Walking, running, laughing, skating, bicycling, kissing, yelling, crying, watching, loving, hating, whispering, eating, smoking, drinking....LIVING. That's Amsterdam and if you can't keep up, no worries; there's always another party to go to.
Welcome back, to all my faithful readers! It's been awhile and I know you're waiting anxiously, fingernails bitten down to nubs to hear an update about me and my travels. Well fellows, I will end the suspense and commence!
I have been joined by my mother and together we have flitted, like the beautiful butterflies we are, across Belgium and up into the Netherlands, adding to our luggage chocolates of all kinds, frites sans mayonaise, beers, and pastries galore. First was Brussels and with it snow. I realized as I stepped in my third puddle of suspiciously yellow liquid that it had been awhile since I'd been in a city that can boast the adjective of international, and frankly I wasn't enjoying my return. The capitol of Belgium is bustling but the people have a rhythm all their own, which makes it hard to stay out of everyone's way. Exploring the old town revealed a cluster of buildings whose history no longer interests and whose facades stare
down somberly and drip cold rainwater on your upturned rosey cheeks. The Grand Place was indeed grand, but honestly nothing more of importance need be mentioned, though if you're a communist you might like to know that the Communist Manifesto
was written in the nearby swan cafe. The only other interesting factoid was the Manekken-Pis fountain which is indeed a little boy whizzing and the mascot of the city (drink beer, urinate, and drink more beer) and chocolateers make life sized chocolate models, none of which would fit in my bag.
Out of Brussels-the-International and into Bruges-the-Tourist. Once a major trading post and a heavy player in the clothe industry (we're talking 1500s here) the canaled jewel, north of the capitol and part of Flemish-Belgium, closed up over time and was forgotten, until tourism became the fad (way back in the 20th century). Now it is oh-so-picture-perfect with canals, bell towers, old churches with famous relics included, Salvador Dali, Flemish, horse-drawn buggies, and hundreds of beers to choose from. (I think the number was around 450.) The Church of the Holy Blood has the claim to fame of housing 3 drops of Christ's blood, safely kept in a glass
vial behind a glass case. Though the idea is tantalizing romantic, paying veneration (at the small price of a few euros) to a tube of red, frothy phlegm-like spittle that for all I know could have been coughed up by the priest that very morning detracts from the holy experience. A hop over the canal and you arrive at the Church of Our Lady and one of the only Michelangelo statues to leave Italy: Madonna and Child. Mary is about the same size as her baby so either Michelangelo saw her as petite or Jesus was a whopper of a child; take your pick.
Moving further away from heaven and towards that pathway paved with good intentions, we found tucked away out of the rain a vast array of Dali illustrations. Had no idea the man's interests were so versatile: he illustrated everything from Alice and Wonderland to Venus in Furs, movies, Spanish fairy tales, even the forbidden love of Tristan and Isolde. Some of it felt like I was staring at pictures from a psych evaluation, others made me feel sucked into a dream heavily influenced my psychedelic drugs. All in all a nice contrasting balance with the
morning's religious visits.
Our flitting isn't over yet (remember we are butterflies) and we now make our way up into the Netherlands to the quaint town of Delft, a pilgrimage site for any Vermeer fans. The Dutch painter, who is one of my all time favorites, was born, lived, painted, and died here. I can understand why he never left: canals and bridges crisscross over lazy, slow flowing water and the only real noises to break the relaxed silence are the dinging of bicycle bells, and even those sound polite (though most likely absent in Vermeer's time). Oddly enough the town owns none of their hero's works, but their Vermeer Center walks you through his life and times with replicas of all his paintings and even recreates his studio so you can bask in the Delftian light just like an original Girl with a Pearl Earring. This actual panting is kept in The Hague which is 30 minutes by tram and the financial capital of the Netherlands, though I was only attracted by the Vermeer paintings kept in the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery, with unfriendly staff who detest travelers with large backpacks.
From finance to romance: arrival in
Basilica of the Holy Blood, Bruges
This is where holy phlegm...I mean blood...is kept
Amsterdam. Wowza! Like cold water from the shower head or coffee spilt on your lap; frigid and scalding, it'll surprise you. Though there are certain rustic qualities to the capital, Amsterdam keeps these in museums, leaving the outside world to the modern age and progress. The Van Gogh Museum holds 300 works from the brilliant but depressed artist and you leave the building with streaks of yellow and blue seared into your vision. The Rijksmuseum boasts Rembrandt's dark-lighting masterpieces alongside more of Vermeer's sunnier paintings, and bawdy fiddlers and buxom tavern maids frolic amongst them all. Dutch painting is about the relaxed feeling you're surrounded by the common man and want to pull up a chair and share a pint with your farmer neighbor. Anne Frank's Secret Annex puts a somber feeling to it all, reminding us that progression came at a high price. Walking the halls of her house, empty of furniture but full of memories, you can understand why people here have become so welcoming and you want to somehow add your effort to the masses.
But Amsterdamians look towards a better and more open-minded future today. Drugs, hallucinogenic and others, are tastefully displayed and sold in
classy boutiques. Night life pulses in the urban centers but respects those who choose to get more shuteye. International is the theme, with restaurants from every corner of the world called "local" cuisine and everyone offers a welcoming Dutch smile, which is often followed with an English greeting. And of course the Red Light District puts the sexy on capitalism where women, men, and fetishes of all kinds are sold, welcomed, and even encouraged (no cameras allowed!). Anything goes, but if you don't respect then chances are you'll get booted.
I have to admit I saw only one side of Amsterdam. And so I will go back, one day and delve in a little more. Because honestly, like Paris, it's a city that can't be understood in just a few days. You got to get in the trenches and get your shiny perspective a little muddied before truly comprehending what this city has to offer.
But that is for another trip. Now the butterflies must spread their wings and fly once more, and this time south because Pisa and Florence await! Unfortunately their larger, commercial airplane wings had difficulties getting them to their actual destination and instead of
Pisa they were dropped off in Genoa. Who knew fog could be so thick that even industrial airport lighting couldn't penetrate it? So imagine, if you will, an airplane full of angry Italians. Need help? It's like a herd of cattle just before a stampede: bodies push and drag you along (or out of the way if you don't stand firm and push back), voices (moo?) rise and fall with expressive Italian intonation, and smoke from impatient cigarettes fills the air. Then the stampede starts and your running for buses to take you to Pisa; buses which, for some reason, you forget can't leave WITHOUT their loads of beef and so there really isn't any point to running. It just becomes herd mentality.
So this is where we are: on a bus in the middle of the night headed for Pisa and our fellow passengers are just beginning to calm down. The cattle are about to sleep...
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