Remembering Amsterdam

We took Norwegian Air out of Copenhagen and landed in Amsterdam a bit late in the day. The train station was a bustling hub of diverse humanity. People looked to come from every corner of the globe. Outside central station it was crowded, rushed, and dirty. By the time we got to our AirBnB, via a 15 minute bus ride, we were sure we’d made a poor decision on where to stay…until we met our host and saw our apartment. Until we woke in the morning to find a green parrot perched in an Elm outside our bedroom window. Until we found the local grocery store had fresh organic produce, eggs with bright yellow yolks, and found the Danish nut and seed bread we’d eaten in Copenhagen. We continued to eat our mostly raw breakfast. I was loving it.

amsterdam breakfast

The buses ran prompt and got us around town quite easily. But the streets are the places we found most charming. Strolling hand in hand along quiet canals, as bikes cruised around corners, horse-drawn carriages clopped along the cobblestones, and musicians played music here and there.

donna bridge
Donna loves the bikes.

And of course the Coffeeshops, not to be confused with Cafes. Both are plentiful in Amsterdam.We talked with the proprietor of one of Amsterdam’s oldest coffeeshops, The Bulldog, about cannabis edibles and discovered that it’s against the law to make anything with cannabis. Even the lollipops and Spacecake are made with some kind of cannabis oil, with little to no psychoactive properties. He said that once upon a time, Amsterdam was the world leader in progressive medicine, but now they are trailing the likes of California, Colorado, and other US Cities.


We hooked up with a friend of a friend, Lorand, who lives in the hip neighborhood of Kinnerbuurt. They have a farmers market that runs the length of a pretty long street, and is open every day of the year. Fresh everything. Lorand guided us through enormous food courts inside a refurbished tram repair center. It’s called Foodhallen. It’s spacious rooms, varied aromas, music, and people made it an interesting place to get a bite and feel the vibe. We also discovered a fantastic cafe where I tried fried goat cheese. I thought it was fish. Our cafe host even got in the action.

L-R, Lorand, our host, Tom, Donna

We spent hours touring the Nine streets area where we found cafes, retail stores, canals and reflections, plus the ever-presence of bikes, locked and being ridden.

We walked many streets more than once, and it didn’t seem to matter. There was always something to see, taste, smell. We tried to go to the red light district, but each time we tried, the way there was crowded, and the energy was more than we wanted to handle, so we’d mosey on over to the nine streets area and relax into the non-stop shops and cafes.

ann frank
Near Ann Frank house while touring the canals on our last day.

The only activity we planned in advance was Ann Frank’s house, and if I had one word of advice for that tour, see the movie first. We streamed it on Netflix and it gave such a great sense of the cramped quarters, the difficulty of being quiet, and how personality conflicts are amplified by war and confinement. The place is tiny, the stairs narrow, and with wooden floors, it’s practically impossible to keep quiet.

Our second day in Amsterdam we wandered into a souvenir shop to purchase refrigerator magnets and gaze over all the shiny objects.

File Nov 10, 2 50 21 PM

What a fun store. I thought it must be hard on a shop owner trying to sell high volumes of tiny items to make ends meet. While doing our transaction we asked if he could point us to the Van Gough museum. He asked if we had tickets, and said that it’s quite helpful to purchase in advance, and it’s great to go late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds. He said he could sell us tickets which turned out to be such a great move.

My lack of art history knowledge caught up with me the next day. We took the tram to the museum area when I got the feeling that Amsterdam was bigger than I’d thought. Much bigger. It’s almost twice the area of San Francisco, and larger than all the cities we visited, Copenhagen, Brugge, and Paris.

We walked by the Rijksmuseum and sat in the sun at an outdoor food court with coffee and a nibble. When it was our designated museum entry time we walked a hundred meters or so to the Van Gogh museum. We’d asked about its location a couple of times and were corrected on our pronunciation each time. It’s not Van-Go, it’s Dutch, Van-gawk, but you have to slur the second syllable through the back of your mouth. An acquired skill I think.

We picked up our audio tour gear, and agreed on when and where we’d meet, since we have vastly different attention spans for museum tours. I started the exhibit and was greeted by a large, say 8×12 foot painting of peasants in the field, some mostly sitting, eating, sharpening blades. I’d seen it in art appreciation class in junior college. I moved on to a series of self portraits and learned that he taught himself many techniques by painting himself, as he did not have money for models. I searched for that image when drafting this blog post but never found it. I did find dozens and dozens of peasant paintings, little studies of faces, feet, and folks at work. He was a prolific painter, who took great pleasure in painting the simple life. When I got to the timeline display of his life, I was shocked to tears when I discovered he’d taken his own life.

