Noilly Prattle: Amsterdam -- remarkable for her age

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Amsterdam -- remarkable for her age

h amsterdam
      You get a feeling of gentle weariness, of a being that has aged graciously and is tolerant of the vagaries and wonders of human existence; it moves in a gently relaxed yet purposeful dance of urban circulation. I rarely experience this slower pace of urban life, but such places in which I do retain an aura of amiability and welcome. Amsterdam is such a town.

coffee house
not so sure about that if you're a pedestraian
       Life, in fact, seems to whiz by you in the streets and squares, in the stores and restaurants, on the tram or the metro, on bicycles, on foot. But there is a certain, odd, non-frenetic quality in the daily comings and goings in public places. Cars will stop to allow pedestrians to cross. People in the street seem to have a sense of place and purpose, yet seem to convey an impression that says: "Here I am and whatever I'm doing is well and good." It's all the same if I'm off to work, or taking my kid to school, or shopping, or having something to drink in a sidewalk cafe, or going for a walk, or smoking a joint in a coffee house, or ogling the lust trade in de Wallen (the red light district), or checking out van Gogh in his museum, or...or...or,  you get the picture? It's one hell of an accommodating town to stay in for a while.

Amsterdam's 1st pot and  hash  house?
night club and windows
 along a canal in de Wallen
      The main parts of Amsterdam are easily accessible on foot and the town itself with its leafy canals is charming and is easy and fun to walk around in. Language is never a problem. No one I came in contact with wasn't able to understand and speak English--in restaurants, theaters, museums, shops, public transportation, etc. The most impressive thing about Amsterdam is the enlightened policies of the government towards those elements of any city that are usually illegal and pushed underground and out of sight--drugs and prostitution. Put plainly and simply, both are legal and right out in the open (some less sporting types might say blatantly so) here in Amsterdam. Being out in the open, they fit seamlessly into the fabric of the city's life and, to the locals, are simply part of the environment and their lives. What a blissfully elegant solution to integrating openly all aspects of human activities, non-judgmentally and full of acceptance for the endless varieties of human experience.

red lit , curtained and closed windows
of window prostitutes
      One of my favorite writers, John Irving, describes de Wallen through the eyes of three of his characters: a not altogether secure 30-something woman writer, who wants to soak up atmosphere for a novel she is planning by watching a prostitute servicing a customer; the prostitute who agrees to let her watch for a fee; and a cop whose beat is the red light district. The writer hides in the closet  one day and ends up witnessing the murder of the prostitute by her customer thus triggering the interplay of the three characters. Irving treats de Wallen with realism and sympathy and gives the reader a little bit of insight into the life style of the women who work in the windows.

St. Nicholas Church - (Oudekerk) -
      While we were walking along Sint Annenstraat, not far from St. Nicholas Church on the Oudekerksplein one afternoon, there was a small group of silly young Japanese 20-something girls ogling the prostitutes in their windows and giggling and waving and loudly remarking, according to Road Buddy who understood them, about the remarkable size of their mammary glands: "OPPAI GA OOKII, NE" (My, what big tits!). Tactless and tasteless, yes, but it looked and sounded funny nevertheless, and one of the prostitutes good-naturedly laughed and waved back. The working girls showed more class and dignity than these silly day trippers.

      There is, of course, a darker side to the red light district. It comes, however, not from the business of prostitution itself, but from the exploitation of the women who work in the sex trade by organized crime groups, and this is of concern to the city administration which has been attempting to bring it under control while keeping the openness of the de Wallen and other red light districts in Amsterdam. A never ending battle, no doubt.

rush hour traffic
     Another impressive thing about Amsterdam is bicycles, seemingly an endless stream of bicycles flying at you from all directions. A visitor who is not used to dodging bicycles or nonchalantly walks off the kerb is in greater danger of getting hit by a bicycle than a car. I almost got hit two or three times before I finally wised up. There are bicycle lanes that can be just as congested as automobile traffic. It's really fascinating, like a whole motor vehicle traffic pattern with road lanes and signs, transposed to two-wheeled vehicles, complete with rush hour traffic whizzing by.

     A somewhat negatively impressive thing about the coastal Netherlands is the weather. Very changeable from hour to hour even. A good idea to bring an umbrella or a raincoat with you whenever you go out, nuisance though that may be.


Friday night rock concert at
the van Gogh Museum
our rental apartment



        Amsterdam has an abundance of all the services and activities that make for a good traveler destination: hotels in all price ranges from the less expensive to 5-star luxury palaces. For music lovers there is the world famous Concertgebouw. There is even a Friday Night Special at the van Gogh Museum with lectures, special guided tours and even rock concerts in the lobby for no more than the price of ordinary admission--you just have to hang around a little later than the usual closing hours. For visitors who prefer to stay more than a day or two and want to feel more at home you can rent a short term apartment with cooking facilities--or even rent a houseboat. We rented one of the nicest apartments in our experience on the east side of the old town right on a canal for 12 days. It was special because it was the owners' own apartment when they are in Amsterdam (they also have a home, I heard from their son who came to fix the bathtub faucet, somewhere in France) and, thus, quite roomy and well equipped, particularly the kitchen. There are many museums, most notably the Rijks Museum and my favorite, the van Gogh Museum, as well as such well-known spots as the Anne Frank House. Restaurants run the gamut from poor to terrific, and if you have a craving for familiar junk food you can find McDonalds and Burger King restaurants in Amsterdam. In short, something for everybody's taste and pocket book.

kids swimming in the canal near our apartment
    Even if you aren't into dope and/or sex for pay, Amsterdam is well worth a visit. How long you stay depends on what you're interested in. Anyway, it's a great place to relax and have some fun for a couple weeks or just a couple days. There always seems to be something going on.

dancers in Nieuwmarkt

duck swimming the the same canal


Wynand Fockink bar -  300-year old distillery
great flavored liqueurs and a funny name

Vincent van Gogh or Kirk Douglas?

Anne Frank huis

Birdman of Amsterdam

dinner at home

shopping bargains in a flea market

blowing bubbles in Dam Square


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