Well, two weeks now in Amsterdam, staying with Anne, Tom, Jasper and Rosie. It’s been a time of unexpected homeliness, constant adventures and strange sleeping patterns.
I didn’t know what to expect in Holland after a month in eastern europe. Hungary and Austria were so different to here, such a different culture of people and style of city. Where it felt difficult for me to connect with people on the street, shopkeepers, transport workers, mostly everyone really, it’s been easy here. People in Amsterdam that i’ve encountered have mostly been interested in engaging in some way, often open to a discussion. People acknowledge you in the street – Vienna and Budapest were like walking down a narrow tunnel alone, such was the disinterest of passers by in meeting eyes.
Transport in Amsterdam is a deal clincher. I saw a few cyclists in both Budapest and Vienna knocked to the ground by aggressive drivers. Their road culture is a nightmare, worsened by a lack of cycle lanes. While the public transport was excellent, particularly in Hungary with an efficient and easy to understand underground metro system, the streets were difficult to even walk through. It was not until getting beyond the tourist-ritualising centre that the charm of budapest’s rich history revealed itself.
In Amsterdam even the city centre has its distinctness and charm. Through the maze of canals, cobble streets, cafes, restaurants, coffee shops [for ganja smoking], sex shops and sex worker windows, the dress and shoe shops, the brightly lit takeaways, there is always uniqueness to anywhere i’ve experienced. The leaning rows of beautifully crafted narrow buildings, looming over the streets, filled with walkers, cyclists, trams, buses, scooters and cars. It’s a place like no other i’ve seen which has certainly enchanted and trapped me in its multiple disguises.
I’ve been here two weeks and I feel like i’ve seen so little and so much. The inner city Centraal area is damn hard to orient to. I’ve walked around and around those streets so many times, slowly the landmarks are starting to sink in, and I seem to find my way to things, but I couldn’t give a single person a useful direction. Just out of the Centraal area things begin to make more sense. Out there I feel more comfortable, more interested in negotiating with street names rather than just landmarks, more able to navigate to a particular place.
Amsterdam feels like a distinct travel experience. I’m feeling very out of the routine I’d created since leaving Brisbane. I haven’t really read anything about the country’s history or current politics yet, haven’t really investigated places to see. But that’s fine, really. There’s time.
I also met with Eugene van Erven, Director of the International Community Arts Festival, which takes place in Rotterdam each year. The festival focuses on creating a space for those that work in the community arts sector to network, present their work and showcase performance pieces. Based in Utrecht, Eugene works in the same building as the Vrede van Utrecht 2013 organisation, who are preparing for the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht and to position this wonderful smaller city of Holland as a centre for cultural expression and sharing, with their website declaring that “Investing through culture is investing in the roots of society.”
de Papillion, Tom and Anne’s 85 year old wooden ship, has completely displaced my early waking patterns. I’ve just come off a complete, full day sleeping, in bed at 2am Friday morning, up at 8am on Saturday morning. Was an indulgent night the night before, for sure, but still! My first 5 days here I think I spent around 60 hours in bed…. I guess, the only reason I can come up with is that months of working a lot and sleeping a little caught up and the gentle movements of the ship combined with sleeping in darkness, underwater, enabled a deep, deep sleep.
There’s some great street theatre and dance here, tucked here and there on cobblestone squares. And loads of festivals. ADM Bliksem as soon as i got off the train, in the squat i’m staying on. There’s Robodock and Rotterdam Theatre Festival next weekend, and Madness and Arts Festival, in Haarlem the weekend after. Going to check out an arts space called OT31 tomorrow night, a space that began as a squat.
I’m still finishing work from Brisbane, and it’s hectic at the moment, so it’s been a tricky juggling act to have a break while working. Not really possible, but I’m feeling pretty relaxed and well right now, despite recent sicknesses. It’s been great to be at the squat, about 50 minutes ride out of Centraal. The ship feels so far away from the craziness of the city, people here getting about their business across the squat, while on board the sounds of children playing, laughing, crying, and the distinct task of renovating the ship to get them all away on their travels to the US and eventually to Sydney.