KNSM-Eiland

Posted in Places to go on June 1, 2011 by greeneggg

I haven’t been active with blogging in the middle of exams, presentations and hand-in’s these last weeks at the UvA. I still have two papers to finish, but my classes are finished. So these are the last days of my life in beautiful Amsterdam. I am already missing the city, though I know that I will come back a lot, I won’t have a bike when I come back. But I think Amsterdam will always, to a certain extent, feel like home.

With no more tips or topics at the moment, I will just put up some pictures. I am struggling myself to find out which activities will best justify the last days of my life here, so I certainly don’t have a lot to say about what everybody should be doing. As soon as I’ve posted this I will go on a little cycle trip along the Amstel, to visit a friend.

All the black and white images are from a class excursion to look at the architecture on KNSM-Eiland. It is an artificial island, just a short bicycle trip from the city centre, right behind Piet-Heinkade. You can always see parts of it when your train comes in from the north-east.

Beatrixpark

Posted in Places to go, Reviews with tags , , on May 14, 2011 by greeneggg

 How many parks does Amsterdam have and how many of them have you seen?

The first answer is cirka forty and the second answer then becomes not enough. I am encouraging you to go to Beatrixpark because it has become my favorite in Amsterdam – yes I think it beats Vondelpark, but it’s quite different. A lot of people have sadly missed out on because it is located in the south of Amsterdam. But this brings forth the possibility of a very nice bike ride! And for lazy people, or people who just have too much stuff to bring for a nice picnic (I’m guilty of both), the metros and trams stop just right next to Beatrixpark at the station Zuid or Stadionweg. Tram 5 stops the closest to the park entrance, at Pr. Irenestraat.

 

To be honest I haven’t even seen all of Beatrixpark yet, because it took such a short while before I was extremely pleased with the surroundings and just wanted to sit down. They have big plains, ponds, canals and bridges, huge trees, small pavilions and flowers (it was designed in the romantic style of the 30’s though it has been renewed several times since); basically it’s just the most relaxing urban park I’ve ever been to (even more than the Amsterdamse Bos) and I spent hours there with my boyfriend on a saturday evening a couple of weeks ago. While Vondelpark becomes a crowded sort of festival area on sunny days and especially on summer weekends, Beatrixpark is left in silence.

 

For the four hours we sat there, there were only a few people walking their dogs, some parents with their kids and a few single people reading or getting a sun tan – it was so nice and quiet (because I never minded the sound of airplanes, which is completely unavoidable in all part of Amsterdam, I find it soothing). All the elements really gather in a refreshing, spiritual cocktail here, and the experience makes you think about the fact that it is named after the Dutch Queen, and that it is also the cleanest park of Amsterdam.

 

Two thumbs up, 5/5 stars or just full score anyway. Go there. Don’t miss out on this gem.

 

PS: You will probably have to go pee in the bushes, as public toilets are hard to find. But that can be really nice too.

Just a reminder

Posted in Places to go on May 12, 2011 by greeneggg

the balcony on the OBA is open. And it’s one of the nicest places in town to have a drink.

De Wallen

Posted in No category with tags , on May 9, 2011 by greeneggg

 The extremes of Dutch tolerance and liberation are made explicitly clear to anyone who passes through Oudezijds Voorburgwal and Oudezijds Achterburgwal , or, “De Wallen”, also known as the Red Light District. Obviously this area is more than a tourist-trap money-machine when you stop to think about it: Why would a world-class center of cultural heritage like Amsterdam place it’s main area for prostitution, drugs and gambling in the very heart of its capital? In most cities in the world this kind of area is a place for the especially interested people to seek out in the dark corners and dangerous areas, rather than an unavoidably central, beautiful 17th century UNESCO-listed streets separated by canals. These streets are among the original first streets of Amsterdam, with the Oude Kerk (Old Church), the swans, the brothels and coffeeshops, casino’s and sex clubs, bars and, surprisingly enough, quite a lot apartments. Expensive apartments.

An incredibly intriguing TV-documentary called “Wonen op de Wallen” (living on de Wallen) sought to show how it is for people to live in this particular area, since it has long been a place of both national and international controversy, especially in the 80’s when the brothels and soft-drugs were just legalized, it was not as safe as it is today. But since then it has had close attention and care from the city council and the local council (consisting of the people who actually live there) and apparantly, today, it is an incredible place to live. I gathered some of the statements from the interviews in the documentary that I found the most interesting.

