May 1, 2016. Amsterdam is a bustling city. It is a city full of bustlers. Because the city is full of canals, the constant movement takes multiple forms. Cars, buses, trams, trains, BICYCLES, pedestrians, big boats, little boats, motorboats, windmills, wind turbines… if it was winter, there might even be skiers, skaters, and snowshoers whizzing by. This is a city with things to do and places to go.
We went and we did and we saw a good lot of in 48 hours. Being only the first time here –not the fortunate third time that I mentioned with London—we had to do Tourist things. This included two excellent museums, a canal cruise, dinner with a friend, a trip to the 2nd most luscious and colorful gardens I have ever seen, a walking tour of the church and palaces, dinner at a cheap tasty local restaurant, and laundry. After nine days on the ship with no laundry, the last was most essential.
An Education in Coffee
Also, we consumed many cups of coffee, through which I learned the essential distinctions between a latte, a frappucino, and a macchiato. I personally drink mostly mochas – your basic coffee and chocolate – or the prebottled Starbucks Frappuccino lites that you can buy in packs at the supermarket. So I was out of my league at all the coffee places. I thought my little Starbucks knowledge was enough, but quickly learned “you know nothing, MK.” Whatever coffee drinks were all good. What I also learned was that the things one eats with whatever kind of coffee drinks are pretty much also all flipping delicious.
We had poffertjes, which are mini pancakes, yummy with powdered sugar. The most impressive thing about those was the 20 year old kid flipping them in the food kiosk; he could serve up a batch of 60 in about five minutes. Otherwise, I’m sorry to say, they were just pancakes, and making pancakes is one of my Best Things, so I was underwhelmed. But the Belgian waffles… and the stroopwaffles, and the real croissants, with or without chocolate, well… now you are speaking the international language of delicious. And I can translate delicious quite well.
U Staand Hier
Speaking of languages, Mon Dieu! Mein Gott! Mijn God! OMG! Most of the time, things were translated into at least four languages. Minimum two, either Dutch and German or Dutch and French. Sometimes just Dutch, and, when we got to Brussels, Flemish, which is not the same as Dutch. So as it was in Scandinavia, we learned to point, look at the pictures, and gesture; mostly everyone understood English anyway. Still, I enjoyed watching TV… De Hongerspelen with subtitles in Dutch (Hunger Games, you might have guessed) and Thor: Dark World dubbed in French… Chris Hemsworth’s booming caveman basso profundo voice turned to more of a fluid tenor a la Maurice Chevalier.
To me, the Amsterdam Dutch sounds a bit like sneezing. I did learn that “volgende halte” is an important expression meaning “next stop” on public transit. And “u staand hier” (I may have misspelled that) on a map means “You are Here.”
A Little More Museum
We navigated ourselves to both the Rikjsmuseum and the Van Gogh museum. The former is three times the size of the latter, while the latter had twice the length of queue. Poor Van Gogh had no idea he’d be more popular than Rembrandt! I enjoyed them equally. The Rikjsmuseum had Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” and some lovely Vermeers, such as “The Milk Maid.” Both painters enjoyed playing with light – sunlight through windows, candlelight across faces, or shadows from lamplight. They experimented with light like the Italians played with perspective, frequently and with varying success. There was even a half-room sized depiction of the battle of Waterloo, which demanded my close attention as I have been looking forward to visiting those battlegrounds next in Belgium.
As often happens, the painting I liked best in the Van Gogh Museum was the first one I saw. Our Kaj museum process (and, of course, we would have one) is to take a lift to the topmost floor and work our way down. It’s always less crowded than the lower floors, it doesn’t get less crowded later, and there are often hidden gems more interesting than the famous ones on the bottom floors. “Wheatfields under Thunderclouds” was one I’d not seen, lesser known the wheat fields with crows or with threshers, but rich and vibrant in color and beautiful in simple lines.
Along with some postcards, I also acquired a Rubik’s cube with Van Gogh self portraits. I can do the regular cube because I have memorized algorithms designed for 7 year olds. However, as soon as I mixed up the faces of this one, I realized that a lot of the self portraits are very similar in color and line. I don’t know now if I can get the algorithms to work when I can’t tell the faces apart. Oops. Hours of fun and challenge! (As it used to say on childrens’ chemistry sets.)
Those Blooming Rivers
The most beautiful gardens I’d ever seen are the Bouchart gardens in Victoria, but the second most were certainly the Keukenhof tulip gardens, awash with blooms in this first week of May. Aside from the myriad variety of hues and sizes of tulips, there were dozens of other contrasting breeds and colors mixed in. There were bulb fields being harvested, acre after acre of vibrant reds and yellows striped out to the horizon. There were hills to improve vantage points, a small windmill you could climb up to see a broad swath of the fields, and ponds and rivers winding throughout to reflect the colors, rippled by the day’s breeze.
Then, there were dozens of rivers of blooms themselves. The website posted ahead of time that the “blue rivers” were in full flower; the actual view exceeded expectations. It was a day with fluffy clouds, so the sun was a bit of tease. That meant the colors were bright enough in the shade, but when the sun would pop out, it was like the world suddenly went into Hi Def.
I didn’t understand before why on earth people would go through the tulip mania that they did in the 1600s, which brought their economy to near ruin. But now having seen, there is something extraordinary about the blooms that might make you lose your perspective. One guide explained that in the mid 1600s, some variety and mixed coloring was due to aphids introducing amazingly beautiful strains of color stripes, which people then thought they could reproduce with breeding. Wealthy people bought these more expensive unique bulbs at will, but some soon realized you could sell them in, say, bars to, say, less wealthy people. The first few flipped them for a healthy profit, who told others who wanted to get in. Someone else came up with the bright idea of futures, someone else with syndicates and reselling the same bulb repeatedly, and… sound familiar?
Overall, I’m still not sure I sufficiently “got” Amsterdam, and I could see returning to soak up a bit more. Or even a third time to go again in search of stroopwaffles and another Dam Good Coffee. (I didn’t even mention the place with the boiled potatoes and meatballs.) We might be passing through again when we next have places to go. For we have learned in Amsterdam how to go and to bustle with the best of them.