Sunday, 21 July 2013

Tales from Amsterdam


I took a mini-break from writing, last week, to visit Amsterdam in the scorching heat. 
 
I knew the Dutch were famous for their flowers, but what struck me first were the numbers of au naturel plants and blooms everywhere – hollyhocks, in particular, growing in the gaps where the walls of the houses meet the pavement. 

In the Jordaan district, there is green around every corner – climbing roses, hydrangias, geraniums. In equal measure are the numbers of bicycles – they line the streets along the railings and are huddled together in ‘bicycle graveyards’ in squares and at stations. 

As a pedestrian, you take your life in your hands every time you take to the streets. I was constantly checking left, right and behind me, because cyclists seem to appear out of the pavement, silently, from every direction at once. They tend not to obey traffic lights and it’s not clear who has right of way at junctions. Add mopeds, cars, buses and trams to the mix (no one wears a helmet) and it’s surprising that ambulances aren’t permanently doing circuits of the streets.

Cyclists also carry large trailers, front or back. I saw one guy pulling along a mattress, another with drain-pipe. This one had a dog standing up for the ride!


One of the most obvious and endearing features of the city is the architecture; tall, slim buildings with distinctive curved gables – all different – lining the streets. Some are so old that the windows and doors are no longer at right-angles.
 

It wasn’t until I started taking photos, that I realised how much I must love bridges (the central theme of my first psychological suspense novel, The Evil Beneath). 


There are no shortage of them - around 1,500 bridges in Amsterdam - and just as in London, the Amstel River and canals provide the unique design and fabric of the city. 

It was tranquil to wander around the canals – Amsterdam has 165 of them – and even better to explore them in the cooling shade from on board a tourist boat. Apparently, thousands of bikes, shopping trolleys and drunks are dredged out of the waterways every year. Plenty of cars, too. Maybe, there’s also another psychological mystery lying in the depths, somewhere…