Kittie Howard

Monday, July 13, 2015

Welcome to Amsterdam!

Our Royal Dutch Airline KLM overnight flight from Washington, D. C. to Amsterdam was on approach to Schiphol Airport. A massive windmill farm filled a section of the North Sea below. Morning breezes effortlessly turned their sleek white blades as the Netherlands' shoreline came into view, a view that soon revealed another of the country's reclamation projects. A portion of the North Sea had been diked off. Pumps drained the trapped water to create new land that would enlarge the airport's runway capabilities in the immediate view and create more farmland in the larger view, much like the patchwork of green fields and and irrigation canals that came into view as the plane circled somewhat in preparation for landing.

The Netherlands, about the size of Maryland, is a compact country with strict zoning ordinances, where even the semblance of wasted space, say, near an intersection of highways, is turned into a park, however small, with leafy trees, flowers and benches. We knew from previous visits to the Netherlands, but especially from a visit five years ago when we rented a car and toured the country for a week, that most of the Netherlands consisted of farms and quaint villages. Although it surprises many, the Netherlands is the world's second largest agricultural exporter, with the United States as the largest exporter.

As the jet's wheels hit one of Amsterdam's elongated runways made possible by a previous reclamation project and we rumbled toward the terminal, Mr. H. remarked, a certain amount of awe in the former military man's voice, "Schiphol's huge now, at least twice the size of Dulles (the Washington, D. C. international airport)." And, so, five years since our last visit -- but this time on foot, with a multi-day bus/rail pass for longer city trips -- we began our five-day exploration of Amsterdam, a city we love, a city that 2,400,000 call home.

Some highlights:

The Netherlands's constituion mandates that Amsterdam is the capital of the constitutional monarchy, but the actual seat of government is in The Hague (Den Haag), where the World Court is also located (a gorgeous building we visited some years ago.) Approximately 800,000 live in Amsterdam central, with about 2,400,000 in the larger metropolitan area, making it one of the most densely populated cities in the world. But because of the city center's horseshoe-shaped layout, the many canals, and the city's amazing transportation infrastructure, we never felt lost in a sea of humanity. We were only a couple of miles from the city center, with nary a pedestrian around, when I took the above photo. We'd paused to listen to the birds chirp, Nature's iTunes.

During a walk along another canal, the driver of this electric car (so marked on the door) parked near a boat as cyclists rode by. It's impossible to overstate the Dutch's forward approach to environmental measures.

I love street vendors, and Amsterdam has a lot, ranging from displays of old books, to paintings, to  jewelry to odds and ends. However, don't be deceived. They are strictly regulated.

Flower shops abound. I thought prices were very reasonable. When we returned, about an hour later, these bouquets of flowers had been sold. In Rotterdam, the Netherland's second largest city -- and a major port, much as Amsterdam is a financial hub -- there's a massive covered area where thousands (!) of tulips, in a jaw-dropping panoply of color, await overnight shipment to all parts of the world, another reason why Schiphol is so huge. KLM's cargo jets work the time zones so that tulips arrive fresh daily. Of all the tours I've been on during our travels, that unbelievably gorgeous and utterly huge collection of tulips remains a definite highlight.

Before leaving North Carolina, a neighbor asked if Europeans understood English.  The answer is unequivocally yes in the Netherlands. Very aware the Dutch language doesn't travel far, the government embarked upon teaching English in its schools decades ago. Although it's possible to encounter those of a certain age in the countryside who aren't fluent, it's almost impossible to encounter anyone younger than, say, 40, who isn't fluent in English. (Most Dutch also speak German.) 

This pelican in the Royal Zoo roamed rather freely, more intent on peace and quiet away from a nearby squabble among his feathered family than my camera. The pelican is also Louisiana's state bird. (Even though I have a love/hate relationship with zoos for obvious reasons, I couldn't help but wonder if he'd like to return to the marshes/bayous and alligators. Probably not, I finally concluded.)

Outdoor cafes seemed to be on every corner and always filled. We stopped here for a beer and a snack. Okay, I'll fess up, my snack of choice was Dutch fries dipped in a mayonnaise sauce. But even with the city rail pass, we averaged seven miles a day walking, so I justified the calories. Before various states legalized pot, Amsterdam's "brown" coffeehouses or pot houses were extremely popular with Americans, with long lines waiting to get in (but excluding yours truly as I've never been interested in that stuff . . . not being judgmental, it's just not for me). But not so much now as the novelty has worn off. However, counter image, Amsterdam has seriously tough laws for those who do hard drugs. Like passing on the right in Germany/Austria, just don't do it!

Anne Frank's house, a must-see stop for anyone visiting Amsterdam. The BBC is presently working on a documentary about Anne Frank, as told through the memories of one of her surviving friends. The horrors of what happened during World War II -- or any war -- can't be forgotten.

An outdoor bronze display of Rembrandt's "Night Watch" (beneath the painter's statue) that was magnificent, almost as magnificent as seeing the painting in the Rijksmuseum. Consistently rated one of the finest museums in the world, the Rijksmuseum also contains 400,000 volumes of books/manuscripts climatically housed in tunnels beneath the building as there isn't enough space in this already huge complex for everything. Truly, the day's visit was an artistic feast of Dutch history. Mr. H. particularly loved the boats and military uniforms through the ages. 

But as one feast ends, another begins. Yours truly at Schiphol.  Next stop: Venice.


Linda Starr said...

Looks very intriguing with the unique architecture; I think I might get claustrophobic in such a compact country; have a super trip; I think the bird is a heron.

William Kendall said...

Beautiful shots, Kittie! The land of my ancestors.

Denise Covey said...

Hi Kittie. Whoa! This took me back to 3 years ago when I was there. Loved visiting Anne Frank's haus and Amsterdam's wonderful art galleries and street art. So much to see just walking around and yes, it's great to be in a country that speaks English!

Denise :-)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Kittie .. I've never been to Amseterdam - one day! The Rijksmuseum is a must on my list ... as too the tulips one day.

Thankfully many speak English ... we are lucky in that respect. Go Set A Watchman came out midnight last night ... there were queues a la Harry Potter! It's been interesting to hear some talk about the two books and hear some respected views ...

I need to read both of Harper Lee's books now ...

Enjoy Venice - there's another lingo there!! Cheers Hilary

Liza said...

Lovely pictures. Hope you have a wonderful trip.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

What an awesome, awesome trip! And now Venice!!! Have a fabulous time, and keep on posting those pictures... (Please?)

(Are you sure that's a pelican in that picture? The beak looks more like a heron of some sort.)

Kittie Howard said...

Sorry about the mix-up with the bird photo. Yes, it's a heron, a free-spirited resident who lived near the pelicans. Just didn't catch it when I downloaded photos to insert. . . attempts to post similar photo of pelican failed as I kept getting kicked off WiFi so will go with what I've got, with apologies to my feathered friends and thanks to the birders out there for spotting this.

Norma said...

What a beautiful place! I originally set the finale of one of my novels there, but the Libya air strike in '86 got in the way.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I visited Amsterdam years ago, but your photos make me want to travel again! Beautiful!!

Julie Flanders said...

I just love reading about your adventures! I can feel like I am taking a virtual tour with you. Sounds like it was an amazing time and I hope your trip to Venice was just as wonderful.

Sandra said...

Wonderful, thanks, Kitty.

I have always thought The Netherlands is a very pretty place and your photos confirm this. A lovely picturesque place. I was thinking it would be nice to revisit one day. Best wishes