Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The third city in a three-city day... Amsterdam

Our three city day ended with dinner at Oosterdokskade by the Amsterdam Public Library. This is really a very cute "island" right near the centre of the city, that outsiders would not suspect possible!



What is truly worth seeing is the Amsterdam Public Library, I think.

For me, after visiting northern Europe over many years, goalposts for development include public libraries (accompanied of course, by universal literacy and the reading habit!), museums and gardens... all clean, I might add, and with good public toilets! I am not too concerned about being like Shanghai or having Singapore or Dubai's shopping options, but if all our kids could have a library card greet them on birth, as Dutch kids do, that would be fantastic! 

Aaha, Haarlem, finally!

After all these visits, I must confess that on a new visit to a city, I do not pay the same degree of attention that I did on my first two visits. Knowing each name, writing it down correctly in this blog, were all terribly important to me. Now, being able to wander at a leisurely pace, people watch without expectation of interaction, just take photos of what catches my eye is more than enough.

Do I miss out on what makes each city special? I probably catch some details but miss many others. But the small things are really more than enough for me.

I had never visited Haarlem and was eager to remedy that on this visit. We planned this day as part of what my sister thought up as a typical Dutch three-city day. We started in Leiden, drove out to Haarlem, wandered around and then headed out to Amsterdam for dinner.

A Dutch city and no flowers? Impossible!
The photographs that follow were shot around the market streets of Haarlem, while we walked and shopped leisurely.



 


On our Haarlem list was a visit to De Hallen and the Frans Hals Museum where an exhibition on Dutch art depicting the sky--an amazing part of the Dutch landscape--was underway. 





And in addition to the random lines at all angles in the woods, I also love the straight lines and regular angles of lines in city construction!


This, of course, is a view of the cathedral in Haarlem.



And one of our takeaways from Haarlem--this bouquet of iris and white rose!


A summer walk in Clingendael Woods

The woods surrounding Clingendael, which houses the Netherlands Institute of International Relations, are one of my favourite places to walk in the Netherlands. I always wonder what it would be like to work there, and that curiosity and longing perhaps also colour my taste for this place.

Walking in the woods is an experience I have mostly had in the Netherlands, except possibly for Allerton Park in the US. The woods are a combination of open, safe space and a mysterious world full of secrets. Having only ever encountered them in books as a child, they are still the spaces that open out into magical, unfathomable or scary other-worlds for me. And this accounts for my fascination with undergrowth. Take a look at the next three photos.

You could walk by this and never see it.

Or you could stop and wonder what lies within. 

Or, you could use your zoom lens and begin to find out. 

If you belonged to the fantastic book-worlds of childhood, you might shrink and enter the undergrowth and conduct your own exploration, but as an urban-raised, creepy-crawly hating, slightly stiff adult, you just wish you had a stronger zoom setting and better photographic skills.

Here's another clearing with a secret world tucked away. 


Within the woods, there are a few clear paths. But unless you walk them, you cannot be sure where they lead.



And there are few straight lines. There is no enforced symmetry. Everything happens together, like a clangy, noisy untrained orchestra accompanying a barely-in-tune chorus, and miraculously, it works. You look at the lines and think, I would never have put those together, and off in a corner without balance... but I should have!









And in Clingendael, there are streams, bridges, pools, birds... and bird droppings! We almost sat on the banks of the pool for photos, but luckily spotted the droppings first. Oh well, every creature has a right to a lavatory! 

The loo queue 


I love these photos of reflections in the water, and have them also from a previous visit, elsewhere on this blog. More dramatic photos then, actually.



My first visit was in the late spring, late in the evening, and the woods were still not quite over winter. In the summer, Clingendael seems touched by magic, transformed, and if you go as we did, late in the afternoon, it is possible to believe that it is the threshold of other worlds. I look forward to a future visit with my niece when we can imagine the stories that take place in these other worlds.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Concrete and sunlight

I have visited Leiden in almost all seasons, now, I think, except the dead of winter--unless March counts as such. There is something about the way the summer sun hits everything that is special. On the same walk, here are some of the buildings I walked around, some for the first time.







Returning to the garden that is Leiden, Summer 2014

The sun shone through this short walk on gardens in full bloom with a variety of flowers. I felt like a poacher, taking some of these photos of private yards, but then the impulse to acquire one image, just one image, of that beauty was irresistible. These images come from a very small stretch of about a dozen small homes with pocket-sized yards, but full of flowers, they illustrate why I associate Holland with flowers in every season!