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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Some thoughts from Amsterdam

We arrived in Amsterdam yesterday after a week in Florence. It was cold and breezy, but not raining. We're staying in Haarlem, which is a charming town of brick plazas and canals lined with brick houses. After dropping our luggage at the B&B, we returned via train (about twenty minutes) to Amsterdam, where we spent the rest of day.

In Amsterdam, we took a canal cruise lasting about an hour, walked through the central part of the city, taking not of the "coffee houses" (marijuana pubs), and the red light district, which was appropriately sleezy, but somewhat underwhelming after all the hype. A short hop on the light rail brought us to the museum of Dutch resistance in World War II. It seems the Dutch didn't, actually resist much until near the end of the war. At the start of the war, they surrendered to the Germans after only a few days of fighting. Almost all Dutch Jews were exterminated (unlike the Danish Jews), and unlike the French, who rose up when the Allies invaded, northern Holland remained under Nazi control until the very end of the war, even as Germany itself was being invaded. And then, with no sense of irony, the Netherlands tried to reassert its colonial control over its empire in Indonesia. They only allowed Indonesian independence under serious pressure from the United States.

Having said that, there were heroic exceptions of Dutch who took illicit photos, hid Jews, and organized strikes against the German occupiers. Their actions might have been more effective without so many of their compatriots simply doing what they were told. In fact, being so alone undoubtedly meant much greater danger for those who did resist.

We returned to Haarlem after the museum, where we finished checking in and then ate Indonesian food before getting an earlier bedtime than when we were with our friends in Florence.

A few random thoughts/observations about our experiences.

* They aren't kidding about Dutch bikes. They're everywhere, and forget bike lanes--there are entirely separate roads for bikes. We saw a parking garage for bikes in Amsterdam that held thousands upon thousands of bicycles.

* There was an old man on the train with a face that looked like something Rembrandt would have painted. He had one remaining incisor on his upper jaw that perfectly matched hole left by a single missing tooth on the lower jaw.

* At the Indonesian restaurant they brought us a large plate of rice, and eight hot dishes, six cold dishes, and four bowls with various condiments. The individual portions were tiny, but the sum total made for another gut-busting meal. Who said American restaurants were the only ones with oversized portions.

* I'm struck yet again about how the car culture and poorly-considered zoning leaves American cities so much less attractive and less walkable than many places in Europe.

* We had breakfast yesterday in Amsterdam that had several delicious kinds of bread, together with raspberry and fig jam and clotted cream. The meals in Holland are more expensive relative to lodging than they were in Italy.

* I've traveled a good deal and eaten at all sorts of restaurants, but I'd never had Indonesian before, to my memory. If you toss in the cuttlefish ravioli and the horse that I tried in Florence, this has been a rather adventurous food trip. I've also tried grappa, pan forte, and licorice gelato for the first time.

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