It always amazes me how one can step into a metal tube in one place. Sit for 12 hours (also in one place) and arrive halfway around the world whilst seemingly only 6 hours have passed.
Different paces and foreign places awaken the senses and inspire as much as they inform. We’re sharing some of what we see, hear and taste during the journey.
Some say, if you travel through the time zones fast enough you may get back to your own without feeling jet lag. We don’t know about that, we do know along the way a weary traveler is continuously stealing a couple of hours sleep left and right.
It’s 6am at Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam) on Christmas morning. The oddly familiar bell coming closer at the luggage terminal belonged to none other than Santa Claus returning from a long trip delivering gifts in the Far East. At least that’s how he tells it. As near as we can tell, he must have come from Hong Kong. We don’t remember seeing him in Singapore…
The train from the airport will take you straight to the central station. On Christmas mornings it’s relatively deserted. The streets overground certainly are. And it’s dark. Coming from Africa where the sun was rising at 5am with 19 degrees, being in a dark city at 8am with 2 degrees is somewhat shocking. Plus, there are no coffee shops open till 9 (or later). The one thing you ought to do is take in the architecture with the accompanying history and context. Below is a random list of things to observe:
– The buildings along the canals are narrow, skew and cartoon-like. There are reasons why they lean forward and against each other.
– Bicycles. There are lots. Everywhere. The stories are true.
– XXX: it’s everywhere, spray painted on the walls, the poles, on city publications… we’re told it’s the symbols representing 3 problems the city has faced in the past: the plague, the floods and big fire which destroyed much of the city. These events all took place hundreds of years ago.
– Canals: most of them were dug manually in the 1500s.
– The canals freeze every now and then. This can happen randomly and seldom, sometimes over ten years apart. When they do it’s like a national holiday so citizens effectively get two new year’s days. Many employers receive calls in “sick” and their staff can be found out skating the canals.
– The world’s largest company was headquartered in Amsterdam, the Dutch East India Company was several times larger (at the time) than Apple is today.
– Stroopwafels, Bitterballen, fries with ketchup and mayonnaise.
– Weed. It’s legal to consume it, it’s legal to own it, it’s legal to buy it but it’s illegal to sell it. The Dutch are very practical and when it makes commercial sense, they often overlook rules.
– The Dutch generally seem to not mind having no curtains or other ways of visually shielding themselves. It’s bizarre, either they really don’t care people checking them out or passersby don’t check them out so it doesn’t matter. Again, coming from our own preference for privacy this can be quite a stark contrast.
– Rembrandt, really talented, made a lot of money. Spent it all. Died poor. Buried in an unknown and numbered kerk graf (church grave). In accordance with the local custom at the time, his remains were removed and destroyed twenty years later. Such a common story amongst the greats. Tragic really.
– The Amstel River is the main connection from the harbour to the smaller canals and historically moved cargo from the sea to the hinterland. Canals often have houseboats (over 2500 apparently) moored, we cannot imagine how they arrived there. Way too high to pass beneath the canal bridges. The houses seem pretty stable and cosy, passing them one can see inside as the tradition of keeping views open seems to apply equally to boathouses. We decided it would be nice to experience a river room and headed to Prague to appreciate a river view, onwards to a Czech “botel”