Sunday, 3 August 2008

Amsterdam 2008--Day Two and Three

Sunday We got a hop on/hop off canal boat to Rijksmuseum, where we got off hoping that we could get lunch at the Golden Temple. (We didn't bother going in the museum because we were there in January 2007.) Disappointingly, Golden Temple was closed, so Derek and I split off from Hannah and Libby to get some more time in on the canal boats and they decided to hang around Leidseplein for a while. Derek and I got a lunch of stir-fry vegetables and some bananas and blueberries from a fruit stand, then took the canal boat back up the Prinsengracht canal. Some crazy French or German people came zooming under a canal bridge on the wrong side and smacked our canal boat, so we had to pull over for a few minutes while our driver had hot words and very European gesticulations with the other guy.

After riding the canal boats for a while, we met Libby and Hannah at the Tuschinski Cinema where we saw 'Mamma Mia' on screen one. We had the special love seat box with wine and nibbles! The film was wonderfully camp and awful, but that's something for another blog entry!

After the movie, we got Wok to Walk and strolled around the western side a bit to see lit bridges and a few girlies in red windows. Then we went back to the room and slept like LOGS!

MondayOur canal boat tickets were good until 12.00, so we hopped on to Anne Frank Huis and walked up and down the famous 'Nine Streets' shopping area. Unfortunately for us, Monday seems to be the day that shops either open incredibly late or are shut altogether, so we didn't get to actually go inside many of them. Too bad, because several of them looked fun and quirky. We strolled over to the Golden Temple in another valiant attempt to have lunch there, but incredibly they were closed on Monday as well!! Damn and blast. Before we split up, we had a quick lunch of roasted vegetables and bread (the girls got pizza) at a local department store and ate them perched on a window sill outside the shop, between some bicycles and fighting off the pigeons. Not very gezellig, but what the heck. Libby and Hannah parted ways with us after that to go and explore on their own and attempt to get into the Anne Frank Huis, which we were not interested in seeing. (It may sound odd, but my take on it is, I know what happened to the child. I don't have to go and stand in that little closet where she hid for two years and think about it. I'm supposed to be on holiday! They later told us it was very good and not too depressing, so maybe next time.)

Derek and I decided instead to do a set walk from the DK Amsterdam guide, which took us around the western side of Amsterdam where we saw quiet neighbourhoods of locals, most of whom seemed to be seated outdoors gathered around tables either directly and unabashedly on the pavement outside their front doors, or outside pubs and restaurants. They were invariably nibbling olives and cheese cubes and nursing tall glasses of chilled wine while talking, talking, talking. This is the so-called 'cafe culture' that Gordon Brown wants to create in Britain, but Derek and I discussed it at length during our stroll and we just don't see it happening here. We have a completely different culture in Britain. Particularly foreign to my eyes was the sight of whole families, and in couple of cases what looked like a congregation of several families, sitting around a table that had been dragged out onto the pavement in front of their homes, just gathered there eating, chatting, or reading and sipping wine. This is something you will never, ever see in England. Ever. To do something like that would be considered entirely odd if not downright bizarre. English people never sit in front of their houses. The only time being in the front garden is allowed at all is when you are tidying or weeding it. Otherwise, to spend time there is an unthinkably strange thing to do. I can back this up with a quote from an anthropologist:

This is one of the most important garden rules: we never, ever sit in our front gardens. Even when there is plenty of room in for a garden seat of some sort, you will never see one. Not only would it be unthinkable to sit in your front garden, you will be considered odd if you even stand there for very long without squatting to pull up a weed or stooping to trim the hedge. Front gardens, however pretty and pleasant they might be to relax in, are for display only.
~from 'Watching the English' by Kate Fox

And I can also substantiate through asking actual English people. My husband confirms that it would be considered odd to drag a table or even a chair out in front of your own home and sit there reading or eating. What actually said was, 'It would be considered weird to broadcast yourself when you should be enjoying your privacy in your back garden.' I found that very telling. So sitting in front of your home is 'broadcasting yourself', which implies a resentment on the part of the observer. The English love saying of people that they 'keep themselves to themselves', as if that were a high compliment. It's such an insular culture here. People do go to the pub, and sometimes sit outside their pubs if the weather is nice, but that is so far from a European cafe culture. I can't see it ever catching on here.

During this walk, we also discovered a petting zoo and some 17th century almshouses tucked away in a tiny courtyard.

On the way home from this walk, we decided to pop into to the supermarket to make a hotel room picnic. We got a bottle of grenache which we iced down in the bathroom sink, a couple of dark bread rolls, a bag of salad, then went out and got a box of Japanese stir fry and gigantic cone of chips and had a lovely little dinner in our room while watching a rerun of Dragon's Den. It felt oddly European to be eating dinner at 10.30 at night!

Tuesday We called the girls' room in the morning, but they wanted to go their separate ways that day, so Derek and I headed off for the Tuschinski Cinema where we enjoyed a delightful two-hour guided tour of the place. It was a fact-filled adventure and we got to see everything very close up, even sat in the second balcony, which was WAY up high (16 meters), so high you would have to look down at the screen to see the movie! We bought the full-colour book after the tour and had some lovely falafel sandwiches in a little shop across the street from the cinema, then strolled back through Chinatown and met the girls at the hotel to catch our train to the airport. We were home by 7.00!

And that's our thrilling Amsterdam weekend!

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