I arrived in Amsterdam on Monday after a 4 hour train ride from Paris spent in a cabin with two French women and an Italian family. All of the announcements were made in four languages and English was routinely the last, so I had to be patient. I met Matt at Amsterdam Centraal and we went for lunch at a pub where I discovered how delicious Amstel is. He gave me the key to his apartment and directions via the tram.
Matt and Kim live west of the main part of Amsterdam. It isn’t that far from the touristy sections, yet residents think it’s the equivalent of the boonies. A person can walk pretty much anywhere in that city, but most choose to bike. They took me to a grocery store that night where I finally came across the elusive Magnum Temptation ice cream bars, which were completely worth the hype and wait. We ate delicious roti and watched “Kurt Cobain About a Son” before we crashed.
Matt and Kim were beyond gracious hosts, supplying me with a card that would get me into most of the city’s museums for free and a “stripkaart” that would pay for my tram usage. The next day I walked down to the Van Gogh museum, which gave an account of the painter’s life in chronological order. I didn’t know that Van Gogh killed himself at 37, nor that he was a painter only for about his last eight or nine years, during which he produced hundreds of works. The famous ear-cutting act probably came about as one of self-mutilation due to a psychotic episode, which in addition to epilepsy the painter was known to suffer. My favourite of his works included “The Yellow House”, a painting of the artists’ refuge he desired to establish but failed, and a painting of the grounds of Saint-Remy, the mental institution where he stayed toward the end of his life. It was also great to see “Wheat Field with Crows” in person, since it was a painting I studied in my first year of university.
I went to the Filmmuseum and checked out an exhibition on French actor Alain Delon, of whom I had never heard but who definitely seemed like a big and controversial figure in the realm of French cinema. He starred in certain films of Lucino Visconti, among others, and was Golden Globe nominated for his role in “The Leopard”. He was implicated in the murder of his stand-in, which became known as the Markovic affair, but he was never tied directly to it.
On my last day in Europe I went to the Artis Zoo for a few hours. It was incredible to have a close look at animals I never have the opportunity to see, including exotic birds and some pretty big names in the animal kingdom. I witnessed the seal feedings, which were narrated in Dutch by the zookeeper. Of course, I was on the zoo trip mainly for the giraffes.
After the zoo I met up with Matt and Kim at a pub located at Rembrandtplein called the Old Bell. We had dinner and played with the resident cat who took a shine to Matt’s jacket. Matt and I then ventured to a higher brow coffeeshop called Amnesia before partaking in a dizzy walk home, on which we picked up more Magnum bars and I discovered that I had lost Matt’s house key.
I really dig Amsterdam. It’s an easy city to get used to geographically and there’s a general relaxation that hangs in the air. The canals are beautiful and there’s always something unusual going on in the streets. Of course, it was great to have a friend to crash with, and doubly great that it was Matt, who I’ve long considered one of my best friends and who I rarely get to see, especially now that he’s overseas.
The journey back to Canada was long. I had a strange experience this morning, as I woke up in my own bed for the first time in a little over two weeks and didn’t know where I was. I thought I might have been on a tour in France, or that I had gone and wandered into the wrong part of a castle. Squinting into the darkness, I made out the Canadian flag hanging on my door and it brought me back to my senses. I’m home. This is where I live, but the parts of the world I’ve seen recently haven’t left me yet. I don’t believe they ever will.