While my parents were visiting, they wanted to see some of the sights of Amsterdam. I was more than happy to oblige. I took the opportunity to visit a few sights that I have yet to see. One of these was the Begijnhof. The Begijnhof (pronounced ‘buh-hein-hof’, with the guttural Dutch noise at the beginning of the ‘hein’ part: buh-ggghhijihn-hof) is a garden hidden in the city. For years, it was the refuge of the Beguines, single women dedicated to God, who were not nuns. There is an English Church as well as a Catholic chapel within its walls.
Since the Begijnhof is hidden, there aren’t exactly a lot of signs for it. I knew it was somewhere around Spui, so I set off with my parents, armed with my iPhone and Google Maps, I figured we’d be there in no time. Once we got to Spui square, we sat down for a quick rest on one of the benches, and admired the houses leaning into the square. We sat there for a good 10 minutes just looking at everything. We finally got up, and made our way down the street looking for the entrance. After walking quite a ways, I consulted Google Maps and found that we were well past the Begijnhof. I walked back and forth a few times, and still didn’t see a door. Or rather, I didn’t see a door that looked like it would lead to a public garden.
I knew we were close to the Amsterdam Historic Museum, so we headed in that direction. Supposedly, it was near the 2nd entrance to the garden. In what should surprise nobody, we couldn’t find the 2nd entrance either. We finally gave up and went into the Museum’s gift shop to ask for help. Unfortunately, the gift shop’s 1 worker was busy with somebody else, and completely ignored us. I took the opportunity to flip through some books while waiting. Then I checked my iPhone some more. Then I found a BOOK on the Begijnhof and read that. I was 2/3 of the way through War & Peace when the worker was finally available. It turns out that the pathway that I couldn’t find was closed for renovations, so we had to walk a few blocks around to get to the back-side and the entrance to the garden.
A few minutes later, we finally found the back entrance, and I sheepishly admitted to having been down this particular street just 2 weeks prior while looking for a restaurant. I completely missed the 2 fairly obvious signs for “Het Begijnhof” that had been right in front of me. This would not be my last embarrassment of the day.
We went in and spent some time in the Begijnhof, including the English church where the Pilgrims had once worshiped (yes, THOSE Pilgrims, having been kicked out of England, came to the Netherlands to worship. It turns out that a group of extremely conservative religious folk didn’t fit in too well with the laissez-faire outlook of the Dutch, who were fine with drugs and prostitutes. Go figure! They then set sail for America.) When it was time to leave, we decided to take the main exit out of the Begijnhof, just to see where it was.
As we emerged from the tunnel and through the exit door, I found myself back in the Spui, right next to the American Book Center, not 10 feet from the benches we had been sitting at just a few short hours ago. As I marveled at how we had overlooked the entrance, I found no less than 2 different signs above and on the door, identifying it as the entrance to the Begijnhof. This is why I was never a police detective, I’d miss the murder weapon sitting right in front of me. It’s a wonder I haven’t fallen into a canal yet.