June 1995 we were hastily tidying up our contract assignments to hand over to others in Singapore after completion of our term. We’d completed ten years there, and this was our second and final contract in that city state. We were soon to move on to the Philippines and back to Educational work.
I had one final responsibility, and that was to attend an international convention in Utrecht. So far, I’d only enjoyed a few hours in the major cities of Europe to transit on to the US, so we made plans for a quick road tour as soon as the convention concluded. My eldest daughter and her husband from the US would join us on that trip. We were looking forward to their company with eager anticipation.
Going through Immigration in Amsterdam was a breeze. Our passports were stamped without the usual close examination and we passed through arrival gates in record time. I’m sure events in the world since 1995 have seen those easy-going days gone forever.
While everyone develops an image of places they read about, or even see in the movies there’s no substitute for visiting Amsterdam. You can feel the difference in culture and society as you exit the airport and head for the hotel. While cars do inhabit the land its obvious bicycles and pedestrians’ rule.
There’s vibrancy in the air, but a feeling of relaxation rides along with that feeling. A multiplicity of craft ply canals some speeding along urgently going about their business, but most moving lethargically without a worry in the world. Blaring noise on the waterways above the cacophony of land sounds comes from the omnipresent tourist craft with “canned” travelogues sounding forth in monotonous voices in multiple languages. These are orchestrated by people who’ve recorded their spiel over many years and can handle their job automatically and without thought.
The hotel fitted in with the general architecture of the city. Construction favours narrow buildings with multiple levels, many of which have staircases so narrow and steep furniture must be introduced through higher level windows made wide enough to act as points of entry. Most buildings have an external rope and pulley device to facilitate bulky item transfer between room levels.
As we entered the hotel to register several gay couples exited for a day on the town arms wrapped around each other and one couple kissing passionately. We looked at each other in surprise. Had we intruded on a gay haunt by mistake when we made our booking, and would we be welcome to stay? But as we spent the next few days in Amsterdam before heading for the convention in Utrecht, we discovered the Dutch are a very tolerant race and anything goes in Amsterdam. Sex, drugs, alternate lifestyles in great variety co-habit in this city and mind their own business.
As our stopover in Amsterdam was probably to be a once in a lifetime event we unpacked and headed for the lobby to study tourist brochures. There was so much to do, so while we thought about how this could all be fitted into our limited time, we headed for the square outside the hotel with a fistful of brochures to start exploring the city with a ride on the canals.
We made a video of that event and have it posted as one of our first intrusions into YouTube. The most startling part of the canal ride was the trip through the red-light area. The boat slowed down almost to a stop so we could get the full impact of that segment of the canal tour. I’ve seen red light areas in many of the major cities of the world but there is something unique about this one. The different buildings seem to compete to stage their wares as if it were a major movie production Hollywood style.
Commercialization has found its zenith in the Amsterdam red light area. I can assure you with sincerity that I found it all as bizarre and off-putting as an annoying TV commercial. We also passed by Ann Frank’s house and recalled one of the evil events of World War II and that was a sobering event.
We wondered if it would be worth the money to check Madam Tussard’s Waxworks on the Square. We’d visited the London Waxworks ten years previously and thought it would just be a repeat of that. But we did visit and were glad of it. Of course, there were similar features to the London Waxworks, but the waxwork figures depicting ancient life in the city were well worth the visit.
Not far from the Waxworks we came across one of those giant street organs Germany in particular is famous for. The owner stood by his monster lovingly fiddling with it as it gave out with its lusty bellow. I noticed Georgine who enjoyed part German ancestry lingering wistfully by the monster and we stood there for some time enjoying the novelty of its presentation and music. Eventually the hypnotic effect wore off and we looked for other pleasures.
We visited the gem centre and marvelled at tight security which had our every minute move monitored and politely declined their invitation to spend our life savings on one of those gleaming gems.
Then we went on to the Arts and History Museum where we spent an afternoon with the masters.
Next day we took a bus tour into the country and gazed in wonder at the elevated canals far above the ground level of countryside we were touring with tops of barges and river craft masts barely visible way up there as they passed us by. What if those canals were breached? We would have been several feet underwater in our bus if that had happened, but the Dutch are masters when it comes to canal engineering and we had no need to worry.
We watched in disappointment as machines ground out clogs for sale and learned that hand carving was a dying art. We visited windmills, passed by fields where tulips grew in season and lamented our bad luck in being there off season, and finally ended the day at a cheese factory which had also switched over to automation. It appears nothing is labour intensive in Amsterdam anymore! Everything commercial is automated.
At the end of our two-day tour, we’d developed an instant love affair with this unique city and looked forward to our next destination at one of the recognized educational centres of Europe, Utrecht.
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The above image courtesy of City_of_Amsterdam,Netherlands_in_2019.14 Wikimedia
Web access to places to see in Amsterdam Visit the Netherlands: Destinations, tips and inspiration – Holland.com
Picture Below – Amsterdam Street Organ