The City of Amsterdam is magical.
I loved walking the November streets of Amsterdam every day, touring museums or simply looking at everything, letting the culture seep up from beneath my shoes into my bones. Learning, learning, trying to retain everything, wanting to keep it a part of me so I wouldn’t forget.
I had one tiny cup (all the cups are tiny) of coffee this morning. It is delicious but doesn’t seem overly caffeine-strong. Even the instant coffee in the room is delicious.
The hotel is nice; the staff is very kind; the room is small. We have a “Rear Window” view–which is fun. I’m pretending to be Jimmy Stewart without the broken leg. Notice, I bypass Grace Kelly–I have a better chance of being Jimmy!
Alex’s Spanish colleague, Xavier, has the mistaken idea that New York City and California are the same. Ah, how many of us could attest to the vast differences between these places?
After the stress of the last several months, indulging in my natural desire to wander aimlessly the last two days have been a blessing. I appreciate that Alex and I share the attribute of establishing our bearings in a new place and then roaming without goals.
The bicyclists are EVERYWHERE! The bikes have more rights than the cars. Cars will stop for pedestrians and bikes. Bikes stop for no one. Alex nearly got ran over three times! People smoke like chimneys–even while biking. I saw a mom with two kids– front and back; a mom with the baby in a tram in the front; multiple people riding side-seat on the backs of bikes.
There was a woman riding her bike with what had to be a small cello on her back. It was in a large guitar-type case–turquoise colored. I saw skinny jeans and stilettos … biking. One evening, a man in a tux, the woman in a dressy dress–biking!
They wear their phone earplugs or iPod plugs, carrying packages and speed along. No helmets to be seen. They have mounted police. No horse-manure diapers, but taillights on their saddles. Some people had lights wrapped around their necks so they were seen better from behind–red lights!
People are very fit and I saw only one person wearing sweat pants. I think he was American. I saw a young woman, very slovenly dressed; she had on an Idaho sweatshirt. As Connery says in The Untouchables, “Who would claim to be [from Idaho] who was not?”
Like Germany and Italy, people here make eye contact with you. In Germany, I dubbed this as the, “I see you” trait. Where strangers will truly look at you and smile.
Have I mentioned how nice people are? This city of some 800,000 people behaves like a community of 2,000.
I sat in “Rembrandt Plaza” listening to a guitar player. It sounded like Spanish music to me, but I’m no aficionado. It was impressive playing and he had his own sound system with him so the music carried quite clearly. I was amazed that almost everyone listening dropped money in his guitar case. When I walked up to do the same, I saw that it was flooded with Euros.
We had such an issue trying to get our bankcard to work to buy a Metro Pass that a (very tall) young man stepped in to help and offered to buy our tickets for us! It was hard to get him to accept no for an answer. The Metro here is as easy to use as the one in DC, so I didn’t have any issues getting around on my own for three days.
Museums to Stroll Through
I love history, so I love museums. History–reminds me of what happened and helps me hope that some things will never occur again, but if they do that our spirits have enough strength to endure and come through as other people have.
It was awesome (in the truest sense of the word) to stand before Rubens and Van Dyck paintings that I’ve seen in books. Of course, all I appreciate is the pretty pictures–I’ve no idea of technique.
The Museum Café has a welcoming atmosphere with a sign on the counter: “little time to wait,” and “warm foods; larger appetite.” I asked what the tipping custom was and the waiter said 5% if the service is good; 10% if it is really good; but not ever more than 10%.
I walked the very long way around to get there (that translates to: I got lost). It was well worth my meandering.
Lunch at the adjoining Bordjes Café: Waldkorn bread, smoked salmon, arugula with a light creamy dressing. My taste buds are ecstatic with this lunch. My lack of language has not been an issue. What we have been told is that the city is very English-oriented because of the businesses here. But even in this small restaurant, the waitress and I have no issues communicating.
I had no idea–knowing little about the Dutch in WWII besides the Sean Connery movie A Bridge Too Far, It was a most interesting place and tells the stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things during difficult times.
It is a unique museum in that they give both a global overview of what was going on from 1940-1945, but they add a personal touch. Throughout, they have snippets written by people about their personal experiences as part of the Resistance–how they hid Jews, sent communications, published underground newspapers, built tiny radios for listening to BBC broadcasts and resisted the Germans while acting like they weren’t.
There was a section devoted to women who embroidered in certain camps they were kept in–where they could actually get a needle and then steal thread and material. The artwork! One told the story of her capture in tiny little words. Another showed her story in pictures.
The final section was about the Dutch held in Indonesia. There, too, were embroideries by both women and men, telling the stories of their internment. As most museums are for me, it was very humbling, sad and yet uplifting as I read about how people continue to persevere even through the most intense challenges.
Tours to take
Take the Canal Tour to the Van Gough Museum. It’s leisurely and well-worth the time to tour the city from a different vantage point.
The Willet-Holthuysen House. Willet was a rich man’s son, so he and wife spent all their lives collecting artwork and entertaining friends. The house is filled with 17-18th furniture to represent when they lived there. Most of the artwork is theirs.
A guided walking tour of World War II history with our guide Peter. There were only seven of us, so it was very nice. Tour lasted two hours and was full of personalized stories, pictures from the time period, etc. He would stop in a place and show you a picture of what it was like during the War and how it is different now.
We had coffee at an outdoor cafe near the Jewish quarter (formerly, not so much since the war) and dinner outside at 8:00. Even at around 55 degrees, the outdoor cafes and restaurants show no sign of moving indoors. Yes, al fresco even though everyone had coats on and it was a bit chilly. There are people everywhere–like New Orleans without the burlesque. Rembrandt Square was quite busy with all the restaurants spilling onto the sidewalks.
Last night we walked all over to find a restaurant–it was exercise to stretch and walk. Ended up at a place named Ocho. Grilled salmon…melted in our mouths. Yum!
We had dinner last night with one of Alex’s colleagues from Madrid, Luccia. She’s lovely and her English is great. She said about a friend who was overworked: “He was collapsed,” meaning dog tired. I love the phrase. When she was full, she said, “My stomach is closed.”
We wound up at an authentic Italian restaurant (my favorite, of course). They had only one Chianti–at 65 euros for the bottle; and no cannoli! The waiter said, no, you must go to Italy for cannoli. I had ravioli filled with a light ricotta cheese and covered with a tomato-pesto sauce and tiny baked cherry tomatoes cooked whole that burst into wonderful flavor in my mouth.
I had to ignore Alex throughout dinner because he had linguini de mare which means it’s full of seafood–clams on the shells and shrimp with their heads! It will be six months until I can go near shrimp again.
Dinner last night was in the hotel restaurant, Flo’s. Alex and I sat with Luccia from Spain, the English chap again, and Lorenzo from the Milan office. As usual, the Italians are very funny. The flavor of the various conversations and accents was as interesting as the different foods we tasted.
We walked more and had coffee & desert (Alex) and cognac (me) at another outdoor cafe. We listened to the same guitarist I listened to the other day. Just lovely.
Amsterdam is alluring … the people, the streets, the museums, the food. I’d go back again anytime and see what new tours I could take, what museums I had yet to discover.
Read: Yum … Pastries!