Thursday, October 06, 2005

In the Land of the Tulips

The thing that struck me the moment we got out of the plane at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport - well, other than the fact that all the women were blond, statuesque and at least a foot taller than me - was that the airport did not look like an airport at all.

We came down a few steps from the gate and found ourselves in the middle of a mini city, hustling and bustling with restaurants, eat-outs, shops, supermarkets, escalators going down to the train station and up to a long promenade with more restaurants, eat-outs and a hotel.

Which was a complete relief! We were booked at the airport hotel and had been dreading having to stay away from the city at one of those Howard Johnsonny types with nothing around for miles except the airport.

We wheeled our luggage on to the escalators going up (the escalators had no steps, it was like a long conveyor belt, but on a slope) and within a hundred steps had reached our hotel. Ah, pleasure! It made such a difference not to have to get out of the airport, get a cab or a shuttle and drive out to a hotel far away from the aiport, especially after two flights totalling close to 13 hours. The airport had a Burger King to boot, which we hadn't gone to in close to nine months. After freshening up quickly, it was back to the airport again for lunch!

Staying at the airport had its other plusses which became evident during our stay - when N got an ear ache, the airport medical center was very handy, and the airline information desk was within walking distance when we had to make some inquiries about our return flight.

We headed out to the city by train the first day.

There is always something exciting about train journeys - buying train tickets, looking at timetables, heading to the platform, waiting for the train to arrive and looking at maps of train routes. Train maps are very reassuring. At a single glance, you have the entire city and its suburbs mapped out right there on that board or in the palm of your hands. If you've just landed in a new city, unfamiliar with your sorroundings, unsure of where the places are that you want to see, grab a train map. You will know exactly where you are in relation to your surroundings, and how to get to where you want to go.

Road maps are never the same. They don't give you an idea of an entire place. You look at a road map and you will know, may be, where you will be for the next 10 minutes. Beyond that, you would have to flip a page or open another flap to go on.

We got off at Centraal Station and headed to the city center. The sun was getting ready to set and as the sky darkened (must have been around 5), within minutes, the entire city seemed to be headed in the opposite direction, towards the Centraal Station. This seemed strange, especially after having heard so much about Amsterdam's reputation as a city of the night.

Shops were shutting down and so were the restaurants. Which was a good thing considering we had some jet lag to get over. So we made a quick trip to the Dam, the city's central square, looked around at the lovely 17th century buildings including the Koninklijk Paleis, originally built as the town hall, but now ocassionally used by the Dutch royal family for state functions.

The Koninklijk Paleis (Dang it! Those trams are quick!)

In an effort to discourage driving, parking spaces are few and far between and rates in the city are prohibitively expensive. As a result, roads are jam packed with pedestrians, trams and bicycles.

Bicycling is the preferred mode of transporation in Amsterdam.


A quiet, tree-lined, residential street

Quiet, tree-lined, residential waterways


Amsterdam is a city of concentric rings of canals and townhouses (long, narrow but deep houses that share walls with their neighbors). It started out as a small town in marshland. It's still on marshland, but it is neither small nor is it a town. As the population grew, and as the demand for real estate grew, the canals just rippled outward spawning more waterways, bridges and housing. An hour-long boat tour took us through the major canals.

Some of these townhouses have fantastic histories and a few of them have been preserved as historical monuments and museums. The houses along the Golden Bend (a stretch of canal), for example, were home to some of the richest shipbuilders and merchants of the 17th century.

The townhouses are built to lean forward a little bit so the rain water would flow down away from the walls of the houses. Because of the narrow entry-ways, steep stairs and multiple floors, most of them also have a sturdy hook at the top to move pianos in and out of the houses.


A Chinese restaurant on the water


Bridges over the canals

A couple of days later (during which time we'd driven out to The Hague and had taken a day-trip by train to Belgium) we were back in the city for a look at the van Gogh Museum.

Yes, the building is extremely uninspiring, but the exhibit more than makes up for it. With more than 200 of his paintings, it is the world's largest collection of van Gogh's art. We had seen a traveling exhibition of his paintings in Washington, DC, but that pales in comparison to the richness of the exhibit in Amsterdam. The paintings are arranged in chronological order and you can almost hear his brain working as you walk from one chamber into the other, see the works of the artists that he admired (Paul Gaugin, Georges Seurat) and then see their influence on the progression in his ideas and his art.

We also went on a walking tour from the van Gogh museum up to the Albert Cuyp open-air market about twenty blocks away. On the way, we passed the Rijksmuseum (which we did not go into; we'd had enough Dutch artists for one day), quiet, residential streets, and an awesome pastry shop run by two old ladies who were as made up as their pastry exhibits. We made a mental note to get something on the way back.

