We returned from a two-and-a-half week trip to Bruges, Copenhagen and Amsterdam on Thursday, thus giving me enough time to ready myself for the gamma-radio surgery I’m to undergo on Tuesday. Don’t want to think about Tuesday, so here are a few observations about Bruges, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam.
BRUGES: We met not one person who wasn’t well-read, cosmopolitan, multi-lingual, friendly, gracious. More than a few were darned funny. Example: I chatted with our hotel bartender about how tiny, tourist-centered Bruges is surviving in this tight economy and about the very small proportion of residents to tourists. “You have that right,” he said, tongue in cheek. “Bruges has about 200,000 inhabitants but over 3 million tourists annually. We need them, but sometimes I think of them as terrorists more than tourists!” Having met a few of those types of tourists, I got his point. Bruges is beautiful, but it’s the people I remember so well, particularly the long-legged high school girls in their oh-so-proper plaid school uniforms, the skirts of which were often hemmed eight to 10 inches above the knee. Gotta love the rebellious!
COPENHAGEN: Lots of construction going on in this very busy, very large city. And yet, despite heavy crowds of business people with laptops, residents with prams and groceries, and tourists with their rolling luggage, not once did I feel unsafe. Even crossing streets was a surprising experience: no one jay walked or crossed against a traffic light and even more surprising--not once did a driver who was stopped on a red light, inch forward into the crosswalk. Even more surprising--in a city of over one-and-a-half million people, we saw only one street person. There certainly may have been more; after all, we hardly traveled through all of Copenhagen. But the train station and the areas around it were free of beggars. I asked a bartender about this. (Bartenders are my favorite source for cultural information.) He said, “Denmark’s residents are taxed heavily (about 50%), but we’re a welfare state. All Danes receive tax-funded health care and pensions.” Wish there had been time to talk further but we had to move on. Besides, we couldn’t afford to stay much longer. Even a Coke was $7 USD! Another observation, this one from a children’s park. Dean went for ice cream while I stopped at the gate to watch kids ages five to 10 at play in a small, paved, fenced, tree-rimmed park. Two boys were engaged in a mock pirate fight, each giggling as they other bopped one another on the head with a foam rubber sword. A lad of about eight happily roller skated around his little sister who was seated on a skate board, scooting around a small tree. Others played sidewalk games or chased maple leaves in the wind. A couple of adults (parents?) casually chatted on a bench. No obvious supervision, no signs about “don’t do this, don’t do that,” no feeling that anyone was about to sue should a child fall and scrape a knee. No one seemed worried about child abduction. Calm, happy children engaged in calm, happy play. Gotta love a culture where kids can be kids!
AMSTERDAM: Again, a profound sense of safety in a huge, international city. Much like Copenhagen but not nearly as expensive. Amsterdam is a small, crowded, wonderful city of pedestrians, bicyclists, trams, and beer delivery trucks. You’ll see the occasional car, but most folksavoid driving. Cars aren’t needed in Amsterdam. Public transportation is fast, easy, and very inexpensive. We went everywhere on foot or by tram. And clean? Wow! My daughter’s neighbor was from Amsterdam. Grata was fond of telling us how horrified she was when she first came to the Twin Cities in the 1950’s and was looking for a house. "Everyone’s windows looked so dirty!" she said in her heavy Dutch accent. Only after she went into a home did she realize that what looked like dirt on the outside was merely the screen we Minnesotans use to protect ourselves from summer’s mosquitoes. After visiting Amsterdam, I understand why Grata was disgusted by dirty windows: the Dutch seem obsessed with shiny, immaculate glass! Out and about on our early morning walks through Amsterdam, before the shops opened and the streets got busy, we saw shopkeepers sudsing up and hosing down their windows, top to bottom, left to right. Gotta love the Dutch! Thanks for sticking with me through this long post. It’s helped me forget about Tuesday’s brain zap. Wish me luck. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll no longer be a WWABT*. (Woman With A Brain Tumor)