April 23, 2011: Amsterdam
|Tea, modeling it -- it was long|
Once we passed Antwerp, the train began to thin out; still sweating profusely, I was then able to sit and take in the passing land: perfect rows of lurid tulips broke it up. At one point, a couple on bicycles led a horse. [At the time, I struggled to think of something more Dutch, but, then, I hadn't been to Zaanse Schans yet.]
|Bikes near the ferries|
I am sat at the raised table in the kitchen of our houseboat as I write this. A cool cross-breeze brings the lapping water to my ears. There is a slight rocking, no more. Our neighbours are close -- we share a dock on one side -- but everyone is quiet, calm... gezelligheid, as my guide tells me. Each set of keys is on its own little pink buoy. I could get used to this.
As in Rotterdam, there are many places where you must cross five different lanes of traffic moving at different speeds.
Some early observations:
- No one wears helmets; no one; not scooter-riders, not young children, not babies (in infant seats on the crossbar, right in front of mom), not girls riding side-saddle behind their boyfriends. (On the latter, my guide tells me that early courtship can be a painful time for these girls, as their boys slowly discover how far their knees stick out. Also, they hop off and stand by them at the lights.)
- Coffeeshops are to be avoided. We couldn't remember whether it was coffeehouses that sold recreational drugs, but quickly found out as, sitting at a table outside a coffeeshop, we overheard "Hello, do you smoke weed? I'm doing a survey..." from the next table. We immediately stood up, offering an apologetic shrug to the waitress who was already making her way toward us, menus in hand.
- So much is geared to relaxing: yes, as exemplified by the coffeeshop menus, but also in the decor, with fully reclining chairs for two -- beds, really -- under awnings outside them, and the regular coffeehouses. And in the pace of traffic as well: no one is honking or even pedaling strenuously. Even the tourists seem to grasp this respect for others that is at the heart of gezelligheid (which is so much more than easygoing, or any other English word that comes to mind).
- The power of human potential is on display. I don't know how else to phrase it. The energy -- like Brussels in some respects, but channeled so differently -- brings me up regularly, wondering why it can't be like this at home. (Is it simply the hills and distances back home, or is it something more fundamental?) So modern and clean. Like a utopian movie set.
- It's common to see boats that I would say seat six carrying well over a dozen folks, standing, havin' a drink 'n' a chat. (And not a life-jacket in sight, I'm sure you're surprised to learn.)
- Shirts with banal English sayings seem to be very popular.
|"Come to Mama!"|
|The 'floating playground'|
Then it was off to the Red Light District. Some observations:
- There seemed to be a good variety of all that nature has to offer on display. Ahem.
- Some seemed keen; others bored.
- Some men were negotiating just inside some doorways, either for themselves or their stag dos. It's odd, to see such a public transaction, in the sense that it's keenly watched by so many.
- There were more cameras around than I expected, given the warnings in our guide books. And it was much smaller, and therefore, crowded, than I expected as well.
- Like many other aspects of Amsterdam, and Dutch life generally, it is very... contained. If you seek it out, it's there; if you don't, you might easily miss it, and certainly won't be bothered by it. (Unlike, for example, the constant flippity-flip of call-girl and escort cards and brochures being handed out on the strip in Las Vegas.)
And with that, we headed home. An exciting hunt for the light switches later -- that boat gets dark -- and we were off to bed.
Up next: Zaanse Schans
Check out our Amsterdam album for more pictures from the day.