Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Definitive Winter Amsterdam Tour

Dear Betty Debbie,
The other day, somebetty was asking for pictures when Betty Sara mentioned her intention of travelling with Betty through the Netherlands. Well, a few weeks ago I went to Amsterdam and took some pictures with my latest toy. Please forgive any formatting blunders. I tried to straighten out all italics that I had copied into the text. So, if there are any left, just ignore them.
So, here are the pictures - such as they are!
Betty Anonymous

Dear Betty Anonymous,

Wow! Just, wow.
You did a great job - hopefully I put the right pictures in the right places (and italics, etc...)! Your pictures and descriptions make me want to go back to Amsterdam...this week I'm 3,000 miles closer to it than I usually am - maybe I should just keep heading east?

Betty Debbie

Sister Peters in Amsterdam 2012
A Dream Came True
Ever since reading Sister Peters in Amsterdam I longed to go skating on the grachten in Amsterdam. This year the weather gods looked favourably upon my plea. The temperatures dropped below zero on the Celsius scale and every day I would look at the DonnieCam to see if the ice was safe for skating yet.
And then the day came when it was. The timing was perfect. I had taken two weeks off from work hoping against hope for just this event. I had checked train connections online but walked to the station the next day to obtain my ticket the old-fashioned way. (Alas, no RDD’s secretary or trusted retainer booking a seat for me.)
Feb 10, 2012

Sister Peters on the train to Amsterdam
I hadn’t bothered to take a map, so the first thing I did at Amsterdam Centraal Station was go to the bookstore at one of the exits and look at the maps to see which way to turn to reach the canals designated for skating. The bookstore looked all new and different. In vain did I look for Dutch Harlequins and English Mills & Boon books – because, sadly, they didn’t carry them. The "old" bookstore used to have them. Sigh.

Damrak. The weather was perfect. The sun was shining and the air was cold and crisp.
Stormy Springtime
For Betsy she chose more chocolates and a silk scarf and then, well pleased with her purchases, she took herself off to the nearby Damrak, purchased a ticket and got on one of the canal boats about to leave. It wasn't the best of days...
(page 165)

Keizersgracht. I had seen a few young men skating. Now all I had to do was find a place were one might get down onto the ice safely.

This was it. The Keizersgracht south of Leidsestraat. I headed for the iron stairs on the right to get down onto the deck.

Keizersgracht and Metz & Co. (the taller domed building)
The Moon for Lavinia
That’s a new outfit, ’ he remarked. ‘I like it. ’ The sun already shining, seemed to shine a little brighter; it was a good beginning to a day of which Lavinia felt a little uncertain. ‘I’m glad, ’ she said happily. ‘I went to Metz and Metz yesterday and bought some clothes...’ ‘A wedding dress? ’ he asked lightly. ‘Well, yes.’ It had been more expensive than she had expected, but the simplicity of the rich cream crepe had seemed just right, and she had bought a hat too, covered in cream silk roses. She only hoped that it wouldn’t seem too bridal for his taste....
I put on my skates. (Did I mention I had not skated since the 90s?) And considerably hampered by my long and heavy coat plus my backpack with dear Addy in it I braved the waves. Waves? Yes, waves. There were one or two wee little waves, seemingly a major obstacle which had to be overcome first before I could attempt some real (snort) skating. I went veeeeeeery slowly up an down the gracht – alas, no docters Visser and Monck to teach me, no Coenraad, Piet and Leen to cross arms with... (Sister Peters in Amsterdam, Chapter 4)
It was great fun.

Other skaters’ tentative first steps on the Keizersgracht.

Back on the bridge over the Keizersgracht on my way to Metz & Co. where I purchased two elegant white mugs for my parents with pictures of the Herengracht from the Grachtenboek on them.

Keizersgracht from Nieuwe Spiegelstraat.
Fate Is Remarkable
After lunch, he took her along the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, which, Sarah was quick to point out, was not in the least new, its houses having been built a good two hundred years previously although thy were now , almost all of them, antique shops. They strolled along its length and Hugo obligingly purchased her a carved koekeplank because she thought it might look rather sweet in the kitchen at Richmond...

I followed the Nieuwe Spiegelstraat, going in a south-westerly direction and crossed over the Prinsengracht.

Prinsengracht from Nieuwe Spiegelstraat. People were watching other skaters going under the bridge where there were holes in the ice! It didn’t look safe, to say the least.
I walked along the Spiegelgracht and further on to the Weteringschans and quite by chance ended up right across the Rijksmuseum. I would have taken a picture but the sun was behind the building, the air in front of it was a silvery golden haze.
Midsummer Star
Celine was taken on a barge tour through the canals, a brisk view of the Dam Palace and the Dam Square, lunch in the Bijenkorf store, so that they could have a quick look round its enticing wares, a glimpse of the Begijnhof, a group of charming almshouses tucked away behind Kalverstraat, and an even briefer glimpse of the Rijksmuseum, but only from the outside...
It was amazing – no matter where I went I ended up in Neelsdom places.
I walked back north along the Weteringschans, turned east somewhere along the way to get back to the Prinsengracht.

