On Four Days In Amsterdam…

We just spent the better part of four days in Amsterdam, honestly a city I didn’t ever think to visit.  

I like the people here.  They are not overly friendly (little eye contact) but when you engage them are like the French in that they are friendly and want to help.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of wasted emotion – when someone bumps into another person, there isn’t anger, they just continue on their way.  Love that! We all could learn from that in America.

The people are gorgeous.  Men and women are tall, lean and angular.  I love their accents when they speak English, which seem to have a slight lilt at the end of words.  

I have never seen so many bikes.  There armies of bikes going everywhere, and people are dressed in every day clothes without helmets (no racing and biking gear, like we see in America).  There seem to be few traffic rules – but it works!  Bikes, people, cars and motorbikes just move in and about, adjusting for other people around them.  Twice I saw bike crashes – the people just pick themselves up, get back on their bike and move on.  They anticipate where others are going and adjust – there is no honking or yelling because someone made you slow down a half-a-pedal, like in Seattle.

I love the Dutch Artists.  In the Rennasiance, there are many paintings of nobility and biblical figures  — but the Dutch painted every day life.  There are city scenes, and country scenes and every day people.  I found that much more interesting.  In a museum of masters, I found myself drawn back to paintings like “Landscape with a Waterfall,” “The Burgameister and his Daughter” and “Figures in a Courtyard Behind A House.”  It is eerie to look at life scenes from the 1600s, where the quality is like a photograph – these are people who lived and died 400 years ago in a completely different world, yet I am looking at them as though they were here just yesterday.  

I found Rembrandt’s house fascinating.  He was an art dealer as well as painter, and like many old houses it was cozy yet cavernous.  In America, we build big, open mansions, but in Europe they are often average sized rooms (20×15, for example) but with large ceilings that make them feel spacious.  The kitchen was large, with a large fireplace for cooking and a big cupboard for the maid to sleep in.  On the main floor, there was an anteroom off the main entry room that we might call a parlor, a place to visit with guests and with another large cupboard for guests.  Upstairs, in his studio, we got a demonstration of how oil paints were made: I didn’t know that oil paints didn’t arrive until the 15th century, and the benefit is they dried slower, which allowed them to put on deeper and thicker layers of paint; they used lintseed for the oil, and stored the paints in pig bladders in a bowl of water, and could  store the paints for 6-12 months.  Rembrandt was a well known painter and art dealer, was famous in his prime but over time fell out of fashion; he took long walks in the country for inspiration.  He fell into bankruptcy and lost his house after 30 years, living his final years in a rental house.

We took a 20+ kilometer bike tour and our tour guide was a history buff.  Some of the things he told us: the Dutch have been pragmatists dating back to the 13th century, when they learned they could charge a toll for use of their waters and waived taxes for citizens; they have had major floods over the centuries that killed 1000s and wiped out many of the archives; after two major fires in the 15th century, they required brick buildings (centuries prior to the 1666 London fires).  Before the ride, he gave us some instructions: don’t stop suddenly, as other people on the road are anticipating where we are going, so stoppng is dangerous, and there is very little road rage.  We rode to the parks, where we learned that until the 20th century parkes required a permit (annual dues) so were exclusive, but now the park is expansive and open, complete with manmade lakes and forests (the park was peaceful and beautiful, not unlike Central Park in New York or Volunteer Park in Seattle).  We rode to a dike, where we learned 55% of the Netherlands were reclaimed from the sea via dikes and Windmills (which drained the water), and virtually all of the water lines in Amsterland are highly controlled by interlocking canals and pump houses.  We rode to a farm, where we watched them make cheese (which can last 12 years if it is not opened) and wooden shoes, and we learned that most food in the Netherlands are grown in greenhouses and (yikes!!) GMO-based (very surprised and disappointed by this).  We next rode to a windmill, where we learned that the number of Dutch windmills peaked at 6,000 and today is at 600; the windmill originated in Persia, and that the windmill has cool features, such as it can turn to meet the wind, and has miller’s codes to indicate short term break, long term break, good news, bad news and various war messages (lost in time).  Finally, we learned that Amsterdam expelled the Spanish under Wilhelm of Orange, appointed a king to ward off potential invaders, and the flag has 3 crosses of St. Andrews, with two theories for the three (one that it wards of the three evils of fire, flood and plague, and the other that it is the trhee main uses of mills).  All in all, it was  a wonderful bike tour.

Met some great people.  Karen is a psychotherapist from DC who saidher occupation stays busy because of all the unhappy lawyers in DC with golden handcuffs, and her husband David is in marketing, and they had two nice teens.  I liked her – she was engaging and nice, a good talker and listener.  Another was a machinist from Marysville who survived a heart attack last year, his wife is a technician at Providence Hospital, and they have a daugher who is anurse and another who is a teacher; the psat few years, his wife has been getting grief for wanting even a week vacation and we talked about how common that has become and how unacceptable.  We met a young couple for Brazil who were flat out adorable.  And we met a cab Driver who is from South AMerica, came to Amsterdam to make money, but said it is the same and the same problems all over the world so misses home.  He took us to the red light disctict, and was a nice guy.

We toured the red light distrcit at night.  In a word, disappointing.  It had a red marker at its border, but otherwise was a bunch of tourists intermixed with horny college guys, and frankly seemed like any other street.  Our taxi driver said the government started closing down a lot of the shops in the area a few years ago, so it is not quite the same.

We were there during Gay Pride, which has 300K people attend from all over Europe.  THe city was crowded, and filled with happy people there for the event, but other than a few streets with loud music and guys drinking beer and a boat parade with pink balloons, seemed quiet and respecdtable.  I was happy to see it, and it is good that it is civil, and I was surprised by how much more tame it is than our own event in Seattle, which has floats, men in costume and a lot of ecstatic partiers. 🙂

The food was delicious.  I had the best brownie ever, which was more like a cake with a creamy filling than an acual brownie.

Most striking to me was the age of the city.  So many of the buildings are from the 1600s, and the street scenes in paintings from that time look exactly as it does today, with the brick buildings, interlaced canals and narrow (bikable) streets.  

All in all, I loved this city.  

  

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On Four Days In Amsterdam…

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