Eight Things About Amsterdam: January Edition

1 I had a simple revelation when I was younger that I still think about now and then. Seeing a herd of cows standing in the freezing cold, I felt pity for how chilly they must be. Then it occurred to me: those cows have no concept of not being chilly. They don’t know HVAC systems even exist. They’re cold, and that’s just the fact of the matter, and they probably don’t think too much about it.

On a totally unrelated note, I think I’m getting used to the weather here.

The sun is like, “That’s as high as I’m gonna get, sucker!”

2 This weekend we took a semi-staycation to Utrecht, a city 20 minutes south of Amsterdam with historic architecture and one charming market street after another. It is of course a ghost town right now.

The main thing I want to tell you about in Utrecht is the big cathedral, which was one of the tallest buildings in the world when it was finished in 1382 and then in 1674 got fucking bulls-eyed by a tornado. The citizens of Utrecht wisely decided against rebuilding, so it’s now a weird half-cathedral and a standalone tower with a public square in the middle. Check the before-and-after:

3 This is my neighborhood! It’s called Rivierenbuurt, and it’s a short tram ride south of the city center at the bend of the Amstel river. It was built from scratch in the early 1930s and is almost entirely comprised of four-story apartment blocks with shops at the corners and gardens1 in the centers. Everything was designed in the Amsterdam School architectural style, a know-it-if-you-see-it melange of modernism and geometric flourishes straight out of Middle Earth.

4 On a related topic: of course I’ve had to shift many of my expectations moving from a standalone house to a densely-occupied apartment block. Some of this could be expected no matter where I’d moved: adjusting to the smaller space, cursing the loud music playing from god-knows-where late at night. But some of it feels distinctly European. I’m always walking past ground-floor apartments, and a surprising number of them give zero craps about keeping their shutters open and their home life plainly visible to passers-by. On a recent walk down the block, there were more windows uncovered than not. From my couch I can see what the neighbors across the street are watching on *their* TV. I’ve had to train myself not to look.

But you get to meet some of the locals.

5 One of my house-husband duties during funemployment is to make Kiki her tea every morning. Yeah, I’m doing it out of love, but I’m also doing it because I get to pour in the milk.

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, she really does want this much milk.

6 Dutch update! I gave myself some practice by translating the Dutch article about Rivierenbuurt into English. Check it out (but fair warning, the World War II bits are unpleasant reading): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rivierenbuurt_(Amsterdam)

My favorite way to learn Dutch one headline at a time is De Speld, Nederland’s version of The Onion. Translate a headline and you get a joke!

Your delightfully-literal Dutch word of the month: liquid is “vloeistof,” meaning (and sorta pronounced) “flowy stuff.”

7 The Netherlands isn’t a safe haven from COVID. You’re thinking of New Zealand.2 It’s a relative improvement over the US in that each household is allowed one visitor per day, so we’ve experienced the novelty of “having friends over for dinner” for the first time in a year. Still, sad to say we’re fifth in the world in COVID cases per capita (though deaths are thankfully low). The recent spike in cases has resulted in a 9pm curfew, which naturally—that’s the point—limits my social opportunities even further. On the one hand, yeah, that sucks. On the other hand, it’s nice to be in a country that’s actually responsive to a public emergency. It’ll get back to normal soon enough, and hey, sitting on the couch all day isn’t the worst way to spend unemployment.

8 I included a pretty Netherlands video last time, so let’s keep the party going. One of my very favorite sights in the world (after milk in tea) is starling murmurations. Now I live in a place where I might actually see one!

  1. That’s the European meaning of “garden,” what we call “back yard.” But neither “garden” nor “yard” is quite accurate, since it’s basically a bunch of patios and sheds for the ground-floor residents, with very little plant life beyond the decorative sort. Commoners like us on the higher floors get narrow balconies so we can look down on the patios and sheds.
  2. Ever wondered where OLD Zeeland is? The Netherlands!

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