Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Sunday 27 January 2013

Over the years, street organs seemed to have become less and less in evidence in Amsterdam. Bearing in mind what I'm guessing must be quite a cost in getting and maintaining one, it can't be easy to make much of a living from them. But this weekend, I not only saw one in one of the main shopping streets in Amsterdam, but also in the middle of some fairly heavy snow in Utrecht: maybe the Saturday shopping crowds brought them out.

In Utrecht, too, you can surfeit yourself at Museum Speelklok with all kinds of draaiorgels, circus organs, hurdy-gurdies, pianolas, orchestrions, polyphons, musical boxes, some monsters built for dance halls, and some strange mechanical musical instruments (I once saw a machine here that played four violins).

Visitors have the chance to wander around some of the many different examples, but the main interest is the tour of selected machines (though this does include plenty of chances for little ones, and one lucky grown-up, to turn a handle). There's even a bit of singsong, as was once traditional, though at least one of the old songsheets on display suggests something rather racier than you might expect.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Cold enough

Walking up to a tram stop, I noticed a group of people giving an unremarkable stretch of canal more attention than you'd expect at that time on a Saturday morning - and this was why:

Not exactly Nigella

Mumblety-odd years ago, on my first evening in Amsterdam, I ate at a restaurant offering traditional Dutch cooking. The special of the day rather appealed as much for the sound of the name as much as anything else: hutspot met sudderklapstuk, which turned out to be a mash-up (hotchpotch) of potato and vegetables with a huge piece of braised beef.

The restaurant is still there, though much more spruced up these days, and still includes such substantial fare on the menu (and in these temperatures, you can see the benefit).

However, the specials this time didn't particularly appeal (and what sort of beer were they offering?), so I chose a variation with curly kale, and a sausage and speck (bacon pieces).

The presentation was a bit...well, striking.

And then the demon of literal word-for-word translation struck on the dessert menu. Even with a cinnamon and caramel sauce, "bag cheese on a biscuit" doesn't entice.

P.S. I've just noticed Disqus's bizarre idea of "related" content elsewhere among their users - nothing to do with me. I'm working on finding an alternative commenting widget if anyone has any bright ideas

Thursday 24 January 2013

Greetings from a very cold and snowy Amsterdam, where (as you can see) if you want to tempt customers in by tempting other customers to sit outside, you might as well try offering them blankets, in fetchingly contrasting colours.

Feeling like a break, I've given the traditional rail and ferry option a try. They can zhoosh up the ferry as much as you like (comfy bed, own telly and ensuite bathroom well up to medium hotel standard), but I doubt if I'll ever be able to sleep properly on any sort of moving transport (not that the movement made itself felt on this trip, with much less juddering and jolting than I get on the bus of a morning). And the rail connections are still somewhat unwelcoming and inescapably tedious, with seasonal problems adding to the commuter crush.
Arriving in the murk of a winter twilight, the view is all shades of grey across the snow, apart from the lights of cars and the occasional advertising sign; and when the sun finally breaks through, the few distinctive objects on the landscape barely make a mark through the mist.

But Amsterdam retains its distinctive mixture. Amid the bikes and gables and down a side alley, the eye is drawn past today's graffiti art to the 16th century outline of the Begijnhof, more peaceful than ever in the untouristed snow.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Monday's sun made Sunday's constant snow look very different.

Round on the city farm, the ornamental fowl may not have been too sure about venturing out, but some animals come ready-wrapped for the weather.

Monday 21 January 2013

I have some creative neighbours: