Monday, March 14, 2011

My Amsterdam Bicycle

Yes, I spent an afternoon biking around Amsterdam...and I didn't even get into a brawl! (Sad to say, of course, I did once fight over a bicycle on the mean streets of Beijing...)

Heading out from the Movenpick Hotel, my aim was to make it down to the Van Gogh Museum. Snaking my way from north to south, I alternated between main thoroughfares and side alleys running along canals. I pulled over on a number of occasions, to get some food and do some shopping. (No Ballas, you have to wait until I get home to find out what purchases I made!)

As you can see from the middle picture, I was not the only biker out there! Now, I was given strict instructions by the woman at the bike rental shop. My bike came equipped with two locks. One was heavy duty chain lock. The other was a key operated device that released a metal extension through the spokes of the rear wheel, rendering it unable to rotate. Despite all of this protection, I was still a little nervous. I guess that was the woman's point with all of her instructions and admonitions!

(Funny sidebar...When I returned the bike, the woman, who was sitting in a small room that smelled like a particularly pungent weed, told me she would now get rid of my credit card number. She then proceeded to take a pen and scribble somewhat over the numbers she had earlier written down. Note to Des...Watch our account for any suspicious activity!)

Being a big fan of kebobs, I decided to grab a quick bite in this little place that advertised "doner kebobs." There are tons of joints like this around the city, many of them apparently run by folks of Turkish descent. Anyways, a doner kebob, it turns out, is not what I would call a kebob at all. It is actually meat (lamb, I suppose) shaved off a vertical spit and then served in a pita or on bread. Not what I was expecting, but definitely tasty!

As for the Van Gogh Museum, it was quite a learning experience. I hadn't known that Van Gogh worked as an artist for only ten years before he committed suicide. I also had no prior sense that Van Gogh's early paintings were kind of dark, reminiscent (to me, anyway) of past Dutch masters like Rembrandt. And I certainly had never heard that Van Gogh cut that piece of his ear off during an argument with fellow artist Paul Gauguin.

(Another sidebar...The museum is currently exhibiting a collection of early works that Picasso painted when he came to France in the first decade of the 2oth century. Although not my favorites, there were some works that caught my eye, like that famous self portrait of the young artist.)

I finished my excursion by returning to St. Nicholas, this time for Choral Evensong. This was like returning to the 15th century, as much of the music dated to that period. The choir brought tears to my eyes when they first processed in and starting singing, their collective voices beautifully drifting up and echoing through the high vaults of the cathedral. This group of men and women are the real deal! It certainly was an inspiring way to end a lovely afternoon in Amsterdam...



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