The Arrival & Begijnhof

Saturday - The flight eastward on Friday was uneventful. Nice and smooth and as comfortable as possible for coach class. I was seated next to a classic pianist who proudly told me she was performing at the Concert Hall. Grabbed the shuttle, quick hotel check in and dozed. Awoke early  enjoying the five star luxury of the Renaissance Hotel. Conveniently located in the Centrum section of the town, its location is within easy walking distance of the Central (train) Station and the Palace, Plaza and Dam Square area.

Of primary importance was gathering preparations for New Year's Eve. Off to Gall & Gall for wine and then to the "Vierwurken" store. The store is open only a couple of weeks a year and sells only fireworks...Professional grade fireworks! High on our list were sky rockets which climb 120 feet in the air before exploding in cascades of light. Picked up a couple dozen and then headed back to the hotel to store our booty, but a sudden burst of cold rain found us seeking shelter in the "Smallest Pub in Amsterdam" just east of Dam Square. Freshly brewed Heineken on tap in a friendly tourist-oriented soccer bar made our stay out of the rain a fun time.

The rain stopped so we dropped our explosives off at the hotel and went looking for the Begijnhof. This delightful courtyard area consists of small houses surrounding an interior courtyard and church. At one time, the houses were occupied by elderly women, a religious senior citizen's area if you will. One of the courtyard statues depicts an early resident, another a religious statue.

This tablet is located outside the church where the Pilgrims worshiped before heading for America. It honors those Pilgrim Fathers who settled in Amsterdam after fleeing religious persecution in England. The plaque praises the freedoms and religious tolerance of Holland. Further, we're told in the tablet that these English Pilgrims (not generally associated with the word tolerance) share credit for bringing these freedoms to America along with the Dutch settlers in present day New York. It's been suggested that the original Pilgrims actually left Amsterdam because the city was too tolerant, allowing the Pilgrim's rather harsh religious views to co-exist with less strict beliefs, offending those Pilgrim Father's sensibilities. To limit exposure to these other religious beliefs, a band fled to America aboard the Mayflower, anchoring in Massachusetts Bay and landing on December 11, 1620. But this was not their first landing in the new world;. The first landing was at Provincetown on the tip of Cape Cod. After a brief stop, the Mayflower sailed southwest landing at the more famous site in what is now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts.

I tried the door next to the aged plaque only to discover that it was locked. A helpful resident motioned me to another door across the walkway. "Here open," she offered in halting English . That door led to a small Catholic chapel, indistinguishable from the surrounding homes. Frescoes covered the walls while candles flicked in front of statues. This was one of the many  "hidden churches" found in Amsterdam, forced underground by the Calvinist religion centuries ago when Amsterdam was less tolerant. Walking back to the hotel, the light drizzle became puffy snowflakes silently falling on and around us. On the left, snow decorates a tree outside the hotel's bar. On the right, snow lazily falls on the dark 17th century, domed Koepelkerk.

We felt fortunate when CNNEurope announced that Buffalo, NY was digging out from under two meters of the fluffy stuff! We were early to sleep because tomorrow was roadtrip day.

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