Thursday, October 25, 2007

Amsterdam 4: The Venice of the North

So I've been advised, and I think it's good advice, not to go too nuts with blogging about the shidduch stuff. Actually, it's advice I gave my self a while ago (see my post of September 16, 2006.)

"...despite the great writing material it might make, I have decided to initiate a policy of not writing about my dates. First off, these are very kosher, modest girls, and it would be insensitive of me to do so. Secondly, as a rule of thumb, don't write about relationships if you don't want to lose them."

I guess I just got so carried away I forgot my own wisdom. It happens. Anyway, I will return to referring to the dating scene in only the broadest, most enigmatic of terms. And I'm going to have to go back through and edit out the previous references.

But there's plenty of other stuff going on in my life. Let's get back to Amsterdam!

Whoever designed that building to the right sure loved his mother.

One of the main methods of transportation in Amsterdam is the bicycle. Something all but the most dedicated bike-enthusiast Americans have long-forgotten, and Israelis with their maniacal driving habits don't dare do, is the bike ride to work. The entire city of Amsterdam seems to be covered with bikes. And they aren't the $3,000 a piece road bikes that the cycling enthusiasts at my old work used to ride, but these big cast iron cruisers with the girly handlebars.

A massive parking garage of bikes.

Riding along in the canals, there was not a railing or a tree that didn't have piles of bikes cabled, latched, or otherwise attached. People ride straight through the rain and snow. The city seems to have quite a diversified transportation system. You can ride the subway, catch a ferry, ride in the bike lanes, ride the tram, catch a bus, or drive to wherever you're going.

The tour took us through the main harbor to view some of the great ships.

This one was built as a replica of an old Dutch warship from the city's glory days, back in the 16 and 1700's, when Amsterdam was as important a city as Paris or London.

Being a city built on the water, not only are Amsterdam's streets narrow, but real estate itself is also at a premium. The architects who set the style of the city didn't want to waste precious square footage on stairwells wide enough to carry furniture up to a third-floor apartment. Instead, they used roof beams which extend over the street with cast-iron rings. If you want to move into a new place, you just get a couple of buddies to set up a pulley, latch it onto the iron ring, and have them lift your grand piano up, throw open the windows, and slide the piano in from the outside.

Another consequence of the land crunch in the city center was the proliferation of houseboats in the 1960's. These boats have all the comforts of home, floating on the still water. It's a good real estate investment considering Al Gore's concerns about global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps. Of course, I don't believe in the global warming thing, since it doesn't seem to be based on scientific evidence, but the Dutch already five meters under sea level, have a lot to worry about if it is!

More canals, and railings with bikes attached.

Another houseboat, and some fancy schancy buildings.

Bridges forever.

There are still traces of Amsterdam's Jewish past, although its Jewish present is not nearly so obvious. The line to Anne Frank's house begins early in the morning, and stretches around the block.

Anne Frank's House as photographed from the canals.
The Mayor's house.

Bikes over bridge.

And that's Amsterdam. Oh, and one more thing that was totally cool but I didn't manage to photograph. Flying out of Schiphol airport - wait a minute, let me tell you about Schiphol. The Netherlands' largest airport was actually a lagoon not long ago, before the industrious Dutch engineers, like a bunch of Zionist pioneers, drained the swamps. In those days, it was a shallow patch of water, where ships frequently ran aground, hence the name Schiphol, Dutch for "Ship Hell."

Anyway, leaving the airport at 2 AM, I saw an amazing sight; acres and acres of greenhouses lit up under 24-hour grow lights to raise tulips for export. As we pulled higher from the Earth's surface, the world looked like a vast chess board, with rectangles of glowing white, interspursed with rectangles of black.

And now, time to go home to the Holy Land.

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