Parrots in the park…

It’s Monday which means a long morning walk in the Vondel Park with the dog. It’s a (very recent) Monday tradition initiated by my cleaning lady, who comes by on Monday mornings to tidy up my mess from the weekend.

She’s from Ecuador and speaks no English or Dutch, so we tend to have lots of strange “conversations” that consist solely of hand gestures and smiles. I vainly thought that this state of affairs would compel me to finally learn Spanish, but it did not. I am lazy. I like to dream of all the things I would like to do (such as learning Spanish) but actually accomplishing them is a different matter entirely.

When I realise that these things (these high falutin’ dreams I mean) require effort, I back off and start to dream of some other amazing thing I really must be doing (such as climbing the Eiger or volunteering for some project in Nepal or wherever) I’m useless.

But I digress. The Monday morning walks. They came about during the course of one of those bi-lingual, hand gesture dialogues with the cleaner.

I realised that it was better if I was out of her way and not dithering about the house while she tried to clean it. I realised, in fact, that she was trying to explain that she wanted me out of the house because I was a nuisance.

So now I spend my Monday mornings on a three hour round trip through Amsterdam. It’s great. Even if the weather sucks (such as today) it’s still great.

It’s the canals you see, they’re just so beautiful. There is always something fascinating about water; and water in a city, particularly in a busy city, is even more alluring for some reason. I guess it’s because it offers some unexpected peace.

In a city busy getting on with it’s business, it always comes as a surprise to find that it is still possible to walk around aimlessly with your dog, just for the hell of it – right in the heart of a major European capital!

Think about that for a moment. I mean it is quite amazing really, isn’t it?

I have been here for ten years, and I still get a buzz out it.

Perhaps it’s because I know that back home it isn’t the same. Back home the roads are wider, the traffic thicker, the pedestrian an eccentric fool tolerated by no-one. Back home I wouldn’t walk anywhere. Back home I’d get in the damn car …..

But here the narrow streets and alleys positively encourage you to walk (or to cycle). Having a car here in the centre of Amsterdam is simply daft. True there is traffic (and on the motorways there’s plenty of it, believe me) but it seems to be relegated, on the whole, to the ring roads and the main arterial roads, leaving the city centre largely free for pedestrians and cyclists.


So this is where I walk. Down the Amstel river to the start of the Prinsengracht and from there via the Rijksmuseum to the Vondel Park. There is not one single ugly thing to see along the way.

Actually that’s a lie. The ABN Amro building on the Vijzelstraat is a hideous monstrosity and should be ripped down immediately! But apart from that one 1970s eyesore, the rest of the walk is unblemished and sublime.

It’s the kind of walk where you don’t need to pay attention. You just walk. Because you can. Because there is very little in the way of traffic that you need to look out for. Because it’s Monday morning and everyone is busy at their desks, heads down, shoulders bent in a stoop of concentrated productivity.

I know they are because I see them as I pass by on my lovely walk. Ha! What are they all doing, I wonder?

In the park it is still quiet. Not just because it is Monday morning and it’s only ten o’clock, but also because it is winter, so the wind and the rain are forcing people indoors. Only the dog lovers and the sturdy runners are still out in force. And the parrots.

There are these bright green raucous parrots in the park. They’ve been here for years now. Some strange jungle apparition that just appeared one day and decided to stay.

I remember when I first noticed them, wondering if they would be hardy enough to survive a winter in the park, but survive they did. Indeed, they seem to be thriving and look decidedly plump and relaxed from what I can see.

In the winter they look even better. It’s the contrast with the black coldness of the empty trees. That splash of green against the bare branches is so much more vibrant in the winter. So much cherrier and greener.

I’m glad they came here and decided to stay. Their garishness and cheeky squabbling makes the winter that more bearable…..

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