Prinsengracht south of Leidsestraat.
I turned around and walked a few steps and what did I see? Dikker & Thijs until 1994 a restaurant, now a non smoking (!) hotel.

Dikker & Thijs on the corner of Leidsestraat / Prinsengracht
Sister Peters in Amsterdam
‘I thought at first we would go to the Five Flies, but I think you’ll like it better here. ’
She looked at the sign over the door. Dikker and Thijs. She had never heard of them. They went inside to a quiet, elegant opulence that took her breath. There was music somewhere in the background as the headwaiter came forward to greet them.
‘Goeden Avond, Juffrouw,’ he bowed smilingly to Adelaide.
‘Goeden Avond, Mijnheer de Baron.
(page 92)

Leidsestraat and Metz & Co.
I continued along the Leidsestraat and kept going straight. Across the Herengracht and along the Koningsplein and then across the Singel.

Singel with Munttoren.
Sister Peters in Amsterdam
The Singel was well lighted, and she saw the professor while he was still some distance away...very much at home on his skates. He came to a halt and gave her a cold stare...
(page 67)
And further along the Heiligeweg until I saw La Maison de Bonneterie and knew I had reached the Kalverstraat. I spent quite a bit of time at the store just browsing.
The Final Touch
Next week, if you wish, you must all go shopping—I'll open an account for you at La Bonneterie and de Bijenkorf and arrange for you to have a cheque-book. ...
(page 116)
Next I walked down the Kalverstraat towards the Munttoren and the carillon started playing.

Munttoren, Muntplein
Not Once But Twice
She left the boat reluctantly, and if truth were told, perfectly willing to repeat the trip there and then, but Adam whisked her along Damrak, pointed out the Royal Palace and the war memorial in Dam Square and crossed into the Kalverstraat, a narrow street full of shops, some very fine, some surprisingly tatty. Not the best of the shops, Adam pointed out; the boutiques were in the PCHooftstraat or the Leidestraat. They walked to the end so that she could see the Munttoren and then Adam declared that he had had enough of sightseeing and wanted his tea. Christina, her head turned in all directions so as to miss nothing, would cheerfully have missed her tea in exchange for a visit to a museum, but that was something she could do on her own later. Adam took her to a cafe on the Leidesplain where she drank milkless tea from a glass and ate a cream cake...
(page 126)
P.C. Hooftstraat or Pieter Cornelisz. Hooftstraat, named after Pieter Corneliszoon Hooftstraat, a Dutch historian, poet and playwright.
Leidestraat = Leidsestraat  The Leidsestraat was originally named for being the road to Leiden (Wikipedia)
Leidesplain = Leidseplein Historically, the square was the end of the road from Leiden, and served as a parking lot for horse-drawn traffic. (Wikipedia)

Munttoren, carillon
I went to Vroom & Dreesman (Kalverstraat) to buy some bread for my supper at the food hall, La Place. Tasty focaccia with tomato and rucola and yummy focaccia with olive oil and thyme. (I’m getting hungry just remembering all the lovely food on display.)
The Final Touch
Now, hurrying towards the shops in the Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat, she decided that the time had come to buy something new and for once fashionable. She had saved for a rainy day and this seemed to be it. She chose a book and then turned her attention to the dress shops. They were all too expensive; C & A and Vroom and Dreesman would suit her pocket better. It was a pity that there wasn't time to buy anything before they closed but she studied their windows so that on her next free day she would have some idea of what she wanted...
(page 19)
I left the store through its Rokin entrance, er, exit, and went along Rokin until I came back to Maison de Bonneterie and passed through the store to get back to the Kalverstraat where I was met by the lovely sound of one of those huge street organs playing some really cool music ( Ai Se Eu Te Pego and Tu Vuò Fa' L'Americano). I had a great time listening to it.

Street organ, Maison de Bonneterie, Kalverstraat
The Final Touch
Charity took them for brisk walks instead when they were free from school, gaping happily with them at the massive street organ in the Dam Square, spending their half-holidays at the zoo and the aquarium. Her days were filled even if ...
(page 181)

Walking north on the Kalverstraat I came to the Begijnensteeg and followed it to get to the Begijnhof. The site of Adelaide Peter’s proposal. A must. Whenever I have a chance to come to Amsterdam I go there to enjoy the peace and quiet of the square – sometimes this affords wishing the hordes of tourists to go elsewhere, as it did this time.

English Reformed Church (not Scottish, dear Betty)
Sister Peters in Amsterdam.
It was no use; she remained silent until presently he turned into the Spui and stopped. He got out and walked around to her side, opened the door and stood wordlessly while she got out too. His gloved hand took a firm grip of her arm, and he piloted her through the archway leading to the picturesque square where the centuries-old Scottish Church stood, surrounded by its close circle of beautiful friendly little houses. It was very quiet; there was no one about. Adelaide attempted to pull free of Coenraad’s grip, but he merely tightened it and started to walk away from the church, around the square, taking her with him...
(page 216)

English Reformed Church, spire

Begijnhof (1)

Begijnhof (2)

Begijnhof (3)
Back on the Kalverstraat I decided to go to the Spui to take some pictures.
Sister Peters in Amsterdam
On her second evening at the hospital, Zuster Zijlstra had walked with her to the Spui, where Mijnheer de Wit lived. They went through the Kalverstraat, and had found time to take a quick look at the shops, gay with pretty clothes and jewellery and silverware...

