Monday, February 15, 2010

The Amsterdam Tourist

Yesterday was snowing most of the day. But it was a light snow, which made it seem romantic and fairytale-like to this foreigner. It was COLD. I wrapped myself up and cam-whored before stepping out (with weather like this, I'm glad I grew my hair out. They're like ear-muffs. Heh.)

It was so cold that parts of the canals were freezing up.

I was skyping Kelly and showing him all these pictures and he said the same thing I thought all day today too: WOW. This place is so FOREIGN.

I mean... Sydney didn't really feel too different from Cape Town and Singapore from the architecture to the way things were laid out and just its general vibe.

Amsterdam though... everything from the language to the buildings to the weather... and the general vibe... is just quite different from anywhere I've ever lived before. The last time I was here was about 11 or 12 years ago as a student, so I can't really remember much (NO! It's not that I was smoking up, I just can't remember that much from so long ago).

The Dutch all speak English too, and they're not huffy about it like the French can get sometimes. You know what I mean... I've found a lot of times in France, you need to first ask "Parlez-vous Anglais?" before you can ask the French something in English (otherwise they'll just shrug and play dumb like they don't understand). Here though, I've just launched into conversations in English and the Dutch respond like it's second nature to them. Or even if they tell me the price in Dutch in stores and I ask what it is in English, they'll immediately switch to speaking English with no problems at all. How great it is to be bilingual and fully fluent in 2 languages! (My Mandarin, as you may recall, is CRAP. Even after learning it for 12 years in school).

The few Dutch people I stopped to ask directions from were all also very friendly and helpful. I was looking for the Yogamandala shala (thinking that maybe I might make a visit next Sunday. Haha, yogadork to the max.) ...but the street the shala is on was outside of the city centre tourist map. I Google-mapped it too, so knew it was just 1 or 2 streets outside what was printed on my map. But I just for the life of me couldn't find it when I got to the area. This one dude got off his bike, whipped out his mobile phone and used his GPS tracking coordinates to find the street. It was taking a while to load and he looked a bit like he was in a hurry, so I said "It's OK, I'll just keep walking I'm sure I'll find it". But he said "No, it's too cold for you to wander around aimlessly. We'll find it." And we did. Wasn't that nice?

Talking about bikes. There are bikes EVERYWHERE (apparently there is also a lot of bike theft. Haha.) When I first arrived, I asked the concierge how people get around... y'know... "Do you take the bus or is there an underground system?" And the guy looked at me like I was crazy and said "You WALK." HAHAHA. If you're Singaporean, you'll understand that the average Singaporean does NOT like to walk (hey, maybe I'll buy a bike too). Well, there are also trams here, but the stops they make are not really within the city area. Hence, there are a gazilion bicycles. There are even bike paths. So right next to the road (for vehicles), there's a red path (for bikes) and then there's a regular pedestrian sidewalk next to the bike path (and bikes have the same rights as cars).

I found the Begijnhof - basically a commune or village where only women are allowed to stay. This has been around since the 1300s where pious Catholic women who weren't nuns but didn't want to stay with general society communed and lived in "beguinages". It's amazing that it still exists today, for the same purpose (GASP!) And this compound has oldskool medieval-looking gates that are closed off to the public every night from 7 or 8pm.

I thought I'd get a little culture in and go visit the Rijksmuseum (it's undergoing major renovation but parts of it are still open).

But would you believe how long the queue was? The people on camera-right closest to me are at the end of the queue. It goes around the block to the people inside on camera-left, behind the gates.

Stand in the freezing cold for an hour to see Vermeer and Rembrandt? NO THANKS!

I can come back another day. HA.

It was the same story for the Van Gogh Museum too, just behind the Rijks. I REALLY, REALLY want to see my beloved Van Gogh's works. But I'll have to do it another day too. Don't people have better things to do on Valentine's Day than go to art museums? (Sorry, that's pretty unromantic if you ask me). I did enjoy the starkness of the back annexe of the Van Gogh Museum building though. Especially set against this bleakness.

What was cool was the Museum Square. I have never been to Russia, but I imagine it to look like this.

(Cold, bleak, dreary with huge expansive squares. Oh dear. Have I stereotyped this now?)

New York has "I Heart NY". Amsterdam has "I Amsterdam" with the play on words and font colour.

And unfortunately, you can't escape globalization. You bloody Americans! JUST JOKING. (His banner just made me wonder what a "fake American hotdog" is.)

