Monday, October 20, 2014

DIARY 125 ~ Holiday In Old Amsterdam

In September Jnanasalin and I had a six day holiday in Amsterdam. For us holidays are rarely about where we go for a break, but just giving ourselves one. Amsterdam was one of many places in Europe we'd like to visit; Centre of the Dutch Golden Age; the Van Gogh Museum; Dutch Apple Pie etc. What draws us anywhere is usually a mix of History, Art and Cakes, with a fluctuating sense of priority.

Our first day was quite exhausting. take my advice don't set off on a walk into the city centre from your hotel thinking it would only be a forty minute amble. An hour and a half later we arrived in the frantic commercial throng of the Leidsplein and Dam area, an area which I have to say has little left to make it appealing. Amsterdam looks deceptively small on maps, distances appearing to be a shortish walk turn into a huge hike through the marijuna haze of other tourists. As a city, Amsterdam does have a warm, welcoming and friendly demeanour. You have to remind yourself, you're not a resident, you're a tourist too, as a phalanx of tourists on cycles wobble / hurtle dangerously past you.

Having learnt from our first days herculean effort, our second was executed with slightly more knowing and relaxed sophistication. We followed a circular tour around parts of the Jordaan, which was a lot more like what we were hoping for from our holiday. Nice cafes and restaurants, historical houses and churches, an idiosyncratic and interesting  range of shops. Here we could take our time more. We'd plannned after our second day we'd buy a three day 'I Amsterdam Card' for 67 euros, and from then on hit the museums and tourist spots with a vengance. We bought a similar thing when we were in Bruges, which saved us quite a bit of money. In order to make the most of it, it did mean we were averaging around five places visited a day, sometimes more. We got our money's worth, our 67 euros buying us about 200 euros of entrance fees and travel.

From the Hermitage exhibtion

So, we saw a lot, and consequently the trip became a quite busy and full on one, but satisfying none the less. Some personal highlights were an exhibition at the Amsterdam Hermitage of Romanov tableware, which doesn't sound remotely exciting, but its amazing what presentation that is inventive and superlative can do. The Winkel Cafe, in the Norde Kerk area, where we had an excellent coffe and the best Dutch Apple Tart of our visit.

Winkel's Cofee & Apple Tart

Then there was the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, which, not surpriingly given the central role played by Dutch artists,had a very good collection of 20th Century, plus an engaging range of contemporary art. I loved the multi screen video work of Sarah Carlier, eight screens each with an apparently motionless, slowly changing image, at some point there was or will be an event or action, but when? There was a wonderful sense of expectation, of waiting, a quiet patient space, similar to Just Sitting. You just sat observing small comings or goings. there and not there, the things that were quietly changing.

Of the Amsterdam Zoo we both had mixed feelings, some of the animals just appeared sad, or depressed to us. Apart from the seals which were a simple delight, just watching their playfulness and joi de vivre.

The Museum that looks like its under a sink

My first De Witt wall drawing in the flesh, Hurrah!

 Comparisons between countries are often odious, but there are things which are glaringly different. Amsterdam has a reliable, frequent and truly integrated transport system. The UK appears not to know the real meaning of those words. There are hardly any large scale national or international retail chains, consequently there are a thousand varieties of independent shops. In the UK we support enterprise and innovation by encouraging bigger companies to move here, their greater market clout squeezing out those smaller entrepeneurs trying to nuture something interesting to grow.  In Amsterdam good pleasent customer service seemed natural, and always present, people appeared to enjoy it, whereas in the UK its seen as more like a contractual obligation or optional extra.  On our return from the continent the UK always feels small and pinched, in scale, in ambition and mindset, not to mention grubby and mean spirited.

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