The open air market was busy, lively and an absolute delight in terms of the wares it had for sale - there were fruits, clothes (including a stall with ghagra cholis), cheeses, mattresses and home decoration items. We quickly went from one end to the other, bought some oranges and headed back. The pastry shop beckoned.

The Rijksmuseum

One of the road trips took us to a model working farm at Edam, a couple of hours away from Amsterdam.

Old-fashioned, but functioning wind-mills on a model working farm


A pastoral scene from our train to Brussels


The tulip gardens at Keukenhoff

Tulips are my favorite flowers and I was praying that the season would not have come to a close by the time we went there. Although the tulip fields were already being shorn of their blooms (any picture like this always reminds me of Hindi movie songs, but most often Dekha ek khwaab to yeh silsilay huye from Silsila)


the Keukenhoff gardens were still open. The clean, litter-free, well-maintained gardens were a sight for sore eyes.




A tool shed in the gardens.

27 comments:

Sunil said...

very nice....

There's a tulip festival here, near Seattle also (in a place called Mt. Vernon, an hours drive away).....but the festival there is in March-April.....

Are u in Amsterdam now? i'm surprised that there are tulips there now...it's a spring flower...

Sujatha said...

Sunil, thanks. This was back in May.

Kaps said...

I got to see the tulips courtesy the recent Tamil flick Anniyan. They had filmed a song during the tulip season. Nice travelogue.

Ganesh said...

very nice snaps

Sujatha said...

Thanks Ganesh and Kaps.

khelnayak said...

Hey no mention of diamonds from amsterdam. Long back in school, i had read about amsterdam being famous for diamonds. Nice snaps.

One silly question. Off topic. Whats with this template yaar? Most of the female bloggers seem to zeroin on this one. Anything special? :p

And yeah...you are certain for the meet, right?

Sujatha said...

We did see a few diamond shops, but nothing to write home about.

I should be at the meet, not sure at this point. I need to be elsewhere around the same time...

I had e-mailed a couple of the other Bangalore bloggers that visit here as well (Truman, Urban Junkie), and hopefully they'll be able to go to the meet.

Ash said...

Nice pics

I loved landing in Amsterdam, and seeing the unending coastline with a miliion sailboats, and the colorful farms with their cute windmills :)

Jagan Mohan said...

I studied in Rotterdam and if there were two cities in the world where I would consider spending rest of my life, its Amsterdam and Pondicherry.

Anjali said...

Lovely pics ... and a very evocative description of the city.

Sujatha said...

Ash and Anjali, thanks!

Jagan, thanks for visiting and commenting. I wouldn't mind living there either. Everything smells so fresh and clean and the Dutch are so environmentally conscious...

girish said...

Hi Sujata--Sounds like a great trip. Nice pics too. Was also nice to discover the recipes blog through your blog.

Sujatha said...

Girish, thanks. Hope you'll find that blog useful!

Ravi said...

Amsterdam...here I come! Thanks, Sujatha! :)

Joey Tribbiani said...

reliving your memories and mine too!! was there some 4 years back...

I would say..The land of tulips is one of the best places to spend one's adulthood.

That model farm is.. Zaanse Scaans and I have great memories linked with that place as well.

Bhaskar

rajeshwari said...

Beautiful pictures....

Sujatha said...

Ravi, you're welcome!

Bhaskar, :)))

Rajeshwari, thanks.

Prahalathan said...

Amazing and Amsterdam go together I guess....
One more reason to visit the place...
Good Work... Keep BLOGging

Sujatha said...

Prahalathan, thanks for visiting and for your nice comments.

DesiGirl said...

hello
came across this gem only a few seconds back. took me back to the time i visited amsterdam, in 2004. keukenhoff has been labelled as 'must experience' by a close mate and i went in april just so i can see the tulips. blew me away! your pix brought back some fab memories. thank u for sharing them.
desigirl

Sujatha said...

thanks Desigirl!

Kely said...
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Aish said...

very nice blog..I am planning to visit ams in late march, will there be tulips bloom in fields, can we go inside see them even when its not tulip festival..whats special abt the tulip festival..any thoughts?

Sujatha said...

Aish, if you like flowers, then Keukenhof is definitely worth a visit. This website (http://www.keukenhof.nl/nm/english.html) might give you some ideas about the best time to visit and whether it is worth it to go there after the tulip season. Hope this helps. Good luck.

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