249.  Days 7 and 8: Dutch Courage.

So, Amsterdam.

We’ve been to Amsterdam once before, just for a daytrip when the children were children.  We did a canal tour, we visited Anne Frank’s  house and we wondered at the bicycles.  I particularly remember being awestruck by someone carrying a double bass on a bike.

In my memory, Amsterdam was a charming place and I was looking forward to exploring it at a more leisurely pace.

Maybe this memory has coloured my perception of the city but, in truth, I’ve been a bit disappointed in Amsterdam and am not sorry to be moving on. Which we are – I’m writing this blog on the train to Hamburg, where we’re stopping tonight en route to Denmark.

Amsterdam is just so darned busy; stuffed to the gills with people.  Many tourists, of course (not us- we’re travellers.  Quite different.) Some will be attracted by the city’s infamous red light district and the ready availability of cannabis: apparently it’s a popular destination for stag parties.  There are shops selling tourist tat and the same old chain stores: BurgerKing, McDonalds, Starbucks.  In some ways, you might as well be in Camden.

And crossing the road! There are bike lanes in both directions which don’t just contain push bikes but also a surprising number of mopeds, some travelling at quite a speed. Actually, I read that there is presently a campaign to have mopeds banned from the bike lanes; good luck to it.

Then there’s the tram lanes and then the cars.  So six lanes of traffic; all of course, travelling on the wrong side of the road and some ignoring traffic lights. Locals clearly just plough across the road trusting that the traffic will miss them.  I just found the whole thing uncomfortably frenetic; not enough Dutch courage, I guess.

I am, no doubt, being grossly unfair to the city.  Probably we were spoilt by having come straight from The Hague, which has the same attractive Dutch gabled houses, lovely canals and bikes but at a more measured pace.  And I must remember that we were staying pretty near the centre of the city; I’m sure there are many charming areas off the beaten track we simply overlooked.  Enough now.

The Rijksmuseum – spot the tunnel for the bikes to go through!

Yesterday we visited the Rijksmuseum and that was a real treat.  I’d heard it had been completely renovated recently; I don’t know what it was like before but it is beautifully designed now: light, spacious with glorious artwork and places to take the weight off your feet.

They seem to have got just the right amount of exhibits too: a really good range but not so many that you feel overwhelmed.  The big focus piece in the museum is Rembrandt’s The Night Watch; the whole Golden Age gallery leads up to it, as you can see here.

Gallery 2 with long view of the Night Watch.

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It is an impressive piece, to be sure, but I prefer the pictures of Dutch everyday life and landscapes. Here’s a selection of some of my favourites:

I also really liked this delicate wood carving – about the size of a box of tissues.

There was a working model of a sailing ship with sails that did everything that sails are supposed to – photo included for you, Bro-in- law.  A gallery of Delftware. A beautifully carved chess set.

Anyway, moving on.

As I type this, we’re just crossing the border into Germany.  One of the things I really like about interrailing is that there are regular pastures new.  The host for tonight’s stop is Herr Wimpy, who looks like a nice chap in the blurb and we wait with bated breath to glean his opinion on toilet-flushing.

On which point, a friend tells me that many of the phrases Hester used in her message (see last blog) are common terms in bell-ringing.  So perhaps our host is a reincarnated bell-ringer, finding herself irresistibly drawn to flushing toilets.  Entirely possible.

Today’s bike picture:

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