Today was a lot of fun in a very new environment. Tomas had to work so I amused myself by heading into town and just walking around all day. My first impression of Amsterdam when waking up and looking out the window was: green! Tomas et al live in an apartment overlooking one of the canals in the southwest part of the city. There are vibrant green grass and bushy green trees all along the banks of the canal, which give the canal water itself a green hue. Waking up to the shining sun on such a view was like looking into one of the impressionist paintings I saw last weekend.
I set off along the canal and turned left on Beethovenstraat, where I formed my second impression of Amsterdam: bikes! Everyone travels by bicycle here. There are dedicated bike lanes everywhere and bike racks are full of tens and tens of bikes at each corner. They’re pretty simple bikes too, most with only one gear and no hand breaks, but they seem to get people around very well without creating pollution or traffic. Nice! The bicyclists are pretty remorseless with their forward momentum, though, and I’ve seen more than one dumbstruck tourist walk into a bike lane only to be mowed down by a hurrying Dutchman.
I made my way to the Museumplein, where I grabbed a sandwich and people-watched for a while. Next impression: tall! According to wikipedia, the average male height here is 6′ and the average for females is 5’7″–I believe it! They also seem to be pretty sporty, with many people engaged in individual and organized physical activities. This was verified as I then walked around the Vondelpark.
OK, enough “soaking up” the local feel; it was time to do something touristy. So I walked up the Anne Frank House, stood in line for a while, and then walked through the secret rooms where she and her family hid from Nazi persecutors. I haven’t read the Diary of Anne Frank since middle school, but I remembered enough of it to be moved by the physical site where such a betrayal took place.
Not wanting to lighten the mood too much, I then went to the Van Gogh Museum. While waiting to purchase my ticket, I bumped into Rice alum, prof, and Lovett College Associate George Hirasaki–what a small world! He happened to be in town for a conference. This once again proves my assertion that the Rice network is small but high-value and very global.
Inside the museum I met Sujin, the partner of another of my IMD classmates, Joonwon. Sujin is a painter herself so she was a great tour guide. After viewing the paintings and writings of Van Gogh, we went downstairs to view an exhibition on Alfred Stevens. I had never heard of Stevens before but I found his works to be quite remarkable. Specifically his ability to capture the texture of fabrics and upholstery was unlike anything I had before seen.
On my way back to the apartment I saw a line of painted elephants, part of a city-wide elephant art show in support of save-the-elephants charities. I stopped to take a picture and was immediately accosted by a man, raving at me in several languages. When he worked out that English was my best language (certainly better than my Dutch!) he informed me that he had been in my picture of the elephants and that he did NOT want to be in any pictures. I assured him that there was no problem and let him watch as I deleted the picture but, now that I reflect on it, I wish I had pressed him more to understand why he didn’t want to be in any pictures!
Back at the apartment I relaxed a bit with Tomas, Lucia, and Albert. Albert is very well behaved and has a very pleasant disposition. Tomas and Lucia seem to have taken to parenthood very naturally and it is inspiring to see this young family doing so well.
In the evening I went out for dinner with some other friends from Amsterdam. For the second time in as many weeks I went to a Jamie Oliver restaurant–this one was Fifteen Amsterdam. The food was, once again, delicious. we each ordered the four-course prix fixe menu. I began with the antipasti sampler, after which I was basically full. Next was a sweet gorgonzola risotto–mmmm! The main course was certified sustainably caught salmon–good thing we had plenty of wine to help me make room in my stomach! Finally there was cinnamon panna cotta with a dark chocolate mousse. How indulgent!
After all that I am stuffed and am heading to bed. Who knows what Day 2 will hold, but I bet it will be fun!
Pics are in my facebook album.