Tilting Buildings and Tall PeopleOctober 18 in the Netherlands
When I first visited Amsterdam, some years ago, the first thing I noticed was how tall the people were. I first thought that I had shrunk by about 10 cm, but discovered that the Dutch are now the tallest people in Europe (and maybe the world). This is even more remarkable because, a century earlier, they were well known for being very short.
Just what caused this dramatic gain of stature is open to debate, but many put it down to their large intake of dairy products. Whatever the reason, you do feel a bit like you are in the land of the giants.
The other feature that visitors soon notice is that none of the buildings are vertical. Some lean prodigiously to the left, others to the right, and many just look like they are about to fall straight forward into the street. Apparently the whole city is slowly sinking into the mud, and the residents seem comfortable with the fact that spirit levels would be completely redundant in this city. It certainly does add interest and charm to the place.
Of course the other things that makes this city famous are the thousands of bicycles that clog every street and that are chained to every suitable anchor point. It is soon evident that there are many more bicycles than people, suggesting that some of the chained bicycles may not have been ridden for a long time. Other unloved bikes are simply thrown into the canals in their hundreds. This means that regular dredging must be done to retrieve these bicycle remains and stop them from completely clogging the waterways.
On this visit we only have two nights in the city, so I was happy to just spend my time wandering about and revisiting some places that I remembered fondly from previous visits. The weather was fine and cool, those early hot days in Madrid and Bilbao now seem a distant memory. I have now packed the shorts into a remote part of my luggage, not to see the light of day till I return to Melbourne.
Because the buildings of Amsterdam have very narrow and very steep staircases, it would be impossible to deliver anything larger than a small matchbox to the higher floors. For this reason every building is equipped with a protruding beam at their highest point. This is done so that a pulley can be attached to lift furniture and other items to the upper floors. As we walked about the city we witnessed numerous deliveries being done in this way. We could see that the brawny lifters who were hauling the ropes certainly would not have to waste money on gymnasium memberships.
As I was walking the streets and looking at the strange assortment of shops in the tiny alleyways (many selling hash & other drug products) I did witness one interesting event. A young, well dressed young man rapidly came out of one of the large department stores and intercepted a middle aged guy wearing a large backpack. He flashed some sort of ID in the face of his victim and then escorted him straight back into the store and up the escalator to the office. The guy had obviously been caught shoplifting and offered no resistance. Some types of crime happen the world over.
Tomorrow morning our brief time in Amsterdam will end as we return to the airport to catch our flight to Zurich. That is where Allan and I will begin our Swiss Railways Adventure.Read more