Sunday, July 23, 2006

night of the amsterdamned


Friday July 21 was the 176th birthday of Belgium's creation. To celebrate, we decided to drive to Amsterdam. IVN and I disagreed as to whether the last time we went was in 1997 (me) or 1999 (IVN). Any credibility those memoirs I was planning to write might have had is now lost.


Hotel rooms there are expensive, so we ended up spending the night in a rather funky camping site on the city's eastern edge.


We rented a couple of bikes. Definitely the best way to see this city, despite the blazing heat on Friday and the brief, unexpected downpour on Saturday. The backpedal braking system is kind of treacherous.


For those less motivated, the leisure of cycling can be combined with the effortlessness of driving.


This trip was totally unprepared, so we simply bought a map and cruised the canals, did some shopping and napped in the Vondel Park, Amsterdam's equivalent of Central Park, until the rain chased us away.




Of course, there's more to Amsterdam than pretty canals, H & M and the Indonesian restaurant on Spuistraat. There are museums and the red light district as well. We didn't do any of the former, but did pedal through the latter Saturday morning on our way to a neighbourhood market. Understandably, Saturday morning is not the district's finest hour: apart from a few unsavoury stragglers, we did cross the path of a stag party. I assume the bridegroom was the one wearing nothing but sandals and a jock strap.


Modern dutch design and architecture are formidable. The cars parked outside the appartment blocks in the northern dock area indicated that they were not social housing. The barrier (I have no idea what it was) outside of Utrecht, which we passed on the highway, also deserves mention.


The same docks area also houses some upscale interior design shops. Upscaleness doesn't guarantee taste, though.

Decades of bloody dictatorship, but at least they got a snappy name out of it (translates to Pol's Pots, Pol being a common first name or nickname).

I tried to fit some jazz into our Friday night by going to the BimHuis (another architectural marvel). I didn't know any of the participants, but they sounded good from the entrance. Still, I felt too sweaty and stinky from a full day's worth of driving, cycling and shopping in crushing heat to be truly comfortable in the BimHuis's rarefied atmosphere. The night before, Ahmad Jamal's trio had played there. I would have stunk up the place for that. Instead, we hung out on the waterfront underneath the building for a while, which allowed me to watch (from a distance) Beyoncé's BET Awards performance on some guy's Mac laptop. Without the sound, it was awesome. I don't like "Déjà Vu," but the visuals remain awesome. YouTube has it in very lo-res.