Monday, May 26, 2014

The Stream That Flows Through the Nether Lands

A crush of people - that is what Amsterdam means.

I was deposited, as expected, somewhat after noon at Schiphol Airport, flying from Alicante. I had little difficulty getting to the vicinity of the down escalators to various train platforms, but a few questions later, and one wrong  platform later, I landed on Platform 3, where a noncommittal transit info officer assured me that there was indeed a train to be had from that platform to Amsterdam Centraal, the jumping-off point for legions of tourists, "not the next one, the one after that, third stop."

And the train arrived, right on time - and the doors opened on, you may have guessed it from my lead-in... people arrayed in a sort of vestibule between cars, at a space allocation rate of about a square foot per. A WC consumed a profligate 25 sq. ft. or more of the vestibule - amazingly, a woman made her way through the throng, needs must, to use it, shortly after we got underway. The corner of the WC had to suffice as something to hold onto, since our informal riding area had nothing like a rail or grab loop. Ten minutes later, several hundred of us added ourselves to the great flow.

The first emergence from Centraal presents the visitor with a grand vista of mostly old buildings, train tracks, canals, and probably immense numbers of people making their way down the broad boulevard which runs straight ahead past a bridge from the station entrance.
At least in good weather - and this is the best; I heard someone on the plane say the temp was 17 C. and headed for over 20, T-shirt-and-shorts weather given especially unimpeded sunlight.

I had planned a particular walking tour, and even had talked with a woman on the plane about her recommendations, but abandoned it pretty quickly in favor of just flowing with the river for a while. The river did not diminish at all for a mile or so, whereupon I found myself in a plaza. I found a place with a caprese sort of sandwich and settled in to watch passers-by and hangers-out. I wasn't sapped so far by the sheer energy of it all, and was pretty well amused; it reminded me of the exhiliration of walking down the Royal Mile during the Edinburgh Festival in the nineties.

Most of an hour later, I refocused on my primary goal, the Rijksmuseum, realizing ruefully that I probably spent most of what should have been museuming time. I few questions later I was talking with a young female Scot and her friend, who helped guide me there since she was going to part of hit, and reminded me not to miss the ticket line since she didn't need to go there.

They close at 5 - good! At least two and a half hours to see Rembrandt, Steen and company at the very least. In I go, check the backpack, head for the 17th  C. section, and see what's there... "The Black Watch", one of the massive canvases by Rembrandt
is at least one of the museum's top three if not the cynosure - but really, there is no problem,
wait a half a minute, and all is well, you will see as much detail as you care to. And the same applies to Vermeer's famous milkmaid, impressively still in her concentration, or Steen's most famous morality plays like "Merry Family", some unbelievably shiny still lifes of equal fame. The almost three hours pass pretty repidly, but I feel like I have fully imbibed the stuff they most want me to, and I'm even getting a bit spacey.

So it's a good time to move of the most beaten track and see something like the quiet side of the city, this "spider web of canals" described in one guiide, which very aptly describes what a map shows. There are the canal boats I saw in Oxford, a similar feel, leafy, urban-residential.
The occasional group on a bench, scooter, or bicyle, couple meandering, lazy cats, apartment dwellers dressed down and reading in the balmy weather. And an hour or so later I've bumbled my way back to the vicinity of one "main drag", passing at one point a couple of picnic tables at the edge of the large canal with a vociferous group of mixed ages dining and drinking. They are associated with a cafe sign now over my head, somewhat worn and rusty; it proclaims itself a "literary cafe", hmm, what might that mean. A few steps further, and I can't avoid going back, I must know - and so I settle in for a couple of hours of Belgian-style beer and fish in a pleasantly battered cafe with Hopper-inspired photography and concert posters, and watching the canal-side world go by, while the Monkees and reggae play, altogether a little strange and idyllic.

... ok, fine, I guess I need to find the station,
get the shuttle, deal with the stuff they won't tell you, get myself on the plane on time. Sigh.

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