A Day in Amsterdam

June 14, 2007

On Saturday we had a break between the Global Staff and Global Council meetings: free time! So a few of us decided to spend two hours each way on a train to Amsterdam. First impression: vibrant, incredibly so. Second: old. Older than most of what I saw in Brussels. Older by far than anything I've seen in Antwerp (though both Belgian cities are technically just as old).

1673 house, around the corner from the Anne Frank house.

I can't imagine actually living amongst the bustle of Amsterdam. Crazy place. So many cars — relative to the narrow lanes — so many bicycles, so many pedestrians. And of course boats in the canals — tour boats, party boats, house boats.

In the process of navigating from the central train station to the Van Gogh Museum we were offered assistance finding our way not once but twice. I've never seen such helpful and friendly people (goes for the restaurant staff too). Apparently American-inflected English is a point of pride that people like to show off. But really, these just seemed to be very happy, friendly people.

We managed to hit several high points in addition to the Museum: the Rembrandt Plein, a park with a statue of Rembrandt, several of soldiers, and an essentially naked man playing soccer; the red light district with its prostitutes on display in glass cabinets (i.e. store fronts); the psychedelia stores and "coffeehouses" — including one whose fluorescent window sign depicted Balou, the bard from the Jungle Book, smoking a fat reefer; and the Anne Frank House, whose line we abandoned in impatience (only one day, remember!), even though we were, quite coincidentally, in line behind a large tour of Texas college students.

For the most part, we just walked, looked, snapped photos and tried not to gawk at the sights (and "sights").

Looking down a canal in the red light district

What with the canals and the low lands nearby, the amount of open space was essentially nil. There were a couple of playground/parks, and trees lining most of the canals — but only in very tight spaces. A number of people had hollyhocks and roses growing up right next to their homes, and some managed flower pots on window ledges and door landings. There were rooftop gardens on some of the buildings and even on a number of nicer houseboats.

A house boat with Buddhist statues, hammock, and garden

Roses in a tight spot

Every type of food was available, though I didn't see much East Asian or African. So maybe "every" is an exaggeration. We had an excellent Indian meal, including tandoori chicken cooked in a true tandoori oven. Magnificent meal.

The travel time was well worth the day walking around. But truthfully I can't imagine spending much more than a few days there, just too many people and too many of the attractions are, no pun intended, seedy. Then again I'm sure there are many attractions of whose existence I am not aware.