Bridge by Boat
Cold and Damp in the Netherlands
One Truth For All
Ah, Amsterdam, or for the more sensitive among us, Amsterdarnitall.
We spent Monday night in a bit of a tizzy preparing to leave: when I came home from work it was to find that the fish tank had sprung a leak and the fish were narrowly clinging to life in half an inch of water, which inserted an element of panic into events. (Fortunately, we live in a house full of holes, so the water itself had drained into the basement through a crack in the floor instead of ruining everything we own.)
So four o'clock came even earlier than it seems like it might. That was when the taxi arrived to take us to the airport for the first leg of our flight. The flight itself was very pleasant. We spent some frequent flyer miles and flew business class, which is to be recommended for long flights, especially when you have had two hours of sleep the night before. Then an unpleasant but blessedly short train ride from the airport, and we were in Amsterdam.
We like Amsterdam, especially with the indoor smoking ban (especially because we are here for a beer festival and with some friends who intended to do a great deal of drinking in bars). Unfortunately, there is no outdoor smoking ban, because the sidewalks are basically one huge ashtray. It's as if people think that because you are allowed to do anything you want here, you must do it.
We spent our first day, before our friends arrived, walking around the city being tourists. And behold! Photos!
Here's an amusing take on pigeon control. We have discussions about bird control on buildings all the time at work. I have never seen anybody suggest just netting the entire front of the building.
In the category of weird and unexplained, this is what we encountered as we walked from the train station to the cottage we rented for the week. It's the large formal square opposite the palace, in which on one side there was a carnival set up with rides and games and so forth, and on the other, a little after 9am, there were several soldiers in dress uniforms lined up. Every now and then the marching band would play some music, but for the most part they stood in total silence, staring into the middle of the square. There was no obvious reason for this.
We had arrived in Amsterdam well before we expected to, so we took a brief detour through the flower market. You would think I had not just spent a weekend planting bulbs and cursing at myself for buying too many, because I saw all those cheap bulbs and started drooling.
And finally to the little cottage. Instead of staying in a hotel we rented a cottage in a back garden this time. It's a nice little place, very compact, with a small kitchen, a loft to sleep in, and nice big windows with a view into the garden. Our first act on arrival was to take a good solid nap, even though that is generally not recommended for dealing with jet lag.
And when I say the cottage is compact, I mean compact. The bathroom is a model of efficiency, because the toilet is in the shower:
There were many other ways for them to decide to arrange that bathroom, and they chose the weirdest one.
On Wednesday, we set off on a walking tour along the Keizersgracht, which is one of the ring canals around the center of the city. We were following a guide, so there were a few way points to see along the way, but the more interesting things were just the sights along the canal. Like these houses, which show some of the signs of the soil problems of building on a waterlogged river delta.
(I think it kind of looks like the middle ones are sinking.) (Which they are, but not quite that dramatically.)
We both liked this door knocker:
The canals are very pictureque, but I admit that I am curious at the utter lack of a water taxi system in the city. It seems so obvious as a use of the canals, and yet it simply does not exist.
Another sign of the subsidence in the soils: the curbstones are notched to keep them in line. Everywhere a line of stones forms an edge, they are notched together so that the stones don't slide out of place.
One of the delights of visiting Europe is checking out all the little vehicles. These three-wheeled trucks are used for deliveries and trades all over the city, often with a large man stuffed behind the wheel.
And something I think America in general does very poorly: an example of a city growing and changing over time. We have here houses from multiple centuries, including this one, alongside one another and not pretending to be something other than what they are. In America, we're so afraid of letting go of our little piece of history they we are willing to make a city full of fake versions of historical buildings. This is why our neighborhoods look contrived.
Then we arrived at the Central Station. Something new there: a bike parking garage by the water. And it was packed full. And the railings along the canals were all still packed with bikes, as well. This is the sort of thing that can only happen when you are dealing with a city with no off-street parking at all.
We next turned down into the Red-Light district to visit the Oude Kerk (Old Church). This church is literally surrounded by houses of prostitution, women in windows with the red lights on above them. It's sort of disconcerting.
But the inside is lovely. It's undergoing a renovation, but we were still able to see this plaque to Sweelinck, who was organist here in the 16th century, and composed a lot of organ music.
The church has two organs. This main one is behind the screen erected to keep people out of the construction zone. If that screen looks really nice, it's because they hired an artist to design it; the renovation process looks to take four or five years, so it was worth spending some money on a nice screen.
As you can see, the church's roof is wooden. This reduced the weight and has helped it stay up over time. Stone roofs in France often caved in, even with lots of buttressing. In the soft soils of Amsterdam, buttresses were just not possible.
This is the smaller organ, off to the side of the nave where two side chapels join the main space. It's much smaller and cuter than the main organ.
Then it was off to meet up with our friends at a book store. And a lengthy walk between various bars trying different beers as a lead-up to tomorrow's festival. We began the drinking at Wynand Fockink, a little tasting room for flavoured genever. And we ended the evening there, when jet lag kicked in.
Posted by ayse on 10/24/08 at 2:15 AM