We slept in a bit at our hotel this morning, before packing our bags and checking out. We left the bags to pick up later and went for a walk back into town to meet Jan again. We took a new route through Het Bossche Broek, shorter and more direct than yesterday. We reached the meeting point of the boat tour early enough to sit in the adjacent cafe and have a drink on the balcony overlooking the canal.
At 10:30 the boat tour started. We were in a small narrow boat with a capacity of just 12 people. The tour guide gave commentary only in Dutch, but gave us printed English brochures. And Jan translated some of the commentary for us. The tour was themed for Heironymous Bosch, the most famous resident of ’s-Hertogenbosch, and featured several fibreglass sculptures based on images form his paintings mounted along the edges of the canal in places. There was also an introductory video shown in the boat garage before we began the tour.
The tour took us along narrow canals between houses in the centre of the city. We could see the back sides of many houses whose fronts faced the street. Several houses and other buildings were built right over the canal, so there were many short tunnels. Some of them contained “bat boxes” and three species fo bats live in them. We saw several of what needed no translation from Dutch when the guide described them as “shit pipes” – brick sluices that emptied straight into the canal. Previously these were exactly that, for sewerage of the houses above, but all of them have been blocked and are no longer used. The water was in fact very clean as Jan told us, with fish living in there, and abundant reeds, lilies, and other aquatic plants in some places where the canal broadened out a bit. He said you wouldn’t drown in the canal as the water was only about 80 cm deep.
At one point we turned in an underground T-junction of tunnels, into the so-called “Hellhole” tunnel. This is about 100 metres long and completely dark. In this, projectors mounted on the front of the boar projected images from Bosch’s paintings onto the walls and ceiling of the tunnel, transforming it into a vivid moving image of Hell, in a way very reminiscent of the boat scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Images of devils and tortures gave way to rampant flickering flames. But towards the end, when we saw the literal light at the end of the tunnel, this transformed into scene of flying angels and stars. This was based on one of Bosch’s paintings, inspired by this very tunnel, in which he depicted for the first time in history of art or literature the metaphor of light at the end of the tunnel as an inspiration and saviour.
The tour let us off at a small stop near the Heironymous Bosch art exhibition, which was included in our boat tour ticket. This is a grand old church converted into a permanent exhibition of reproductions of many of Bosch’s works, plus works by other artists inspired by Bosch, The originals of all the works are held in major art museums all over the world, so that’s why this exhibit has only reproductions, but the advantage of this is that you can touch and handle the exhibits, which is very useful for the folding triptychs that Bosch is known for.
After looking at many of these reproductions, we used the lift to ascend about 7 floors to the top of the bell tower, for panoramic views across the city and surrounding landscape. I commented how flat the land was and said that where we lived was very hilly. Jan said they have hills here in the Netherlands; you only have to travel about 80 km and there’s a hill, about 30 metres high. I said that just walking from our home to the local shops was an elevation gain of 50 metres!
We walked back from the Bosch art centre towards the Sint-Janskathedraal, which was open now and so we went in through the side entrance. However there was a service in progress, so we didn’t stay or explore too long. Leaving the main entrance, we emerged near the square. Here we took a table in a cafe for lunch. After a chicken wrap, I had a bossche bol, the signature sweet of ’s-Hertogenbosch. It’s basically a giant profiterole, filled with whipped cream instead of custard, and dipped in dark chocolate. Jan had one of these for his entire lunch, while I had one as dessert after that enormous wrap! Jan showed me his technique for eating them, which he said he’d learnt from someone else but which was not the standard method. He picked up the chocolaty ball in his fingers and turned it upside down, showing the flat bottom through which the cream is injected, bare of chocolate. He said eating it by hand upside down meant the cream didn’t squirt out, and the only down side was chocolaty fingers. Many other people attack them with a fork, sometimes also a knife, but this he considered messy and gauche. So following his technique I devoured mine by hand. It’s a good thing I like whipped cream, because there was an awful lot of it! Overall it was nice, but not something I’d want too often.
