The layout of central Amsterdam is easy enough to navigate. Beautiful, slow canals are cluttered by small wooden dingys (some half-sunk) and houseboats, their calm brown waters patterned with dark reflections of the bright leafy trees above. Short stone bridges vault over each canal in elegant frozen arcs. The canals spiderwebbed out from the central station, as tall, narrow brick buildings lean drunkenly against their neighbours. Jeff and I were in town for 2 nights, during a short mini-tour of The Netherlands and Germany.
There’s a lot of bicycles crowding the streets of Amsterdam. Rusted and dented all, the bicycles of Amsterdam live their turbulent lives chained to the bike racks that line every canal and street. Jeff’s friend Niels joined us for a pub crawl one night and explained bicycle culture of Amsterdam. He owns two; one in his home city, and one chained up in Amsterdam near the station for visits here. The bikes apparently get stolen every few months, he explained. The locals’ unusual reaction is one of acceptance, and commit their money into buying huge chains (thick enough to secure a small elephant) instead if spending money on the bike itself. If the bike is stolen, it wasn’t in great condition anyway, so no big loss.
Jeff and I were in Cologne, in the west of Germany. It’s colossal centrepiece was the twin towered, immense Dom Cathedral, two spiked, blackened gothic towers spearing into the atmosphere with a million intricate carvings crawling toward the top. The old town was typical of Europe, narrow streets with uneven cobblestones, tall, leaning buildings, and chairs spilling from the open doors of bars and cafes. We had chosen a beer cafe to indulge in some German specialities; beer and hearty food. The 200ml beers would constantly be brought to the table. When one beer emptied, a keen-eyed waiter would drop off a new one. until a coaster was placed on an empty glass to signal a stop. The bar’s interior was dark timber with thick wall beams like a medieval inn, with a great metal chandelier, painted portraits of kings drinking beers, stained-glass windows and tall wooden stools crowded around barrels.
Seated at the table next to us was a middle-aged English couple, dubiously studying the food menu and complaining about the lack of vegetarian options. Jeff and I were served our meals, a comedy of German stereotype food; a big sausage served with sauerkraut and mashed potato. The waiter was an imposing looking guy. With a shiny bald head and goatee beard, and would have fit in easily on Germany’s rugby team. He was friendly but spoke little; efficient German service. The English couple summoned the waiter to ask why nothing was vegetarian. The waiter replied bluntly; ‘this is a German beer cafe, we serve meat and beer. If you want vegetarian, you’ve come to the wrong place’. The couple stood and left.