Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Day In Amsterdam

May 3, 2008 ~ Amsterdam, Holland (The Netherlands)

Our friend, Kyler, was staying with us (this is the boy who I took care of when he was 4 years old during my year as their family's live-in nanny!) so we thought it to be an opportune time to go experience a new place with him. After much debate and looking at all of our options (an exhausting and exciting project all by itself), we finally decided on a day-trip to Amsterdam.
It is about a 3-hour drive from our house to Amsterdam. To pass the time we talked, listened to music, and slept. When we crossed the border of Holland, we saw some windmills and thought it would be fun to listen to some radio -- so we could hear the Dutch language. I was driving. The radio announcer's voice was lively, the foreign sounds rolling off his tongue filled the van with a sweet eccentricity... and then... I don't even know how to put this on a rated PG blog... he literally yelled... not the mother, but the grandmother of all swear words... in perfect English! I am so grateful that my small seizure did not cause us to drive off the road. Perfectly aghast, the children, my husband, and Kyler all burst into a fit of roaring laughter. And then, after clicking the radio off, I did, too. Well, we agreed, I think we're getting closer to the City of Amsterdam. This is the city so rich in culture, the arts, history, tulips... but not censorship. "What happens in Amsterdam, stays in Amsterdam," so we hear. The Las Vegas of Europe?

We found a parking garage -- much to our relief, and set out on a mission to find sustenance for our famished family. We found the local McDonald's which is serious desperation for us. I think we've eaten at MickeyD's (as LeRoy refers to it), a whopping three times since our arrival in Europe. After getting enough emergency grub to hold us over, we began walking toward the City Square. We were so lost and disoriented that we consulted the map every 50 meters or so, which only slightly helped. But every time we stopped, there was something interesting to see. The chocolate display in the window above was one of them. Chili Chocolate? Cayenne Pepper Chocolate? Intense Mint?

Poor LeRoy, at one point he stopped all of us and told the children to sit on the ledge of the storefront window. He was so caught up in reprimanding them for being wild and not sticking together that he didn't even notice the window display directly behind the children and in front of him. Not all storefront window displays were so innocent. This is the picture that got posted earlier -- the one where I tried to edit out the guy's nose on the left. Anyway, this lady was handing out seeds so people could grow their own home-grown "plants." I believe the demonstration was to ban pesticides or something about organic something or other. I'm not exactly sure. But this culture of "anything goes" and "live and let live" was a bit of a paradigm shock. Canals, bicycles, boats, canals, and more canals. I was surprised to find that Brugge, Belgium is called "Little Venice" and wondered why not Amsterdam? We spent a great deal of time lost because we learned (throughout the day) that the city is somewhat circular so that if you go around then you go a long way, seven or eight blocks, without having to go around an obstacle, like a building or canal. But, if you want to go straight through, then you come to a "T-junction" about every block or so in which you must choose to go left or right while trying to stay somewhat on course. For the leisurely wanderer, this is dreamy and wonderful in so many ways. The city is gorgeous and I'm finding I have a fondness for gothic architecture. It's complicated and detailed while following organized symmetry. It is amazing to stand on an ordinary street corner and be surrounded by art.
We wound our way through the streets making our way toward the Anne Frank house.

And when we finally came to Anne's house, we discovered a line that went down the street and around the corner. So, we sat down to gather our bearings and form another strategy. There is soooo much to see and do in Amsterdam that our "day" trip felt like fleeting moments! The outside of Anne Frank's house...

For several minutes we sat outside and talked about the book "The Diary of Anne Frank." It was strange to think that there was a time when the rhythmic clicking of boot heels on this cobbled street struck terror in people's lives as they sat breathless, motionless until the sounds of Nazi soldiers could no longer be heard.

Israel... who is quite the trooper on these long, long city treks that so often turn into what feels like aimless wandering -- especially when we get lost.
The boys, Zeke, Eli, and Zae resting. "So we're not going to go inside Anne Frank's house? Then where are we going next? I'm thirsty. Can we get ice cream?"

"Boys! We're in Amsterdam!" Dehydration has interesting affects. "Okay, okay, our mission now is to find water, hopefully ice cream, and then the Vincent Van Gogh Museum."

"Vince Vag Who?" This is when I fight the temptation to feel like I've failed my children by not exposing them enough to the arts.

Kyler, on the other hand, kept us challenged and motivated as he has done some art history classes, one of them recently while studying in Florence! Thank you, Kyler!
On to the Art Museum! I'm telling you, I'm forever grateful for two good legs! We see so MUCH while walking through these cities! We saw this adorable VW -- and thought of you, Diane W.!! Man! We were missing you!!
At last! Water bottles... and ICE CREAM CONES!! Thank You, Jesus!! So entirely romantic!
We arrived at the museum and came across this little artistic spectacle on our way to the front door. What to call it...
Zeke, in the last picture we took until exiting the museum as cameras were forbidden inside the museum. What an experience this was!! We viewed some paintings by various and lesser well-known artists and then made our way to the second floor where the Van Gogh exhibition began by telling about his childhood and displaying some of his very first works. So we followed the story, little by little, reading about this guy, his education, his interests, jobs, "analyzing" his works along the way. We discussed colors (in my extremely limited knowledge of color... Brie, Amy, where were you? Brie, what is tertiary again?), brushstroke techniques, background, foreground, and other aspects of creativity. We followed Van Gogh's journey to Paris and the south of France where his paintings became more colorful, more vivid. We noticed much. The children stayed intrigued right up to the end (to my utter amazement) when we read about his eventual hospitalization, depression, and eventual suicide.

