Amsterdam. Like Venice a floating City, is being loved to death. However, unlike Venice, its residents and shop owners have not forlorn you. Its busy as buggery and this is the ‘shoulder’ season. Streets, roads, foot and bike paths, canals all crowded. Speedy frequent trams circumnavigate about the old city with at its head, the Central Train Station wherein and about, trains, ships, buses of all sorts drop off and pick up non stop. Below the station, in a sort of oval shaped half octagon, is the ‘Old City’ with around, more orderly canals mirror and radiate the half octagon shape. Its a bloody miracle of man and nature the boss being nature despite mans attempt to tame the water table. The Amstel River, now a short spigot, is off to one side and links most canals like a mothers teat.
Walking the ‘Old City’ at Aussie pace is like playing dodgem cars anticipating in what direction the herd in front and the one’s approaching from the side, their eyes averted gaping or taking piccys, are going to move. Not forgetting the hordes of bikes, scooters and Granny in her electric gopher, coming at speed to bump into or knock you over. Theres a rugby scrum of blokes weaving unsteadily about like legless lizards in black T shirts reading ‘Stag Party 2018’. These lizards are primed with Grolsch, Amsel, Advocaat and possibly the apparently, readily available marijuana. Girls are doing the same in Hens Party form, on a canal in a very fat slug like discarded lifeboat from the 19th century. But they have a touch of class dressed in rainbow Tutus. In the centre, there’s buckets of bubbles, wine, beer and tapas plates surrounded by 20 or so chatting, giggling young Hens. A black T shirted individual, looking like Tom Cruise in his prime, tries to steer whilst giggling girls drape themselves about poor Tom. Then theres the blokes Stag or Rooster gathering again in a fat sluggish lifeboat steered by somebodies Dad. Obviously the lads mum had a say in this. Theres thousands of people in Amsterdam many of them with a neurological disorder. Trust me, I’m a Dentist.
The canals are a swampy, dirty treacly syrupy brown, a churning pond of primordial life, in and above, like a fatigued wet python snakily, weaving, tying together the land of Amsterdam. They say theres one metre of water and one metre of discarded rusting bikes. And possibly some discarded rainbow Tutu’s.
Canal tour boats all sleek, low, long, curved acrylic canopy over to stop uncouth people on the bridges, chucking icecreams, flotsam, jetsam and unwanted kids down, ply their trade chokas with gawking tourists iPhones clicking. They, the canal boats, pay attention, weave their way between other canal boats, private boats, party boats, pedal boats powered by hysterically giggling uncoordinated youths, permanently moored houseboats, narrow as bridges built a hundred years ago out of that narrow 50mm high brick. Hundreds of thousands of them make up the bridge walls and the curve of the roof with every other row a header course. Incredible workmanship with our canal tour boat skippered by a lively heavily built paunchy Dorus, crew cut, muscly, has 20cm clearance each side of his boat and over the boats acrylic top. Its mayhem in a way but somebody has laid down the canal rules and everybody seems to be obeying. Apart from those Stag party blokes.
Up on the land, theres transvestites displaying their ‘me’ flamboyance shouting ‘here I am, this is what I am, go suck it up and move on’ as crowds gather to have their photo op with the broad shouldered ‘girls’. Its Pricilla on Amsterdam. Theres a sloshed skinny lad, wearing a nuns outfit. He’s too far gone to say a rosary or even an ‘Our Father’ who possibly disowns him. His mates, dressed as though they have been to a Taliban Knees Up, crowd around the nun gibbering all at once. Down a crowded narrow lane, there’s the Red Light District where statuesque, late twenties women, scantily clad, bodies thrusting, stretched, tanned, powdered, painted to look like a Nightmare, attract eager ogling boys, wandering men, boofheads and dare me boys.
On foot we pass row after row of narrow frontage aged brick buildings, three to five storeys, dormer roofs, embellished with shutters, narrow windows with rendered surrounds, brick header lintels over and up on top projecting out from the roof dormer, a hoist to haul up furniture. Below at street level, shop after shop, cafes, restaurant, bars chairs, tables spilling out onto the already narrow walking space, all multiplied by a thousand. Trees and bursts of flowers line the canals to soften and be reflected in the swampy, dirty treacly brown water. Canal boats bow to stern the skippers working skilfully with stern and bow thrusters to manoeuvre about a tight corner, a tighter bridge and the dickhead in his sports model twenty footer. Barge boats with permanent moorings, lay alongside canals, stern to bow to stern all design types from rusting hulks, high nosed and blunt ended former barge and coal boats low in the water, rectangular pontoon boats, carvel planked shallow draft boats with leeboards still fitted, former Dogger boats that once fished the North Sea ‘Dogger Banks’, tiny trawlers with gaff rigs still intact, all remodelled as floating houses, tiny apartments, dens of iniquity – take your pick. Most of them nicely tarted and dressed up with flower boxes, deck chairs, TV’s, air conditioning, curtained windows a few with large picture windows like fish bowls. I wonder how they get their services, power, water, sullage.
In places the buildings are referred to as ‘Drunken Buildings’ as five or six tall narrow aged residences, footings collapsing, lean on their mate for support which in turn does it to its neighbour as the youngster on the block, himself aged, holds all together. The streetscapes broken up by bridges, trees, a few squares where prominent buildings, churches, a palace, statues, a fountain, crowds gather to gawk, sit, take photos spend money. A bit further out, we take the number 14 tram to Leidse-plein, where there’s more squares, crowds sitting under umbrellas, including several ‘Dan Murphy’ monikered one’s, a fountain, a garishly decorated hotel, restaurants/cafes galore, trams rattling by like they are connected together busy taking different directions on a squiggly line further on. Thousands of people, bikes, scooters and its ‘shoulder season’. We like, not so much the throng, but the ambience of the streetscapes, the buildings, shops and the way the Dutch have preserved their history and streetscapes.
