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September sunshine

09/10/2012

The weather has proved glorious once again, making wandering through Amsterdam a pleasure.  I have made the most of our fortunate good weather by going cycling in Vondelpark, which is much less scary than cycling  along busy streets.  I have to admit not having ridden a bicycle for more than twenty years, thus making navigating busy streets rather daunting.  I admire and envy the confidence and aptitude with which the Dutch cycle around, a mode of transport which they seem to prefer to walking.

Another daunting endeavour I succeeded in this weekend was to climb the Westerkerk tower, which has steep stairs and wooden floors which seem rather rickety.  I watched with some trepidation as our guide pointed out oak beams which have been supporting the tower since the 17th century, the dates clearly marked.  One can see many walls throughout the city which lean at a slight (and sometimes less slight) angles, after the foundations sunk into the soft mud.  I have always been somewhat afraid of heights!  The views of the city as we walked around the balcony on the sixth floor were marvellous.  Definitely worth the climb, although the descent was more scary than the ascent.

Our guide had been to Cape Town, and happily discussed his experiences of my home town.  He had spent some on the Cape Flats, and had even visited Pollsmoor Prison.  It is very interesting to meet visitors to Cape Town who have been off the tourist circuit, although I would certainly advise caution.  His description of the historic city of Amsterdam was also very illuminating, describing how the tower had a permanent guard to watch for fires in the city.  A repetition of the Great Fire of London would have been calamitous for any European city in the seventeenth century, with no fire brigade or infrastructure to deal with fires.  Fortunately a fire brigade exists now and there are no longer watchmen on duty.

I can hear the bells from the tower ring throughout the day and night, and they are a lovely sound.  According to our guide, people could be punished for various misdemeanours by being tied to oak beams inside the tower when the larger bells were being rung.  Seemingly more imagination went into punishment back then than prevention or rehabilitation.  After my tour I wandered around the Jordaan, enjoying the atmosphere as the city came to life in the early evening.  Sunshine on a weekend is definitely a rarity at this northern latitude, and to be enjoyed at every opportunity.

Outdoor tables of restaurants and bars were soon crowded as people enjoyed food and drink overlooking canals.  Boats full of people ambling along sunlit canals are a particularly romantic scene which it is difficult not to enjoy.  Really traditional old cafes and bars abound in this district, and some are real show pieces which exhibit real character.  Many contain some local characters as well, I met a couple at a cafe round the corner who are great fun.  One of them loves Tintin and Asterix, telling many anecdotes about translations of these well known and much loved creations.

I really do intend to get off the beaten track and explore some outlying and lesser known attractions.  There is a beautiful art deco cinema across town that I have been meaning to visit.  It just seems a shame to spend such lovely weather indoors.  The International Student Network is also planning another excursion to Limburg, which I am considering.  This must of course be balanced against academic work, which now definitely on the agenda.  I hope you enjoy my photos from this week.  It is enjoyable to photograph the city, but I struggle to do justice to the angles and light.

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