|Amsterdam, located in The Netherlands, also known as Holland, evokes images of canals, tulips, blonde locals and clogs. We were not disappointed.
We landed at the main station via a train from Belgium and quickly navigated our way to the #1 tram line which would deliver us within 2 blocks of our destination. Our accommodations at this stop would be the Tulips Bed and Breakfast. We were lucky enough to get the 3rd floor suite for our first few days, as it was vacant, until we moved to the 2nd floor apartment. We enjoyed the canal views and our friendly and helpful Dutch host. For 6 days, we had spacious accommodations, a handy corner market and a local laundry making our stay just perfect.
Our neighborhood was just one block away from Vondel Park. The largest and most beautiful park in Amsterdam, and I am told all of Holland. It was reminiscent of many other large city parks, full of bikers, runners, walkers, strollers, families, dogs, views of beautiful homes lining the outskirts of the park and fountains decorated with beautiful Autumn colors; yellow, brown, orange and red. We enjoyed many walks through the park to people watch or enjoy a drink at one of the park restaurants.
One Sunday we rented “yellow bikes”, and rode for hours in Vondel Park and all over Amsterdam. Sunday was great for this as there were fewer cars on the road to navigate. The Dutch take biking transportation seriously. It is a BIG deal to impede a biker in their biking lane. It is necessary to be cognizant at all times of bike traffic to ensure you don’t get injured since bikes and mini-bikes (motorized) both use the bike lanes. One also runs the risk of having a local scorn you for impeding flow. You see, the sidewalk is split in two lanes one for walkers, the other for bikers. Bikers on the roads are about equal to the number of cars on the road with even more walkers and tram riders in the city. The U.S. could learn a lot from Europe with regard to transportation. There was always a convenient tram to navigate around the city which discourages car traffic.
We took in the Rijksmuseum (pronounced Rikes) and the Van Gogh museum. Both museums were small enough to enjoy. Another day we spent time in the Anne Frank House. I was inspired to reread the book after 35 years to enrich our experience. It was a moving place to be. To consider the hardships and small spaces that 8 Jewish people lived in during WWII in hiding until being discovered was unimaginable.
One of the highlights of the trip was enjoying philosophical conversations at our local Gierst coffeeshop. Of course, everyone speaks very good English. Many of the folks we met wanted to have serious discussions about the U.S. Mike especially enjoyed this dialogue but I was wary of where this could all go. Not everyone in thinks the U.S. is doing the right thing in the Middle East or within our economy. We wanted to know about their economy and the euro in Holland. We learned that the euro has not been good for the Dutch. They now pay almost twice as much for goods as opposed to the guilder, which was their currency before the inception of the euro. So they too are not happy with the European economy. We have a few more friends, an artist from Israel, a programmer for Cisco and another kind gentleman from Egypt. Throw in several cappuccinos, a cat chasing a mouse around the coffeehouse , several walk up customers and we call it a great experience.
I was lucky enough to spend my 49th birthday here, celebrated with a bike ride, shopping the farmer’s market and a wonderful meal at our favorite dinner stop Castro’s Tapas. Hmmm….Paella and tapas in Holland, now that was a surprise!
Of course, I must mention the Red Light District. It is an interesting place. It was quite by accident we found the Red Light District. As we sat in a coffeehouse, Mike glanced out the window to see a woman luring men to come here with her finger as they walked by. So of course we had to walk down one of the few very narrow passageways with windows. There were many women scantily clad standing in their “booth” which is really a door with a floor to ceiling piece of glass with a sink, mirror and a bed in the back. When they are busy, they close a curtain across the big glass wall. Most were beautiful but to our surprise most were not from Holland. They are mostly from the Czech Republic and Hungary and Romania. Unfortunately, I was embarrassed and felt sorry for many of these women as some men made lewd gestures or demeaning comments. We were also told, that many of these women have to perform their work with about 4 – 5 men before the cost of their booth is covered for the day. Some have pimps and suffer abuse. I liked the fact that these alleyways do not face the canals or tourist areas but if one is interested they can be found. Felt like bad juju to me so we left the area shortly thereafter.
Amsterdam is a special place and became one of our favorite stops. I liked the international mix of people here, easily found in their foods. We ate falafels, wok dishes, tapas, some traditional foods and of course, lots of Heineken. About the Dutch women....I must say that the women in Holland are definitely the most beautiful we found in our travels in Europe. These women are typically tall, blond/fair haired, and just naturally beautiful with great figures. Between biking and walking, it is quite easy to eat well (or badly) and not gain weight. This by the way, is more than a theory, I tested it!
Next stop, the Swiss Alps.