Love Letter to Amsterdam (and the Netherlands as best I know)

No, despite all the ugliness of the past week, I have not decamped to The Netherlands. That said, because I am desperate to take some mental space from the devolving country in which I live, I want to tell you more about our trip to Amsterdam, including a magical day trip to The Hague, and share some of my favorite photographs from both places.

For starters, I adore much of Dutch architecture, especially what visitors can glimpse by walking through the Canal district in Amsterdam. I love the matte brick facades, painted in all colors, the narrow (but deep) structures designed and built when cost and taxes were based on house width. I love the steep roofs so many of which are threaded with a massively strong beam running front to back which supports not only the roof but also a functional pulley, an exceedingly necessary element of homes whose cramped, precipitous interior stairwells make moving furniture and appliances in impossible or nearly so. 

I love how the buildings have settled over the centuries, some walls bowing out, some windowsills looking as if they were built on the diagonal. I love the striking doorways and the shiny enamel-like paint used on doors and trim. I fancy the unique plaques, carvings, and other various types of facade bling many homes boast. I love the big old windows and the trailing vines growing from the tiniest plots of earth nestled between sidewalk and stoop up and over entryways and window frames.

I love the ambience in the Netherlands. In my most romanticized notions of it, no one ever sues anyone because they are happy on free love and soft drugs. Kids run barefoot through the parks and playgrounds. Parents do not helicopter but when they are alongside their kids, they are joyous, warm, and easy. It is always time for a coffee or an aperitif. In the Vondelpark's Groot Melkhuis, you can purchase juice boxes, Belgian beer, and appeltaart, sit at a picnic table and watch your kids play the afternoons away.

I love the thousands of bikes that call the city home, love that no one wears helmets when they ride, and that even the most laid-back Amsterdamer follows the bike rules of law. You've never seen such orderly, chockablock mayhem. I love how comfortable people are with their bodies, how cosmopolitan they are, how most everyone is at least trilingual. I love that the swastika is a banned symbol.

It's a beautiful place, visually and culturally, and I cannot wait to return. 

Geiranger and Ålesund, now back in Amsterdam

After a magnificent day boating around Geirangerfjord and moseying through the little town of Geiranger, and after a lovely stop in Ålesund, a town on Norway's western coast which burned almost completely in 1904 and was then rebuilt in art nouveau style, we spent a final day at sea before docking back in Amsterdam (pics from Amsterdam will follow in subsequent posts as the number of photos here might fully overwhelm you).

Geirangerfjord  

Geirangerfjord  

IMG_9551.JPG
IMG_9536.JPG
FullSizeRender.jpg

 Ålesund:

IMG_9438.JPG
IMG_9413.JPG
fresh fish soup at Lyst

fresh fish soup at Lyst

View from early in the climb to the top of the fjell (mountain) 

View from early in the climb to the top of the fjell (mountain) 

Ol gleefully working his way up

Ol gleefully working his way up

getting close

getting close

view from the top! 

view from the top! 

commemorating the rebuilding effort

commemorating the rebuilding effort

Art nouveau style drives me wild!! 

I mean seriously, just look at that! 

I mean seriously, just look at that! 

gorgeous slate work on the roof of this church

gorgeous slate work on the roof of this church

40 in forty: Travel as much as you can

More than a decade ago, I went to East Africa. It was a remarkable three weeks in southern Kenya with a boy I loved. He spoke Swahili fluently, and I knew even then that I was experiencing a rare trip, a life-changing one I'd never forget.

In Nairobi, I ate sukuma and ugali (sauteed greens and corn meal mush) and roasted ears of maize sold from street vendors behind steaming carts. I drank cold Tuskers and shot pool. I scooped doro wat with doughy injera as an Ethiopian belly-dancer beguiled us.

On safari, I saw the Big 5. I visited an elephant orphanage and saw the wildebeest and flamingo migrations. Thousands of rickety-looking animals fording a river because instinct told them they must, even as crocs lay in wait. A whole lake turned pink by plumage. A black rhino and her darling baby. Great cats stretching and tending their young.

On the small island of Lamu, I devoured curry made from just-caught fish, vats of fresh "joo-eece" (juice) from the fruit vendor next to our inn, and chicken with fiery pili-pili sauce at a the home of a lovely Muslim woman, Hosna, the boy knew.

After lunch she invited me to try on one of her burqas before taking a stroll through the neighborhood. "Everyone knows you're white and foreign," she said, even though I was covered head to toe. "They look at your feet. Can you feel them staring?"

Was it strange? Yes. Was it a tremendous learning experience? Absolutely. Do travel and trying almost always enlarge our senses of the myriad possibilities and respect for differences in the world? Most definitely.

I remember being spat at while living in Amsterdam. An American friend (living in Amsterdam) and I were walking through a park, and a Dutch woman heard us speaking English. She spat and my friend retorted in angry Dutch, stunning the woman and relieving me. 

I remember being stuck at the horrid Holešovice train station in Prague, waiting and waiting and waiting. I called it "Holese-shit" and Tom and I laughed for days. The baths in Budapest, the disappointing Sacher tort in Vienna offset completely by the magnificent Klimts at the eponymous museum and the Muchas at his museum too.

I can still taste the rhubarb pie at that diner somewhere by Woodstock, VT. I remember the post office in Quechee, not far from the gorge. The redwoods in Northern Cal, the lunar-like beaches north of San Diego. 

I remember accidentally getting off to TGV train in Biarritz instead of San Sebastian. Shit. I spoke Spanish, not French. My friend was waiting for me so we could haul it to Bilbao to see the new Guggenheim museum there. I cobbled together a few phrases dredged from the depths of my mind, got to Spain, ate incredible tortilla and reveled in the opalescent undulations of Gehry's titanium masterpiece. The Rioja wasn't bad either.

~~~

It seems to me that as people age, they take one of two paths: the safe, familiar one, or the road less traveled. I plan to always take the latter, and I beseech you to do the same in all ways that you can. Do not close off, don't limit yourself. As best you can, speak to locals. Drive, walk, fly, train, in your own country and far beyond. Jump, ask, learn, try, be humbled and uncomfortable, enjoy something you didn't know you would. Keep growing!

Travel is a superb education, possibly the best. We leave tomorrow for Rome, and although I'm exhausted (so tired that I again forgot the correct documentation for the DMV which, naturally, I only realized once there. For the third time. I still don't have a license. I give up until we get back.), I can't wait to jump the border and fly toward a new adventure.

When in Rome...