Thursday 19th September. Rather than spend 6 hours hanging around Schiphol Airport, I decided to stop off in central Amsterdam for a while. I had last been there in June 1985, for the International Conference on Prison Abolition, when I was working in probation. It had been held at the Vrije Universiteit (Free University), very near the city centre, but my main souvenir was of two very enjoyable 3-hour canal trips, one of them including dinner. I hoped to pass the time agreeably once more in the same fashion, perhaps having lunch on board.
With hindsight, I wish I’d done more research in advance. It turned out that I could not have lunch on board a canal cruise, not even by buying a sandwich and eating it there. And any cruises before the evening would only last an hour. As I stepped out of the central station, Amsterdam was heaving, with tourists (guilty), and seemed pretty dirty, especially compared with the pristine newness, openness and cleanliness of the Arnhem area we had been travelling in. Of course, much of that was because the whole area had been flattened by the Nazis 75 years ago.
I took a desultory photograph or two around the station,
then looked for somewhere to find lunch that was not a sandwich bar, and where I could sit down. I eventually found Royal98 on Dam Square and had a very good quinoa, feta cheese and pine nut salad, in pleasant surroundings. I decided to take a one-hour boat trip on one of the offers, all of which seemed to be identical. Probably not, but I was feeling grumpy by now. I am normally a great planner, but had relied on there being a three-hour cruise I could take. Had I known otherwise, I would have done a walk round with a printed plan, and visited a museum or something into the bargain.
Anyway, still grumpy, I realised that in order to be able to sit at an open window, I was going to have to face backwards, and I couldn’t make the earphones for the English commentary stay in my ears as I did my best to take decent photos. Here are some of my efforts.
Having still a fair amount of time, but little idea of what to do, I went inside the Basilica. Its dark (apparently) marble columns and walls reminded me of my visit to the black granite of St Mungo’s Cathedral, Glasgow.
Back to the station, and this time I walked right through it to the rear, so different architecturally from the front. Over the road, through a cycle park, and I was at the wide open IJ once more for a final look before collecting my case from its locker, and finding a train for Schiphol.
A week on, and I am trying to make sense of the whole experience, which for me is inextricably tied up with the turbulence in British politics right now, Europe-related. Musically and socially the week was most enjoyable, even if for most of the time I was singing below my preferred range. Historically, it was interesting and moving, and at times quite emotionally draining. Beatrix had arranged a wonderful programme for us.
But, thoughout the time, I was keeping a very close eye on what was happening (or indeed not happening in those very days) in Parliament, and British politics generally. Time and again, being reminded of the tragic and hateful results of war and enmity, I came back to the whole stupidity and, in my view immorality of so many aspects of the whole Brexit movement, and how it is tearing my country apart, when five years ago, 95% of its residents knew nothing of and took no interest in the European Union.
At the time of writing I can still hope that the UK will not leave the European Union, which has ensured peace among our nations for the last 74 years, given smooth trade, brought jobs, given study and work opportunities to many (including myself), ensured co-operation in matters of security and crime prevention, and just generally made the world a better place. How can anyone want to jeopardise all that? I understand the political and, (for a few very rich people, financial) reasons, and can only deplore them, and regret that ignorance and jingoism have led so many to support those political reasons.
An unusual way to end one of my travel blog series, but we live in unusual times.