It's amazing how having the sun peek out and banish the clouds from Amsterdam turns a bad mood into a fantastic mood. One of the joys, I guess, of this cloudy rainy country is to really be able to enjoy the sun when it decides to shine. The entire country turns out onto the streets, parks, and canals to bask in the warmth. And because its so green here, thanks to the rain, the contrast of the "carolina blue" sky, the pink, purple, red, and yellow flowers that are everywhere, and the green grass and canal water is stunning.
Yesterday, the sun made its first appearance in about 2 months (I think). I opened up the balcony and Simon the cat and I ate breakfast outside, read books, and listened to music until it was time to go over to a friend's house for a birthday party. My dutch friend from DC who is in town let me know that the 'non family' members were appearing around 5pm. The other joy of a sunny day in the summer in Holland is that it lasts until 11pm! So I cycled to Central Station and locked up my bike in the floating bike parking garage next to the station. I hopped on the tram and rode down South to the party. As I walked down the street, eveyrone was sitting on their stoops, riding their bikes, or just sitting on a patch of grass with a cold beer and a glass of wine. The party had moved out front of the house and I joined about 15 Dutch people and their kids in a glass of white wine and some birthday cake. I was the only 'expat' which was nice. It was so relaxed and fun that my only regret was that I didn't speak Dutch so I couldn't quite join in on all the laughing and joking. Soon, Ihope. I got home around midnight.
This morning, Simon got me up around 6:30am as he raced around the house playing with his little stuffed mouse. That's the down side of sunny weather, the sun comes up EARLY (around 4:30am) and Simon - like me- has not yet adjusted his internal clock to this fact. I woke up at 9 finally and dressed quickly and hopped on my bike to meet a new friend for coffee. Cycling through the streets of Amsterdam at 9:30am on a Sunday morning was lovely. The sun was out, the city was quiet, not many people on the streets. (This is a late night kind of place). I rode through the Jordaan - my favorite neighborhood and up the Prinsengracht over to Leidesplein where she met me at Cafe Americain. Fitting, I suppose since we are both Americains...
We sat in the sun and drank cappuccinos and sparkling water until the sun became too hot and then moved into the shade. After chatting and laughing for a few hours, we went to this expat food shop I had heard about where I bought some proper British tea. The dutch tea sucks! I got some Twinings and some PG Tips. I noted that they sell oreos, mountain dew, salt and vinegar potato chips, and Milky way bars for future needs. She invited me to join her and another friend for a concert in Vondelpark.
Vondelpark is the "Central Park" of Amsterdam. It's a long green leafy park filled with Chestnut trees, weeping willows, and lakes. It has great biking paths running throughout it and several tea houses and cafes where you can drink a beer, get a bite to eat, or just laze around in the sun. It also has a concert hall right in the middle where they have a summer series of free concerts. We went over to the concert hall and got some sorbet. I had Strawberry and Habanero chili sorbet which while odd sounding, was delicious. And probably the spiciest thing I've eaten in this land of non-spicy food. The music was interesting. The first guy played african/country/blues sounding music on guitars/banjos that he had made. it reminded me of Haitian music that they play on the gourd banjo precursor. Then a jazz combo with a woman singer came on... but her music was a little too "10,000 Maniacs" and she looked a little too "Edie Brickell" for me. Te songs were monotonous and I fell into a reverie about an old boyfriend, Dave Doerring, from South Carolina while listeing to the music. Not necessarily the most pleasant memories but interesting how things can transport you back to 1991 just because the lead singer is wearing a baby doll dress with black tights and doc martens!
We left the show and then went to the tea house for a drink where we met up with her German friend. We had a pleasant conversation about skiing and snowboarding. Does anyone but me ever remember that American Express commercial where the snooty French snowbunny in the Alps says "Snowboarding will never be as popular as skiing" ? Anyway, my first skiing story where I became a human snowball got a good laugh. We agreed to meet up the next week to see another free show. Everyone else was going to see Bjork tonight at the park y my house (not free - 40 Euros) so I left. I can hear the concert from my balcony so I guess I'll drink a glass of wine and listen tonight for free.
I jumped on my bike and rode around in the park for a while - looking at the lovers, the groups of friends, and the families all lounging about in the sun - a country united with pasty skin and a desire to break down our vitamin D! I have progressed to the point now where I can bike while listening to my iPod so I put on my "Sunday in the Vondelpark" mix which consists of Crowded House, Kate Bush, The Clientele, Belle and Sebastian, and Stereolab and weaved my way through the crowds. I was biking in a skirt which is fun - I felt like I was a girl in a french movie about World War II.
I rode down to the East (Oost) part of town to return my dvd and then rode back across town through the canals and the quaint part of town - proud at my ability to make it through crowds of tourists without running them over, losing my balance, or my temper. I have also found a favorite way through the jordaan that avoids the long lines near the Anne Frank museum but allows me to see the small canals, the houseboats, and the church steeples and goes past the Noord square with all the locals out drinking beer at the cafes. The Jordaan is my favorite neighborhood in Amsterdam. I love seeing the old Dutch women with their glasses of wine and the old Dutch men on their bicycles. Young beautiful families with their gorgeous blonde children bask in the sun and tourists stop to take photos. Every house seems slanted and narrow and filled with flower boxes.
I returned home and sat down on the balcony to eat a late lunch and plan my dinner. It's 6pm - five more hours of sunlight available. Thank god for the sunshine!