memories of family outings.....


Double Dutch,Triple Dutch...........

Amsterdam is the European city i have visited the most number of times.
We, as a family, have come to think of Amsterdam as our doorway to European destinations. It so happens that everytime we are west bound, we land first in Schiphol Airport. Thence, by flight or Eurorail to other places. No particular superstition, just co-incidences due to brand loyalty towards a particular airline and convenience of connection choices.

I like Amsterdam. Period.
Why ? Just one of those reasonless attractions that can only be explained by the newfangled expression : "chemistry "! ( or is it comforting familiarity ?)

But i like everything about it :
  • the architecture of the old railway station,The Centraal , standing on a man made island;
  • the paved streets running around the canals,
  • the fanciful street performers,( always wondered if they really saved any coins after paying for their overheads like costumes, musical instruments etc. )
  • the rich aroma of coffee and fresh pastries hanging thick in the cold air,( everyone always seems to be biting into tissue wrapped confectionery)
  • the crooked alleyways hidden behind the main streets where "strange creatures"lurk ( green hair, pierced bodyparts, chain- jangling attire, spiked belts etc. I saw these "cool" things there first)
  • salaciously window-dressed shops even in decent areas (oh, the fretful hoping- against- hope that the accompanying kids don't notice certain "things" and don't ask uncomfortable questions !)
  • the leaf strewn bicycle lanes leading to bookshops and art supply stores in the quieter localities,
  • the snazzy Rembrandt Tower, which makes for a fine skyline
  • the efficient trams,
  • the quaint convex bridges illuminated at dusk,
  • the windmills in the suburbs, the ancient variety which dismayed the worthy Don Quixote
  • the colourful Waterlooplein openair market ( perfect old -world bazaar )
  • The Nemo Science museum building that looks like a sinking ship,
  • The typical flat-fronted old dutch apartments,( they all look somewhat similar and though Anne Frank's house has been pointed out from the canal half a dozen times, i still cant recognise it rightaway)
  • the canal cruises ( this is where we experienced,for the very first time,28 years ago, the enterprising schemes of souvenir vendors. Photographers standing by the entrance to the boat would click every passenger who got in and when they disembarked at the same wharf 40 mins. later, the vendors would be there displaying keychains,plates,frames etc with our photos ! It was a novelty( then) very few could resist buying. This is now seen in almost all major touristy places all over the world. As i write this , i wonder what happened to the keychains with our mugshots we'd bought the very first time we visited Amsterdam . I remember we were too embarrassed to use them for any key back home and they'd disappered into the Blackhole of the Bottom Drawer.)

  • And most of all, the city's sighing acceptance of the notoriety attached to it - they say, in Amsterdam you just bend and your " %@//&" get stolen ! Such is the crime rate. And the winos who approach you for handouts can get downright threatening and scary.

The Van Gogh Museum and The Rijks Museum , in Museumplien area, are treasures. The canvas,"Night Watch"by Rembrandt ( 1642), in Rijksmuseum, viewed the first time, was awe inspiring. Not only because of its sheer size, but also because of the brilliant play of light and shadows achieved by the artist. I dont know why some people take perverse pleasure in disfiguring pieces of art that gain universal admiration. "Night watch" has been attacked once by a knife wielding slasher and once by an acid splash. And keeps recieving threats frequently. Mercifully, it has survived well. The works of many other classical masters like Vermeer, Hals etc. on display here also evoke raving adoration.

Van Gogh Museum houses the invaluable collection of paintings, drawings and letters of Vincent preserved by his devoted brother Theo. In addition are the Japanese prints collected by Vincent .Works by Van Gogh's contemporary Impressionists are also on show. The museum has cafes and shops selling fabulous prints where sale is always brisk. And to think the poor Vincent died in misery !
The kids once spent a long time at the shop, going " eenie-meenie-minee-mo" between prints of " Sunflowers", "Irisis" and " Wheatfields" and finally took home the last, because the others "looked like UNICEF greeting cards" they said ! During later visits, they displayed better art appreciation.
Amsterdam has many surprises up its sleeve. They say many parts of it stand on land reclaimed from the sea and only very efficient canal management keeps it safe from flooding. Parts of it are also below sea level ! The innumerable Polders (low-lying tracts of land enclosed by embankments or dykes; artificial hydrlogical units ) in Holland gave rise to the popular saying : " God created the World but the Dutch created Holland".

"Cannabis Coffee Shops" are common sight for, though sale of "grass"is illegal, it is not punishable ( ? ! I havn't figured that one out still !) But hard drugs are banned. Similarly, RedLight districts are legal and licenced .

In our Kindergartens run by pious nuns, children are taught a song that contains words, parts of which are "bad words" not to be uttered at all. One of the lines goes :
" They all went to Amster,Amster.. shhh...shhh...Shhh ! "
And kids learn to avoid the word "Damn". But in Amsterdam, i was amused to hear the endless stuccato call of tour operators going : "Dam..Dam...Dam...." and thought of the dear old nuns who had taught me the song so long ago ! The Dam, or Dam Square, is the very centre of Amsterdam where the Koninklijk Palais ( Royal Palace)is situated. Not a very pretty square, though historically important. But too many pigeons, a menace in fact.

Magere Brug or Skinny Bridge, an ancient draw bridge across River Amstel,that opens to let ships pass, turns out to be a rebuilt, modernised copy of the historical one. There are many such tourist traps everywhere, the guides extol them sky high, but in reality, they turn out to be just ho-hum.

But the Diamond Museum is not be missed. Very educative. So much info. about the dazzlers.

With Amsterdam as base camp, we have also visited Den Haag or The Hague . Here stands The International Court of Justice . Delft ,where the distinctive blue patterned pottery is made, and The Miniature Holland park at Madurodam are other daylong excursions. Delft is a very pretty,charming town. The blue pottery workshops are nice venues to pass time pleasurably. Shutterbugs freak out in Madurodam, the lilliput town.( below) The scaled down models of all beloved Dutch monuments are amazingly intricate.


Did we ever see Tulips in Holland ? Nooooo! Eternal regret ! So far, have only seen the boxed ones in souvenir shops.

And do we buy cheese ? You bet. But ,of all the mind boggling varieties available, we always end up buying only the " safe" varieties we know the taste of : Edam and Processed cheddar ! Too queasy to try out the exotic ones with blue veins or dappled rind, after learning that they are caused by fungii - good fungii , but fungii nonetheless.

And Clogs ? Yes, but only the miniature models.( and i mean mini )

And Delft Blue Pottery ? What can i say ? Woman proposes,Wallet disposes !


LG said...

After reading this post, all that came to my mind was "I wanna visit Holland!" :D

Chitra said...

Your account is shhh good!

Dibs said...

Felling liking taking a holiday and running away there!!!

Rwitoja said...

Yosee, you sure are lucky to have visited Amsterdam so many times !It must be wonderful to see Rembrandt,Van Gogh, Vermeer upfront.

YOSEE said...

LG,Chitra, Dibs: Thank you for the response and i am glad my post has made Amsterdam an attractive destination for your next holiday !

Rwitoja: Enjoying all the old masters in original is certainly the best part of the visits.

LG said...

Happy Ugadi to you :)