Tuesday, November 06, 2007


Posting a complete article combining all my posts from Amsterdam here for linking purposes. Nothing new to see here for those who have already read it. But I'm now editing pictures from my visit to Sussiyah, an ancient Jewish village in the Judean Hills, and to Maaleh Chever, a settlement at the edge of the world. But right now, Eli is getting married, and tonight is his engagement party, so I'm off to celebrate with him. Forgive my on-again off-again blogging over the last few days, but sometimes life interferes. Blogging is not a miztvah. Making a chatan and kallah (groom and bride) happy is, so, ya know, priorities. Real stuff is coming tomorrow, stay tuned!

On my way back from America, United States of, I had a 12-hour layover in Amsterdam. In the airport there's a service that charges exorbitant amounts of money to take you out of the airport and drive you around town during your layover. But, really, when is the next time I'll be in Amsterdam? So I jumped at the opportunity.

First off, the tour guide informed me that what we call Holland is really the Netherlands, and don't you forget it! Holland is just one, albeit the most important, province of the Netherlands. To pile on a bit more confusion, the people speak Dutch, not Netherlandish or Hollandish. You would think, with all their European bureaucracy and love of the metric system, they could streamline all of these ethnicities.

Our first stop was a touristy wooden shoe factory, and appropriate destination since I was with a gaggle of fellow tourists. Wooden shoes are one of Holland's, er, excuse me, the Netherlands' most important products, along with cheese, tulips, windmills, and marijuana.

Wooden clogs were popular since the Netherlands is mostly below sea level, and very rainy, the ground tends to be quite wet most of the year. Holland, excuse me, the Netherlands, was created before Gortex, and the clogs serve as a natural, water-proof shoe.
Wedding Shoes

In this case, we have an intricately carved pair of wedding shoes. The girl's name isn't carved on the shoe until right before the wedding, in case the guy changes his mind.

The shoes are actually made on a lathe from a master, much like a key. Here we see the master being traced at the end of that curved, pointy thing. Under the saw, the block of wood is quickly cut into the shoe shape.

Next, the insides are hollowed out.

So that's where wooden shoes come from. They left us in this place for like fifteen minutes, and we all wandered around the store while they stared at us waiting for us to buy something. That part of the tour was kind of a bore.

Next, we were off to see a historic windmill...

While wind power could be used for anything from milling flour to textile work, this particular windmill was used to pump water to a higher elevation. This was one fact that impressed me about the Netherlands, and in a way made it similar to Israel; it's a man-made country. Where Israel is constantly fighting the desert, the Netherlands is at war with water. Since most of the country is below sea level, water is constantly leaking in and has to be pumped out by a system of pump stations, dikes, and canals. Without constant work, the country would become a useless marsh, just as Israel would revert to desert without constant maintenance.

The windmill, from the back. It's blades have been secured, so it doesn't actually spin or anything. This windmill is a historic landmark, built way back in 1636.

There's actually someone living in it who takes care of the maintenance. And what's that?
Is he actually growing tulips? Now all he needs to do is come out in wooden clogs and he'd be a walking stereotype.

Front view of the windmill.

Dikes and canals. In the back ground is the heart of the city of Amsterdam, which is our next stop...

We continued from the outskirts and worked our way downtown, and the tour guide showed us some of the nastier parts of Amsterdam, the parts that it is, unfortunately, most famous for. The legalization of prostitution and soft drugs has created a Mecca for "loose" tourists. Still, the fact that everything was advertised in English, and the endless array of Marijuana t-shirts, lighters, and key chains, seemed to indicate that this is mostly an industry geared towards spoiled rich college kids on summer vacation than an overly licentious native population. Back at yeshiva, one of our Dutch students let me in, "The stuff they sell to the Americans is garbage. You have to go to the Dutch coffee shops to get the real deal."

Downtown is also home to some of the Netherlands' cultural treasures, including the Van Gogh Museum. If you're into art in a big way, then this would be somewhere to spend a good week. Since I've gotten into painting recently, I would love to have spent some time in the museums. You know, criticizing the masters from a Bob Ross perspective.


Yeah, that's a bandage on my hand. I cut my knuckle down to the bone on some broken glass right before I got on the plane from San Francisco. It still hasn't recovered completely, and it's been exactly a month.

Some sort of palace. I think this is one of the big art museums. I don't know really, I was pretty heavily jet lagged and caffeinated at this point, so it's hard to remember details. But the buildings sure are pretty. Not like these concrete boxes they make for people to live in here in Israel.

Of course, Amsterdam is also famous for its canals, making it the "Venice of the North." Most of the main streets are canals which were filled with dirt. Many of the canals, however, still remain. The only boats I saw on the canal were low-rider tour boats like these ones.

Next stop: the canals of 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 schmancy 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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