One good thing about Amsterdam is that it’s a very compact city. Many of the points of interest are quite close together, making it easy to get around to them. For example, the Royal Zoo, the Hortis Botanicus (Botanical Gardens), the National Holocaust Museum, and the Dutch Resistance Museum are all within a kilometer of each other.
It makes it easy to visit them all in one day – especially when there’s a tram stop right in the middle of it all.
Unfortunately, the day I decided to visit that area, it was cloudy with scattered showers. Not the best time to be out in a zoo or in a botanical garden, however interesting they might be. But I was there, and I like birds and exotic plants, so…
The ARTIS Royal Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the world. A couple of its buildings are well over a century old. For a small, old zoo, it’s still got some great displays. A walk-through aviary, with bats and pygmy marmosets as well as birds. Winding paths that make the place seem bigger than it really is. It’s actually a nice place for an afternoon stroll. And like any good zoo, they’re participating in a number of breeding and restoration projects. Jaguars and Polynesian tree snails, at the moment.
As an aside, I gather that real conservationists grudgingly accept that all their promotional stuff has to feature the big, “attractive”, or “cute” animals in order to bring in the bucks, but they’re doing just as valuable work with things like insects and ugly, icky animals – plants, too – that so often get undeservedly overlooked.
As it happens, in the same “complex” as the zoo is Micropia: a combination zoo and museum devoted to microorganisms. Yep, a “zoo” for bacteria, fungi, mold, and critters you need at least a magnifying glass to see. Where the subjects get the same care and treatment as any other zoo creature.
Though I have a sneaking suspicion that the “microscopes” where you can see microorganisms aren’t actual microscopes. The organisms are always in view, and are too “good looking”…. But, let that pass. There’s an exhibit on “extremeophiles”, a huge rack of petri dishes containing varieties of penicillin, a display of stool samples from different animals to show how gut bacteria help them digest, and you know how that one lazy kid in grade school would always do something on mold for a science fair project?
A few minutes walk away, you’ll find the Hortis Botanicus, one of the oldest botanical gardens around. They pack quite a bit of plants, and information about plants, into a rather small area. Zoo and museum design is a truly underappreciated field of study…. Europe has been hit by an unprecedented heat wave this past summer, and you could see its effects on some of the low border hedges in the garden, despite their best efforts.
One other thing I noted was that De Hortis was the only museum that did NOT have all its signs on the “exhibits” in English as well as Dutch. Good thing I knew some of the botanical names for the plants….
I did not visit the Resistance or Holocaust museums; I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing them this time. Nor did I feel the urge to visit the Anne Frank House (personally, I’m more inspired by Chiune Sugihara) – though I did pass by it. And I didn’t particularly care to visit the Van Gogh Museum. But that’s in another part of town, which I will get to next time.
Oh, one thing to note when you’re traveling around the city. Older houses, especially those that front onto a canal, will seem to be just a little bit…off. These would be the “Dancing Houses”. Sitting on pilings buried deep into mud, there’s clearly been some uneven “settling” over the centuries. Look for houses where the windows don’t quite line up with the ones on the house next door – or with each other. There’s a prominent group on the east side of the Damrak.