in the attic and other scenes that you’ll see here in yesterday’s post. It’s kind of long but it gives more of the story to the photos, like the Van Gogh art we saw, this gorgeous little boutique-type cafe we came across, the stunning pulpit you’ll see a bit of here – so if you’d like to read more of the background, just click here. […]

  7. Hi Antony, great to hear from you, thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment. Yeah, I struggle to understand suffering too. Is it God’s plan that some should suffer? I’m not sure. But I do know from the Bible, and from Jesus’ life, that He cares deeply about our suffering. The book of James says that ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress …’ (1:27) so we do know that God’s plan for us as His Church is to reach out to those who are hurting or without. My two cents anyway :) Bless you Antony, nice to hear from you.


    You definitely should come over @ngie, I think you would love it! And of course you’d have to stop with us, and I could show you around where we are! :) The slideshow’s up today, I hope it gives you a little sense of it in the meantime xo


    Hi Rain, that’s so great :) Do you think you’ll be doing any trips away from London when you visit next year?


    Hi Kaz, that’s really lovely, it must bring back some memories for you from all your travels when you were over here. And actually the travels you’ll be doing again very soon ;) ….


    The painting is beautiful isn’t it Susanne? I think it’s in a museum in The Hague.
    I often think of you on our trips to Europe. It’s funny that when we were growing up it was you who was in this part of the world, and I know how much you love it :) Lots of love to you ox

  8. I so enjoyed reading through this post. I felt I was there, with you, seeing just as you see. Thank you for bringing me along. :)

    What an exciting time in your life, Birgit, to be able to enjoy travelling with your husband, enjoying the sites and one another. Treasure the moments. You are blessed.

  9. I love that you felt you were there too Michelle, that’s wonderful :)
    And thanks so much for all you said here. I like the way you described treasuring the moments. That’s what it’s like isn’t? These special experiences that we can look back on and enjoy the memory of :) Love you, Michelle xo

  10. Hi Birgit. I liked to this post from my site today. I am so glad I have met you. Blessings!

  11. Hi @ngie, the feeling is mutual! I love your blog, and I love your replies here – what you say is always so thoughtful and kind. Thank you so much for linking to me! Love B ox


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