We arrived at the Schiphol Airport at two on a cold afternoon, Christmas Eve Day, after traveling for at least twelve hours before arriving at our final destination – a modern, light and festively appointed international hub for both air and train travel in the Netherlands. We were officially on holiday with our family including our three daughters, our new son-in-law, our daughter’s partner, and a long-standing family friend making us a party of eight. We were a mixed bag but all comfortably over the age of twenty-one and ready for some debauchery in the Venice of the North.
Having never been to Venice, I don’t know how Amsterdam compares but I found this city more akin to New Orleans than any other metropolis in the states. Although, Amsterdam built its city on the water, New Orleans strives, unsuccessfully to keep the water out. Both cities embrace all comers and offer up the arts in all forms.
First, the canal houses with gabled facades line the waterways providing you, through unshuttered windows, an intimate peek into the daily lives of the Dutch. Amsterdamers evidently like living a curtain-less existence, thereby showing the world they have nothing to hide. Take a leisurely stroll down any street and you are sure to notice one startling similarity: a persistent lack of curtains, and hence personal privacy.
Second observation is that bike riders rule in Amsterdam. Pedestrians are measly targets for sadistic riders either on scooter, bicycle or tram. Watch the f— out for them, all the time. Seriously or better yet, rent a bike and join them at their own game. They ride in the wind, the rain, the dark and the snow. We saw them do it with our own eyes as we dashed out of their way. There are nearly 900,000 bikes in the city, four times the number of cars. This city even has a huge bike parking area in the center of the city. I have no idea how the owners even find their solitary bike in the vast sea of spokes and fenders.
Check out the city art scene. Our pick was the Van Gogh Museum. We felt like we knew Vincent and his family after spending several hours learning about his life, his short but prolific painting period of only ten years, and how the demands he made of his self, his mental illness all become too much. Vincent felt he had failed as both an artist and a human being. It didn’t help that he sipped on turpentine and was known to eat paint. Vincent shot himself in the chest, which I found an odd attempt, and he died of his wounds in 1890 at the age of only 37. Sadly, his art work got better, the more he struggled with mental illness as you could see from the progression of his first great piece, “The Potato Eaters”, to the “Bedroom” and “Sunflowers”.
We did take a peek at the infamous red light district one evening after dining at a nearby Indian restaurant, Ashoka. Highly recommend the restaurant for the friendly service, accommodating chef, and fine cuisine but based on my stance on feminism, should I applaud or be appalled by the legalization of prostitution? The women are running their own businesses, so they are entrepreneurs, of a sort. I think they have union. But, on the other hand, they are promoting a trade that is degrading to women and perpetuating a culture in which women are treated as objects.
We drank a fair amount of beer along with other types of spirits during our stay. The local beer is found at Brouwerig’ Tij a brewery under a windmill to boot. So crowded but the beer soothed sore feet and we loved their logo. Yes, we bought the souvenir shirt.
We also bought Delft dishes (how can you resist the blue and white patterns?), some cool prints from Gallery Varekamp, featuring scenes from around Amsterdam to remind us of our journey, along with packages of stroopwaffles, two thin waffles stuck together with caramel, and salty Dutch liquorice.
Beyond what I have already shared, it was the simple moments that I will remember best.
- Tram rides and getting lost and found again
- The issue of no ice, at all, in our Air BnB — why?
- Watching Dutch cooking shows on television – they seem to love to cook outside in the snow on an open fire
- Skip-Bo, lots of Skip-Bo
- Daily postings to social media
- Sunrise at 8:30 a.m., sunset at 4:30 p.m.
- Learning about Banksy, the street artist
- Listening to the sing-song sounds of the Dutch language
- Family meals together. Ok, just being together.
- Our daily uniform of parka, hat, gloves and boots
- Opening simple stocking stuffers on Christmas morning
- Walking, lots of walking
- Having Melina join us from Germany for a couple of days – miss you!
- Christmas Markets — as many as we could find in a week!
- Ferris Wheel rides
- Grocery shopping
- That time all of us in the our group went right, but one went straight…