Friday, 23 May 2008

From tulips to Indiana Jones

Last Thursday (May 15) I decided to take a trip into the countryside to a place called Keukenhof, just outside of Noordwijk — the seaside town Nina and I spent our last 3 days together last summer.

Keukenhof is one of the most visited attractions in Europe and claims to be the most photographed place on earth. It’s a garden that spans 32 hectares, boasts 4.5 million tulips in 100 varieties and 7 million flowers in total. It’s the largest bulb flower park in the world and the largest sculpted garden in the Netherlands.

Shortly after I arrived here Susan Kemeny sent me a slideshow of some beautiful flower gardens. They were breathtaking! A little while later I discovered those photos had been taken in Keukenhof and decided I needed to see this for myself. Ange — my Lithuanian room mate — went and she spoke very highly of it.

Because of the limited tulip season, they are only open from late March to mid May. Unfortunately for me, I chose to go 3 days before they closed and had missed the majority of the flowers.

More than half the flower beds were a sea of green leaves and clipped stems while others still had their wilted flower slouched sadly off to the side. Most of the flowers still in bloom were not tulips, but one of the other varieties planted in the park.

Even with the drastically reduced number of flowers on display, it was a tranquil garden to explore. The air had the pungent smell of vegetation and the remaining flowers emitted a soft perfume that wafted through the park.

On the half hour train ride to and from the gardens I had hoped to see some tulip fields in the countryside. Maybe I did, as there were no flowers left in any of the fields I found myself staring at barren parcels of land. Perhaps if I had been a week or two earlier those same fields would have been a sea of colour.

I was also a little disappointed there wasn't any reduction in price, or even a warning at the ticket window to let people know the park was only in half its glory. Nonetheless, it was nice to get out of the city and into the countryside for an afternoon.

On my way to Keukenhof we went through Haarlem — a town of 150,000 just 20 kms West of Amsterdam. It is renowned for being quite beautiful and many people live there and commute into Amsterdam to work. Granted, I didn't see too much of it from the train, but I saw enough to believe it is worth a visit in the summer.

Thursday was also the day you could buy or reserve your ticket to the opening night showing of the new Indiana Jones movie which opened May 22. So Thursday evening I walked a hour into the middle of town, bought my ticket and walked back home happy that I was guaranteed to see the movie on opening night. And, a whole 9 hours before the North American audiences... one of the first public showings of the movie worldwide!

On my way to the movie theatre that evening I found a street I had been looking for since I arrived. In my first week in Amsterdam I walked for hours a day to orientate myself. I discovered some wonderful places, but lost them as soon as I walked away because I didn't know the city well enough (yet) to find my way back. Many I tried to locate again, but couldn't. Now I am finding these places all over again, but this time I am making mental notes of where they are so I can return whenever I want.

Thursday, I rediscovered a street I originally found in my first 3 days here my favourite street in Amsterdam. Nieuwe Spiegelstraat is only 5 blocks long. It starts (or ends depending on your perspective) in front of the majestic grand entrance of the Rijksmuseum. For its first 2 blocks it has a canal going down the middle of it. There are a few galleries and antique shops among the buildings and some have themes like the nautical antique shop. This is all hinting at what is to come for the remaining 3 blocks. The canal turns West leaving Spiegelstraat and now there are buildings lining both sides of the narrow road. This is the most interesting place in Amsterdam, as far as I am concerned. This 3 block stretch is like walking through the most interesting museum in the world. Every single shop, on both sides, for the full 3 blocks sells modern and ancient art, jewelery or antiques. Everything from 18th century trinkets and candle holders to shops specializing in old furniture, chandeliers, plates and crystal sets, clocks and timepieces and even a shop specializing in ancient Chinese art. It's like being in a museum that changes displays every 10 paces or so. I have been back a few times since rediscovering it and have yet to make it down those 3 small blocks in less than 20 minutes. When Andrew visits in June and Mom in November, this is one of the places I will be sure to take them.

Last weekend I went to visit Nina and we had a great weekend. Friday night a friend of Nina's was having a party, a guy I have met a few times and get along well with. The party was in a university dorm, which made for quite crowded conditions. It was a good time and I met some interesting (drunk) people.

Saturday Nina and I went for lunch at a restaurant we had discovered a few weeks back. It sat in a park setting with a lake and woods radiating out from the back deck. This park was in a neighbouring town to Nina's so on the way back we traveled through the town. While doing so we noticed a large number of antique European cars on the road, all traveling in the same direction and with a number clipped onto their hoods. We followed the progression to a small square where they were stopping next a crowd of people while an announcer read out the statistics of the car. It was some sort of antique car rally. Fascinated by this, we got out and watched as the parade of cars drove by. Among them we saw Austin Healeys, TR6 and 7s, Triumph Stags, Jaguars, Mercedes, Porches, MGs, VWs and dozens more I can't recall. I remember standing there gazing at the perfect condition of these cars and thinking Dad would really enjoy this!

This week I have been working quite a lot. In fact, over the past couple of weeks there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of work I have been receiving. So any plans to seek out a second job have been put on hold. Stefan even asked if I could handle an increase in the volume of work, which I was happy to hear. The point of creating my position was to free up their time to seek out more candidates to place and employers to place them with. More candidates = more work for me.

One of the most highly anticipated movies of the year is the 4th installment of the Indiana Jones series. It has been 19 years since the release of the last one (which I also saw on opening night). The amount of advertising for the movie here is quite remarkable. There are adds at tiny train stations in towns that probably don't have a cinema.

I was also excited about the theatre in which I would be seeing the movie. The Tuchinsky theatre opened in 1921 as a live theatre for plays. They eventually converted it into a movie theatre, but kept the lavish interior in tact. All major movie premiers in Amsterdam happen in this theatre and I had heard it is worth seeing a movie here just to see the room.

The auditorium was shaped like a horseshoe with 2 full balconies stacked vertically above the main seating area with wings that circled around the sides of the horseshoe. The centre of the room had a massive vaulted ceiling, draped in red velvet with gold mouldings and trim.

The movie, on the other hand, was not as impressive as the room. In fact, it was a little disappointing. The first three movies had set up a level of expectation and this movie, sadly, changed directions. The storyline had no business being in an Indiana Jones movie. An equal parallel would be like introducing time travel into a James Bond movie. It simply doesn't belong there. The first three movies were action-packed series of nonstop excitement with interesting stories. This one was a poor Sci-fi/Family/Adventure hybrid. Indiana Jones movies are known for the quality of action sequences, which they did provide in this movie. However they were few and far between. They did stay true to avoiding the use of special effects and animation in lieu of actual stunts. However, there was a lot of special effects being used unnecessarily... probably more in this one more than the other 3 combined. I hate to say it, but this movie should not have been made.

I have been living here in Amsterdam for 1.5 months now and today was the last step in my settling in process:

Step 1 – Get orientated
Step 2 – Get my SoFi number so I can work
Step 3 – Find work
Step 4 – Find an apartment
Step 5 – Buy a Dutch bike

The police confiscate bikes that are illegally parked or abandoned. A guy buys them at auction and fixes them up so they are in good working order. I bought one of his bikes. It's ugly, just the way I want it. It blends right in and someone passing it on the street wouldn't look twice at it. It has 3 gears and a built-in wheel lock which were the two features I was the most concerned with. It's pretty sturdy for a 20+ year old bike. It took me 45 minutes to walk to his shop and 10 minutes to ride back home again. Now, finally, with some wheels beneath me, I will be able to see the rest of this city.