14 April 2008

natura artis magistra

today we went to one of our new favrite neighbourhoods, the plantage aan het water. because it is sits in the ne corner of amsterdam's city centre, we were actually able to take the train to the muiderportstation and then walk from there. muiderport is the station between diemen and centraal and is a multicultural area which hosts a huge market, dappermarkt, everyday except sunday. it is also home to de gooyer windmill, which with it's thatch roof and painted shutters is truly a joy to look at. it's just sums up everything you think of when you think of holland.

the walk into the plantage is absolutely gorgeous, and because it's outside of the city, it's quiet and peaceful. it sits on a large canal full of old house boats and colorful fishing boats and there are more trees and greenery than anywhere else i've seen in amsterdam. the plantage is also the jewish quarter of amsterdam. when it first went into development, middle class jews came there and build their homes and their community. so, when walking though it's impossible to look at the lovely brick buildings and the quiet streets and not think about the horror and insanity of when it went from being a peaceful middle class neighbouhood to a jewish ghetto during the german occupation in holland.

we came up to a canal-side cafe and decided it was a good spot to get a bite to eat. we sat down, and not five minutes after we ordered our coffees, the clouds started to come in. we tried to wait it out, but ended up inside anyway, which turned out to be fine because otherwise we would have missed out on the amazing charm of this little restaurant. i ordered a bowl of lentil soup, my favorite!, and scott ordered a pesto, tomato, and cheese panini. before i came to holland, i had read that the food was heavy and i most cases just plain bad, but this has not been my experience. we are both looking forward to another lunch there...maybe with family next time!

the other great thing about the walk into the neighbourhood is that you can see the backside of the artis zoo from across the canal, and today that was our destination. it was actually scott's idea and i was, of course, thrilled! as we stood in line for tickets, the clouds disappeared and the sun was out again. from the very beginning it was clear that this was not your average zoo. first of all, the second you walk in you see huge watusi and their massive horns fighting with each other. i couldn't believe it...they were so close! this was true for all of the animals. the jaguar and the cheetah were so close it was almost scary; so close that you could see that jaguars are not all black, that they have very light spots almost like a cheetah. the lioness' were awaiting their dinner and were pasing back and forth in front of the crowd. at one point the sole lion got on his hind legs and began scratching and growling on the metal gate to alert everyone that he was ready to eat! a favorite moment occurred when suddenly one of amsterdams notorious flash hail storms came in and we were forced to take shelter. we ran into the closest building , and just as we were noting the unmistakable elephant smell, a massive elephant and her baby came strolling in out of the hail. scott and i got to be one-on-one and face-to-face with the baby elephant who was eating apples that were lined up on the bars to its cage. it was precious!

the birds in the artis were incredible. i don't usually even stop for the birds, but these were the most colorful things i have ever seen; parrot lane was just incredible. there were also at least 100 pretty pink flamingos and our favorite, the great white pelican. they looked pink to me, but either way they were fabulous. at one point they were trying to get to their food by sticking their long neck and over-sized beak under the water and into a cage. once one got a fish inevitably there would be a fight and the lucky pelican, holding the whole fish in it's beak would swallow some water and then down it went. we actually saw the whole fish in one of their open mouths, which was awesome. what personalities!

aside from the animals, artis was just a joy to walk around...it's a huge garden. around every corner was either a meditation site with its huge buddah statue or a garden full of roses and benches to relax on. it was nice for us since we're not used to being around that many kids, to just sit on a bench to rest in peace for a moment. i can't wait to come back during the summer to take advantage of the lounging spots, fabulous restaurants, and oil colors and paper to sketch the birds.

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