Amsterdam Thoughts


Our Cruise to Iceland and Greenland leaves from Amsterdam.  Given the vagaries of Alaska weather and our desire to avoid jet lag on the cruise we arrived in Amsterdam with four nights and three days to acclimatize.  Amsterdam is a good city to do that because we already know it well, we can relax and not feel compelled to see everything.   We can visit a few old familiar sights and spend time relaxing and picking up on a few details that we may have missed on the rush to get out of Sitka.  More on that later..  Here are a few thought vignettes of our visit there.


Being a Protestant has always been a part of my identity. I come from a “Mixed” Irish American family where both grandparents were from “mixed” marriages. I was brought up with a whole slew of Protestant and Catholic aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides. But my identity was Protestant. I think because I liked the word “Protest” in the phrase, I liked movable type and the outburst of publishing that came from the Lutheran tradition which helped cradle the Enlightenment. I don’t like authority.

I began to have some doubts about this identity when I was 14 and my grandfather took me to hear a young fiery Ian Paisley preach. He scared the bejesus out of me. But I went to a Lutheran college and became immersed in Protestant thought.

Looking at this exhibit it made me question my protestant identity. I love beautiful art and to see it smashed, burned and whitewashed made me ill. One grave of a Calvinist patron of the church showed his family crest being held up by men in chains, slaves. The plaque said: “He wealth was probably amassed not by gentle means.”

Of course I knew the histories of the bloody wars of religion that tore Europe apart, of the horrors of mass conversion. But seeing pictures of religious vandalism, standing in the place where the vandalism took place gave me a new perspective. These Calvinists were 16th century Taliban. The Calvinist commonwealth as caliphate. I began to wonder whose side I would have been on.

I certainly enjoyed the beautiful reformation organ and the concert of Bach in the church, and the carved wooden pulpit from which the word was read and preached in the language of the people. I still admire the enlightenment. But I wonder.

For most people the collection is the reason to go to museums, but I am, as often , drawn by the architecture. I love railway stations of a certain era, the ones made of iron and glass that let in natural light to the platforms. Some of the same features that create a successful 19th century railway station can create a spectacular museum. The Rijks Museum in Amsterdam was designed by Pierre Cuypers who also designed Amsterdam Central station. The same light that helps you onto a train can help you look at art. While I love looking at art I like looking at buildings better. The Rijks Museum has undergone a decade of remodeling, yet it stills allows natural light.

And light is another thing.  I used to think of Dutch Masters as gloomy people making gloomy paintings.  So many have been restored, with the darkening varnish removed, to show vibrant color, again in natural light.

Here are some pics of the museum.

Amsterdam may be bike friendly but bikes seem to have declared war on pedestrians. In a zebra striped walk with the green “walk” icon you are still likely to be run down. On some streets with bike paths and sidewalks bikes are parked blocking the pedestrian way. If you step into the bike path to get by the bikes you are likely to get “jingled.” Therefore it was with a fair amount of satisfaction that I watched an operation pulling bikes out of a canal.

I asked a canal boat skipper about bikes in the canals.  He says they fish about 10 thousand bikes and 10 cars a year out of Amsterdam’s canals.  He reckons that the canals are three meters deep,  One meter is mud, one meter are bikes and one meter is water.  About 60,000 bikes a year are stolen out of 1 million in circulation.

Here are some sunset pics of Amsterdam.  On another blog page I will post pics from a canal boat cruise.






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