Amsterdam. The weather here makes Ireland look and feel like a sunny tropical paradise. But I like it anyway. I limited myself to a single museum/tourist draw per day and wandered the neighborhoods for the rest of the time, eating and drinking where the locals go. Like the pub with a pussy cat sleeping on a shelf. The regulars would give it an ear scratch or belly rub on their way by. Anyone else who tried got scratched. After a few days his body language said he recognized me, but I didn’t want to push things. Or the bakery where a pigeon flew into my face as I walked through the door. At first I thought it was just an odd bird. Then I saw the staff tossing crumbs by the door for the local birds. Local people know enough to use a different door.
Oh…and there was a day where I didn’t follow my one-a-day pattern – when I went to the Anne Frank house. I went first thing on a Monday morning, figuring the line would be short. It was – just a few minutes under an hour. Silence and claustrophobia imbue the rooms with an overwhelming heaviness that was compounded by the weekend’s Paris attacks. Later I sat for a while over my coffee in their cafeteria, looking at people pleasantly chatting in what now looked like a 2-hour line. I left, looking for a drink. I wandered, and found myself walking past the flower-strewn French consulate. Never did find a pub that felt right for me.
I found myself back near my place and decided that a full mind was better than a brooding one, so I crossed the street to Stedelijk Museum, full of wonderful modern art. Didn’t read more than a couple of wall cards, just wandered from room to room absorbing the fact that people can create beauty, too.
I’m noticing a pattern in cities I like: geology and pre-Otis technology combine to keep them human-sized. Cork, Amsterdam and New Orleans are all built atop river mud at or below sea level. They each came into being in the years when people had to climb stairs and technology only allowed support pilings to go just so deep. Architecture seems to peak at four to five stories and the streets are too narrow for high speed auto traffic. They’re not only walkable, but walking is the sanest mode of travel. Except for Amsterdam, which must be the bicycle capital of the universe. Every bike that’s ever been lost, stolen or broken finds its way here. It’s where all bikes go to reincarnate, no matter how good or bad a life they had somewhere else.
It’s nice when the places you find comforting are also comfortable.