Following my performances in Colmar I flew to Amsterdam to hang out with some other expat ballerinas! (and ballerinos). No, this is not the correct term for male dancers. Male dancer is the correct term but that’s kinda boring. Anyway, forgive me for not taking that many pictures of Amsterdam. There are trips where you take a bajillion pictures of the same exact (beautiful) leaf and there are trips where you just don’t. This was one of those trips.
The thing is, sometimes when you are catching up with old friends you don’t get around to taking pictures. Instead you’re riding bikes, going to museums, drinking ouzo, finding the world’s largest pumpkin and having cello lessons- all things which happened to me in my 36 hours in Amsterdam.
Even though my itinerary sounds like a lot the pace of Amsterdam is very chill. I was picked up from the airport by John McFall, my former boss at Atlanta Ballet who now lives in Amsterdam with his family. The airport was decked out in twinkly lights whether for Christmas) or because Amsterdam loves light I am not sure.
John introduced the country to me explaining how functional and thoughtful the Dutch are. Since his two children are immersed in Dutch school (one in an immigration school and one in a fully Dutch program) with Dutch friends, homework, and an increasing level of language- they really know a thing or two about the city!
Amsterdam was built as a fishing and trade village in 1275 (!). Many buildings built in the 1600s are still in use. A lot of buildings tilt forward to facilitate moving furniture into the upper floors using hooks that are permanently attached to the roof. Other buildings lean on precarious angles- not on purpose- but because they are built on sand. There are beautiful churches that have been redesigned as Turkish restaurants or sites of Pranic healing meditation groups.
Amsterdam feels like a small town in that neighbors are tolerant and trust one another. Everyone is calm and fit and seem educated. The parts that feel like a big city is that there is art everywhere and about a million cafes and public transportation is easy. Which I love. All of the above.
The next morning I went around the corner, dodging bikes, for a coffee. My ten year old host informed me of the difference between cafés (where you can get coffee) and coffee shops (where you can get something…different). The Dutch are incredibly friendly and English is widely spoken (rumor is more people speak English in Amsterdam than in LA). I was so happy to discover that the Dutch believe in proper size coffee (that is, I could order a 16 oz. coffee and not get horror-striken faces as happens often in France and elsewhere in Europe).
Following that was the most perfect fall day with (uncharacteristically) blue skies. John gave me a walking tour by the seemingly infinite human-dredged canals that Amsterdam is built on. There are almost 3,000 houseboats in Amsterdam and more bicycles than people.
Heading past Rembrandtplein, named after the Dutch painter, we went to the Museumplein where multiple art museums share a common square. There was the Van Gogh Museum, the huge Rijksmuseum, and the more modern Moco and Stedelijk. I was just getting my bearings so I didn’t go into any until the next day when John and I went to the Hermitage museum. It was built to be a home for elderly spinsters and later converted to a museum. There was an exhibit on the Dutch Masters that ironically had to be borrowed from Russia because apparently Czar Peter had taken a liking to them. As such, this collection had never been display in the Netherlands until now.
But we skipped that. We went to an Outsider Art exhibit instead which was pretty interesting.
I continued exploring on my own into the residential Jordaan district- also the site of the famous Anne Frank house. At a vegetarian restaurant a Scottish man at the next table over struck up a conversation with me. That’s just kind of what happens when you can tell each other are not from there.
I met up with another old friend- a French stager and rehearsal director named Christophe. He spent many years living in different parts of Holland. (Fun fact: Holland actually refers to two provinces of the Netherlands, not the country as a whole. But, it’s basically interchangeable especially as the three places most people visit in the Netherlands are actually in Holland). Christophe and I picked up some fancy cheese and we went to have a lovely meal prepared by John.
The next day John took me on my initiation bike ride through Amsterdam! We went to a cool design shop, an abbey that sold books and art prints, a huge market and ate some vegan soup.
Next time I promise I’ll take more pictures!