What a story! We are still conversing about the various aspects of Van Gogh's life. How he continued to hope that his paintings would sell, how he kept at it even though times were tough and he really was a "starving artist," and how we are so impressed by his brother's and sister-in-law's loyalty and relentless support. We learned much at the museum but mostly it piqued our curiosity to study art on a deeper level.

I have to say, the John Everett Millais exhibition on the basement level was inspiring!! His realistic depictions of love, love lost, and love found are beautiful!! Okay, I like his paintings better than Van Gogh. But I'm sure this is more of a stylistic preference more than anything. The exhibit wetted our appetite to know more about the man who painted the famous "Ophelia," his depiction of love lost from the story of Shakespeare's "Hamlet." Sooooo romantic!

Of course, my all-time favorite painter / artist is Thimgan Hayden. Her work can be seen at . Grab a cup of tea and get ready for inspiration.

Kyler H. hanging out with us in Amsterdam. The little boy I cared for has grown into this intelligent, witty, fun, adventursome, cool guy! So much fun!
While LeRoy and I studied the map, (for all the good it did seeing as we were lost every few blocks anyway...), Eli used the camera to capture candid shots.

Israel, Eli, and Zeke "climbing"

"Blossoming Almond Tree."

Dinner: We followed LeRoy to the nearest Steakhouse.
Sitting at the restaurant we watched people passing by. I kept an eye on a couple sitting in the window sill of their apartment above a restaraunt. Their conversation was deep, intense, their expressions full of emotion. Once the woman looked down at the street as the man spoke to her and her eyes met mine. I smiled. Then they both were looking at me. They smiled back and waved.

The aromas of steak mingled with the thick redolence of marijuana coming from the cafe across the way. Kyler and I peeked inside and even read over the menu of different kinds one could purchase. But we weren't in the cafe for long -- I had this sudden feeling I was in some sleazy bar back in the States. Europe is full of these great hole-in-the-wall pubs full of festive atmosphere where people go to celebrate or cry with one another all in the name of doing life together. (In some unconventional churches we call this "pub atmosphere" Life Groups where we study God's Word, pray together, and... do life together.) But this "cafe" (not your friendly neighborhood Starbucks, Folks) felt like a dark, vast hole that sucked the life out of people.

Amsterdam is an eclectic mix of beauty, art, romance, and inspiration with an underlying hollowness, like one could get swallowed up in an instant, their soul languishing in some silent desperation.
Eli, Zeke, Israel, and Zae
I think I'll call this one...
"Art on Bridge at Sunset in Amsterdam"

Can you see those men on the bicycles with the one extremely large front tire and tiny small back tire? One moment I was admiring the tulips in the Flower Market and the next I was enraptured by these men singing barbershop quartet style (loud, lively, their voices in perfect harmony), adorned with suspenders and French berets riding these bicycles through town.

At least we can count on them having a clean bathroom... (something we truly appreciate!)

The day began to bid adieu, or doei (pronounced "do-we" in Dutch), as we meandered our way through the canal system toward the train station near the parking garage. I purposely checked and rechecked our map on the way back to the van so as to avoid the Red Light District -- as I realized it was directly in our path and I meant for us to veer to the left or the right in order to avoid it. Then, we were right smack dab in the middle of it. Thankfully, we were early enough in the evening that the women standing in the windows advertising their wares still had clothes on. You can't imagine how thankful I was for this! So we made our way as quickly as possible to the end of the street where we turned a sharp left and down a narrow pathway toward an innocent clearing.

As we turned to leave the city we marveled at the beauty of the sunset painted across the sky by the Master Artist, the One Who paints the canvas of our lives.

Isaiah 40:25 - 26

"'To whom then will you liken Me,

Or to whom shall I be equal?' says the Holy One.

Lift up your eyes on high,

And see Who has created these things,

Who brings out their host by number;

He calls them all by name,

By the greatness of His might

And the strength of His power;

Not one is missing."

The One Who put the stars in the sky and calls them all by name knows every detail about us, too. The reason us mortals are able to create beautiful works of art, think of elaborate canal systems, and so much more is because He created us in His image!

The sun's final rays sunk below the skyline and I thought again about how deeply God loves us

-- every single one of us.

Lord, let my life be as a beautiful work of art that reveals Your glory.


  1. Hi Sharon! I just love reading your blog. If I drank coffee I'd save my daily cup until I could sit down and read about your family adventures. :) Looking forward to hearing how camp turns out!

    Btw, I tried chocolate with chili peppers in it last week and it was surprisingly yummy! ;)

  2. PS - I love that your family is reading TKAM together. What an amazing book! Are you going to watch the movie after you finish it? I just loved seeing Scout in that ham costume...