Amsterdam & Bruges (the CliffsNotes)

The necessities: art, cheese, and stroopwaffel.

Happy New Year, dear Reader! William and I recently celebrated Christmas in Amsterdam, the Netherland’s most famous city. Though our friends insisted we could blow through in three days, we spent an entire week there to ensure we had plenty of time to celebrate the holidays properly: taking naps, shopping along de 9 Straatjes, and eating stroopwaffel and pancakes. We saw De Notenkraker on Christmas day and giggled about the sound of Dutch words (“What’s a winkel?”). Here are the highlights of our adventure:

Museuming!
I wake to the persistent tap of rain on the roof and take a moment to stretch quietly in bed. Billy is still asleep as I descend the ladder from our lofted bedroom down into the small studio we are renting. The wind howls, rattling the pane of the large window overlooking the street below. This is hardly ideal weather for a leisurely amble along the canals, I think disappointedly.

We decide to make the most of this blustery day by exploring several of Amsterdam’s museums. Our first stop is the Van Gogh Museum. The crowds are thick as we make our way from one room to the next. I move through the exhibits slowly knowing Billy, an artist himself, will move slower still. Like most creative types, Van Gogh was an interesting character. He was the (relatively old) age of 27 when he decided to become an artist – an endeavor that was as brave as it was foolish considering he didn’t know at that time whether he even possessed any talent. Details, amiright?! Lucky for us, his gamble paid off. While perusing the gift shop, I return several times to a reproduction of The Bedroom, positively taken by its vibrant colors and dreamlike quality. Billy lifts it from the shelf and we discuss where to hang it on our way to the register.

#dildosanddonuts
With time to kill before dinner (Thai food, YUM!), William and I take a stroll through the Red Light District. There are no surprises here: weed and ‘shrooms, fetish wear and street food, dildos and donuts. Dildos and donuts? I think it would make a nice hashtag (if only I knew how to use hashtags).

We stroll past several prostitutes in red-lit windows. Not only is prostitution legal in Amsterdam, it – maybe rather surprisingly – has become a popular tourist attraction. The sex industry here is unique because, unlike so many other countries, sex workers in Amsterdam are held to professional standards and even have their own union. I’m all for the decriminalization of prostitution but judging from the ladies’ lack of enthusiasm, I remain unconvinced their current vocation is truly a choice. How can it be? Hell, I don’t like when randos sit next to me on the train.

I slow down in front of a sign that reads: REAL LIVE FUCKING SHOW.

“I mean, is it a ‘real LIVE fucking show’ or a ‘real live FUCKING show’? I get where they’re going with it but I feel like it needs a comma or something…” I think aloud.

“Only you would look at that sign and think that” Billy says, laughing and shaking his head.

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A Brush With Bruges
William and I have something special planned for Christmas Eve Day: a trip to (not-so-nearby) Bruges, Belgium. Best known for it’s chocolate and fairytale-esque medieval architecture, it is often cited as a favorite among our friends abroad. We reluctantly join a tour group because it relieves us of the task of renting a car for the three hour drive. Unfortunately for us, our passionate tour guide spits facts in English and then Spanish, two languages we understand, for the entire three hours! Three.Hours. On repeat, no less.

As our group stands in the courtyard of The Church of Our Lady, Billy gives me a shifty look and we ditch the tour. We make our way into the church to check out a statue of Michelangelo’s, one of his few works located outside of Italy. We try Belgium’s signature dish – waffles! – at a local market, buy some chocolate, and treat ourselves to lunch in a cozy restaurant. We pass almost an hour in a comic book shop, another one of Belgium’s notable exports, until the bus is ready to take us home. Yes, dear Reader, you have the Belgians to thank for The Smurfs!

This time our guide talks for only two of the three hours’ drive. Yay.

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Napoli Calls
No sooner have Billy and I left baggage claim than we get a huge whiff of pizza. Not just any pizza, Neapolitan pizza. It’s as if I can smell each ingredient individually. Billy inhales deeply and, without any discussion, I know what we’re having for dinner. Looks like the post-holiday detox will have to start domani.

Billy navigates the narrow, winding street into our neighborhood. From the window I see everyone is exactly where we left them: the old men on the corner, the florist who gives us a wave, the man at the produce stand stacking crates of zucchini. The familiar scene is comforting or stifling depending on my mood, but this morning it incites a case of the warm-and-fuzzies. We’re home. We pull into the parco and in front of our building to unload the suitcases. Peppe and Rosario are chatting nearby (of course) and rush over to greet us, their smiles wide and arms outstretched.

How was Amsterdam?! How was Natale?! Handshakes. Hugs. Kisses.

They missed us! They really missed us! I’ve been greeted at the airport by family members with less enthusiasm. It feels good, like maybe we do belong here.

Billy and I have been home for about a week now and Napoli seems to be on her best behavior: the weather is mild, none of our appliances have broken, and the Italian is flowing from my mouth with little effort. Could it be? A new year, a new kinder, gentler Napoli? We’ll have to see…

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