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Published: September 25th 2007
Amsterdam City EmblemAuthors' note
Three Crosses??? You Decide!!!
: This blog contains a few borderline images from Amsterdam. We have kept these to an absolute minimum and we have chosen the less in-your-face shots. However, if your sensitivities are easily upset, you are advised to read the story and either choose your pictures carefully or avoid them altogether.
XXX. "Three Crosses", they say. YEAH RIGHT!!
Crosses stand straight up, usually indicating some 'uprightness' and religious leaning. "Three 'Xs' is more like it", we surmise. Triple X and not in the way Vin Diesel meant it.
And yet, emblazoned on public clocks, built into the architecture on some older buildings, fluttering on flags and embossed on the many metal posts (amsterdamertjes) that line every road in the city, the emblem of the City was everywhere. We were in Amsterdam and there was no denying it.
In the fading 10:15 pm light, we jumped and ran and screamed in a loud, crazy reunion when Mama Marcia and Antonio picked us up from Amstel station. Jean-Pierre, Shanna's stylish, lanky, 19-year-old brother, showed up at the house later and reignited the madness. It was fabulous summer weather by Holland's standards - 23 degrees Celsius and a bright blue sky - when we set
out the next day. By car we went to Beauty Salon Magic - Mama Marcia and Ton's business place and, quite possibly, the top black hair salon in Amsterdam. There we grabbed bicycles ('fiets' in Dutch) and started pedalling thru traffic. Shanna was a born Amsterdamer although she wouldn't easily admit it. She blended in easily, stopped greeting people, smiled less and didn't look around much. Vibert oggled the city from a viewpoint unfamiliar to him. There were hundreds upon hundreds of bicycles and riders. Professionals in suits yakking on cell phones, moms with three children in a basket at the front, 'taxi bikes', university students, grandmas and grandpas and tots on children's fiets all competed for space on the 'fietspad' - a special lane for pedal bikes and mopeds (bromfiets). Very few people stopped at red lights and it seemed that bike-riders had priority over cars. Buses and trams ruled supreme though. They didn't stop for a soul. Vibert concentrated hard. He hadn't ridden a bicycle in years and the streets of Amsterdam were not the ideal place for a refresher. Tram lines with dangerously inviting grooves crisscrossed the streets almost mirroring the pattern of the overhead tram power
lines. Skilled Amsterdamers weaved in and out, around and thru the frenzy of people, cars, trams, buses and bikes. And then, suddenly, a tram track reached out and grabbed Vibert's front tire
.😱 Vibert wobbled for a second and then fell flat amidst a crush of fietsers. With nothing hurt, except maybe for his pride
, Vibert favoured the 'walking' option and for the first time, he really began to see the city. We had asked a friend who was coming to Holland from St. Maarten to buy and bring a camera for us and he did. So, we began shooting pictures in earnest.Amsterdam began as a fishing village in the late 12th century. According to legend, it was founded by two Frisian fishermen, who landed on the shores of the Amstel in a small boat with their dog. The damming of the river Amstel gave it its name (in Dutch: Amstelredam
"Dam in the Amstel") and over time it turned into Amsterdam. A series of concentric canals ring the old city centre. Thirteen hundred bridges span across 100 kilometres (62 miles) of canals. There are more than 100 canals. Along the banks of these 'grachten' sit mostly unique 17th century residences
of wealthy merchants, politicians, doctors, financiers and artists. A lack of space forced the builders to construct narrow houses some no wider than 30ft wide (9 meters). Most of these structures lean forward to give the appearance that they are bigger. Plus, all the properties carry pulley systems, a shaft and hook, at the top of the structures to allow larger items to be transported to the upper floors. Big narrow windows and decorative gable tops (signalling the era of construction) make these buildings outstanding and definitive. The 17th century was a prosperous time for Amsterdam. Its ships sailed to Africa ferrying a seemingly endless supply of slave 'cargo'
😞 and huge bounties for the traders. Other types of 'trade', commerce and arts flourished causing Amsterdam to become the world's most important port and financial center. The era saw the emergence of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn aka Rembrandt
- one of the world's greatest painters and certainly Amsterdam's most important and recognized. Some of his works, including The Night Watch, and a few paintings from his students were on at the marvellous late-17th-century Rijks Museum. The museum building was only one of numerous structures with old architectural flare and grandeur -
stylings unmatched even with today's technological advancements. Students or connoisseurs of architecture would find Amsterdam a Mecca for pursuing their passion. Almost all Amsterdammers smoked and the foul smoke clung to our clothes and hair. It was impossible to dodge the puffs and so we quickened the pace. The true meaning of the emblem surfaced when we walked into the famed Red Light District (RLD) just a few minutes from Central Station. Somehow, it seemed busier in this part of town. Dating back to the 14th Century when sailors arrived in need of some female company, the district is full of sex shops, brothels, gay bars, cinemas, hotels and different kinds of museums. This infamous part of the city is a major tourist attraction. Each year, millions of visitors come a-calling. The streets were crammed with people walking up and down and looking thru the long, narrow windows. Red Lights (of course) illuminated females of different sizes, ages and colors in various stages of (un)dress. They flaunted x-ratedly; beckoned and gestured lewdly. A newer addition to the RLD are the myriad of 'coffee shops' which are little more than authorized merchants of cannabis sativa aka marijuana aka weed. These pungent
odors mixed with the others further fouling up the air. The running joke is that one wanting to smoke a joint could ask a policeman for a light
. And it didn't seem like a far-fetched concept since policemen (on bicycles) could be seen overlooking the action from some bridge. Museums chronicling the history of sex and weed, triple x signs offering services and borderline ads on bus stops all reinforce Amsterdam's reputation as one of the most tolerant, permissive and perverted societies of the modern world. The city took on a different charm when we took to the waters for a rondvaart (pronounced rondfart
. A 'rondfart' is basically a boat ride thru the locks and canals of the city. In an elongated vessel, we - with Mama Marcia and Ton - looked up at the city on another bright day. It appeared cleaner and smelled better than on street level and the views on the impeccably restored buildings were awesome. Picture-perfect moments and hours rolled by
. We just simply couldn't get enough of this. This was Amsterdam at its finest. No other nation on earth has managed to harness the beauty and utility of water in such a grand manner.