After lunch we walked back to the spot where we’d started the boat tour and said goodbye to Jan, until next time we see him. We walked back to our hotel to pick up our bags and then walked all the way back to the station with them. We’d hoped to catch a bus, but Jan said the drivers don’t take cash and we couldn’t figure out any easy way to get tickets, so I said we could just walk. The walk took us an hour and 15 minutes, but we went some back ways that we hadn’t see yet rather than along the main road, so it wasn’t unpleasant.
We got to the train station and checked the departure board, and saw a train for Amsterdam was leaving in just 1 minute. But we had to find our tickets and somewhere to scan them and then reach the platform, and by the time we could stop to think or get there, the train had left. We still couldn’t find a place to scan the QR codes on our tickets so we went to the office and asked. The lady there said they were only for opening gates, and weren’t needed here. I also asked when the next train to Amsterdam Centraal was, because there were none listed on the departure board. She said that trains weren’t going directly there due to staff shortages, so we had to go to Amstel and get a metro train. She said our tickets would allow us to use the metro as well. The next train to Amstel left at 15:48, in about 15 minutes, so that wasn’t too bad.
The train arrived and we scrambled for seats upstairs, managing to get some, so that was good. The trip took less time than I expected, just under an hour. We got off at Amsterdam Amstel station, and we only had to walk across the platform to the other side where a metro train was arriving in 2 minutes to take us 2 more stops to Weesperplein. There we got off and tried to exit the station, but the exit gate scanners rejected the QR codes on our tickets. A station attendant saw us standing around wondering what to do and came over. We explained that the rail staff at ’s-Hertogenbosch had told us we could use the metro, but this guy rounded on us and told us that we should have bought a metro ticket because they were two different train companies. But he let us out, thankfully.
We walked a few blocks from there to our hotel and checked in. They have upgraded us to a better room, with a balcony that looks out over the street and canal below, so it’s pretty nice.
After dropping our things we set out for a walk into the centre of Amsterdam. We followed the main road to Rembrantsplein and then took the main pedestrian route heading north to the central station. This was extremely touristy, lined with shops, and packed with people. We stopped in a few shops to look at stuff and buy some souvenirs and gifts to take back home.
Near the station, we started looking for somewhere to eat – somewhere that wasn’t a tourist dive. We’d passed a lot of bad looking eateries on the way, and wanted to find somewhere nice, where we could have a quiet meal and glass of wine, not surrounded by noisy tourists. We ran across a nice looking place called Celia, which looked like it had plenty of tables free. But when we went in to inquire, the waiter asked if we had a reservation and when we said no he said he’d have to check with the manager. He came back a minute later and said they weren’t taking anyone without a reservation. I asked him if he could recommend another restaurant with a similar ambience, not a tourist place. He immediately had an idea, but asked how far we minded walking. I said we were fine to walk, and he suggested Restaurant Olijfje, and showed me where it was on Google Maps on my phone. It was about halfway back towards out hotel on a slightly roundabout route, so we decided to go there and try it.
We walked over that way, passing some other interesting sights as well as some non-touristy areas. When we got there, the place looked nice, and we managed to get a table inside, fairly close to the door. Soon after, we saw the staff turning away several other people who came asking for a table, so it looks like we got lucky. They served “Mediterranean” food, which in Europe is code for Middle Eastern. They had a sharing platter for two people consisting of selections of ten different cold and hot mezze dishes, and the menu said it could also be ordered vegetarian. So we did that! They brought out complimentary bread and olives to start, and then our mezze platter arrived. It was amazing, with 9 small square bowls containing different things, and a couple of fried cheese cigars on the sides, making the tenth dish.
The food was all delicious and we left very satisfied.
We walked slowly back to our hotel, along various roads and canals, enjoying the late evening sunlight.