October 1, 2009
Amsterdam’s canals were particularly pretty in the August sunshine, and the waterways offer a great way to see some of the key sights. We admired the skill of our captain, manoeuvring what was a wide and heavy traditional barge from one canal into another – some nifty wheel-turning and spot-on judgment was called for!
One of the more unusual sights was a multi-storey bicycle park – along the same lines as a multi-storey car park, but for bicycles… Quite how the owners ever located their bikes on their return was beyond me – there were thousands upon thousands of bikes all crammed in together. The houseboats lining the canals were pretty impressive, too, with floating decks moored adjacent to the boats to allow their owners outside space for a spot of sunbathing and relaxation; it looked very soporific to be rocked by the wake of passing craft, although not exactly private! My favourite mooring was the floating cat sanctuary, De Poezenboot (puss in boots). An odd mix, cats and water, but the residents seemed unfazed and calmly watched the world drift by from their respective perches on board.
I remembered the Indonesian “rice tables” – a legacy from Dutch adventurers visiting the Far East – from a previous visit to Amsterdam, probably 30 years ago. This time around, we sampled oysters and sophisticated seafood treats overlooking a large inland sea at Restaurant Nevy for lunch and a sumptuous evening repast at the Silver Mirror restaurant (De Silveren Spiegel), in a building dating from the early 1600s. Similar to Anne Frank’s story – but with a happier ending – an entire family had escaped the Germans during the war by hiding in a tiny space in the restaurant’s attic while the Germans caroused below. The family’s grandmother died while in the attic and they had to wait until late at night to take her body out and arrange it on the pathway to look as if she’d keeled over and died on the spot. In today’s free and easy Amsterdam, it’s very hard to imagine the privations suffered by many during the war-time years. Sue Ockwell.