Europe

Bells, Whistles, and Clocks

May 7, 2015

The bottle of wine at dinner and the long day of “touristing” meant that our alarms were left snoozing until the last possible minute to catch our bike tour of Amsterdam. Our first day had consisted of doing all of the common tourist activities in Amsterdam but this was partly due to the city. The Dutch are very friendly and tolerant but definitely prefer to keep the locals separate from the tourists. With good reason as I’m sure tourists, especially in Amsterdam, can be very obnoxious.

One of the most obvious ways this separation manifests itself is the use of bicycles; all of the locals have them and few of the tourists are riding. The tourists that are riding use rented bicycles which stand out like a sore thumb. On the bike tour, we were given innocuous looking bicycles which blended in nicely. This tour was led by a local guide who had some insight into the history of the city, common architecture, and culture of different neighborhoods.

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It felt great to breeze by the lines of tourists, ringing my bike bell like an annoyed local when they stood in the bike lane. This is something unique to Amsterdam since the city is flat and rather small which allows a bike rider to quickly navigate the narrow streets and canal roads. In the states, we could never achieve this high percentage of bicycle usage simply because our cities and people are too large. Riding Amsterdam by bike also heightens your senses. You have to be alert to the metro passing through, other bikes and motorcycles in the bike lane as well as pedestrians and cars. This does not take away from the enjoyment of bicycling but adds to the experience of fresh air (coupled with random spurts of marijuana everywhere), bicycle bells ringing cheerily, and colorful personal gardens out in front of the houses.

Bike Tour

After finishing up the bike tour, we both were hungry from the light exercise. Kim didn’t want anything touristy so she walked us over to the Rijksmuseum and got a burger and coke. I was sure to point out the irony of her desired preference and that end result.

We had purchased two Holland Passes which gave us entrance into the Keukenhof, free transportation to and from the garden, and a canal tour. The last pass was entrance into any museum of our choosing. Kim had already been through the Rijksmuseum and had left unimpressed so we went over to the modern art museum who had recently opened a Matisse exhibit. The exhibit was done chronologically through his life so his degrading quality and sanity was on full display.

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The best piece in the museum was outside of the Matisse collection sitting in a room by itself. This was a life size diorama of a heavily frequented watering hole of artists in 1920s Los Angeles (Barney’s Beanery). The diorama allowed for a single person to walk in for a close view of the patrons whose faces had been replaced by clocks. The piece gave a very powerful metaphor to the purpose of the bar in the eyes of those patrons (“symbolizes the switch from real time to surrealist time inside the bar where people waste time, kill time, forget time, and ignore time.”)

By this point Kim was breaking down and needed to relax. Luckily we were a few meters from Vondelpark. We walked into the park, found a nice patch of grass and Kim laid down for much needed relaxation and to take advantage of the fantastic weather we had been granted. I needed to use the bathroom and quickly discovered that it was a long walk to find a public restroom in Amsterdam.

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Vondelpark juxtaposes runners and people lounging around, bikers and tourists lighting up, caf├ęs and street food. A perfect cross section of the city’s tolerance and diverse population living together without incident.

On our way back to the train station to catch what we thought would be an exciting adventure aboard a sleeper car on a night train that would carry us to Munich, I finally got my fresh chips and sauce. We took a seat on the canal wall with our feet hanging over the water to enjoy the snack and little bit of people watching and photo reviewing. This was a nice peaceful end to our good spirits in Amsterdam.

We had always heard that Europeans love to strike, and especially the train unions, but we had not seen any announced that would interrupt our travels. The German train company, DB Bahn, would not be as cooperative and had cancelled our night train due to a strike. After two hours of waiting we found ourselves at a holiday inn express twenty minutes from the city center and booked on a train to Munich at 8 a.m. the next morning. If this was the worst thing occurring on our trip, it would be a good trip.

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