Friday, July 29, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

Glimpses of Amsterdam

I recently received an email from a reader who wished to know a bit about my impressions of Amsterdam, Holland, as he and his wife are thinking of visiting there. I'm grateful for that email, as I am usually reticent to write extensively and though my return email was brief, it provided a sort of jump start for this post. My fear of writing is really about beginning the process. Once I am done, it often feels good to have written.

After an inauspicious first step out of the shuttle bus that brought us from the airport to the office of the agency from which we rented our apartment and a desperate plea for a space to be momentarily ill, we finally found ourselves in a lovely, spacious, airy apartment overlooking the Singel Canal. I took to our neighborhood immediately, feeling quite fortunate that my wish to visit this city had finally come true.

I was not disappointed. After walking around a bit on our first evening in Amsterdam, sitting in an outdoor cafe just a few steps from "our" place, I felt right at home. Perhaps it's because I am a European native, but whenever I'm on that continent, I immediately feel a sense of belonging. I wasn't sure if not knowing Dutch would impact on my enjoyment of our visit but it was a needless worry, as it appeared to me that English is actually the second, unofficial language of The Netherlands. Besides, in reading signs in Dutch at museums, one became somewhat competent at deciphering some basic sentences. It was, of course, especially helpful in long passages, to have the English translations beside the Dutch ones. I've been telling people that the question I most frequently overheard on the streets of Amsterdam was "Where are you from". So many cultures are represented there. I was not surprised to hear Spanish, Italian, French and German spoken by visitors but hearing  English spoken by so many Americans was not something I had anticipated.

What a happy, bustling city!  I don't know if it's because it's a small city with lots of buildings packed together which makes it seem this way, but I have never seen so many bicycles, both parked and moving. And watch out if you're crossing the bike strips between the roads and the sidewalks! 

Amsterdam is a romantic city; full of lovers walking hand in hand, the younger among them occasionally stopping to kiss. It was common to see a girl hitch a ride on her boyfriend's bicycle, chatting and laughing all the while. These people details endeared the city to me immediately. It crossed my mind, however, at how lucky these fashionable, pretty people are to have such a high standard of living. I counted myself among the lucky at being able to enjoy such a place and with a wonderful guide who has visited Amsterdam more than a dozen times, to show me around.

I took a series of photos that I call the Where's Wayne? collection. Here is one of them. I asked Wayne to stick his tongue out like the statue but alas he is a very shy man and would not cooperate  :-)

Wayne, with his sharp eye for detail and excellent memory often alerted me to the small, quaint details of this old city. Sometimes it felt as if we were walking among a living hidden pictures exhibition. A fresco above a doorway... artistic arrangement in a window...

...a bit of graffiti on a sidewalk...

... a sculpture of a deer on the top of a building...

The canals and architectural details of the buildings provided endless visual entertainment for me...

...and there were quite a number of rainy days, though that didn't stop anyone, including us. Except for one exceptionally rainy and gusty night when Wayne had to meet a colleague for dinner, we were out and about. On these rainy nights, we stayed close to home so we could easily duck in out of the rain.

To be continued, if you're not too tired of the tour yet!

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