Friday, 1 July 2011

Sights, sounds and smells

I got back from Amsterdam yesterday evening, expecting to be delayed by the strike of passport control officers but finding instead that I got through passport control much quicker than normal.

The trip was really worthwhile. I needed to gather all I could about the city in a very short pace of time and for the first time ever I actually went with an itinerary so that I made sure that I did everything I was supposed to do.

Mainly this meant visiting the places that the characters in The Mask visit - the Rijksmuseum for instance - and doing some of the things they do - like riding a tram and eating pancakes. I have written these scenes already, but as soon I did them in real life, I could immediately see mistakes and also completely new areas that opened up in the novel. I have characters having a drink in a cafe in the Rijksmuseum - but there is no cafe there: the museum is being renovated.

Flying into Schipol, my heart sank a little as we descended through clouds and landed in rain, but even that was positive because it rains continuously in The Mask and I now know that my description of rain on the aeroplane window was not quite right. But I have to say, I wasn't upset when the weather improved.

I decided to go to the Oude Kerk while I was there, as much as anything, because I really wanted to see it. The last time I was in Amsterdam I had mistimed my visit and found it shut. I actually did my best to avoid seeing it this time, turning up too late on the first day and turning up before it opened on the second day.

I'm glad I persisted though. It is an extraordinary place and that alone has bought it a place in the novel. I spent two hours in there, enjoying the stillness and fascinated by the floor which is a made up entirely of tomb slabs, each engraved with a number and often with curious symbols a little like the mason marks you sometimes see in cathedrals.

The Oude Kerk sits in the red light district of Amsterdam. I feel rather sorry for it, surrounded by all that cheesy tat and bare flesh. It deserves better. It is a truly lovely building.

The other place I went to that I'd never been too before was the Anne Frank Museum. I think I'd avoided going before. Maybe I though I knew the story and did not need t go. Maybe I even thought there might be something bad taste about it. But I was wrong and I'm glad I went, though I found it almost unbearably sad. That doesn't sound like a recommendation, but I would encourage anyone who visits Amsterdam to go. Book your ticket online before you visit and you can walk past the queues at the door. And the same goes for the Rijksmuseum.

As well as making notes about the specifics of museum entry and how to buy a tram ticket, I was also making notes about the sights and sounds - and smells (the open air urinals have an interesting bouquet for instance) - of Amsterdam. I took a huge amount of photographs - some of which I'll be sharing with you over the next few days.


  1. Fascinating and rewarding, a life of a writer!

  2. Sometimes, Jennifer.....sometimes!