Tuesday 14 May 2013
We were relieved to arrive at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, but there was some very cold weather there to greet us. We caught a train to Amsterdam Centraal and then boarded the number 13 Tram to De Baarsjes. When we arrived at our lodgings in Reinier Claezenstraat, our host, Marieke, gave us a cup of steaming hot tea, a map, and some useful advice about what to see and what to avoid. She made us feel at home straight away, and we chatted for some time about her work as a photographer, and about our travel plans.
Our room was a small one on the fourth floor of the building, up a very steep flight of stairs. The fourth floor landing was well-lit by a generous skylight. The bathroom seemed impossibly small: when you sat on the pan, your knees pressed right up against the door. The shower recess in the bedroom was another feat of impossible spatial design: using it was like climbing into a cupboard next to the bed. Once you were inside, however, there seemed to be ample room to polish one’s arse.
The room was graced with a generous row of windows that looked out onto to some similar buildings and offices below, and afforded a reasonable skyscape. There was a diminutive balcony with two chairs and a small table that was welcoming on the rare moment the sun was shining. The furniture in the room was sensibly scaled so that it did not seem cramped. The room included a bar fridge, an electric jug and an infernal invention that has proved to be all too common in other accommodation—a Nespresso coffee machine. Many cafés in Tilburg seem to serve coffee made from one of these or something very similar. The brew is inferior, so I have learned to scan the streets on our walks for Italian coffee shops.
After settling into our doll’s room, we went out walking and were quickly seduced by the prospect of bagels and real coffee in front of a huge window onto the main street, with the sunshine cascading in. We began to feel at last like we had begun the first leg of our adventure.
We walked around the Jordaan district and generally enjoyed the architectural eye-candy. The citizens of Amsterdam have done so well to preserve the character of a city which still exists on a mediaeval scale. The canals seem to have acted as a constraint on the expansion of streets and buildings, and this is very fortunate. Even small cars seem somehow out of place compared to the pedestrian and bicycle. One of the reasons Susan and I kept getting lost was our tendency to overestimate the distances on the map and thereby overshoot our destinations. We have become habituated to a city that is built on a scale dictated by large buildings and fast machines rather than horses’ legs and human limbs.
It started to rain as we approached the touristy district near the city centre. We sheltered under the awning of an expensive hotel, and eventually headed back towards De Baarsjes. On the way, we pulled into an impressive old building that had been converted into a shopping centre where Susan was lured into cosmetic shop by two young, female spruikers, and then subjected to an intensive sales pitch by an attractive young man. I loitered on the second floor of the building and watched the spruikers who practiced their charms on other middle-aged women and then mocked them behind their backs as they walked away. Susan eventually extricated herself from an elaborate scheme to entice her to pay an impossibly huge sum for a pleasant-smelling placebo, and we moved on to the Dam where buskers relieved tourist of their euros in exchange for a photo with someone dressed up in silly clothes.
Lured by the prospect of sleep in a comfortable bed, Susan was fast asleep by 6:30 in the evening. I had plans to go out and get some dinner, but I lay down for a short nap at about 7 p.m. and awoke five hours later, lying on the bed next to Susan, still in my clothes.