I had Amsterdam on my “bucket list”. I am not entirely sure why, although we have various friends who have visited the Netherlands over time, and all have enjoyed it. Of course, one of the early explorers of New Zealand was Abel Tasman, a Dutchman after whom Abel Tasman National Park is named. And of course our country’s non-Maori name, New Zealand, refers back to Zeeland, the westernmost province of the Netherlands. I have a sister-in-law who was born in Holland and who came and stayed with us while we have been in Dublin, and a close friend, Patrick, who was likewise born there. So there were some connections with the country, although no blood connections that we know of.
Bruce has done a great job of photographing and summarising a lot of what we did in Amsterdam but I wanted to contribute a couple of reflections of my own. One was of the very “free” ambience of the city. As one of the guides we went round with – the American who led the canal boat evening tour – told us, the Amsterdam people are not folk who like to be pushed around. He said if you try to make advances to the women (and one got the impression he was speaking from personal experience) they are likely to tell you to back off. If they fancy you, they say they’ll make the approach themselves, and if not…(read between the lines).
This was reinforced by Rudolph, who took us around on the food tour. I noticed one of the high windows overlooking the street on a building, open from floor to ceiling. Perhaps they’d recently had a furniture delivery and forgotten to shut it? I commented about why there were not Occupational Safety and Health regulations of the type you’d expect in New Zealand, preventing this type of risk, and why didn’t they have any? He just shrugged and said “Natural selection!” as though this explained everything. It probably did.
Likewise, when I asked how many people died by drowning in the canals yearly, he said around 15-16 on average. “And the first thing they do is check if their flies are open,” he said, a clear allusion to Bruce’s earlier comment about drunk people falling into canals. The canals, as you can see in the photos, have few if any guard rails and sometimes a deep drop with nothing to help the unfortunate haul themselves back out. What DOES fall into the canals, and likely through human intervention, are the bikes. Twenty thousand of them yearly are fished out of the canals, which are not shallow. How do they get there? We were not informed.
So, my reflections on Amsterdam? Definitely NOT a nanny state; a city where people do their own thing and nobody seems to worry (and comparatively few seem to come to harm); and a safe-feeling environment even when you’re in a dodgy-looking area. Whether it is like that in other places in Holland, who knows? Despite a warm invitation from the amazing Maurice, we may not get back there. (Maurice spent a night with us in Napier in the 1980s when he was touring NZ, and has sent us Christmas cards ever since.) Maurice and his partner Andre live in the south of the country, and we know if we ever got back we are assured of a bed, being shown around the Maastricht area, and a warm welcome, but who knows at the present time whether we will return to this amazing country.