And its attraction was truly appreciated by all but especially by the locals. It seemed like everyone with a boat was on the water. Shanna explained that that was how it was when the weather was good. The captain managed to maneuver the boat thru narrow archways and around impossible turns and pass houseboats, a four-level parking lot for bicycles and a 'Homo Monument'. It was a truly pleasant, gezellig (cozy) rondvaart. The old town has three main squares - The Dam, Leidseplein and Rembrandtsplein. Each square draws a fair share of characters including actors, musicians, locals, bums and tourists. Just off Leidseplein is Vondel Park - Amsterdam's 'central park'. The park is huge and attractive with fountains, islands, geese and numerous trees for shade. We caught a few open-air concerts and a wierd dance show and a cool movie called 'Rize' in the open-air Film Museum. Vondel Park rocks!!
Most of the countless numbers of people who flocked to the park lazed around in the sun which is a scare commodity in these parts. On average, the Netherlands only get about 4 months of bright sunshine every year. People sun-tanned, slept, smoked weed, skated, rode, ran and drank. We
chose also to picnic with the extended family. Jenny, Shanna's aunt, organized the event. Jenny was like that; the organizer. She had an easy, dimpled smile and an easy-going personality. We laid out sheets and food and drinks, played music, laughed, clowned around and chalked up yet another memorable and gezellig moment in this trip of ours. Jenny was also the instigator behind getting us to go to Kwakoe. 'Kwakoe'
started as a Surinamese thing with a football match, food and drinks. Over the years it had morphed into a giant celebration of different nationalities. The football had become secondary and the music, food and drinks primary. People of all ages, colors and nationalities mixed and mingled with ease, danced to traditional Surinamese music and ate bami and nasi. And coincidentally, in the middle of Kwakoe Vibert encountered Sherwin, an ex-colleague from Curacao.Sometime during the first week of our stay we both, rather coincidentally, developed toothaches😞. Enter: Ileen - Dentist Extraordinaire. With her bright smile and bubbly personality, she gave us bad news. Both x-rays showed that we both had infections from a previous dentist's visit in Curacao. Shanna had to undergo a mini-surgery where the infection was cleared only
after drilling thru her gums and bone. Vibert had a rather painful root canal and we both convalesced for a few days. Recovery was quick and soon we were ready to take on Amsterdam again. This time we focussed on arts and culture of which there is limitless variety. Operas, Cirque du Soleil, ballets, concerts and more than 40 museums awaited. We chose the Rijks Museum for its abundant collection of Rembrandts. Twenty Euros collectively lighter, we stepped thru the metal detectors and into the solemn halls of the museum. World famous paintings adorned the walls as well as other items of ridiculous value. The draw seemed to be Rembrandt's Night Watch - a huge painting of men readying for a fight. People peeped, hummed and clucked their approval. And we could see why. 'Night Watch' was indeed a masterpiece. But what we couldn't understand was why the other patrons had to look all constipated when viewing art?😞
The Blue Man Group show we went to was literally out-of-this-world. The guys, painted blue, thumped on drums of paint creating beautiful spatters and music. Strobe lighting, a tumultuous crescendo and about 5000 rolls of toilet paper crowned another splendid night. The
weather started to change. Days became a dull gray. The sun couldn't penetrate the heavy, depressing clouds. And even thru the chilly droplets people rode. Life continued like normal for all. Well, except us!! We wanted to leave. And we really wanted to go to South Africa and Botswana to see Judy and Juanita (Vibert's sister and niece). With our backpacks on our backs, we went first to the KLM counter at Schipol International to check their last-minute fares. Not much different from the regular fare and still way above our budget, the tickets would remain with KLM. We'd have to get to Africa from somewhere else along this journey. Transavia, BMI and Easyjet all had interesting offers, but not interesting enough.At Thomas Cook, the girl said, "We don't have last minute seats. We have last-second seats
to the Greek island of Crete". We exchanged knowing, excited glances.
"Ah, can we have those seats please!"
Dank Je Wel:😊 Mama Marcia and Antonio
😊 Soso & Husband
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