Tiptoe Through the Tulips
The memsahib and I have returned from a bracing break in the busy metropolis of Amsterdam.
With the proficiency of Michael Fish at the top of his game the weather forecast was wrong each day. We arrived to be confronted with a forecast of nine days of rain. This put something of a dampener on our plans, as we had travelled 6,000 miles to see the tulip gardens at Keukenhof.
The following morning, we rose rather earlier than normal thanks to jet lag.
We wandered out to watch the sun rise over the canals. Not a hint of rain. A tad on the chilly side to be sure but nothing to worry the ageing bones. And the sun did indeed rise as the first bicycles crossed the bridge.
A few gulls flapped creakily above us, waiting for the warmth of daybreak to oil their wings. We strolled back to the hotel, ordered lashings of coffee, and worked our way through the buffet like a pair of Billy Bunters.
At this point the weather forecast had pushed back the rainfall to late afternoon. So, we boldly decided to go where millions of people had gone before and ordered a car for the morning – it was tulip time.
An early arrival was a smart move. The gardens remained reasonably empty and the soft morning light made photography a doddle. We wandered not so lonely without a cloud in sight for well over two hours. By the time we decided to head back to Amsterdam it seemed as if Amsterdam had decided to come to us. We were off to a good start.
We had a flexible schedule and few targets, having only pre-booked tickets to the van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, including the All the Rembrandts exhibition.
But these were days ahead. So, we filled the intervening days with more adventures out into the countryside, a visit to the Royal Palace and a rather excessive devotion to shopping.
The memsahib did not necessarily share this last point, but she then was not a huge fan of the galleries.
The concierge at the Waldorf had taught us that van Gogh was actually fun Hoff. However it’s pronounced Mrs. Hu was not smitten. The following day she did take a shine to Rembrandt but happily she decided not to try and bring one home. She was also unimpressed by Hockney. I am sure the feeling is mutual.
The highlight of the trip was undoubtedly King’s Day.
The celebration of the monarch’s birthday takes place on April 27th. Preparations started the afternoon before as Holland bedecked itself in orange. By evening the streets of Amsterdam’s Old Town were full of revellers.
Loud music, most of it unrecognizable to me, assaulted the eardrums. A small amount of alcohol seemed to be de rigeur. And the faint aroma of medicinal (I am sure) cannabis wafted along the narrow streets.
Small wonder then that when we ventured forth the following morning, we seemed to be the only people alive. I suspect the country had a hangover. A few hours later the street vendors were set up and selling anything orange.
As a matter of courtesy to our hosts we bought woolly hats in bright orange. People started to emerge and totter around. An authentically orange Trump lookalike posed for photos with sad passers-by, some of whom clearly had no idea who he was supposed to be. Oh, lucky people.
By lunchtime the combination of Milk of Amnesia and Alka Seltzer had roused the local populace and the canals were full of party boats.
The memsahib had never seen anything like it. Misery is almost a religion in Hong Kong. She marvelled at the high spirits and beer consumption. The happy faces and raucous laughter, the boat battles and yes, the sudden downpour of rain (a late reprieve for Michael Fish?) combined to make King’s Day a spectacle that surpassed even the tulips of Keukenhof.
Slowly it wound down and a small number of casualties littered the streets.
The clean-up started almost before the bodies had been dragged out of the gutter. By morning our area of Amsterdam looked spotless. Never let it be said that the Dutch don’t know how to party.
And a couple of days later there was almost a replay as the hostelries filled with Ajax supporters to watch the game against Spurs. Not every story has a happy ending.
Since my parents evicted me at the age of eighteen with a promise that university would be good for me, I have spent time in many countries and lived in quite a few.
Almost without exception I have enjoyed my time there. I even went to Kazakhstan for a week not long after Borat had enjoyed success in the cinema. I didn’t see it playing in the Astana Odeon but perhaps I got the timing wrong.
I feel I could settle pretty much anywhere. A few surprises in later life even make me wonder whether I should have explored Britain more. It took a certain Mr. Alan Steel to lure me as far North as Edinburgh and apart from the language difficulties and the challenge of being a Welsh rugby supporter near Murrayfield I think I could blend in. But Amsterdam…
Amsterdam is truly a dangerous place.
They drive on the wrong side of the road all the time. There are more bikes than cars. You don’t hear them as they approach. Many bike riders are chatting on their phones and not looking where they are going. They don’t observe basic rules of the road.
But worst of all the roads look as if they are pedestrianized but they are not. 80% of the tourists at any given time are trying to take selfies and frequently step into the ‘best’ location, which may well be in the middle of a cycle lane.
Why the streets of Amsterdam aren’t splattered with the blood of hundreds of fatalities each day baffles me. I really don’t know whether I could adapt to a place where I feel at risk of being mown down by a rogue Raleigh-rider every few minutes.
The sit-up-and-beg bicycles look very quaint. They sport colourful bells. But don’t be fooled. These are silent killing machines.
I think on balance Hong Kong has the edge. As long as you don’t breathe the air.
Thank you, Holland, for a very civilised and enjoyable break.
Next year we are booked to go to Ho Chi Minh City.
Let’s hope there are no bicycles in Vietnam.