Europe By Train #4: Amsterdam: Going Our Own Way

Amsterdam is a city on the move.

Mainly on bikes. 

A population going to and fro.

Straight-backed, with easy panache on bicycles of every color and configuration.

Women in summer dresses. Or sleeveless sheaths and high heels. Riding their bikes one-handed with baskets of flowers, panniers of groceries, a bottle of wine.

Or children in attached carriages…

Or handcrafted wooden “wheelbarrows.” 

Every street has a special lane for bikers and motor-scooters, their riders chatting or listening to iPods. 

This is also a walking city with little neighborhoods where centuries-old tall, narrow houses line cobbled lanes and canals.

One of these is our delightful Hotel Fita, located in a quiet neighborhood, minutes from the Van Gogh, and Rijksmuseums. We loved it! One evening we strolled to the Royal Concertgebouw, where I was smitten by this fanciful chandelier.

Like bikes, the graceful canals define Amsterdam, with their bridges and boats. 

And houseboats, decorated with the people’s whimsical style.

Anne Frank lived along a canal in the Jordaan area, where she wrote of hearing church bells…in the world outside. 

Inside her room, she had a picture of an elegant dancer of the day…a dream of beauty and freedom that I find almost unbearably poignant. The street below is filled with endless lines of visitors waiting to visit her house, to pay homage to her great spirit.

The other great soul whom people come to connect with is Vincent, also honored by queues snaking outside the Van Gogh Museum. Inside there is quiet reverence, as if we are on a shared pilgrimage. 

We see him develop, practicing his craft, seeking his  voice. From the earth tones of his early work, he moves on to Paris where he begins to flower…and then to Provence where the light he captured dazzles us to this day.

He never stopped working, experimenting. Struggling. Painting himself to save money, or old shoes, or over old canvases. In Paris he tried to paint floral still-lifes for caf├ęs, but sold nothing. In Arles he had hopes of an artists’ commune, but he and Gauguin quarreled. Disappointed, he sank into despair. But still he painted. Soldiering on. 

Vincent touches people like few others. We feel his spiritual yearning, and honor his gifts. This is his palette. 

This is a box of yarn where he experimented with color combinations. 

Another art magnet, the Rijksmuseum, is the vast home of Rembrandt…a sublime library…

And art as quirky as the city itself.

And what about this elegant Guanyin?

Eat your heart out, Paris.

This is Amsterdam, a city with a history, once the capital of a world power. But as my daughter said, you get the feeling of been there, done that. While the French experience a crise of identity over their place in the world, the Amsterdamers revel in the good life they have. 

Sailing along on their bikes, living in the now.

This too could be another life. A house by a beautiful canal. 

But instead, we must catch the tram to Central Station and our night train to Prague via Munich.

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