  • People who have lived there since the 80’s and early 90’s remember when the brothels were legally established and it officially became the original “Red Light District”. Apparantly then, because it is not such a vast neighborhood, most people knew each other, including the prostitutes who worked and lived there. It was a cosy and relaxed neighborhood, “iedereen deed z’n eigen ding” (everyone did their own thing) – prostitution was just a more peculiar way of life. People find the freedom and independence awesome. Today, sadly, the relations with the prostitutes are different as almost all of them are foreigners, often from Eastern Europe and non-Dutch speaking, so the communication is not the same.
  • When the neighborhood went through it’s toughest times, many people left. But the people who stayed were really die-hard “dit is MIJN buurt” (this is MY neighborhood) and so the remaining people became closer.
  • The locals wouldn’t mind if there also popped up a normal grocery store among all the sex shops, just for convenience.
  • The councils have always stressed in their plans to avoid a mono-culture of tourism, which would be 100% sex and drugs. They try to fit in galleries, cinemas, designer shops and they really appreciate the fact that they have a school situated there. Whenever they get the rare opportunity to buy an empty or bankrupt house in the area, they have so many plans for renovating and using it that they can hardly agree on a final decision.
  • Apart from the English and Italian tourists who shout a lot and want all the attention, it’s actually a nice and peaceful neighborhood, surprisingly enough, not too noisy in the weekends.
  • It seems that still more swans are immigrating to these canals.

The Dutch have a collective idea of openness, of leaving your curtains open because you have nothing to hide. By not only legalizing but also centering what is the main cause of crime in evolved societies, the problems have been solved – by simply deconstructing what was earlier perceived as problematic. People want sex and drugs, so they should have legal access to it. Not a bad way to create one of the leading societies in the world.

PS: I regret that the photos from the most colorful place in this city were taken on a B&W-film.

PPS: If you understand Dutch you can watch “Wonen op de Wallen” on Uitzendinggemist.nl for free.

Looking back at Queen’s Day ’11

Posted in Events with tags , , , , on May 1, 2011 by greeneggg

 There was a lot of orange and beer and sun and togetherness and everything one wants from this celebration.

 

While dancing with my boyfriend and some friends at the Westermarkt-party we saw that people were getting their hair cut on the dance stage, and a friend and I thought Why not? You don’t get to combine dancing with practical things that often, and for several reasons this struck us as being the potential hair-cut of our lives. Completely spontaneous in the middle of a crowd for very little money. This windy day made sure that everyone within ten meters of the hair-dresser would have to pick somebody’s hair out of their beer every once in a while.

 

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As I sat with the plastic cape around me, having no idea what exactly was being done to my hair since there was no mirror available, random people were taking pictures of me. And of their friends posing next to me, and in front of me, and behind and even above me on the stage. And a lot of people were just smiling at me, giving me a thumbs-up to assure me that the stylist was doing a good job. Being the object of people’s entertainment in the middle of a dance party in Amsterdam and having my hair cut cheaply (and apparently fashionably) at the same time was a fine rush, and quite memorable.

One of the women who approached me, while my hair was blowing into random people’s beer glasses, said she was the owner of the saloon/hair dresser. And not only was this the best saloon in Amsterdam, but the girl who was currently busy with my over-sized pumpkin-head was apparently their best stylist. Superfluously, the woman added up for me that I was currently having my hair cut by the best stylist in Amsterdam for only five euros. Niet slecht, he? Absolutely not.

Flower market

Posted in Things to learn with tags , , on April 28, 2011 by greeneggg

 I never bought anything at the bloemenmarkt on [street] but my mother did when she visited me in January; she was super excited to find the bulbs for blue tulips there. Imagine having blue tulips in one’s garden when one live’s on the countryside in Norway! Certainly she had to bring a couple of those with her. Ten bags, to be precise. Ever since she got back home she has been nourishing these like babies, for this spring they were going to make her garden the center of the neighborhood’s attention. Indeed, withing days of her arrival from Amsterdam her fellow neighbors, friends and relatives all wanted to hear of her adventures in the land of tulips. Imagine their excitement when they heard that their neighborhood would be having blue tulips this spring!

I talked to mom on Skype today. She wanted to send me a photo of the result of her careful gardening, the tulip-dream come true.

 

Don’t trust the Amsterdam flower market.

