September 2020

Narrow houses due to land taxes – the wider the dwelling, the richer the owner

I went to Amsterdam on the Eurostar (train) from St Pancreas, London (cost: 40 euros in advance) to present a workshop on grief and launch my new book Working with Death and Loss in Shiatsu Practice at the European Shiatsu Congress. As soon as I took off my mask I was assailed by the smell of marijuana – it’s everywhere in the citycentre.

Shinto presentation as part of the European Shiatsu Congress

While I was there I took a few walks, as is my custom.

The first was in the pouring rain from Central Station to Admiraal de Ruijterweg where I was being kindly hosted by a colleague. I was soaked to the skin by the time I arrived. Somehow the rain had seeped around the wheels and into the suitcase, as well as into my rucksack, wetting the handouts I had prepared for the students. I love walking when I first arrive, though, stretching after sitting for so long, and adjusting to a new place, its people and energy.

View of the EYE film museum (low white modern building) from the back of Central Station
There are road works on the other side of the station

Getting through from one side (where the buses stop) to the other can be a challenge. Don’t panic! There are ways through on the bottom level, and if you have a bus ticket, you can tap it on both sides of the ticket barriers too.

The back of the St Francis of Assisi church on Admiraal de Ruijterweg, and one of Dick Bruna’s children’s book characters

Dick Bruna is best known for his Miffy books and although the first one was published in 1955, the famous cardboard, square ones started to come out in 1963, the year of my birth. I was very fond of them as a child. The writer and illustrator was a Dutchman who went to art school in Paris and Amsterdam and the books are instantly recognisable by their bold primary colours (he is said to have been influenced by Matisse).

In the Netherlands, Miffy is known as “nijntje”, which derives from the Dutch word “konijntje”, meaning “little bunny”.

Miffy website
The front of the St Francis church on Admiraal de Ruijterweg

Autumn was in the air – the chestnut leaves were curling under at the edges and turning dry and orange. Pale purple crocus stood on thin stalks, and it was much wetter than I expected it to be. I suggest you pack waterproof leggings as well as a jacket, and beware the wind if you have an umbrella!

Puddle reflections the morning after

I have to admit that I got lost as usual – googlemaps isn’t too sure about foot routes in cities, and I struggled to find tram stops which would take me in the right direction when I was carrying too much to walk. There are a lot of bridges and canals, beautiful ones which look rather similar but are probably all different once you know them well.

My session on grief, Autumn Leaves Fall, was held at the Vondelkerk, a circular former church in the Vondelpark.

Bench detail, Vondelpark
Inside the Vondelkerk, used as a church between 1880 and 1977. It is in the Gothic revival style by P.J.H Cuypers who also designed Central Station and the Rijksmuseum

I had a book stall and attended workshops in do-in dance and neck and shoulder meridians at the Beurs van Berlage, the old stock exchange. Did you know that the Amsterdam Stock Exchange is considered to be the oldest in the world, established in 1602 by the Dutch East India Company? It was a way of sharing the risk involved in trading overseas for textiles, pepper and yarn (India) and cinnamon, cardamom and gems (Sri Lanka).

Interior of the Beurs van Berlage
Tile detail, Beurs van Berlage
Exterior of the Beurs van Berlage
Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands (1880 – 1962) is to be found at the head of the Rokin canal. She reigned for 58 years
Oxford eat your heart out! There are thousands more bicycles in Amsterdam than in that English university town – they are simply everywhere
All ages ride, in fleets and swarms, in fact my friend said she didn’t recommend that tourists cycle as it can be dangerous – almost no-one has lights or wears helmets

Leidseplein (a plein is a square) is very close to the Vondelpark and de Balie is a large pub / restaurant there which serves really excellent food (30 euros for one glass of wine, a main course, shared pudding and fresh mint tea). Max Euweplein (named after a Dutch chess player) is very close by.

Photo taken in Max Euweplein. This looked like tears to me, a reminder of the theme of my presentation

The best walk was on the final evening when I discovered the calmer area of Haarlemmerdijk – chic shopping outlets, tattoo parlours, a cinema, eco cafes…

Netherlands cheeses are famous
Captivating graffiti
Pigeons all fluffed up against the wind, perching on a canon which was facing down one of the many canals
Tattoo parlour, Haarlemmerdijk
Check out ‘the darling’ for a very cute polar bear window display

At Haarlemmerbuurt there are water jets which rise and fall

I celebrated the end of the working weekend with a glass of cold white wine by the canals and then wandered through Westerpark, an enormous area of natural beauty with sculptures, eateries, clubs, a Sunday market, festival spaces and cycle paths.

Jacob van Lennep 2016

I saw lots of blue herons and several types of geese including a mum with a brood of goslings. (The photos were taken from a distance as I didn’t want to alarm her, so they are rather blurred).

A bee garden, Westerpark
A lily lake, Westerpark
I recommend Pizza Pizza. I didn’t eat there but they let me use the toilets and the pizzas which were being served looked delicious
Plus, I liked this message which was on the back of the toilet door

Constructed in 1845, Westerpark was created as an antidote to the then industrially polluted western district. Situated around the Western Canal, it stretches north-south from the centre of Amsterdam to Haarlem.

“Man on stool” – Ronald Tolman & “Ornament” – Liesbeth Pallesen, 1986

In 2003, the vision of Kathryn Gustafson, the American landscape architect who was hired to remodel the area, was finally completed: ….with a modern pond where children can play on hot summer days while their parents rest on the concrete beach or nearby sprawling lawn. Trees were planted and alleys drawn along the historical buildings, which artistic, avant-garde momentum of the 90s was respected: the Westergas has become a powerhouse of culture and entertainment, with an easy-going and independent flair.
Sculpture, Herman Makkink, 2004

Sloterdijk was once a separate village but has now been subsumed into Amsterdam city. My final walk was to Sloterdijk station to get the train to Schipol airport (platform 11, 4.8 euros) where I flew back direct to Edinburgh to start my fortnight’s quarantine.

Petruskerk (kerk = church)

Near the station were disused trains which formed another museum (possibly the street art museum)

There is a great deal to see in this vibrant, busy city. I first went there as a secondary school child on an art trip, excitedly visiting the Rijksmuseum and doing a life drawing class at the Van Gogh Museum. In my twenties, I returned with friends, and later I tried cycling with the kids (not very successful) and discovered I had bought an out of date guide book so most of the vegetarian restaurants didn’t exist anymore. That was all a long time ago.

Land of tulips

You can swim outdoors at Sloterplas; take a leisurely, night time cruise; or see where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis. The Dutch Resistance Museum is excellent.

A reminder of the past – note the traditional clogs (Dutch footwear) in the Sloterdijk district

Some tips: Etos is the chemist most like Boots, Albert Heijn are supermarkets, you can buy a 1-day, 2-day or 3-day ticket for the trams and buses but the tickets don’t have details on them so mark with a pen when you buy it so you know which is the one you are using and don’t confuse it with an old one.

Amsterdam Tourist Info

Sloterdijk area info