Sunday 27 February 2011

Tulips, cycles, cats and kitchen maids

Some images of Amsterdam - canals, flowers, bicycles - are so pervasive as to have become clichés, so it comes almost as a surprise to see quite how many there are of these at absolutely every turn ...

Thousands of tulips in all varieties at the Flower Market on the Singel canal, the bulbs (below) good for export, though perhaps not the novelty cannabis seeds.

Cycling is quite simply how everybody gets around it seems, the evidence being in the astonishingly few numbers of cars actually driving on the roads (as opposed to parked alongside them) compared to any other city I've been to.
It's a family thing ...

... a couples thing (the side-saddle technique, below, a common variation, as is cycling with dog-on-the-leash, which I saw often flashing past but was never quick enough to snap!) ...

 and a thing to do while conversing earnestly with your bezzie ...

We queued for ages at the Rijks Museum, despite it being off-season, but then years in Britain have turned us into meek and patient queuers (it's what the English do best, innit?) and besides, it was worth the wait ...

More than the Rembrandts, it was Vermeer who caught my fancy here. His Kitchen Maid (shown in detail above in the giant poster outside the museum), makes up for its diminutive size in reality with the most astonishing colours and quality of light. I can't bring myself to give a reproduction of the whole painting here, because the image searches I did only proved the point that reproductions, no matter how good the photographic quality, will always disappoint compared to the experience of seeing the original. (Though oddly, I have just once in my life had the opposite experience, and that was seeing Botticelli's Birth of Venus in the Uffizi and feeling strangely let down).
Instead, here is his Girl with a Pearl Earring, which hangs in The Hague.

Isn't she fabulous? Now I want to re-watch the film (with Scarlett Johansen and Colin Firth) of Tracy Chevalier's book - a lot of which was shot in Amsterdam, although Vermeer lived in Delft - for the visuals (if you've seen it you'll  remember how the scenery was filmed to reflect his paintings, or how the colours of light on water inspired him).

What I was not expecting to see so much of in Amsterdam, though, was cats! 

There were cats hanging out in bars ...

... cats in cheese shops ...

... and seemingly, a cat in every window ...

See how intently this one watches the road (one of the Negen Straatjes, narrow and full of interesting goings on) - from left ...

to centre ...

to right ...  what is he thinking about? (and wouldn't you like to be curled up against that cushion in the window seat next to him?)

Seems the Dutch take their cats very seriously - take a look at the wonderful 'Cats & Things' (you might even be tempted to buy something online, whether voor de kat or voor de mens). And then check out the house boat for stray cats and the cat museum, the Kattenkabinet, which we visited on the Herengracht.

Just my kind of people. 


  1. Simply gorgeous, picture perfect!

    I was lucky enough to see most of the Vermeer pictures at the great exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington DC, some fifteen years ago. People lined up around the block, for hours, to see it.

  2. Your photographs are just terrific. So many photo ops! How I wish digitial cameras had been around when I was there.

  3. Hello Karen,

    again - what a faboulus and interesting post!

    And thank you very much for your comment on my recent one (linen)
    I'm writing from Germany, had to rush off early Thursday morning and will be back around the 15th of March. Forgotten to mention it on my blog.

    Please, kindly let me know your email adresse to give you some general short info about the linen and ticking.
    My email:

    Best wishes for a sunny weekend
    and Greetings to London


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