Quicksilver provided orientation to our long weekend getaway.
The driver taking us from Schiphol Airport to the hotel declined my request to teach us Dutch on the way, but at least helped me learn to pronounce our hotel name. When I had called to request early check-in, the front desk confirmed the location as “the one that starts with O.” The driver took on “Oostenburgergrach” one piece at a time.
Oosten was simple, contrasting with the west location names on the other end of the city map. I asked if burger meant “people,” thinking of The Burghers of Calais. Close enough. “And gracht?” I asked, delicately. “Gracht,” he corrected, recruiting parts of the lower throat that I would excuse myself from the dinner table before exercising, “means canal.”
Dutch seems approachable to the English speaker, seeing signs for De Oude Kerk and De Nieuwe Kerk and Centraal station. But how to pronounce that body of water, strangely capitalized on maps as Ĳ? Wikipedia calls the letters a digraph, and it often appears as a ligature. I noted an IJwit beer in the hotel vending machine. Soon, I would order one in a restaurant by the proven method of pointing at the menu and mumbling, but I don’t remember how the server pronounced it.
At another restaurant, a friendly server encouraged me to take a “paper note” from the bowl by the door. I had seen them around town, but wary of the American practice of offering dog treats to customers with pets, I had not sampled any. With endless patience, the server explained that the pepernoten are a kind of spiced (pepper) cookie (nut) traditionally served during the winter holidays.
Hijsbalken, the hoisting beams, are still visible in some neighborhoods.
We passed by one of these weighing houses, the site of Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, now converted into a restaurant, In de Waag.
I also arranged our wandering to pass by the planned installation site of a 3D-printed bridge, accidentally dragging the kid through the red light district.
The bridge project is in the industrial/arts NDSM neighborhood across the IJ, but we didn’t get a chance to take the ferry over.
Day 2 was spent on a train journey to The Hague, where we visited the Escher museum. Most of the images were familiar, but the displays of working materials and sculptures were cool.
I remembered when I traveled alone on a shoestring budget, unable to afford train fares or museum ticket prices, and just wandered aimlessly or hung out in book shops. This time I could manage the tickets, but had a hard-to-impress kid to show around, trying to point out the development in the artist’s style.
Circle Limit IV, 1960
And one for mk (left: black and white chalk on grey paper, right: wood engraving)
We walked about ten miles each day, never bored, and rarely hunting long for a cozy spot to stop and warm up with a coffee or snack. Day 3 included a stop at Micropia, suggested by Hubski-NL. This was fun for the whole family, with interactive microscopes, tardigrade models, a window into the live laboratory where museum samples are nurtured, and a wall of poop.
Sadly, cubic wombat poop was not represented.
Vincent: It’s the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that they got here, but it’s just — it’s just there it’s a little different.
Travel websites promote the monuments, museums, and activities, but I enjoy the stimulation of being in a place where everything is a little different.
Bicycles are the conspicuous characteristic of Amsterdam. It’s really ridiculous how every possible place to stow a bicycle is occupied, and this includes the large parking facilities located near every point of interest. Here is a three-level garage practically on the train platform.
The bikes look ruggedly practical, mostly upright and with a step-through (“ladies”) frame. Riders appear to be regular people, rarely wearing a helmet, sometimes carrying a passenger. Both cars and bicycles often yield to pedestrians, something that takes more getting used to than the complicated crossings, which invariably have sections designated for cars, bikes, and walkers.
Police and trash cans were hard to find, yet we felt perfectly secure on the clean streets.
The War on Cash was evident. Payment cards are now necessary to pay on board a tram, and the hotel vending machine was card-only. We were stymied at the microbe museum when the credit card reader required a PIN, which our card lacks, until the clerk suggested that we could in fact pay in cash.
The bathroom is, perhaps owing to delicate sensibilities, one of the few places in which globalization has not produced a monotonous uniformity. I remain mystified at the European custom of installing showers without doors, so the floor and toilet become wet and slippery.
On the other hand, the common pattern of providing a washroom ahead of the toilet rooms (which are segregated by sex) is great. This seems a practical way to keep the dirty business separated from cleaning up. Micropia should have this figured out, but they used Airblade hand dryers. “From a hygiene viewpoint, paper towels are superior to electric air dryers.” (Though this is a contested topic.) The Escher museum, naturally, provided an infinite loop of towel.
Ahhh... The Netherlands... Holland... Amsterdam... Schiphol Airport...
Such good memories. Such nice people.
When I lived in Budapest, it was often cheaper to schedule a stopover in Amsterdam and buy electronics at the airport, than it was to get electronics in Budapest. I still have the MiniDisc player I bought there...
I was also at Schiphol on 9/11. Rode the train to the airport, from my friend's house, and was overwhelmed with the love and gentle empathy the Dutch gave me. Hugs. Tears. Vows of solidarity with America.
Airplanes were only allowed to return to their home base, and if you didn't live there, you couldn't get on the plane. I saw a middle eastern man with a family of 7 people gathered around him, all looking to him for authority/guidance. They were trapped. They had flown British Airways from their home in the middle east to Amsterdam, but their plane was going to England; not the middle east. So they were trapped. I have never seen a man more lost and hopeless, as his family looked to him, and he had no answers. Just fear.
The Dutch, and Amsterdam specifically, are welcoming and warm to all foreigners. But when you just want to go home, and you can't, any place can be a prison, no matter how nice.