It’s always nice to be shown around a city by a native. Irene van der Rol and I are distant cousins, having a common ancestor several generations back, but we’d met and corresponded through Facebook. The app does have its uses. I’ve re-connected with a number of people through FB – but that’s another story.
Irene lives in an apartment in South Amsterdam, a neighbourhood known as ‘de Pijp’. We walked there from the hotel, passing through a park and over a bridge. It’s a typical neighbourhood, with three-storey apartment blocks lining the roads. They still have corner shops in these parts. Irene’s local supermarket, run by people of Turkish descent, occupied one corner and a baker (I think) on the other. We had lunch with Irene, sitting out in the lovely little terrace garden she’d created behind her apartment building. We also had dinner with her in a nearby Indian restaurant, one of the best Indian meals I’ve ever had. Amsterdam is a very cosmopolitan place.
She took us to places in the city that we hadn’t seen before. One such was the Amsterdam School, its buildings constructed in a style of architecture popular in the 1920’s and 30’s. I thought it had similarities to art deco.
We saw the neighbourhood around the Oude Kerk, where canals had been filled in after the war. There had also been quite a lot of rebuilding, not, apparently, up to the standard of the old city. Before the war many Jews lived in this area of Amsterdam. I mentioned in an earlier post that 5th May is Liberation day, but 4th May is Remembrance Day, when the Dutch commemorate those lost in war. Among those were the one hundred and seven thousand (approx.) Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. That’s around seventy-eight percentage of the Jewish population before the war. The Dutch commemorate that tragedy in many ways. One is the poster on this house, which reads that this was one of the houses where Jews had lived and were taken away. They were all over the city. I don’t think the Dutch will ever forget what happened to the Jews in those years.
Amsterdam has lots of museums. The Rijksmuseum was closed for renovations at the time and we’d been to the Maritime Museum, so we went to the Amsterdam Museum, a gem which shouldn’t be missed. It’s close to the main shopping district, so quite central. Its theme is (wait for it…) Amsterdam. It showcases the history of the city but it includes some wonderful ship models and art. Amsterdam’s Golden Age in the seventeenth century was based on trade, after all. It also has an impressive art gallery, including works by such luminaries as Rembrandt. What I liked about the paintings, though, was they showed the city as it was in the past before everybody had a camera in their pocket.
Amsterdam’s old city is relatively small. It’s wonderful to wander through the streets, having a look at whatever was around the next corner. Everywhere there are little shops with their goods displayed on the pavement, and we spent an hour or so browsing through a market where you could buy clothes, books, art, food – all sorts. Amsterdam is well known for its laid-back attitude to sex and sex work. We didn’t go to the Red Light district on this visit but you don’t have to go far to see the casual acceptance of sex as part of life. You don’t have to go far to experience the acceptance of cannabis, either. Walk past a coffee shop and you’ll smell it. But both drug sales and the sex industry are strictly controlled to prevent any influx of organised crime, and to ensure safe, healthy conditions for workers.
We visited the famous flower markets which operate from barges moored in the Singelgracht. Here you can buy plants and bulbs from everywhere, particularly tulips. I did ask about taking bulbs back to Australia, but the shopkeeper shook his head. Not a chance. The import restrictions for Australia are so stringent it’s not even worth talking about.
It’s also a good place to buy souvenirs such as Tee shirts, fridge magnets, heap Delft pottery, off-colour postcards. And, of course, coffee.
On our last night in Amsterdam we dined with friends from KLM at a French restaurant in the south of the city. The Dutch like to be outdoors whenever possible to the advantage of the good weather when it happens. Many restaurants offer tables outside on the pavement. It was a great meal – good food, good company.
Tomorrow we would be off to Copenhagen.