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Wishful Sinful

04/08/2013

I am now in Block Two of my second semester in Amsterdam.  I have two new courses, which are proving rather engaging.  Metropolitan America and Eurocentrism show lots of promise, and should round off my stay in Amsterdam by allowing me new perspectives on life.  My whole year has been spent dealing with new challenges and ideas, and will hopefully provide much grist for the mill of future discussion and ideas.

A student pubcrawl organised by our resident assistants in Prinsengracht provided a welcome break from routine.  The pubs and clubs around Leidseplein usually pump with people, and I find the noise and enclosed spaces quite unsettling.  This, however, was a fun night out with good friends.  I did make it an early night however, it was a Monday night and I had an early lecture the next day.

Interesting as my new lectures were, by Friday I was just about ready for the weekend.  The sun has been showing its face more frequently and, despite the biting winds which blew across the city, I had begun to suspect that spring is on its way.  The weather has been teasingly mercurial, and it is time for some warmth.  Friday night was still chilly though, as I discovered when I met a friend while strolling through the city.

The meeting occured quite by accident, as a deviation on my route took me up a side street and I chanced upon meeting him.  I was happy to sit down for a pint, and the conversation soon became animated as we are both about to be leaving the Netherlands.  Since my friend is Irish, the inevitable comparisons between the two countries began.  I know I have touched on these differences before, and do not intend to cover them in depth now.  Comparisons between ones home country and one which you are visiting is certainly not a recommendation of mine, as one should enjoy a country for what it is.

Nonetheless, I regard my return to Ireland with some trepidation, as readjustment to a country one has been away from for some time can be awkward.  I found my previous return to the auld sod after spending two years in Australia to be very difficult indeed.  The country’s economic woes are a cause for immense concern, not least because my graduation is looming ever closer.  Unemployment remains high, even for experienced graduates, and the danger might now be a matter of being overqualified.

The temperature of the terrace where we sat was decidedly chilly, reminding me that the plunging temperatures across Europe have matched depressing economic data spewing forth across news screens around the world.  The apparent fatalism of my chainsmoking friend seems understandable in the circumstances, as he intends to keep moving across Europe.  Many places are giving people cold feet, and the desire to move has been heightened by the possibilty of many potential destinations being no worse than the mess one is in already.

The weekend has been blessed with bright sunshine and better weather, and I could not help make (another) uncharitable comparison with Ireland, where the rain seems to wait for the weekend.  However after making a virtuous necessity of college related reading yesterday, I had every intention of enjoying the sunshine today.  I was out and about before eleven, which is not bad for a Sunday.  The Rijksmuseum is due to open shortly, and yet after journeying down to Museumplein I discovered that this is not to be for another week.

However the spring weather made the outdoors a sheer delight.  Vondelpark was filled with people enjoying the glorious weather.  Cyclists, joggers and dog walkers abounded, even though fresh new leaves are not yet in evidence.  My one regret in this glorious weather is that my camera is in the repair shop, and I have discovered just how much I had come to depend on it.  Every time I pass a great potential photo I feel myself reaching for it, and then remember where it is.  Perhaps the sheer dominance of technology in our lives has turned us into cyborgs, and we are part human, part machine.

However it was during this walk that I chanced upon a new array of street scenery which I had not noticed before.  A discussion with an American I had met on my travels centred on the value of backpacking with a camera.  He believed that the fewer photographs one took, the more memories remained in ones mind.  With that in mind, I began to view my perambulations with new eyes.  It can be quite complicated to navigate this city, since it is so flat, and there are no landmarks to allow one to set ones bearings.  This results in people following a general sense of direction, and an inner map of the city layout will take them where they need to go.

Therefore the great column of steam rising above the city was immediately recognisable as coming from the power plant across the city.  it is visible from our dormitory on Prinsengracht, and I figured that walking down the road towards it would take me to Westergasthuisfabriek.  This journey did not end at its intended destination, for as I followed the road I spotted menu on a blackboard outside a restaurant.  One item caught my eye, which was chicken in gorgonzola sauce.  It immediately brought back memories of Ulysses, by James Joyce.  Leopold Bloom, the main protagonist, stopped for a lunch of a gorgonzola sandwich on his journey through Dublin.

it was a clincher, and I am glad I stopped, for the restaurant has a wonderful ambience.  This was matched by the glorious food, which came to €7.50 with a glass of tasty white wine.  Anyone intending to visit the city could do a lot worse than wander down to Bilderdijkstraat and visit Sjiek restaurant.  The website is http://www.sjiek-amsterdam.nl.  With that done, I decided to head over the the Unitarian Universalist Church service on Keizersgracht.  The gorgeously creamy sauce of my lunch had me feeling a liittle guilty, and it had been a while since I had visited.

It was the end of a great afternoon, as the service proved enjoyable, and a visit to a lovely cafe on Leidseplein to chat with interesting people followed.  I will certainly miss this city, and the people in it.  And if you haven’t visited Amsterdam, you really should.  Now that the Rijksmuseum is reopening, you have more reason than ever.

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