Preparing for Queen’s Day

Posted in Events with tags , , on April 26, 2011 by greeneggg

A little video I made with a friend after Queen’s Day ’09

Just like all other traditional celebrations, preparing for Queen’s Day involves being a loyal consumer. You can do this half-hearted and cheap, and it will still be rewarding. Take at least one of the following steps:

  • Go to the market at Waterlooplein between 10 and 5. There are piles of clothes for between 1-10 euro’s per piece. Seeking out the orange bits is really easy, just stand at a few meters distance from the small textile mountains and eyeball them while thinking of that tasty fruit, the orange, de sinaasappel. A friend of mine bought an entire suit for €10
  • Go to HEMA. The Dutch-color crayons are a must-have. But don’t go crazy, remember you’ll only need that crap for one single day, unless you’re planning on staying longer than a year and wouldn’t mind storing stuff at home. They sell all the same stuff in the streets on Queen’s Day but probably not as cheap as at HEMA.
  • Decide: Do you want to get the most out of Queen’s Day or Queen’s Night? The national day of the Netherlands is almost like a 48 hour festival which starts already the evening before the national day itself. The parties are countless, all over the city at all times. You won’t be able to attend very many of them and you can forget about using your bike – this city could never get more crowded than it does on Queen’s Day.

Oerhollands - A particularly Dutch variety of a QD-outfit from 2009.

 The easy and safe way to go is with the basic orange t-shirt/top, a flag painted on your face and one extra accessory like sunglasses, a bracelet, a wig, hat, etc. If you can manage to dress yourself entirely in orange then of course that’s a super cool bonus while dancing in public and appearing in a lot of pictures, but keeping it simple is completely acceptable and certainly the most common thing among the Dutch. This is a big day for the football fans as well, so any type of Dutch football merchandise is warmly welcomed on Queen’s Day.

Dress like a Queen. An example of an over-the-top costume from QD'09

 Why we celebrate Queen’s Day? It’s the Queen’s birthday. Well, the previous Queen’s birthday, Juliana. Her daughter (the current Queen), Beatrix, has her birthday the 31st of January, which isn’t such a pleasant time of the year to hold a nationwide outdoor party. This year Beatrix is visiting the towns of Weert and Thorn, but the celebrations find place everywhere, the Dutch celebration of saamhorigheid – togetherness.

 Prepare for the free markets, the open air concerts and the noise that will flow through every street and canal of our beloved capital this weekend.

Zandvoort aan Zee

Posted in Places to go with tags , on April 24, 2011 by greeneggg

The train leaves every half hour from platform 1 at the CS, and the round trip ticket cost of €5,80 is money well spent. I don’t know if you need to have lived or grown up by the sea to miss it, or if all humans just long for the ocean regardless of their past circumstances, but this summer (for it’s already summer!!!) you will want to make a trip to Zandvoort.

The last five minutes of the ride is nice, make sure you sit in the 2nd floor of the intercity train, ’cause from there you can see the nice landscape of sand dunes and vegetation as you close in on the Dutch coast. The train station itself is so small and cosy when coming directly from Amsterdam! And it probably is the only train station in the Netherlands that sells beach equipment. Loads of it.

Some ladies enjoying the beach from a distance or perhaps being just chilling in the ocean breeze.

I was surprised by how the beach space itself was dominated by restaurants, café’s and beach outlets. You could hire wind shields (it’s always windy) and sun beds, but of course you could also do like smart students do and go to the market at Waterlooplein first to pick up a vintage picnic blanket for €3. You can spread it out wherever there’s room for it, and given the season, you might want to arrive there before two o’clock to avoid any problems.

An arriving train from Amsterdam on a busy April Sunday

When I went there with my boyfriend we also wanted to have a look at Zandvoort itself, but we soon learned that one shouldn’t bother to spend much energy doing that. This town has a lot of restaurants and hotels, and despite it’s obvious purpose of attracting dozens of tourists, there is really nothing else of recreational interest here than the beach and the ocean. It’s ugly. Seemed like a horrible place to live.

So the trip was cut short (the ocean is still too freezing to swim in) and we jumped on the train back to Amsterdam. Spontaneously, to make the trip a bit longer and more interesting, we got off at the stop called Overveen, right before Haarlem.

Seemed like a rich part of Haarlem. Walked around for 15 minutes and had a drink at the nice café on the train station, then went on to Haarlem. Haarlem has a nice little park next to the train station, if you exit on the backside, not on the side that says “Centrum”. There were very few people there too, so I could actually ready for a while and my boyfriend even had a nap on the picnic blanket.

We were also surprised to discover that there’s another IKEA in the Amsterdam area apart from the one in Bullewijk. You can catch the stoptrein that rides between Haarlem and Amsterdam, it stops right next to IKEA at a stop called Haarlem Spaarnwoude.

