Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Amsterdam, Our Adventure Begins

Amsterdam's famous canals are laid out in three semicircles with secondary canals connecting them. By the innermost ring stands the oldest portion of the city. As you move outward you travel through history. When you get to the beautiful park where the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum are located the age of your surroundings have transitioned from 16th century to Edwardian. Further out ultra modern apartment and office buildings hold court.

Our first stop is the Flower Market. We meander through the area savoring the colors and scents of the area. We stop in a small coffee shop for cappuccinos, it is still quite early on this Saturday morning, and a pastry. We wander into a store and are beguiled by a small blue and white ceramic Christmas ornament in the shape of a train engine. It is our first purchase of the trip. The other ornaments we see in the shop show up several more times throughout the city during the duration of our stay. The train engine we see only once. It has been a tiny treasure on our tree every Christmas since.

We cross a canal and continue to Amsterdam's flea market. While sifting though trash and treasures my partner falls in love with a papillion romping among it's owners wares. It's large, wing like ears move up and down as it poses for the photos my enamored partner takes. A tapestry catches our eye. It is in the style of a miniature prayer rug. It will join the sizable number of other tapestries we've collected which cover the tables and chests in our home. Vintage postcards are purchased to join my collection of those which I house in antique photo albums. We tear ourselves away before we run completely amok and head back to the center of town.

Along the way we see the Wax and Torture museums, both of which we take a pass on. My partner poses for a photo, his feet inside of oversized wooden shoes on the sidewalk outside of a shop which features more standard sized ones hanging on a wall.

The day has turned sunny, bright and beautiful. We do visit the Loon Museum, a large canal house built by an owner of the Dutch East Indies Company. Unlike many house museums, with their velvet stanchions across the doorways, you are allowed to enter the richly appointed rooms. Informative signs point out the unique features of the elegant residence. In one bedroom a false door is painted on the wall matching the real door to give the room symmetry.

Downstairs you pass the kitchen and enter the back garden of the home. This gives you an opportunity to see the Amsterdam that is hidden from view behind the wall like facades of the canal houses which line the waterways. A caretakers cottage in the rear of the property has faux windows, complete with curtains, painted on it's second floor mimicking the faux doors in the upstairs room of the main house.

This is a wealthy block of the city. The garden is lush and tranquil, a quite retreat from the noise of the stone street and watercraft traffic in front. A gazebo in the yard of the house next door, spied across the garden wall, suggest the elegant trappings of the other houses in the area.

Back inside is an exhibit on the history of chairs. Chairs of different types and periods are lined up on platforms in the halls. There is an exhaustive amount of information about the construction and history of each. By the end of our visit to the museum I learn more than I ever cared to about this common item of furniture.

As we begin the walk back to our hotel a special, unexpected treat awaits us. A race of small, oar powered boats is taking place in the canals this afternoon. A mere block from our hotel these boats make a 90 degree turn from one canal into another under one of the numerous small, low bridges of the city. We shout ourselves hoarse, along with the local population, cheering them on as boat after boat passes by in the canal beneath us. Occasionally, the boat crews misjudge the turn forcing them to push against the bridge walls with their oars to right their course. The oars are also used to prevent collisions as the boats jockey for position.

That evening the hotel clerk suggests we visit an area nearby known for it's nightlife. It is Saturday night and people are out in force. On our way to our destination we encounter one poor fellow, across the canal from us, repeatedly vomiting. His drug disoriented friends stand patiently by waiting for him to finish. Reaching our destination we find a bright neon lit area where the crowd is half our age, if not younger. Many look as high as the poor lad vomiting by the canal. All are decidedly heterosexual. We snap a photo to capture the neon and opt for a pizza and drink at a gay bar where the lights in the coffered ceiling gently transition from one color to another. There are several gay bars in this area. Nearby is a plaza where a 3 dimensional recreation of Rembrandt's "Nightwatch" stands guard. It is not terribly late but we have been up since early morning so stroll back to the hotel and bed.


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