If this were a movie the opening scene would be me flying through the air in slow-motion. Flashback to a few days, our trip to Amsterdam began like most of our trips. We were still posted in Muscat at the time and JG and I looked forward to a bit of a cooler climate. Although to be fair, March isn’t that hot in Oman, as compared to when the punishing June and July came around. Still I thought that it would be nice to see a European spring in The Netherlands especially since, the tulips there were are quite popular.
Before I go on with this story, there are a few things I need to list down. First was around that time, JG and I were at the height of our overweight stage. While we have both conquered this unhealthy phase in our lives, especially the husband, this was yet the case when we visited The Netherlands. Second, as a result of our obese conditions, we were both quick to tire and slow on agility, two things that you need in the city. Because,
2.1. Most homes and buildings in Amsterdam comes with a lot of steep stairs. In fact when we booked our hotel, the very nice and welcoming old owner of the small B&B, wrote back the confirmation with a firm warning that we would be encountering “some stairways”. And boy he wasn’t kidding.
2.2. Being fast and sure on your feet is also important because not only were there are still several cobbled streets, you could also easily find yourself in a bike lane and be ran over by the thousands of bikers in the city who prides itself as one of the places where the timeless two-wheeled form of transportation is a big part of its culture.
And so, we were unfit, slow, and thus unprepared for the following mishaps. Which began on the afternoon of our first day.
In almost all of our trips, JG was the navigator. I, who had the sense of direction of a child lost in a maze, would just blindly follow in his stead. But the good thing about this was that I could freely look around during our walks, and be carefree in taking in the sights around me.
There is of course no doubt that Amsterdam is one of the best places we went to, simply because it has its own charm, and unique look having its own well-known picturesque identity. Walking around, is enough experience, with its miles of canals that is a big part of its identity. As I understood it, the city used to be surrounded by a moat, also known as the canal ring, which kind of forms the heart of the city. Over centuries they have been used as a means to defend the city, a water system, and also transportation, as instead of roads, the said canals ferry small and private boats that can take you around the city. Unlike Venice, were there seems to be an effort to maintain its original historical look, Amsterdam can be seen as a city that tries to balance the modern and traditional, adjusting to the changes over the years.
One of the things that caught my eye was the structure of the homes in the city. The Canal House as it is called have a svelte look, with block windows, with front doors that are often placed higher above ground in case of floods. The homes usually have three to four floors including a basement/parking; and as mentioned comes with a myriad of staircases. Because of this slim and high architectural design, you couldn’t help wonder how furniture (especially the big heavy ones like a fridge for instance) can be moved in. This is why most of the homes have a “hoist beam” attached to outer middle part of the front facade, with a big hook at its end. These are used to lift up anything that needed to be carted through the windows into the house.
I witnessed this first hand, as I was watching a home perhaps in a middle of an interior redecoration, several parts of what seemed like a cabinet being hauled up via the said hook-beam support. Engrossed by the ingenious built-in pulley contraption, I took a wrong step and slipped at the edge of a pavement.
To this day, JG still finds it hilarious the way, I was there one second and gone the next. I rarely slip and fall, but this was the one time, that it proved to be a bit serious that by the end of the day, my ankle had started to swell. Because of my injury our whole itinerary had to change, not only in pace, leaving us to limit the places we could visit, as well as moving a bike tour to the windmills at the last day, in the hopes that my legs would be much better by then.
Despite his initial reaction, and present fondness to the hilarity of my slap-stick slip-up, JG was very patient and caring all throughout the trip. As I limped my way from the monuments of Spinoza and Multatuli, he made sure to steady me through, especially in the many, many, many stairways we had to navigate, for example when we visited the Anne Frank Huis, which I was very much looking forward to visit. He also took roads that often lead through parks where I could put my feet up on benches or on the grass under a tree, so as not to overdo things.
Undeterred, I did try to look at the situation as a good thing, as I was able to take my time and be able to appreciate things a bit more slowly. For instance, as my all-time favorite artist I was able to work my way thoroughly through Van Gogh’s works. It was unfortunate that during our visit the museum in his name was closed for renovation; but some of his famous paintings, like the Potato Eaters, The Bedroom, The Chair, The Sunflowers, and his self-portraits (with and sans ears) were moved to the Hermitage Amsterdam.
Aside from the classics of Rembrandts and Vemeers at The Rijksmuseum, the national Dutch museum of history and arts, we were also taken by the twentieth century collection of the Stedelijk Museum which included print arts of art deco themed posters like the 1920’s Nord Express of Cassandre.
I think what best describes Amsterdam and The Netherlands for me is as I’ve said earlier, it’s a city that is willing to adjust especially if it helps businesses, even with some of the things that are not so welcome in many places. I think this stems from their very entrepreneurial ideals that for instance prostitution and the cannabis industry are tolerated as long as it does not cause any trouble. In the walking tour our guide explained that the common belief that marijuana being legal in the city is actually not accurate. As he stated they hardly have any crimes or cause for alarm from those that avail of the herb, since most of them are “too relaxed” to actually do anything crazy.
By our last day, thanks to JG’s earnest care-giving, the swelling on my ankle subsided, and we decided that we could now pursue our cancelled bike tour. The guide was a tall pony-tailed British dude in traditional Dutch clogs, who instructed us on the basics of the bike parts and rules of the city. After choosing our favored rides, we set-off. A few blocks in, I saw JG who pedaled ahead seemed to hesitate down a hill that would soon be crossing a small but busy street. Unable to control his speed and perhaps in wanting to stop before he gets to the intersection, he loses balance and falters to the sidewalk. Startled to distraction, I too forget that we were going downhill and tried to use my foot to stop forgetting my injury. As the pain shot to my brain, I swerved to the sidewalk with the front wheel getting lodged in a small ditch causing the back wheel to reel up and throw me off the bike. I somehow managed to drop and roll safely, however much to JG and Mr. British in clog’s horror.
Afraid for our safety, the guide calmly explains that he cannot let us continue with the tour because he has other people to mind and still have a long way to go. He tells us that it would be best if we skip this tour and perhaps try and practice in the parks for now, and rejoin when we are more familiar and confident.
Bruised and a bit embarrassed, we returned our bikes to the shed, and walked to Vondelpark to massage my leg and our egos. Because it was our last day, we were unfortunately unable to take the bike tour. Nevertheless it made the trip quite memorable, not just because Amsterdam is really an interesting and beautiful place to visit (even though we missed out on the tulips and windmills), but also because it will always be the place where we were politely but sternly kicked-off a Dutch bike tour.