We tried to visit the Vincent Van Gogh museum but it had an extremely long daily visitor line-up and was booked out even on ‘Skip the Lines’ not just for the day, but three days ahead. Poor old Vincent suffered from psychotic episodes all his short life which began in 1853 he dying in 1890 aged 37 years. He created in just over a decade, 2,100 paintings but did not achieve success in his life. His suicide after years of poverty, poor diet, too much drinking and mental health issues, left a legacy for his family and the world and people like me wishing they owned one of his paintings.
It was similar with Anne Frank House, all booked up. Annes house was built in 1635 by a Dirk van Delft and has had varying occupants over the hundreds of years before Anne’s dad used the lower floors as an office just before WWII. Anne and her family hid in a 46 square metre space, hardly bigger than our current hotel room, for two years and one month before somebody Dutch, possibly Tony Abbots ancestor, betrayed them. The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and death awaited them. Anne died in February 1945 aged 15. She had huge potential, as everybody does. I think she would have risen above the pack and taken some speccy marks.
The Netherlands most popular museum, the Rijksmuseum is here with a collection of artworks and historical objects. Over two million people visit every year. It has the biggest collection of Rembrandt paintings in the whole bloody world. We missed that too as we were too busy trying not to get run down by a bike, scooter, car or Stag Party members. Hen party girls could mistake me for Tom Cruise. Well, in certain earlier lights. And nights. Make that years. Fantasise Des.
We catch a number 19 tram back out about 3/4k’s to where our Mercure Hotel awaits at the ‘suburb’ of ‘Sloterdijk’ in what seems to be a fairly recent urban renewal of what was once industrial or farming paddocks. Thats all gone replaced with some appealing looking buildings. New elevated train station with a huge arching glass roof, some weedy, sandy areas and of course, scooters and bikes under the train station all fitted with heavy chains and locks.
Concrete support columns are lightly graffitied. The road outside our hotel has seven distinct vehicle, bike, pedestrian use areas all with different paving materials and colours. From the outside, a walkers footpath, next a bike/scooter path, a narrow grassed and treed verge, a road, two lanes, a wide grassed treed medium strip then a repeat of what I have just outlined. It works apart from when Mister Smarty Pants who looks as though the world owes him a living, uses the walkway on his scooter. One has to look left, right, left and then twice again to be sure. The point where walkways and bike ways cross at right angles, is a bit of a ‘no mans land’. Its organised mayhem in a way but the locals who know the ropes, do not have a problem. The architecture and planning here seems very organised. Good on you Dutchies.
They take care in their newer taller up to eight storey building designs generally using those tiny 50mm high bricks, angles, height differentials, colour, expressions about windows, bits and pieces of aluminium and stainless steel. Its all harmonious. I like. Those designers/developers of those ugly skyscrapers in any Oz city, should employ Dutch architects and engineers.
In the near distance, are the omni present wind turbines. From our hotels eighth floor, we can see at least fifteen seemingly randomly placed. Travelling by train, these monsters of necessity are all about choofing out megawatts of energy. Theres 1,975 of them in Holland but it comes nowhere near the top wind powered turbine installers. France leads the list followed by Canada, UK, Spain, India blah blah. Where’s Oz???. Most of our wind is in Canberra. You see many of them in Holland due to its small land area. You have to go to Canberra to see our wind turbines in action. They are all of the Political Origin. Sue and I did many years ago into the house of Reps. It was a sorry display of supposedly intelligent people acting like billy goats and wasting taxpayers money.
After two days of exploration, a tour by canal boat, jostling for position on the streets, trying to avoid getting run down by bikes, scooters, cars and Stag/Hen party groups, we were over Amsterdam. Leonie, I know three Leonie’s, this new one in our lives works up on the eighth floor restaurant/bar of our hotel as maitre d’hotel. She recommended that we visit her home town Haarlem some 15 minutes by train west. We did. Excellent find. Go there it has all Amsterdam has, including the history, ambience, hotels, canals, shops, cafes, windy narrow laneways, streets with aged houses, canal boats blah blah. All without the effin crowds. It was an absolute delight. Haarlem had a population of 159,556 in 2017 and its growing. People come here to retire. Its also the centre of the tulip bulb bizzo. And its land is only 2 metres on average above sea level. Hmm.
Way back in 1658, Dutchman Peter Stuyvesant founded the settlement of Nieuw Haarlem on a piece of American territory that later became Manhattan. However, the name of Harlem still exists in Manhattan today. Peters ciggies caused cancer. I loved Haarlem as did Susan. It was so magical that it caused a rush of blood to the brain as we, I include Susan in this as my sartorial advisor, she keeps trying to wean me off ‘blue’ clothes, we purchased a lightweight custardy yellow jumper. I was egged on by Susan who was tired of seeing me in my Myer, 100% heavyweight Aussie wool green jumper I have worn EVERY, yes every day since leaving Oz near six weeks ago. Custardy new jumper, is lightweight, and a new image Custard Yellow Des for Belgium and France where its far warmer than Ireland, Scotland, England and Holland. If I put my yellow and green Sue knitted beanie on, I will look like a custard tart.
Going to chat to Ismael van Wijk at the International Rail Booking office at Amsterdam Central to book our train tickets, Amsterdam to Bruge, finished up with he, Ismael, booking all the remainder of our train journeys thruout the Europe. We were so pleased, pumped is the new age word, we were effing well pumped. We wanted plump stomached 35ish Ismael as a son. Instead, later we toasted his rail knowledge skills with a Viognier, She and a Talisker, Me. Ya.
Ooroo as I have to go. Susan wants me to model my new Custardy cotton jumper.