On Fun / Sinterklaas’s boat

Reflecting back my favourite city up until now has been Ghent. I feel I need to say this because I was effusive in my praise of Bruges. The thing with Bruges though is that it is so well preserved it has lost any dynamism it might once have had. The old town is a museum. Ghent, however, still retains a sense of action, a sense of fun, and fun is an important thing for a city to be.

The train out of Antwerp took me into Amsterdam, the Dutch capital associated with pleasure it all its forms. A sign at the hostel reads, “Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin but in truth it is a city of freedom and in freedom most people find sin”. Most hostels aren’t usually so philosophical.

What else Amsterdam has to find can get overlooked but shouldn’t. The architecture is superb with gables decorative and functional, decorative to show off their owner’s wealth and with a hook to lift that chaise longue to the upper floor. What I particularly love about the buildings is that they are on a human scale; there are no huge concrete and glass superstructures looming over you, in the centre atleast, as you walk the cobbled streets trying not to be hit by a cyclist. This scale makes the place feel comfortable, homely. I could imagine a dream scenario where I live here in a flat by a canal.

I have visited the main attractions, from the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh museum, the Oude Kerk and the tower and taken a trip down the canals by boat. I have not been able to visit Anne Frank’s house due to the hugely off-putting size of the queue, but it gives me a good reason to return to this wonderful city.

The canal ring idea itself seems typically Dutch, if there is such a thing. I would suggest there is characteristic of creativity when it comes to solving problems and a fundamental desire to make everything enjoyable and it is this creativity that can lead to a certain charming quirkiness.

In a cocktail bar I met two locals and after a while we began discussing what things were typical to the Dutch, and this led to one of my favourite stories. I was told about Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas is the Dutch Santa Claus but he doesn’t fly with reindeer pulling a sleigh. On 5 December Sinterklaas delivers presents to the nation’s children by travelling over from Spain by boat. Research suggests there are many other versions of this story, but for me, this is my favourite. The story is both creative and yet the boat shows that there was a functionality considered. It’s a fun story, and fun is important.

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