to you all.
I know that tolerance is not
always my personal strength. In Amsterdam, we chanced upon the Chinese Buddhist He Hua Temple, and were courteously greeted by a volunteer, who answered our questions, smilingly. On leaving, I picked up a tightly-rolled slip of paper from a container, a ‘dharma word’, and tucked it in my pocket. The gentle volunteer said that she found these words useful to meditate upon when she had a problem, as they usually led her to some resolution.
So simple. So challenging!
This little slip of paper will stay where I can see it.
Sorry I’m late, Jane. Shall try harder next month.
Our Lord in the Attic. First, (bear with me for pasting so much information – I thought it was fascinating!) an explanatory history lesson, for those of you who might have thought, as I did, that Dutch Catholicism was dealt with as harshly as it was in post-Reformation England. This, from http://www.dutchamsterdam.nl tells us:
Until 1578 Amsterdam was largely Catholic, with two large parish churches — the Oude Kerk (Old Church) and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) — as well as six chapels along with numerous monasteries and convents. One small alley downtown is called ‘Gebed Zonder End’ (Prayer Without End) in reference to the many monasteries that used to form the neighborhood. Protestant reformers were sharply opposed to what they considered the idolatry of the Host. On May 26, 1578 a bloodless revolution turned Amsterdam from a Catholic city into a Protestant one. The Catholic town council was expelled, and from then on Catholics were no longer allowed to worship in public. Civic authorities also dissolved the convents and monesteries, and their properties — along with all Catholic churches — were confiscated. But while the Protestant clergy were fanatical in their denouncements of what they referred to as ‘Popish idolatry,’ Amsterdam’s authorities were more restrained and allowed Catholics to continue worshiping in their homes. Though the term ‘hidden churches’ was not used untill much later, the city even approved building plans for Catholic churches — as long as they could not be recognized as such from the outside.
The revolt of the (Calvinist) Northern Netherlands against the (Catholic) Spanish Habsburgs began in 1568, but Amsterdam did not decide where its loyalties lay until 1578, when the city joined William of Orange in a peaceful revolution known as the Alteration. Calvinists seized power and Amsterdam became the Protestant capital of an infant Dutch republic. Catholics were no longer allowed to worship in public, but Dutch tolerance ensured that they were able to continue in private. - Source: DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Amsterdam, page 21 (2007 edition).
Our Lord in the Attic is a large church built from three upper floors of what would have looked from the outside a regular canal house and the two houses behind it. It held a large congregation, and rather than being secret, simply had to be discreetly hidden – what our landlord explained as a famously Dutch approach to awkward situations: not legal, not illegal, but “allowed”. You can read more here.
The Van Gogh Museum. An excellent morning spent in here, which included the very striking Felix Valloton exhibition. We were so taken with this melancholic French-Swiss artist’s woodcuts and paintings, filled with humorous yet bitter social commentary, that not only did we buy the catalogue, but have actually looked at it since – not something I can say about most cultural souvenirs that I’ve dragged home with me! In the Van Gogh collection, I was particularly taken with a portrait of him by fellow artist John Peter Russell; you can learn more (including the correct pronunciation of Van Gogh!) here:
The Rijkmuseum. Er…. confession time. Having arrived late the previous day, we found ourselves all museumed out after seeing both exhibitions in the Van Gogh Museum, and called it a day, not feeling up to the queues, the crowds, the sheer weight of all that art and culture, and sloped off to do other things in the fresh air instead. We felt sure that the Rijksmuseum would still be there waiting for us next time we visit Amsterdam.
De Nieuwe Kerk. Currently showing the Francis Bacon Triptych In Memoriam to George Dyer. I am not a fan of Bacon, but The Gardener is. All I can say is he owes me one….. Photographing the work was not allowed, but you can glimpse it in the background as I snapped The Gardener. Nice serene church though.
A tranquil corner of a busy area, with its English Church and houses reserved for women only. You can read more about this rather special place here.
The Hortus Botanicus. The Gardener remarked politely that this little, very old, Botanic Garden had a rather battered look, but as we walked round it, we were drawn into its interesting layout – an evolutionary history of plant life – and its steamy butterfly greenhouse (ooh, some scarily big butterflies!! I tried – and largely failed – not to flinch as they flapped giddily round my face) and hot houses, where our camera lenses remained stubbornly steamed up. We sat outdoors in warm sunshine to drink tea and listen to the birds.
And we loved the glorious display of wealth in the Willet-Holthuysen Museum, a fabulous canal house. I wish I’d taken a picture of the cabinet in which this truly exquisite, tiny silver candelabra was displayed along with many other beautiful objects in the collection, to give a sense of scale, but as I remember, it was about an inch in length, with teeny wax tapers.
And of course, there was the street life, the flowers, the wonderful vibrancy of a city that is rich in old, old houses and yet remains modern, young, alive and infinitely interesting. I love Amsterdam; this was my fifth visit, and there was so much I hadn’t seen, and have still to see. I know The Gardener longs to show me his favourite places in Portugal, but I hope we can return to Amsterdam too.
I haven’t quite finished with it yet.
Note: this was intended to be a whizz round the sights, not a super-long account of what we did on our holidays; if you stayed the course, well done you.
Although I’ve said that we walked miles, we also scuttled, jumped, trotted, dithered and had minor heart attacks every time we set foot outdoors. It is a miracle that we returned home from Amsterdam alive and unmaimed. There were many, many opportunities to be run over, by cars, trams, cyclists – especially cyclists, who regard themselves as pedestrians, albeit on wheels, thus disregarding traffic lights and crossings – all coming at us in all directions. Cars negotiated the narrow side streets, and were parked on the unguarded edges of canals, bikes were chained up everywhere, and trams whizzed about, bells clanging. We would scoot across the tram lines, look both ways to avoid drivers, and reach what we thought was a pavement only to find a harrassed-sounding cyclist about to plough into us.
Add to this the need to remain aware that European traffic runs the opposite way to Britain’s, and that the front and rear ends of trams look alike so that we were never sure which way a stationary tram might move, and you can understand why walking round this bustling centre might resemble a tourist-targeted blood sport. More than once, I was reminded forcibly of India – all that was needed was the addition of auto rickshaws and cows, and the adrenalin rush of dicing with death would have reached an all-time high.
But it was fun; in time, had we stayed, we would have got the hang of it, and with even more time, might have risked hiring bikes. Just not yet….
Street food, that is. The rest was fairly ordinary; toasted sandwiches and salads for lunch, easy evening meals rustled up in our apartment when we were too tired or footsore to go out again.
Virtuous vegetarian pitta with felafel and a fierce green chilli sauce.
Poffertjes – little puffy pancakes that tasted a whole lot better than they looked, smothered in icing sugar, butter on the side. Very like Scotch pancakes, I thought, but with the addition of yeast, and cooked in a special pan rather than a griddle; shame our hand luggage allowance did not permit a purchase of said dimpled pan!
And for an idea of how deftly they are made, look here:
Apple (well, we had to, didn’t we?). The grandest store yet.
Every day, The Gardener had a cake with his coffee. Sometimes he had two cakes in a day, and when I tell you that portions are generous, chocolate and cream feature a lot, and he has already lost the 2 lbs. he gained while we were away, you may indulge in a little envy and resentment. I do.
And finally, a cheap and cheerful lunch in Bazar, (thank you, Smitonius & Sonata, for the recommendation! Well worth a visit) where we photographed the lights and wolfed the food before winding our way through the enormous street market, heading off to our apartment to collect our cases and make our way to the airport.