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Phespirit goes to the Netherlands
Amsterdam     February 2001

Amsterdam is a mere one hour away from London by air, but Phespirit opted to take the six hour scenic route by train. Eurostar from London to Brussels is a touch over two and half hours; the connection from Brussels to Amsterdam takes exactly three hours to the minute. Time to relax with a good book.

It soon became evident that Phespirit had picked a bad time to visit. Many of the streets, tramways and squares were in the process of being ripped out and re-laid. A careful path had to be walked through the rubble in the roads and the copious amounts of dog turd curled onto the verges. There was no shortage of sights in this city; it was just a little troublesome getting around to see them in February 2001.

Despite efforts to promote Amsterdam as a sophisticated centre of museums and galleries, the primary reputation of the city is for easy sex and drugs. The openness of prostitution is well documented, yet it is still extraordinary to behold for the first time. Phespirit concedes that, whatever the social or political or moral or humanitarian implications of the trade, it remains a tantalising temptation for the man alone, unaccountable, with cash on the hip .....

Pass the bromide: it is naïve to venerate the Red Light District as some sanitised sweetshop of sexual abandon. A second look evinces the mundane monotony, the repetitious routine; a third look renders it simply depressing, an endless cycle of empty posturing by the driven and the desperate on both sides of the glass. Phespirit shambled away before he recognised his own reflection.

On to the comparitively aseptic environment of the museums and galleries. Phespirit visited several, of which the main two were the Rijksmuseum - praise for 'Still life with gilt goblet' by Willem Claesz Heda (1635), superb in detail and colour - and the Van Gogh Museum where Phespirit took a particular shine to 'Ploughed fields ('The furrows')' (1888).

Also worth a mention is 'The Way To Heaven', a temporary exhibition at the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) on Dam Square, bringing together a collection of holy relics from around the world. Most of the exhibits showed admirable craftsmanship but laughable content, such as the vast reliquary work from Mechelen in Belgium, dated to 1530, which purported to feature a "hair from Christ's beard" along with a "piece of the loincloth worn by Christ on the cross" and, best of all, a "foot of the rooster that crowed three times after Peter's denial of Christ".

Phespirit visted a few Dutch towns and cities outside the capital. Rotterdam is big and modern, with the Euromast tower and Piet Blom's Kijk-Kubus - tilted cubic houses supported by concrete stilts - worth a look, but it is drearily unengaging and Phespirit was peeved that the Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen was closed for re-development. Delft, on the other hand, is petite and beautiful but horrendously smelly, which may have been due to the canals but was more likely to be the result of an open sewage pipe in the vicinity. Den Haag - The Hague - has the Dutch parliament buildings and the excellent Mauritshuis art gallery but is otherwise at the dull end of the scale.

Lots of things to see then, and having done all that it was time to leave the capital of the Netherlands for the capital of England via the capital of Belgium .....

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