Monday, April 23, 2018

Reruns 3: Amsterdam

I'm away on holiday, to Amsterdam as it happens, so here's an old post from 2012 about going to, um, Amsterdam:


We arrive in Amsterdam and it immediately starts to snow. We crowd onto the tram and ride across the city. Past the bodies, out the window I can see flurries of white. The darkened sky is reflected in the canals – the Prinsengracht, the Herengracht – that we cross.

We walk into town through a park. The wind whips snow across my face, making me glad I have a full beard. Snow fills the path, piles up on hedges, lies on top of the frozen water. I watch closely, making sure the path I’m on doesn’t suddenly become an icerink.

We go into a cafe, brushing snow from hats, scarves, coats, boots. There’s the smell of coffee, and frying. We order, mild coffee, rich lager and toasted sandwiches. The warm air alternates with freezing drafts as the door opens and closes and the damp air condenses on the windows hiding the weather in fog.

After a very long lunch we head back out. Three-quarter size snow plow trucks have begun clearing the city. They begin with the bike lanes, not so much to help cyclists, but because the emergency services use them to bypass blocked roads and reach places roads don’t go.

Dam square has become a white plain, surrounded by slate grey buildings. The bright lights and loud noises seem muted, compressed on the ground floor between the frozen ground and the dull upper stories. The trams and buses have vanished so we trudge back home in the twilight.

Overnight the Netherlands has become a nation of skating fanatics. The evening magazine chat show becomes a discussion on the Elfstedentocht, a 200km skating marathon that hasn’t been held since 1997. Some ice masters are letting people skate; others use pikes to demonstrate the ice isn’t thick enough. Excuses from the railway bosses are crammed in at the end of the program.

Looking out across the night shrouded city, it gleams orange; streetlamps reflecting off low clouds and snow covered roofs. It’s not the place I was expecting.

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