Spui, the white houses are actually leaning forward

Spui (2)

Spui (3)

Spui (4)
And then it was time to head back to the station. Back along the Kalverstraat to the Dam Square.

Dam Square, National Monument, De Bijenkorf
Stormy Springtime
She had changed in the past few weeks, become quiet and meek, as though she didn’t want him to notice her...
' We'll stroll as far as the Dam Palace,' he told her as they left the hotel, 'so that you can see the square and the War Memorial. We can take a taxi back from there. You're not tired?' Meg turned a glowing face to him. ...

Madame Tussauds
They went to the Café du Centre at Dikker and Thijs, very elegant and, Prudence suspected, very expensive. Fortified by lobster patties, ravioli and an enormous ice cream, she was only too willing to be taken on a lightning tour of the shops and a slightly longer tour of the Rijksmuseum, not long enough, she declared, being hurried along to Madame Tussaud's Museum, a treat Sibella shrilly demanded Prudence should be allowed before they had tea. ...

Damrak, Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam Centraal (at the far end - and I had to hurry to catch my train!!!)
What a lovely day!
The End


  1. Wow.
    Just wow!

    Thank you so much, Betty Anonymous for sending these amazing photos and giving us all a sense of what The Great Betty's world was like--now more than 60 years ago!

    Just think of her as a relatively young woman, newly married, struggling to learn Dutch so she could be the wage-earner for her invalid husband and their family. Chances are, all these photos would be immediately recognizable for her, even decades later.

    What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful author who wrote such great tributes to her adopted country.

    Just wow.

  2. Betty Anonymous-
    Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience with us.

    Betty Debbie-
    Thank you for posting it all.

    Betty von Susie

  3. P. S.: I did not realize you could not see the grachtenboek automatically.

    To see the pictures from the Grachtenboek go to the bottom of the page and type grachtenboek into the empty space between Zoek in bijschriften and Zoeken and press enter.
    Betty Anonymous

  4. Love, love, love the pictures of those frozen over canals! How great that you could time your visit so handily.

    Horribly eaten up with jealousy,
    Sincerely yours,
    Betty Keira

  5. Wow!!!!

    Fabulous! Thank you for giving us a Real Life Tour of places I've only read about. Yum!

    Don't you wish BN had Real Life pictures of all the places she wrote about in her books so that we could imagine our heroine there?

    I think the next time I re-write her novels, I will do that.

    Betty Francesca

  6. I just *loved* looking at these! Thank you so much! What a treat!

    Betty AnoninTX

  7. Betty Barbara here--
    Now I am suffering major travel envy!
    Thank you Betty Anonymous for the lovely pictures.

  8. How wonderful, Betty Anon! I'm deeply impressed that you were able to skate after so many years, and that you had skates ready. (I tried once in adulthood, and could barely push myself once around the rink, and my blades were about as sharp as teaspoons.) I wonder when the canals will next freeze...

    And yay! for all your touring, shopping and window-shopping.

  9. Thank you for the post, Betty Anonymous! Before Betty, I never would've thought of visiting the Netherlands. If I ever get to Europe, that will be my second stop after England. Seriously, Dutch tourism owes quite a bit to Betty Neels. She should get some kind of posthumous honorary recognition.

    1. According to an earlier post on this site, Harlequin author Essie Summers got some form of recognition from the government of New Zealand for her vivid descriptions of that country in her novels. Perhaps we should petition the Dutch VVV.

    2. British author Rosamunde Pilcher and ZDF programme director Dr. Claus Beling "were awarded the British Tourism Award in 2002 for the positive effect the books and the TV versions had on Cornwall and Devon tourism within the UK." And "she was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)".
      Betty Anonymous

  10. Does anyone think that any Betty fan's have shown up in Dutch emergency rooms faking skating or other injuries in order to scout for RDD's? That makes me giggle. I am visualizing face fanning and eyelash fluttering.

    Betty von Susie

  11. Betty Janet here -- Oh My Goodness, I want to grab my mum and buy a plane ticket and follow in your footsteps. Thank you so much. And many thx to Betty Magdalen for bringing me here. I'm going to link to my mum & the well everyone I can think of! Just wonderful.

  12. Oh what a wonderful picture journey!! I'm loving it so much!

  13. Great travelogue and photos, thanks you so much. Now I'll have to return to Amsterdam for a third time and see all the places I missed before. Maybe you could provide a map to go with the pix, lol.

    1. Ha ha. 'Fraid not. Since I walked around without a map I do not remember the names of all the little streets I came through. But I found this neat map of Amsterdam.(You click on it to enlarge it.)
      Betty Anonymous

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