Fourteen Months Abroad – Views of Amsterdam and Its People Circa 1911

July 14.-We left Hanover yesterday at 12 :50 and arrived here at 8:30 Holland time. Our journey had some unpleasant features. The hotel porter unfortunately placed us in an apartment that was already full, and really over-full, but as the occupants of the car were all out taking lunch we did not know it. An angry crowd greeted us on their return and we were scolded well in a foreign tongue. What to do we did not know as the train was overcrowded. There seemed to be no place for us, but we tumbled out as well as we could, taking our dreadful hand baggage with us, one gentleman being kind enough to help us. We were put into another crowded compartment but were quite decently received. A gentleman took special pains to give us information as we went along. He kindly sold me a postcard that contained a picture of the monument of the Emperor William I which we saw near Minden up on a high hill—a statue under a canopy.

Somewhere near that place we saw, much to our surprise and pleasure, a company of peasants at work in a field, dressed in bright colored costumes. Red seemed to be the pre-dominant color. Afterwards we saw a peasant woman walking on a street in a bright red dress and an apron of a different color. We are told that they are Suabians, who reside in that part of Germany. We changed cars, fortunately, only once. Our baggage examination for Holland gave us no trouble. We saw many pretty wild flowers, the wild red poppies and the blue corn flower (centaurea cyanus) growing thickly together in fields with grain and grass. I recalled how much the Emperor William I loved this blue flower. History tells why.

The weather was rather unpleasant all day. We saw a stork walking in a meadow where cows were eating. After-wards we saw a flock of storks rise up from a meadow and fly like a flock of wild geese. This was really the valley of the Rhine where the storks make their summer home. We passed over large tracts of waste land as we approached this city. The windmills we had been looking forward to were not numerous after we reached Holland—not many more than we had been seeing in the northern part of Germany. Some of the country dwellings and barns had green roofs that resembled moss-covered roofs. As we entered Amsterdam and I had my first view of the houses I thought they were the queerest looking piles I had ever seen–so high and narrow with many windows and odd looking gables. Amsterdam is considered oftentimes as strange and interesting a city to visit as Venice. It is called the commercial capital of Holland. Situated on the Y, an arm of the Zuider Zee, at its junction with the Amstel river, it has a fine harbor and much shipping. Ocean steamers as well as ships, sloops and sailing vessels with dark brownish-red sails are here. We are at Hotel Victoria. The room given us last evening did not please us. This morning we have changed to one on the south side (fourth floor) which over-looks the broad canal.

This morning we walked to the Dam, which is some-times called “the Trafalgar Square of Amsterdam.” From this center of all things in this city the trams or street cars start. On this square is the Royal Palace. Opposite the palace is the Exchange where in the afternoon from half past one until three there is a crowd of people—largely merchants. This is the place where during the last week in August the boys are allowed to make all the noise they please with drums and in all other ways that boys can think of.

We have taken three different rides in the horse trams about the city this afternoon. First through the Jew’s Quarter. There we saw a motley crowd of men, women and children with curious and striking faces. Everybody was in a hurry. There was plenty of dirt. The middle of one long street is occupied by a Jew’s market. There were piles of all kinds of old stuff. The people, some of them with oriental faces and dressed in strange costumes, were engaged in buying and selling of some sort.

At the close of this ride we walked across the Amstel river to the Palace of Industry. Our second ride was largely along the Amstel river. The third was from the Dam to Williams Park—a beautiful suburb of Amsterdam. There we walked about among beautiful flowers and saw a lovely lake. Black and white spotted cows were feeding in the meadows and the dear black birds were singing their best.

All buildings in Amsterdam must be built upon foundations of piles. As the upper stratum of the soil consists only of peat and loose sand, no building can be erected without first driving piles through this weak surface into the more solid sand beneath. This gave rise to the joke that “the inhabitants of Amsterdam dwell on the tops of trees like rooks.” This city is divided into ninety islands by canals of various sizes. These islands are connected by three hundred bridges. It is not strange that Amsterdam is sometimes called “the Venice of the north.” Its canals are more beautiful than those in Venice, some of them being shaded by trees. From the bridges one can look away down the canals with the long rows of beautiful trees on both sides of the clear stream of water. Often the view ends with some fine building which appears to be exactly in the middle of the canal itself. In the center of the fine harbor is an artificial island where stands the new Central Railway Station. This is our station. It is a beautiful building of bright red brick, trimmed handsomely with stone. On the facade are showy bas-relief figures. Our Hotel Victoria is very near this station. From our front window, which is in the highest story, we have a fine view of the city. We look out upon a large bridge where people are continually going and coming. To the left we see the fine new Catholic church, to the right the old Catholic church, which has a lovely chime of bells. We hear them every hour and enjoy them, especially at night when the city is still. They remind us of the Antwerp chimes. Houses with quaint gables come down to the water’s edge with no room for sidewalks.

L. has taken a picture of some of these antique houses from our fourth story window. We see peasant women in Amsterdam wearing queer headgears. Some of these are stiff lace caps with wings which frequently reach to the waist in the back. They wear under these caps a band of solid gold an inch or more broad, which winds about the head and ends above the ears or at the temples in various ways. I have seen women wearing elaborate bonnets over these strange headdresses. Often the bands end in round gold balls above the ears, or in large ornaments of gold which resemble corkscrews. I have bought postcards which illustrate some of the costumes worn by peasants in different parts of Holland.

Have seen some round, very short, stout looking women. The front gable of the Bible Hotel, not far from here, is ornamented by a representation of a large Bible.