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 amsterdam

18 leden (jan)
Despite the gray skies and steady drizzle in the mornings, the curved streets and waterways of Amsterdam were alive and vibrant. Red brick buildings accented with varied cream colored trim, most four or five stories high as is the European norm, formed dark red walls following the canals. Some narrow sandwiched buildings leaned against each other like an old married couple. At the top of every building was a hook to hoist furniture up through the windows. Bicycles lined every street, were piled in jumbles and parked in rows. It was wet and cold on this winter weekend, but some hardy locals were out on two wheels. Unfortunately, the outdoor gardens were not in bloom, but there were flower markets of colorful tulips along many major streets.

In the red light district, heavily made up women in skimpy lingerie sat in dark rooms in front of picture windows, advertising their goods. One opened the door and yelled at me as I took a photo of a nearby building - I hadn't even noticed her sitting in the window next door. My Australian traveling companions and I scurried along and ducked into another anonymous street. A young man in a head shop explained that he could only sell paraphernalia and seeds. If we were looking for the real stuff we should go to places called, ironically, "coffeeshop"; each one specialized in a different type of music and atmosphere. He laughed as he spoke, proud of the openness of his country. We noted the possibility for later.

The house where Anne Frank and her family hid is a simple yet excellent, poignant journey into a life of unimaginable fear, all the more moving when narrated by a bright young voice. The pictures she had taped to the wall were still there. Their restricted world held only a few small comforts, trusting in the compassionate workers of Otto Frank's business who made their continued existence there possible. When we walked out the exit door and breathed the fresh air, it seemed somehow wrong - impossible that it should be so easy for us to just walk away and carry on with our own lives.

From there, we looked for an uplifting experience and spent several hours immersed in the rich colors of the expressive images of Vincent Van Gogh in the museum that bears his name. Over 200 paintings included some well known friends: the vase of sunflowers, the bedroom. I sat and had a coffee and jotted down some notes while my friends continued on to view more floors of 19th century paintings, not willing to dilute the floating feeling of being in the wheatfields of Arles.

The Rijsmuseum was being renovated but a well chosen selection of their collection of Dutch artists of the 1600 and 1700s was on exhibit. There were many wonderful Rembrandts, but my favorites were the lovely Vermeers, a view into the everyday life of the time. In Rembrandt Park, it was fun to walk around in a sculptural reproduction of the Night Watch, having just seen the famous painting in person. Rembrandt's house museum was peopled with artists and art students: one copying a painting in the old style on a large canvas, another demonstrating the process of etching, and a third mixing pigments from natural materials. An adjoining building held an extensive collection of his etchings.

We took the tram east to see the closest windmill, now attached to a brewery, had a few beers and played trivia with some friendly, outgoing locals who loved Australian music and film actors. An Indonesian restaurant (colonial food?) served us 12 different small dishes. Wanting to get out on the water, we cruised the canals with wine and cheese one night, and hopped a ferry the last afternoon to get closer to the sea.

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