Sunday, 29 April 2018

New life

The weather was pretty miserable today (rain and cold) so we explored an interesting indoor antique market and, during a break in the rain, a small outdoor art market. Grey and dismal do not make for wonderful pictures.

So rather than share anything from today, here's two things of interest from the last few days I didn't get to.

King's Day made a mess of the city and the canals. The city's street sweepers worked hard yesterday and the city was already amazingly tidy by noon (though there are still big piles of trash that need collecting, but they're working on that, too).

But what about the canals? How are these cleaned (because the Dutch are nothing if not tidy)?. Generally, garbage collects in the canals any day (people chuck stuff in, stuff blows in), but King's day really resulted in a ton of trash floating around.

Enter what I call the "scoop boats".
Trash collectors
We see these guys regularly, almost every day. Some boats are labelled "This boat is made from plastic collected from Amsterdam's canals". It's basically a small boat full of folks (often, mostly kids), armed with not much more than fishing nets, scooping trash.

They are not city workers. I'm kind of interested exactly who they are, and if they do their work with volunteers.

And secondly, in the canals is life. There are swans...
Enjoying King's Day
...and seagulls...
Not unique
...other ducks, and coots. We saw a Eurasian Coot on a nest the other day.
Interesting materials. Maybe they shouldn't clean the canals.
Turns out they were a mating pair.
Having a discussion 
They didn't seem to care about us
And it turns out we caught a nest changeover.
Large feet don't harm the eggs
Quite the clutch 
Settling in
We saw the pair before King's Day; I wonder how well they survived the mayhem and canal mess?

Saturday, 28 April 2018

King's Day mayhem

Friday was King's Day. For those non-Dutch folks, that's the day the whole country celebrates the King's birthday, wears orange, and gets drunk (or stoned) in a giant public party. Yes, when there was a Queen, it was Queen's Day, and instead of being held on the King's April 27th birthday, it was held on her birthday, April 30th.

In Amsterdam, the centre core of the city shuts to traffic, and since that includes the central station area, there's no trams or busses or taxis on the streets. Only a loon would ride a bike or scooter in the mobs of humans. Anyone with a boat drives around the canals (even if they have no idea how to drive a boat). Any boat that has room fills to overflowing with standing people dressed in orange. Any boat that can, carries a generator and a DJ and blasts music (even though there's a law that says you're not supposed to be able to hear music 10 m from the boat).

If drinking large quantities of beer isn't your thing, there are people selling balloons full of laughing gas for €2. There are street vendors selling cannabis lolly pops or ice cream...
But is is chocolate or vanilla?
...or weed cakes or Smart Shops selling magic mushrooms, and I'm pretty sure the police turn a blind eye to almost everything (because we saw most everything).

In addition, everyone and their brother becomes a street vendor or busker. Kids set up tables selling their old toys or sodas. People open their doors and sell access to their toilets for €1 a visit (and more people should do this; more later). Ladies lay out blankets and sell their old shoes or clothes. Little kids sit on a stool and play recorder (badly) with a hat in front of them.

Every restaurant or bar blares music and hangs up orange banners, in addition to having a little table selling food and beer. Coffeeshops (the ones that sell cannabis) have reggae bands. And everyone is wearing orange.

For you Calgarians, imagine Stampede on steroids where the entire downtown core of the city is closed to everything except people and there are no rules -- and the parade take place on every street continuously for 9 hours. From New Orleans? Mardis Gras, only fifty times as big with only one colour visible. In terms of street parties, this is world class.

For us, it started gently at 11 AM with the first of the overcrowded boats puttering by blaring music.
One or two on board
We had the grand plan to sit in the window and watch the parade, taking pictures of every boat. In an hour we took 200 pictures and it was obvious ours was not a "busy" canal.
This one had a smoke machine
Occasionally, boats would pull up to the empty canal wall across from us and disgorge their passengers for a while. Turns out, they were off to pee somewhere (a lot of beer will do that to you). At 1 PM, the peeing was often "discrete"; later, not so much.
Two boats "docked" 
This dude is peeing against the boat's wood box. 12:30 PM
Some canals become "one way streets"; our didn't. 
Much orange
In the world of wearing orange, we saw:

  • orange hats
  • orange shirts
  • orange scarves
  • orange suits
  • orange ties
  • orange tuxedos
  • orange skirts
  • orange dresses
  • orange bathing suits (note: it was not warm)
  • orange pants
  • orange bathrobes
  • orange socks
  • orange glasses
  • orange jackets
  • orange wigs
  • orange cones
Silly orange hats

Orange rabbit ears, orange lion manes
A boat wrapped up in orange tarps

Turns out that if you strap a motor to it, even a dock becomes a boat.
Be careful near the edge
Some boats appeared... overloaded.
Standing room only
While the canal traffic on our canal was good, we were missing the street party. So we went out for two walks through the day, one through the Jordaan/Western Canals and Dam, and one through the Red Light District and the Old Town plus Southern Canals.
Our canal, just up from our house