The Anne Frank House

Posted in Places to go with tags , , on April 21, 2011 by greeneggg

It’s one of the top attractions in Amsterdam thanks to the world famous story, which has been named one of the best and most important books of the 20th century. Maybe it’s worth an hour of your time too? If you’re too busy and important to sacrifice an hour of your life to get new perspectives on the most tragic event in the history of mankind, you could reconsider your priorities a little. Or you could try to avoid the worst queues, because most of the time the queue outside this tiny Amsterdam house is so long that you would spend at least an hour just waiting in it. I have tried to learn which times are good, and failed, because they say you should go when they open in the morning on a weekday, which is when I sleep. I tried going there five times, at last I just happened to be lucky, as the queue was really short and I waited barely five minutes. I think this was a Sunday afternoon, which makes no sense at all. And afterwards I had a beer at a nice bar right on the other side of the canal, to rest and digest.

The annex is situated right next to the Westertoren on Prinsengracht 263-267 and is open 7 days a week. You can get in for free with a Museum Year Card. Normal admission costs €8,50

Know the story before you go there. The more familiar you are with Anne Frank’s situation before you visit her hiding place, the more everything there will mean to you. If I hadn’t already read her diary before I nervously entered the house, my experience of it would have been very different indeed. I probably wouldn’t have cared enough to make a thorough visitation, look good at the videos, read the information boards or try to just stand in her bedroom and absorb the feelings attached to this place. But if you lack the time, energy or motivation to read the whole diary;

  • Watch the BBC adaptation from 2009. I wouldn’t recommend the 1959 version, which is embarrassingly outdated in it’s classical 50’s Hollywood theatricals and it’s stupid pronunciation of all Dutch names (“ANNY!”) accompanied by an awkward orchestral score. The very recent, British adaptation had me captivated and moved, even though I watched it after completing both the book and the visitation. I warmly recommend it.

  • Read the graphic novel. It’s very easy to find in Dutch book stores. I haven’t read it myself but it’s meant as a much more accessible alternative to Anne Frank’s story.

  • Read the Wikipedia article. This is the absolute least you can do, please don’t leave it at this.

Every once in a while they do a musical or theatrical production of Anne Frank’s diary. At the moment in Amsterdam you can visit the Carré to see her staged. I’m really curious what that would be like, I could never imagine someone singing something out of her diary.

This museum isn’t just one entire bad trip of death-anxiety and holocaust horror though. When you get through the actual hiding place you end up in the modern part which was made to spread awareness and encourage personal engagement in modern day political issues. You can stay longer and have something to eat, read more and participate in polls or have a look through the gift shop. Here, I bought the cutest postcard ever.

I am not the same person as I was before I picked up this book. Anne Frank’s Diary gives you the intimate insight into the life of a teenage girl who is:

  • Misunderstood by everyone she lives with
  • Not able to step outdoors for a second of the 25 months she was hiding
  • In constant danger of being discovered by people who would immediately separate her from everyone she knew and deport her to an extermination camp
  • Going through puberty with no one to relate to regarding questions of sexuality
  • Ambitious to become a writer
  • Falling in love with the only boy in the house

Without exposing too much of the content, I want to suggest that this novel could surpass your expectations just as much as it did mine. I am both deeply disturbed and relieved by the fact that I could not, nor could anyone of my generation, possibly imagine such an all encompassing horror. My subconscious tried to have this experience when I had a nightmare that lasted for what seemed like a year, where I was constantly escaping the strangers who wanted to kill me and everyone close to me. Attempting to imagine such a scenario though, might be exactly what everyone should do.

Trip to Maastricht

Posted in Places to go with tags , , on April 18, 2011 by greeneggg

Everyone has been hyping Maastricht since I first came to this country, eventually myself too. So I finally went there this weekend with my love and we we’re both slightly disappointed.

  • Maastricht is barely Dutch, it’s more Belgian but not exactly that either (it’s Limburgs!), so culturally it is quite hard to place in one’s pre-existing sets of ideas about national identity. Of course that uniqueness can be very interesting too, but we we’re so excited to see this town that we forgot about that and just wanted to have our expectations fulfilled.
  • It has a park and a surrounding fortress/town-wall of undisputable beauty. I really enjoyed this area so much more than the town itself that I didn’t feel like leaving it at all.
  • The size and layout of the town is however quite charming. One get’s caught in a labyrinth of quiet, small streets and suddenly there’s a huge church and a big square with nice café’s and bars.
  • I have the impression that one would need no more than a day (preferably a sunny one) to see Maastricht. We went there on a Saturday though and because of it’s location (squeezed between Belgium and Germany) it has a lot of tourism and, like Amsterdam, it gets so busy that it becomes challenging just to move around in some of the streets.
The problem is that doing a spontaneous trip to Maastricht is just as hard and expensive as doing one to Brussels because of it’s distance from Amsterdam – almost three hours by intercity train. I would rather go to Antwerpen, but of course you shouldn’t miss out on Maastricht either. Good luck.