Amsterdam -August 2016

I wasn’t going to do a blog for this short two week trip to Europe, but I find that I have these observations when I travel, that I can’t help but put down in writing! Not sure if any one cares, but what the heck, the potential reader can chose to read or ignore.
We left Calgary on Monday, August 23rd and will get home Sept. 8th. The plan is to visit Amsterdam, Utrecht and Maastricht in the Netherlands….then on to Strasbourg and Colmar in the Alsace Lorraine area of France…then to Thun and Lucerne in Switzerland….finally Namur and Bruges in Belgium, then back to Amsterdam to fly home. Thanks to our friend Ernie for the recommendation regarding the Netherlands.
An overnight flight to Europe from Calgary always creates jetlag and from past experience, we know that once you arrive, you’ve got to “hit the road running” …no giving in to the tiredness one might feel. Our sister in law, Brenda, would be happy to know that we pre-arranged for a shuttle to our hotel in Amsterdam once we landed vs. sclepping our suitcases on the train. From past experience we know this isn’t a lot of fun!
Amazing to see all the bicycles on the bike paths, which of course is the main means of transportation here in Amsterdam. Had forgotten how many, still amazing to see. As Robin gets out of the shuttle, the driver reminds him to watch out for the bikes, as we need to cross the bike path to get to the sidewalk in front of the hotel. Well, Robin almost got hit by a bike…..he forgot to look both ways! The bike path in front of the hotel is a two way as the other side of the road is a canal and no bike path on that side. Glad our holiday didn’t end before it started!

Alng the canals in Amsterdam
Arriving at our hotel by 9:00 a.m. our room was not yet available, not a big surprise. Very hot in Amsterdam and people are telling us that they have not had the best summer here, so we have managed to hit it lucky. We are staying just a block from the Rijks Museum. We head off walking and wind our way towards the centre of town. You might think you should be walking on the same road to get to your destination which appears straight from your starting point, but Amsterdam is built around the canals, so if you want to go in a straight line, you must zig zag. Make sense so far? We have visited Amsterdam on previous occasions so we are familiar with this pattern. Yes, this means we have gotten off track in our previous visit. We make our way to the old town along the antique shops while crossing many canals. We stop at a cafe to have coffee/tea, need the caffeine to keep going. Took about a half hour to get to the main area of the city. Enjoy walking on the side streets trying to avoid the main tourist areas….oh right…I guess we are tourists as well!
We stop for lunch and feel that we are starting to fade. Can’t give in to this feeling and it is very hot (30 C) so we decide to take an open boat tour on the canals hoping that we might get a breeze. The boat holds about 10 people and our captain was a local who told us the maximum speed on the canals is 7 mph. ….so much for the breeze we were hoping for! Having said this, it was still nice to get onto the canals and view the city from another perspective. The captain is very informative about the history of Amsterdam and also interesting to get a locals perpective on what is happening at the present time.
We decide to take the tram back to our hotel as is simply too hot and we are very tired. We take a short nap before heading out for dinner. Delicious seafood restaurant not far from the hotel, so nice walk there. Needless to say, frites with mayonnaise served with the mussles. Yes, you read that right…the frites (fries) served with mayonnaise and not ketchup as in North America. Very good! On the way back we stroll through Vondelpark, always lots of people enjoying the park at all times of the day.
Also learnt today the difference between a coffee house and a coffee shop. A coffee house is where you can partake in smoking marijana and a coffee shop is where you can enjoy a cup of coffee. Pretty sure we went to the right one…..We were aware that a coffee house is only supposed to serve citizens of the Netherlands but a guide told us that the rules are not strictly enforced and if one coffee house won’t serve you, try the next one.
The bike paths also allow scooters and tiny one man cars, so one really needs to take heed when crossing the paths. The boat guide told us that Amsterdam’s population of 900,000 had 1.7 million bikes. No one wears helmets here and as everywhere in the world, you see the people on bikes on talking on their cell phones and texting. They seem to be very proficient with riding their bikes with no hands. We were also told that every year they take some 15,000 bikes out of the canals….not sure why they end up there.
As most of you know, Robin loves his bikes, presently owns three…..would love more! He loves the designs of the various bikes including the different goods carriers attached on the bikes. The Dutch are the leaders in bike designs. The bike racks are also a sight to see. The Central train station has a bike parkade that is so large and the racks are two tiered. You pull down on the upper rack and it comes down so you can put your bike up.
In Calgary, Robin and I belong to Car2Go, a car sharing program. Here in Amsterdam, all the Cars2Go are electric. Another thing we have noticed is fashion. They say Europe is always a trend setter when it comes to fashion. I am sad to say that “Mom” jeans are making a comeback here. We have seen many young girls wearing these high waisted jeans and shorts…..Nooooooooooo! I’ve always hated this look….yes, I was guilty of wearing these high waisted pants and it was not pretty. Also white sneakers seem to be very big thing in the stores. Still a lot of European smoking, so have to steel oneself when sitting at outdoor cafes, and put up with smokers!
Did not walk through the Red Light District. Had done that on a previous trip and no need to repeat. Interesting to note that the sex trade here is regulated and the workers are protected by law, pay taxes and receive benefits. The Dutch goverment knows that the sex trade has always happened, so why not regulate.
Speaking of sex, when we checked into our room, I noticed two tins by the mini bar. One was for adaptors and cables and the other was an “intimacy kit”. TMI…..I won’t say anything else but that we brought our own adaptors!
No caption required!
On our second day in Amsterdam, we head off to find a cafe for breakfast. Hotels simply charge too much and too much food. I had arranged for a bike tour of the city and we met our guide at Dam Square and enjoyed a 3 hour tour. We were the only people, so basically a private bike tour. Even took the ferry (free) to the north side of the city. We had been in this area on our bike trip some three years ago. Just as we were finishing our bike tour we witnessed an accident betwee a bicycle and a scooter. Thankfully no one got hurt, but the wheel of the bike was twisted and bent, no way the guy was going anywhere. The two involved were trying to sort things out in the middle of the road….not smart. After our bike tour, we enjoyed a glass of wine in Dam Square and did some people watching. Great Indonesian food for dinner, always very good here in the Netherlands.

On our three hour private bike tour

We always get a kick out of tourist guides and the stories we hear. One guide told us that the leaning houses were built deliberately like that, so it would be easier to bring in goods from the outside to upper floors. Most of the old houses have a steel beam on the top of the house with a pulley to bring in the goods. Therefore as the houses are leaning, the goods being raised will not hit the house. Another guide told us the reason the houses were leaning was that they were built on mud flats and were sinking and leaning. Probably a little truth in both of these stories.
Also told that the reason the houses are so narrow is due to old tax laws. The narrower the house, the lower the taxes.

The economy in the Netherlands is expected to increase in 2016. This growth is said to be across the economy, although unemployment is still an issue at 6%.