Spring time in Amsterdam. The time when the Dutch countryside morphs into a crimson and golden tapestry of tulip fields… D and I missed it, of course, by just a couple of weeks, opting to do Amsterdam on the cheap before the prices had sufficiently risen to herald the advent of the tulip extravaganza. But then Amsterdam offers so much more than a flower show, and we were there to taste it, explore it and enjoy it… There were obviously a few ‘musts’ on the agenda, but D and I are mostly ‘go with the flow’ tourists and leave the planning of the minutiae till the last minute.
And in Amsterdam much of the flow is dictated by bicycles; they are everywhere! I have become adept at negotiating Indian traffic and crossing the road has become a piece of cake with a wink and some practice… So, you would not expect me to be challenged by the Amsterdam bicycle melee. But as cyclists are granted supremacy on the Dutch roads, they are a force to be reckoned with and unlike their Indian counterparts and road users who spend their journeys honking their horns to make their presence known, Amsterdam cyclists have a habit of noiselessly sneaking up on you as the feeble tinkle of their bicycle bell is only recognisable to the experienced ear. Not only is their approach hushed in a silent whoosh, they seem to come from any direction. I suppose it does not help that the Dutch drive on the right side of the road, which is clearly so much the wrong side of the road which adds to the confusion… Which side to check first: left or right? So we had a few hairy moments…
Add to this the effects of space cake… Tuesday was The-Day. We walked a lot and stood a lot and filled the best part of The-Day feeling very wonderful and warm without achieving much… Looking back, we enjoyed our space cake over a cup of coffee, savouring small amounts at the time. Whereas D. arrived in happy land on a mere morsel, I needed regular top-ups to finally – hours later – reach the same destination, but what a destination it was! Never having experienced it before (probably difficult to believe as I am after all a child of the sixties and seventies), it was a pleasant surprise. However, our planned exploration of Amsterdam by bike needed postponing until traffic had calmed down or maybe our perception of it….??
By the time our (or should I admit MY) feet were back on terra firma and my head down from the clouds, the idea of renting a bike had lost its appeal, so we opted for a visit to a nearby windmill, which was only a short bus ride away in a neighbouring town. It got us out of busy Amsterdam and into the peace and tranquillity of the countryside. We did indeed spot the windmill and ventured to it on a bicycle, because by then D. had had enough of walking and cycling on a wobbly bike (mine was…) certainly had a different allure and made the experience all the more authentic.
No visit to Amsterdam would be complete without some scrutiny of the ‘Red Light District’. So on Monday night, we greedily obliged and watched the spectacle sitting on a kerb near the canal. We mused about the scantily clad women – actually, even the expression ‘scantily clad’ assumes they would be wearing a little more than just a few strings – and the men who clearly were enticed, but hesitant to take the bait and often stood deliberating with their mates before succumbing to temptation and sampling what was on offer for the ten minutes or so allowed… And we got shouted at for taking pictures that did not even show anything as we were too far away and it was dark… It is all a little too tacky and tawdry for my taste. If you are going to indulge in this pleasure, surely you would want to have a more classy experience in privacy and at least insist upon a four poster bed, not the single small bed with a hard and very thin mattress… But then again, who am I to judge what goes on in a man’s head… We revisited the area the next morning and, with the benefit of space cake to loosen our minds and senses, explored the Museum of Prostitution, the closest we got to the ‘real thing’… But it was interesting and we certainly had a go at the ‘sitting in the window’ experience trying to at least get a smile from someone in the street below… You have no idea how sexy a boot can be..
Just to make sure our trip also included other cultural elements, we traversed the canals by boat, made ample use of the tram lines and queued up for an hour on a freezing Wednesday morning before entering the Anne Frank House. And as we were too early for the tulips in full bloom, we settled for the flower market, an ensemble of stalls displaying cut flowers and bulbs. On the other side, the street was lined with shops selling Dutch mementoes, such as clogs, and delicacies such as red, green and blue cheeses and we tucked into pancakes for lunch.. But had we been a little more on the ball, and eaten our pancake on another occasion, we could have had a virtually free lunch just savouring samples of the numerous flavours and variations on the Gouda cheese theme…
And the best thing about this Amsterdam trip is that having missed out on the tulip fields this time round gives me a valid reason to go back and do it all over again… Can’t wait!!!