After four months in Amsterdam, we are preparing to return to our life on the road. We’re heading back to our camper in Cancun next week!
We enjoyed living in our own home, and getting used to the Dutch culture again after decades of absence. I’ve loved everything about it, but regret not having been able to get out more, to visit some museums or see more performances and attend some events. Our dog Kakao threw some water on the fire: he did not like being left alone in the apartment, and howled to the extent that our neighbors were getting worried. So we took him everywhere we could take him, which here in Holland is often no problem. We could take him on the bus or tram, and many restaurants and stores tolerate or even welcome dogs. But we could not take him along on bicycle rides – he is getting too old for an extended run. Theater performances are also out of the question, as are official business appointments and such. We love our dog, so we adjusted.
We had a lot to do in the apartment: the fridge needed fixing , the oven and dishwasher broke down, scuffed walls needed a new coat of paint and odd projects that were left to be done before, had to be done this time around. In between, we stayed a week on our little houseboat in Friesland, also to make sure our properties will be taken care of when we are on the road again.
We experienced the King’s day celebration with our son Floris and his love Juel in Amsterdam. Friends came for a visit in our apartment, and Thijs and I went (separately!) to a theater event where Juel performed. We walked a lot with Kakao, mostly three times a day! From our bedroom window, we have a gorgeous view over Rembrandt Park and the old city center in the distance. We like where we live – just within the beltway, but only a ten minute bike ride away from the center of town. The Kinkerstraat is our neighborhood street where we can find just about everything, from bank to bakery, from hardware store to doctor’s office. On the other side of the apartment building, through the underpass of the beltway, supermarkets are just a stone’s throw away. Here you mingle with a mainly Middle Eastern population. We don’t feel any tension – it feels like everyone belongs here – and we feel very safe. With 180 nationalities represented in Amsterdam, it is no surprise to hear many languages spoken, many of which we don’t recognize. English is the unofficial second language, and chances are, when you lost your way, you’d have to ask a non-dutch speaker for directions.What is it about Amsterdam, that attracts people from all over the world? We enjoy the tolerance and easy going attitude, especially living along the edge of Rembrandt Park.
The park is enjoyed by many people.A lone musician regularly plays his heart out, enjoying the acoustics of nature … as we hear the sound of his saxophone, we often spot him near the bushes along the water’s edge. We noticed that musicians play for their own enjoyment; not to collect money from passersby. Last Sunday, we stopped and chatted with a guitar player who loves Elvis Presley’s music. He asked if he could play a song for us, and I asked him if I could take his picture. I honored him with my best rock and roll moves to his version of Jailhouse Rock.
The park contains children’s playgrounds, gym machines, soccer fields, sunning lawns and benches. There is a petting zoo, a place for children to build forts, and school gardens. Bicycle lanes and walking paths pass through sunny lawns and shaded woods, over bridges across ponds and canals. On our daily strolls, we meet other dog walkers, runners, bicyclists, parents with babies in strollers, or people just enjoying the outdoors. We had a chat with a man who brought out his beloved song birds in pretty cages. A Swedish transient who hangs around the park for the summer, connected with us through our dog Kakao, who decided to go over and say HI. Totally covered-up Muslim families ignore sun-worshippers in various stages of un-dress. Their families prefer to gather in the shade, divided in two groups: the men circled around the barbeque, the women and children a small distance away with the rest of the food and drinks. On the lawns, we see birthday parties, meet-up groups, weddings (of different cultures), yoga and tai-chi groups, body-builders, and many people eating and barbequing.
Lucky for Kakao, this is a dog friendly nation. We can take him into many stores, restaurants and public transportation. In more than half of the park, dogs are allowed to run unleashed, able to socialize. Our park is kept pretty wild, and to our surprise, nobody seems to care when a dog digs a hole in chase of a mole. There are many moles and many holes.
Bicycle lanes are everywhere in the Netherlands. In the Amsterdam area, you can reach and do just about everything by bike. In the morning, around 8:15 in Rembrandt park, the main bicycle lane running the length of the park is like a bicycle highway, full and busy, but soundless except for some voices, some chains cracking and the swish of tires over the tarmac. You can see people on their way to work, often on their phone, sometimes in business attire. Relatively speaking, there are few cars on the city roads.
Dutch bikes are utilitarian, made to get you from A to B, to carry groceries or, for moms and dads, to bring their kids to school: one in the front, one on the back seat, and sometimes with an infant attached to the parent’s body. Dogs and groceries sit in a crate which, just like the small child seat, is attached to the handlebar. Cargo bikes are used to move kids, furniture, dogs, or anything that remotely fits…Dutch style school buses carry 6-8 kids in a heavy duty extra- long cargo bike, or sometimes powered by a Segway. At an early age, kids learn to ride their bikes to school (first under guidance of the parents, later by themselves, or in a group of friends. For school outings, a long line of school kids ride their bikes; two by two, with an adult in front and one in the back. At around age 10, school kids learn about the traffic rules. At the end of the school year, they get tested, both in theory and in a practical driving test. For one week, you will see them everywhere, recognizable by a vest with a number. Their traffic skills get scored by volunteers located at critical locations in the neighborhoods.
Finally, there are the elements of nature, like cool summer nights after ever-lasting, warm summer daylight hours (dawn 4:30 AM, dusk 11:00 PM) We have been very lucky with the weather!
A stork flies by every day … seen from our apartment’s 14th floor, we are sometimes at eye-level. I think it is the one from Vondelpark, heading for the larger Sloterplas lake and forests. Green parakeets, pigeons, magpies and crows are the most common birds to be seen here. The melodious song of the merel (blackbird) is the most pleasant sound of summer. Ducks, geese and coots share the ponds and canals with ball- or stick-chasing dogs.
On quiet mornings, we spot a black rabbit that inhabits the space along the Montessori school. It is not the only rabbit in the park. Kakao discovered an enormous rabbit warren under the trees in front of our apartment towers.
After dark the hedgehogs come out. Shy and too slow, they roll up in a ball and trust their spines to defend themselves against the excited prey drive of our dog Kakao; it is a reason to keep him leashed during our last walk of the day.
Next week we will continue our traveling life again. With fondness we look back on this short section of home experience, knowing that at any moment, when we are done with our gypsy way of life, we can return to the country we are proud to call ours.