And then I came across some house-boats on the canal. If you can't already tell, I still have a very romanticized view of Amsterdam (looking at it through tourist eyes). And living in a house-boat just seems so quaint and charming! My friend here just rolled his eyes at me when I told him this. He would never want to live in one coz they're too cold. Well, I suppose if your entire floor is sitting on icy cold water... it would make heating a problem, innit? I saw an enterprising house-boat owner with a sign that said "House Boat Museum. Take a tour of a real House Boat and see what living here is like! Fridays to Sundays only."

HAHAHA. Sounds like my kinda person. I have to go back and take a tour of this person's house(boat) next weekend.

Yesterday was a good day. :)


  1. Haha, maybe I should come to Amsterdam and get me some Begijnhof action!! Loving seeing the city through your eyes Jaime, and the description of the Dutch people's BRILLIANT English-speaking. We have family friends in Holland and spent quite a lot of time there when I was small, and my perception is just that they are the loveliest people with amazing language jealous of the bilingual thing! Hope you have a good first day at work :)

  2. hi Skippetty,
    wheren't you just in summer weather in South Africa? what a contrast. i love your storytelling. i find it funny that you would look for an underground in Amsterdam, where the houses basically are boats made of concrete. in Amsterdam, if a house collapses, it's dangerous because all the ones next to it can basically float up. well, i'm exaggerating, but the whole area is basically built on water. the city is almost below or at sea level. a house is basically a peg holding a group together by weight on the water, in that city.

    i know what you mean about the use of language in France. i met courtesy when i visited last, but by the second day i was speaking fluently. they reward the effort to speak in their language. regarding mandarin, if i had your skills in it, whatever the level, i'm sure i'd be far ahead of the curve. ain't i the chatterbox?

    word verif: readi - yes i am

  3. HAHA "real" american hotdogs... did you have one? maybe you should'nt not good for yogis... great tour depiction, loved it... really curious about that women only comunity...and loving the bike thing, they really get it right there, although with the freezing temperatures... it will be lovely in the spring!

  4. Hey Mel, I find the Dutch are kinda similar to the South Africans in that regard: they're honest and straight up. (er... South Africans have Dutch heritage after all)!

    Arturo - the only reason I thought of the underground was coz I watched it on a NatGeo or Discovery documentary about building the world's trickiest underground systems. Singapore was featured as a country that just bulldozed its way through all the old buildings (hardly preserving any of the old stuff), whereas the Amsterdam underground took a long time to build since it's all wet and they had a history to preserve. I'm pretty sure it was about Amsterdam too, which is why I had a vague notion to ask about it. Hmm... you're making me think now. Gonna read up about transport systems here in my Timeout book. :p

    Claudia - I'm vegan, no real American hotdogs for me! You can read up about the Begijnhof here: It's proving a little difficult to stay completely vegan in this dairy-centric country. Maybe I just like croissants too much. Heh.

  5. hi Skippety
    i haven't been to Amsterdam in 37 years so i would not know if they have undergrounds; it would be interesting to know. it's often done to do tunnels under the water or in the water to convey metro lines. it's just funny to think it done for Amsterdam where there is so much of it.

    you're vegan? no eggs no cheese?
    i eat yogurt but don't eat eggs unless they are served to me at a restaurant.


  6. Really, really, really fun post... thanks!

    I had to image search Begijnhof immediately. whoa. It's pretty cool!

    Have you practiced yet or did you just find the place in advance (I'm a dork in many ways... yoga, directions, practice runs, being too early to things, etc). I love friendly, helpful people.

  7. Hey Arty (haha, it's quite funny calling the architect Arty. I hope you don't mind). :p I went vegan in July last year - no animal products at all. But it's proving a little difficult in this meat & dairy country. There's either butter or yoghurt or milk in a lot of things. BUT... at least some coffee joints do offer soy milk. :) And I'm not in an apartment yet so without my own kitchen, I can't DIY my own food and it's takeout galore. There's only so much falafel one can eat (plus, that's deep fried too, so it's not the healthiest option either!)

    Liz - you sound like me! Kelly thinks I'm chronic like that but it's probably an occupational hazard. I have decided to stick to self-practice on weekdays, and maybe go check out this shala on Sunday for morning Mysore. I just need to kick myself up the arse to roll out of bed and onto the sliver of carpet space to practice. I think the claustrophobic environment doesn't help but I'm just making excuses. I move into an apartment tomorrow, so hopefully this will help. :)


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