Many streets were like this
We found out that our canal was indeed relatively quiet. Traffic controls are put on the canals, and the traffic enters on the Prinsengrascht, then fans out. Here's where they come in.
A solid line
The "best" places to see the canal traffic were at a few bottlenecks in the system. The bottlenecks had throngs of people all jockeying for a good vantage point.
Folks line the canal walls
At least one boat turns off
Some boats included live bands.
Acoustic guitar, electric bass & drums
When there are no trams or bikes or cars or busses, the roads fill.
Spui fills
There's no room for cars anyway
A car tries to get through, disturbing a group who was sitting, stoned, in the middle of the road
The throngs 
More throngs
But in the end, it's all about the canals, the boat traffic, and the antics of the boat passengers.
A bottleneck. Boats lined up, trying to get under a bridge
Those orange sparkles are a confetti cannon they just shot off
A boat story in pictures:
4:35 PM: A rental boat comes in to dock
4:37 PM: The reason for docking becomes clear
4:38 PM: He's joined by another
4:42 PM: The local constabulary suggest his behaviour is inappropriate
4:43 PM: Despite the constabulary's advice, when you gotta go... 
By late afternoon, we saw people peeing randomly. Guys peeing into the canal while boats sailed by waving (he waved back). Two ladies hopped off a boat, step down three steps, and dropped them. There were more bathrooms than usual, but there needs to be more. Many, many more. And don't be naive: we saw a number of urinals with drains directly into the storm sewers or canals.
Another bottleneck
We saw folks jump off bridges and onto boats. We saw folks jump out of one boat onto another.
This guy jammed his boat between two posts trying to turn a tight corner
The traffic jam he created
Two boats making a mess going the wrong way up the street
A drunk guy offering the captain driving instructions
Magically, around 7:30 PM, the boat traffic subsided and other than a TON of garbage in the canals (plastic bags, balloons, beer cans, wine bottles, etc), things started to return to normal. I understand that the rules say that all the outdoor concerts have to shut by 8 PM. This morning, all was quiet; I suspect 2/3rds of the country is hung over.

Because, fascinatingly, this is a party for and by the Dutch. There are tourists here; lots of them (it's Amsterdam). But 99% of the people yesterday were speaking Dutch. This is a party for the country, that we happened to crash.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The Keukenhof, on the second try

We had grand plans to go to the Keukenhof yesterday, but "called an audible" (as my brother describes it). As we were heading to the train station, it was raining and cold. We didn't really treasure the thought of being outside in the rain all day. So instead, we went to NEMO, the Amsterdam Science Museum.
A Hoberman sphere
NEMO is a lot of fun, but it would be a LOT more fun if there weren't throngs of crazed, maniacal 8 year-olds tearing around the place, paying no attention to anyone but themselves, learning nothing and attempting to turn every wheel, play with every device, without any purpose at all.

Turns out we could have gone to the Keukenhof, because it quit raining by 11 AM and turned into a nice, if cold day.
On our way back home
It did, however, give us a chance to get supplies for King's Day.

Today dawned windy & chilly but mostly sunny, so we headed to the Keukenhof fairly early, arriving around 10:15. It was a quiet day in the gardens; only about 200 busses and the parking lot was only ¾ full when we arrived. It's popular. There had to be 50,000 people there today, but that's a quiet day, and the place is big enough to handle it.

We took over 700 photos today, mostly flowers (there are apparently 7 million bulbs here). I could bore you with them all, but I won't. Hence a small sampling of some things.
No matter where you go, the gardens are artfully laid out 
A sundial 
A duck photobombs this flower 
A blue road to somewhere 
This art piece reminded me of the monolith from 2001: A Space Oddessey 
A good use for a dead Beetle 
The have a windmill 
The crowd in front of said windmill 
One of my fave pieces of art in the gardens 
What's a garden without gnomes? 
Or flamingos? 
What's THAT doing there? 
A giant flower made out of flowers 
Colour, colour and more colour 
Boardwalks and water flumes 
The oldest continuously grown tulip in Holland: first cultivated in 1535 
Fields of bulbs just outside the gardens
It's a pretty spectacular place even for folks like me who aren't flower junkies (Karen was in seventh heaven), but once you've seen one tulip in my world, you've seen them all.

One weird highlight of the day: one of the most memorable things for us from our last trip to the Keukenhof in 2011 was lunch. Awesome "beenham" sandwiches from a cart, and we've been making them at home ever since, though never coming close to how good they were here. We even asked my Dutch friend Edwin about them to try to improve on my recipe.

We found the cart again.
If you ever come to Keukenhof, find this cart. It's by the mill.
Very happy tastebuds indeed.