We spent a bit of time in the tulip museum, in the Nine Streets area, where Donna learned that many of the varieties of tulips they sell won’t do well in our climate, so we waited for home to buy our bulbs. They went in the soil this past weekend. We’ll wait for Amsterdam in our spring garden.

Outside the tulip museum we discussed a book we’d read. Donna confused All the Light We Cannot See, with bits from The Goldfinch. I’ve had a fear that I might lose my wife to dementia. In that moment, I thought it was happening. I started to cry. Donna took me onto the bridge where I tried to talk about it. She reassured me that she is not losing her mind.

memory bridge

I’d love to spend more time in Amsterdam. Such a vibrant city with more to see than can be done in four days. When we returned home I told Donna I wanted to visit Ikea and get a little hit of Scandinavia. We came home with a few odds and ends to keep our trip alive along with a mounted and framed black and white photo of the same image that got me interested in Amsterdam a few years ago. I’d seen it at an executive office on Sutter Street in San Francisco. It was one of several framed images, all done in black and white, of various cities around the world. Each had one element of color. We brought it home from Ikea. It’s lovely next to our fireplace.

bridge photo
Window to Amsterdam in our living room.

Until we return, we have a photo, we buy aged Gouda cheese, and we recount stories real and imagined.



“No Time” in Copenhagen

We explored Copenhagen through collaboration and feel. Donna was in charge of direction and I set the pace. And the pace was, for the most part, No Time: no time constraints, no rush, no firm planning, except here and there.

The Danes and their bikes are part of the landscape as they mend and flow through the city, around corners, all seemingly going at the same pace, all giving way to one another. I have not a single shot of a Dane on a bike, like it intrusive to take a photo. But I did not feel that way in Amsterdam. I don’t know why.

I was fascinated with the details in Copenhagen architecture. Even in the house there were simple window closures, that looked fragile, but were not.

Woodwork from airport floors to the water front, boasted clean, tight lines.

Along Nyhavn we ran into a carpenter who was making a sturdy bench with gentle curving lines, providing a place for people to take a pint, or sit and talk. I thought of my dad and how he built in the same way.

nyhavn bench

Further along, near Paper Island, wood walkways looked like a fine craftsman had made them. Not the treated lumber we see along the California coast, but tight-grained hardwoods and connections that were made to last.

water front deck

At the tram station, we’d find angles to take shots. Especially Fredericksberg station. This one was our fav, with the symmetry, the strong horizontal green line. I never got tired of it. I understand there is a new tram being built around the city that has been in planning/construction for the past seven years.

tran station

We planned one outing to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. We hooked up with a friend of a friend who lived in town and rode her bike to the train station. She took us a level below the tram where we caught the train to Louisiana, a town named by the original land owner who’d had three wives, all named Louise. The museum looked like a residence when we approached via a ten minute stroll from the train station.

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

The main exhibit featured a Dutch photographer, Rineke Dijkstra, who’d done a series of large, sometimes life size, portraits. The images were personal in that each maintained eye contact with the photographer, which meant each maintained eye contact with the viewer. It was haunting, like each person said it was ok to see them in all their frailty, uncertainty, or pride. There were longitunal studies showing young people growing into themselves. I had to take a break mid-way through the exhibit to regain my footing. Having that much eye contact with people I did not know demanded attention.

Our last day in Copenhagen we logged 17,000 steps, the most walking we did on the entire trip. I think we were trying to fill ourselves with the energy of the place. Simple, sturdy, steady.  We fit in a visit to the Design Museum Denmark where I had the feeling that someone from Denmark had played a role in Apple’s designs.

They created an outdoor garden with many Danish designs you could sit in or play on. Here’s Donna with her new grey boots. Can you imagine walking into a vintage store, buying slightly used shoes, and wearing them all day long?

Donna got some new boots.

We wandered into what looked like an old fortress, a short stroll from the museum, and discovered St. Alban’s Anglican Church.

st Albans anglican
St. Alban’s Anglican Church

So many things make Copenhagen special to me. The bread, the bikes, getting confused for a local, and the pace. More than anything though, it was having time to wander around with Donna. She’s a perfect travel companion.

For more about Copenhagen see Copenhagen Surprised Me.


Peace. Love. Out.