Although we'd planned to meet up at the hotel, cartesiandaemon and I actually ended up converging at the ticket office in Amsterdam station. We were doing that irresistible grinning thing at seeing eachother again while we dealt with a public transport pass, hampered somewhat by a large group of Japanese tourists who did not understand the queue ticket system and tried to take a ticket for each member of the party.
We succeeded in finding the hotel ok though neither of us has a great sense of direction, but we had both prepared in advance; I don't think I would ever have got over the logistical hassles of travel in the days before the internet. Another reason to love the internet is that it was a fairly easy evening's work to find a hotel that was a reasonable compromise between price and location; we ended up in the Hotel de Looier, which is fairly basic but quite adequate. The room didn't really have any furniture other than a bed and a couple of giant mirrors, which in spite of their size were positioned so that you had to behave strangely (eg standing on the bed) in order to see yourself in them!
The area turned out to be really nice, it's sort of a couple of blocks from Anne Frank's house, which means that it's in a quiet, mostly residential area with lots and lots of canals and pretty baroque buildings, absolutely lovely to wander around, though only a few minutes from the more obvious tourist spots. We managed to find a vegetarian restaurant called Vliegende Schotel (which apparently means "flying saucer"), again thanks to doing some research in advance. The atmosphere was a bit crunchy, but the staff were very nice and the food was tasty and generous. I had a fake meat (seitan) goulash, which was very tasty. I was just about to order some hippie all-natural fruit juice when I remembered that I was in Holland and there would be wheat beer, so I drank some of that. The timing worked out just right; we had plenty of time to just wander and find food, and felt quite happy to just head back after we'd eaten, and had a lovely evening just enjoying eachother's company and forming an unstressful impression of the city.
rav_hadassah was a good influence on me and convinced me to go to shul Saturday morning. She gave me excellent directions and it was all easy. There were security guards, but they were much nicer than the Stockholm ones, and chatted to me in a friendly way while I was waiting for RH. The service was my sort of thing (probably more my sort than rav_hadassah's, actually), with a fairly traditional structure but the wording of the prayers updated a little and the style Reform, with everybody paying attention to a dignified, unison service. The cantor was rather impressive; he has a very pleasant, but not too showy operatic voice, and maintained a good balance between singing beautifully and using simple, jolly tunes that everyone could join in. They had a special service where young people read the Torah, and some very talented people to call on, which allowed me to discover that the Dutch trop is about the prettiest I've ever heard. And people were friendly (coming as rav_hadassah's guest was an advantage), and they had tea for kiddush!
The afternoon was just idyllic. rav_hadassah made us the most amazing picnic ever, with homemade challah, and a fantastic pasta salad, and perfect nectarines (ok, God and agricultural technology get most of the credit for those, but they were ambrosial). And we sat in a pretty park, and watched the birds and dogs and chatted and enjoyed the sunshine and it was lovely. Just the perfect way to begin to catch up after months of geography. Then cartesiandaemon treated us to coconut smoothies to recover from the heat without making rav_hadassah break shabbat. rav_hadassah recommended us a Sikh run veggie restaurant, Golden Temple, for dinner. The food was nice though nothing special; we had a mezze of several small dishes. The exciting part was really interesting mixed fruit drinks; I had something with beetroot juice and ginger in it which looked a lot like blood but tasted wonderful. We decided we didn't quite have the energy to hit the town, but stopped in a cute little bar on the way back to the hotel, where they had extremely tasty Witte Kerk (sp?) wheat beer on tap, and we sat watching the dusk fall and the (mostly local, I think) passers by for a while.
We earmarked Sunday morning to be touristy and do museums; we decided that the queue at the Rijksmuseum was too long, so we dropped in to the Van Gogh museum instead. This turned out to be an extremely well put together museum, just the right size for a morning's visit, with a truly excellent collection of Van Gogh's work, put into context with his forerunners, contemporaries and followers. They have a little Picasso and a little Rodin sculpture and a couple of Monet landscapes which just stand out so vibrantly even in a gallery of other world class art. Oh, and some really nice Gaugins. The space is used effectively, and the logistics works even though half the visitors want to tick the box that they've seen the sunflowers rather than actually experiencing the museum as a whole, and the notes on each painting are informative without being pretentious or patronizing. As for the actual point, well, it was really lovely to see the range of Van Gogh's career, not just the very famous ones. Some of it is really sombre and muted, in fact, but still effective. A whole bunch of Japanese-influenced stuff which I loved. And some beautiful pictures of flowers and blossom, and brightly coloured landscapes in the more typical Van Gogh style, but that I hadn't had spoiled by seeing a million reproductions.
We then met up with rav_hadassah again, and she took us out to lunch in a cute, absurdly cheap but genuinely Italian caff that she used to frequent in her impoverished student past. Then we decided to treat ourselves to waffles with icecream at Ben and Jerrys, in spite of the grey, damp weather. We didn't have that much of the afternoon left, but we managed a whistlestop tour of bits of rav_hadassah's history, including her university and the place she got married, and finally a slightly rushed visit to the Jewish historical museum. This is well put together; it's in a former synagogue, with the main sanctuary containing a general intro to Jewish religion, with various example objects, and the women's gallery and meeting room containing a history of Dutch Jewish life, which succeeded in not being all about the Holocaust.
We all headed back to the The Hague together, so that rav_hadassah could go and be a rock star while her lovely husband entertained us. One of the ways that they're a great couple is that they're both really fantastic hosts; he fed us lots and lots of tea and we had some really interesting conversations, and when rav_hadassah returned from her band rehearsal, an amazingly tasty Chinese meal. And we talked and talked and talked until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer, no matter how interesting the conversation. Somehow quite a lot of the discussion ended up being about family purity, which is just the most impossible combination you could imagine of technical rabbinic detail with women's reproductive TMI, but cartesiandaemon was utterly unfazed by this and indeed made intelligent contributions. I already knew he was a treasure, but that really confirms it.
I'd tried to plan things so we would have plenty of time on Monday morning, but then we didn't do quite so well at getting up in the morning. Still, in spite of the slight rush, rav_hadassah managed to feed us pancakes with homemade marmalade. Have I made it clear enough yet that she's the best hostess ever?! Thank you so, so much for a perfect weekend, rav_hadassah!
Yay lovely and cultured city! Yay seeing two of my favourite people and introducing them to eachother! Yay wheat beer! Yay snuggles uninterrupted by geography or company! I love it when my plans work to defeat geography. Oh, and cartesiandaemon's account is much more witty than mine.