Thursday November 19th – Whenever I get to travel someplace I’ve never been I always try to capture my impressions of the place BEFORE I get there. So as I headed to Amsterdam I thought about what I know about Amsterdam and the Netherlands (or sometimes Holland and that’s odd in and of itself as I cannot think of too many countries that have two names besides Burma/Myanmar).
Let’s see – before I get on the plane – I recall that if one goes to Europe from the U.S. Amsterdam is a gateway to cheap airfares – but I don’t know why. They have canals that freeze sometimes in the winter and people skate around to work and play. Heineken and Amstel beer (I found out that the Amstel river is the primary river in Amsterdam – did not know that). Van Gogh museum. Anne Frank’s hideout house. The red light district. Coffee shops that are smoking lounges and cafés which serve food. It’s cold and rainy a lot. That would be about the sum total of my intimate knowledge of Amsterdam. How provincially American am I?
Tuesday November 24th – While I had intended (ok maybe pondered is better) on posting from Amsterdam, it just didn’t happen. We were having too good a time. Yes we went to the Van Gogh (they pronounce it Van Huff) museum, the Rijksmuseum, did the canal cruise, the visit to the Heineken brewery (complete with 3 samples!), and Anne Frank’s hideout which was in her father’s office. We also went to the red light district which was actually a bit pathetic. We walked by large picture windows in the red light district each having a lingerie-clad working girl on display one looking more bored and morose than the next. The coffee shops were not nearly as plentiful as I imagined but the scent emanating from them was unmistakable. Oh and it was cold and it rained every day but one out of 3 ½ that we were there.
Like most cities that I have recently visited in Europe the international flavor of the city comes through quite notably. Many different languages were heard with visitors prominently from the U.K., France, Belgium and Germany. Apparently many Europeans think Amsterdam is fun for a weekend. And what a ‘biking’ city. I have never seen so many beat up bicycles (even those get stolen I was told) with people from 6 to 76 riding them around at high speeds, riding in all kinds of weather, ringing their little bells just as they swerve to avoid unknowing pedestrians (like me).
Amsterdam (also like most cities I have visited in Europe recently) is expensive. Not only because of the U.S. dollar’s slide vs. the Euro. We went into a grocery store and saw that basic staples are substantially more expensive than in the U.S. .. Perhaps people get paid a bit more but I think they also live in much simpler quarters so that their income is spent more on consumables than rent or mortgage payments. Things we forget about here in the land of plenty and cheap.