Bells, bikes and bridges
It’s been a while since I was last in Amsterdam, and this weekend brought back many memories.
Amsterdam is full of curiosities and things that seem a little odd depending on where you’re from, but there was one thing that really caught my eye on the weekend.
Sinterklaas on a boat surrounded by people painted black.
Where I come from that wouldn’t happen, it would be seen as too racist. Too perplexed I didn’t get a photo, but I’ve now discovered on Wikipedia that these ‘black’ people are Zwarte Piet (black Peter) and are essentially the same as the elves are to Santa Claus. And I suppose the elves are no less perplexing if you haven’t grown up with them.
This was the first time in nine years that I’ve been to the Dutch capital and the city was full of memories. The Christian hostel we stayed in with the 10pm curfew and the free cookies at bible study, the big yellow clog, the bakkerij with the best poffertjes and olliebollen that coat you in icing sugar, Dam square and the bikes that will run you down if your reflexes aren’t quick enough.
In a city where the bike reigns supreme, crossing the road becomes can be dangerous! Get past the cars and all of a sudden you have the cycleway to contend. And many cyclists look as though they will run you down.
Years of playing netball has left me with the ability to dodge and react quickly, so thankfully I wasn’t mowed down. Not so for one unlucky cyclist who got in the way of a Volvo. He got up and walked away, but I can only imagine he is one of dozens of accidents all over the city everyday.
Apart from the hecticness of cycles, cars and trams, the streets of Amsterdam are friendly. People are happy, there is a lack of pretense and those who I came across spoke English and did so happily (unlike the people in a certain country a little further south).
Wander the streets of Amsterdam and you’ll cross bridge after bridge, walk alongside canals, through the Red Light District, past sex shops next to McDonalds, smell the ‘coffee shops’ from ten paces and wonder how people surrounded by bakeries, chip stands and chocolate shops all day stay such a healthy size.
The Netherlands always seems like somewhere that has it together. A small nation, one who isn’t too big for its boots, nor scared to stand up for itself.
It knows who it is and it is happy and comfortable with that. Sure it has issues, but it’s doing well and is able to laugh at itself.
Surrounded by beautiful architecture, cobbled streets, bright sunsets, tulips and museums that are full of some of the world’s best art, it’s easy to see why the people are seem so happy. The air is clean and the sky is blue.
Perhaps I’m glossing over the bad bits with my tourist eyes, but it’s somewhere I walk around with a smile on my face and if I get to go back, I hope my memories won’t be destroyed.