The Walk – Amsterdam

There are times when one knows that the laws of the universe, God, or one of the Saints is smiling down on our endeavours. Or at the very least the stars are aligned for the plan we have embraced and the initial steps we take. It is always possible to stray and lose our way further along the chosen path.

We lit a candle and said a prayer in the Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Amsterdam, then quietly took a seat to say even more prayers as the choir practiced one last time for Sunday Mass. My eyes welled up with tears as I prayed for my daughters, their partners and children, knowing the challenges they may face in the coming months and years as we walk slowly south and west across Europe. Who knows what trials they may endure in the time it takes us to complete our pilgrimage?

I know a man who walked across Europe as an orphan boy, from the Black Sea to Holland, the Second World War raging all around him; he emerged true to his name, Victor, and with a character as sweet as honey. God, may you bless my children with such fortitude and grace.

In the inner harbour of Amsterdam with left the Basilica of Saint Nicholas and right Samaritan’s Inn, where I worked for a few years.

I pushed the exit door and made way for a woman coming in off the street. Never before had we met in this place, but there she was: an old friend recognised, a delighted cry, she grabbed me by the shoulders and kissed my cheeks. Her daughter, wheelchair-bound since birth, ‘just this morning had spoken of you’. The door to the wheelchair access lift opened and in she came too, with her father. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light her faced went from puzzlement to joy as Renata and I beamed back at her. Quickly, a quiet exchange of news, a promise to see each other again soon, and then we really were out the door. God was definitely smiling now.

Floris V was a famous ruler in Holland in the mid-13th century. History is written by the the victors and so, as these things go, Floris became a national hero – at least in the parts of the country called ‘Holland’ – in spite of his rather uneven personal qualities and political accomplishments. Finding a murderous end himself at the hands of his antagonists helped with the mythology, as did a 60’s TV drama series starring a young Rutger Hauer. The route we are following through the Netherlands is the Floris V-Pad, and will take us from Amsterdam to the southwest town of Bergen Op Zoom, where is connects with the Grande Randonnée (GR12) to Paris and points south.

Today’s stages took us through Amsterdam and vicinity, 20 km in total, and were for us a wander down memory lane, covering thirty-five years of our own history and ending at our current front door. Below a few photos and commentary. Next time we’ll take up the baton at the bridge over the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal at Driemond and head up to Muiden, where Floris V was imprisoned. I’ll keep you posted.

Samaritan’s Inn, the former Salvation Army building (William Booth preached here once); the location of my office in the early 90’s.
Looking west on Dam Square one sees the Royal Palace. Built in the mid-1600’s as a new Amsterdam City Hall it was appropriated as a palace by Napolean’s brother when he was installed as king in 1808. It now serves the Dutch royal family mainly for the annual New Year’s diplomatic reception and other high-level gatherings.
Looking east on Dam Square, Renata stands in front of the National Monument (1956, John Rädecker) which is the location for the annual national remembrance service on May 4, a service which puts far more emphasis on the victims of war than it does on the armed forces. I’m not sure why the monument is currently missing its regular rounded top.
Heading east out of the centre on the Damstraat, we get a final glimpse of the Basilica of St. Nicholas, were we started our walk.
Looking up the Groenburgwal from the Staalstraat at the Zuidekerk. The red-brick building on the left, Christ Church, is the Anglican Church that was our church home for over 15 years and the place where I was ordained as priest.
Standing with one of my ‘favourite sons’ of Amsterdam, the philosopher Baruch de Spinoza, near the place of his birth in 1632. This marvellous statue gives him a cape covered by foreign birds, a reminder that Amsterdam has always been a place to call home for people of all sorts from around the world.
The Berlage Bridge over the Amstel River. Two things to note here: the tall building just glimpsed behind the trees to the left is at the head of a block of houses where Anne Frank’s family lived before they went into hiding. A poignant thought on this Holocaust remembrance day. Secondly, this is the bridge by which the Canadian troops entered Amsterdam on May 8, 1945, bringing definitive peace to a war-torn city.
Leaving the Amstel behind us and joining the Weesperzijde. The path is marked by the white/red signs, this time on the lamppost. Not far and we will pass Betondorp, the neighbourhood where Johan Cruyff was kicking a ball against the walls in the 1950s.
Now we have joined the little river Gaasp. The municipality of Amsterdam has odd borders, in and out of places, and one can easily forget that it includes some quaint rural areas like this (fresh eggs for sale on the side, honour system).
The Gaaspermolen. All the information you need is in the link. And the dog is watchful, noisy, and wags his tail as he barks.
My traveling companion. A long time now.

One thought on “The Walk – Amsterdam

  1. Hello you two! Thanks for the picture tour of your walk. I’m starting to recognize places!

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