February half term and the lady who sleeps on my left and myself have just returned from a four day child free break in Amsterdam. We emerged early from Euro’s tunnel, breezed past Bruges, pootled through the Polders, crossed the Maas and its massive carp, before traipsing over a thousand ditches and dykes to the Dutch capital’s Olympic stadium where we declined the offer of a “Fanny Blankers-Koen” experience (two laps of the track in retro shorts with a baby at the breast) opting instead for the excellent Park & Ride scheme.
Enthusing about a Park & Ride scheme in this way serves as a reminder that years are ticking by, but also acts as an indicator that any crisis may almost be past. Dreams of Harleys and hoodless hairdresser cars are gone, and the merits of “Park & Ride” and its associated subjects seem to serve for a withering life’s rumination.
It worked like a dream (the park and ride.......help!)
A super safe car watched over by a man in a hat and epaulettes throughout its stay and free tram tickets in and out of town for only eight zobs a day, if you are driving to Amsterdam I can’t recommend it highly enough, 24 hour parking on the street on which we stayed was the best part of fifty zobs, sans the security guard in full fig.
We stayed on the banks of a canal fifty odd yards from where Anne Frank got stuck in the loft. Canals have long held an appeal for me and Mdme, and in 1990s BC (before children) when house prices were way beyond our means we came very close to buying a boat to live on. A historical working water course that served as a home, employment and also supported a diverse habitat was typical of the canals that criss-crossed the North West and threw up engineering leviathans like the Anderton lift and Pontcysyllte aqueduct. Canals are all about man having some control over the forces of water which is pretty much what I strive for in this job day in day out.
Ensconced in the canal ring laid out in the 17th century we could cover pretty much all of town on foot. As canal systems go it doesn’t seem too complicated, flat land, no locks just push the water where you want boys, just go a bit steady if you plan on putting up anything over two stories as the land’s a bit squishy.
All of the buildings lining the canals of the inner ring are four stories or more, all bar a few chucked up in recent years are slightly off centre. Built on soft ground hundreds of years ago many have settled to an angle where they lean forward, back or slump on the shoulder of the adjoining house, take out the wrong house and a whole street could crumble, there’s no front doors plucked from Homebase fitted here and while we are on doors most front doors and windows on the canal ring are over eight feet high. Your average Dutchman/woman can be a big old unit but the front doors on our street hinted at inhabitants of Hagrid’s proportions: our ground floor apartment had curtains that would not have been out of place in a school hall.
Food was a surprise, Indonesian was everywhere and drew rave reviews, but the best we ate was at a nondescript cafe that scored well on trip advisor (8th out of 1721 Amsterdam restaurants no less) the menu was filled with fish and game and I punished the Duck and Venison while Mdme opted for Scallops and Beef. On a neighbouring table a distinguished Dutch couple were eagerly devouring a quorum of quail, Mevrouw who had remarkable eyebrows and could have passed for the mother of Ming the Merciless mishandled a wing that subsequently flew beneath our table. Unperturbed by age, appetite or etiquette she dropped to her septuagenarian (I’m guessing) knees and scrabbled around for the errant bones and any meat that may remain, emerging wing in hand, to her table as if nothing has happened.
Both the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum were under refurbishment, and as a result an abridged version of their contents were on show which suited us fine, all the good bits without the tat. The Potato eaters didn’t disappoint and neither did all the swirly stuff with black crows dark skies and flaming Cyprus trees he produced when marbles were being lost.
I can’t get excited about old Dutch masters so the Rijksmuseum started as a box ticking exercise. Loads of Rembrandts that were much better than anticipated but the best for me was Vermeer and his Milkmaid, this man could draw sunshine and the painting hung in its temporary hall with a dozen other masterpieces drew the eye as soon as we walked through the door. Twentieth century stuff is more to Mdme and my tastes and the plastic chairs of Stedelijk museum along with the odd Picasso and Magritte filled a morning although all were bested by some photos by Ansel Adams.
Culture done we returned to the streets. At the age of thirteen I visited Amsterdam on a school trip, things were a little different in those days and for much of a three day stay we were left to our own devices. A lot of our time was spent jumping on and off trams and wandering aimlessly around the streets wondering at the funny smells emanating from some cafes and why the Dutch had a preference for red light bulbs when football matches suggested that their colour of first choice was undoubtedly orange. Each evening after our hostel tea of packet soup and mild cheese we were released onto the streets; I can remember several passes through and a brief game of football with some colourful characters in what I now know is the red light district.
On this trip Mdme and myself walked its streets on a late morning. An elderly Amsterdamonian was restapling the faux fur that surrounded the window of a store titled “Pure Lust” while his wife buffed up the exotic window display with some Mr Sheen. Further on a fancy underpant emporium seemed shackled under the name of “stout”, while a few doors down a young lady, who I can only assume had just got out of the shower, appeared at a window waving frantically and beckoning me closer. I didn’t recognise her as a follower of this page although she may have taken The Shooting Times and wanted to pick me up on some rubbish that I have written of late. I tried to take her picture but as if by magic Larry the large Latvian appeared and persuaded me otherwise. Obviously a jealous type, he had nothing to fear, as I only had eyes for the lady who was, at the time, scowling on my left.
With water, water everywhere opportunities for fishing were keenly anticipated. The travel rod and bits of tackle were packed but were removed at border control (our front door) by security (Mdme) there is fishing to be had in the middle of Amsterdam and some super Zander can be caught down near the station where the Amstel River meets up with the sea. Guided fishing can be had, with spinning the preferred method of choice. The canals themselves contain a few fish but are ultimately void of life. Victor the vole man would have a fit at the amount of “hard bank” and we saw very few water fowl, although the plethora of ditches and channels on the city’s periphery are a more attractive place for a wildfowl to hang out and we saw thousands and thousands of all types of geese on our drive up to town.
Four days flew by and Mdme wishes to return. In spite of, or because of the sex and drugs and rock and roll, it is the friendliest city we have visited in recent years. Incredibly tolerant and non judgemental we only felt threatened during the morning and evening rush hour when a million strong peloton careered all ways around town on their sit up and beg bikes. Mums with a host of kids in a box on the front of a bike, glamorous city workers in designer gear, shop delivery boys and much more besides, all peddling furiously making the most of a flat land with no hills.