Saturday, December 13, 2008

in amsterdam

Yesterday, Miguel and I went to Amsterdam for the day to see the Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank's house. It was the first time, we realized, that we'd be sightseeing alone. No family, no friends. And while I missed a bit of the camraderie that comes in a larger group, it was wonderful to finally spend a day in Europe free from any added stress (not including the loss and then miraclous rediscovery of the Anne Frank tickets). We spent the whole day walking around Amsterdam. Over canals, beside canals, between canals. Did I mention that there are canals? I think I took more pictures of those than anything else.

Before we got to the Rijksmuseum, we stopped for possibly the greatest bagel ever made at Village Bagel. The Dutch know cream cheese. I may need to rethink my anti-Dutch policies.

After carbing up, we hit the museum to see the Rembrandts and the Vermeers. Although the building looks massive from the outside, the actual gallery space seemed quite small in comparison to the Uffizi and the Prado. Miguel thinks they must be renovating and that when its finished, the museum will be much larger. Miguel saw his favourite Vermeer, the one with the maid pouring out a jug of milk. I saw Rembrandt's cloth merchants and the Night Watch. There is something brilliant about the way Vermeer and Rembrandt use like that is so unlike painters in Southern Europe. I think it has to do with the damp mists and grey hazes that are so common to places like Amsterdam and Nanaimo. There are diffusion of light so that it scatters everywhere and nowhere. Then, every once a while, a steady stream of sunlight highlights just a small part of a building or a street. In a place like this that is so grey most of the year, light is at a premium. No wonder it figures so prominently in Rembrandt's and Vermeer's work.

After the museum, we walked what felt like the length and breadth of the Netherlands and finally got to Anne Frank's House. It's around the corner from the fabulously old church and I found myself wondering if Anne every mentioned the bells in her diary. The house itself is bare. Otto Frank wanted the Annex to remain unfurnished. He didn't want it to look lived in, I suppose. Putting in the furnishings would make it look like a safe home, which it wasn't. Interesting aesthetic choice anyway. Most powerful for me was the ladder up to the attic. You can't actually climb the ladder, but then have a mirror propped up so you can see outside as Anne would have. At the very end of the self-guided tour is Anne Frank's diary. The real book, plaid cover and all. The whole experience left me pretty much speechless.

After Anne Frank's house, we walked back to the station and made it back to Utrecht where we met Yvon (at whose house we're crashing) and went for dinner at a new fusion-type restaurant she'd been wanting to try. Nothing really too exciting there, just thought you'd want to know that I'm eating fine.

Today we're off to Delft to see Jolien, then onto Eindhoven to see Sonia and Richard (more of Miguel's friends that are graciously allowing us to crash). Tomorrow, we on an early flight to Madrid where we'll be force fed manchego and jamon serrano for the next few weeks.

Also, because of the jet lag, I've been getting up at 5:30am. How unimpressed am I.

Friday, December 12, 2008

in utrecht

Today's soundtrack:
Tropic Thunder
Vicky Christina Barcelona

It's ungodly early in the morning here but the jetlag has kicked in and I just couldn't sleep for another minute. So here I sit, at Yvon's computer, eating little gingerbread cookies that have a cool sounding Dutch name that I can't remember.

So here's what has happened so far...

After a mere 15 hours of traveling and the 100m dash in Frankfurt, we arrived in Amsterdam. Miguel's friend Froukje (one of the Dutch Girls, for those keeping score) met us at the airport and brought us to Utrecht, where we are crashing at yet another friend's lovely home. This home has the narrowest, steepest staircase I've ever seen in my life, but I've been assured this is typically Dutch. After a few hours of rest, Froukje came to drag us from our inflatable mattress and out to dinner. So we walked along canals, dodged bikes (they really do outnumber cars and they have their own lanes of traffic - very civilized), and passed a yarn store on our way to a nice little Yard and Flagon-esque pub.

Then a rather bizarre thing happened. I was wearing a beret, because it was a little chilly and I do have a delicate constitution, but I hadn't taken it off when we sat down. The waiter, after taking our orders for hot chocolate (and can I just say that the Dutch really know how to make a good hot chocolate), told me I had to take my hat off. I thought, okay sure, that's only polite. But politeness isn't why I had to take it off. This pub has a rule that no head coverings of any kind can be worn there. It's their not-so-subtle way of making sure that Muslim women who wear headscarfs cannot come in. Incredible, no?

After hot chocolate and after Giorgio (Froukje's fellow) arrived, we went to this lovely hole-in-the-wall Ethiopian restaurant. I was pretty brave (and am still quite proud of myself) and tried a little bit of everything on this massive platter of lentils, beans, tuna, and I really can't remember what else. The selling point for Froukje was that we could eat with our hands. I'm just happy I didn't fall asleep on the spongy bread.

But now, my cookies are almost all gone so I take that as a sign to go in search of more food. Today Miguel and I plan on going to the Rijksmuseum and to Anne Frank's house. Afterwards, the Dutch Girls, Miguel and I are going to have dinner and (hopefully) relax a little more.