Strasbourg – August 2016


The beautiful architecture along one of the Strasbourg’s canals at night. 

When we left Maastricht in the Netherlands, we drove to Strasbourg via the west side of Germany on the autobahn. Should have taken about four hours, but turned out to be about six hours due to stops and road construction. I guess just like anywhere in the world that has a cold season, road work has to be done in the summer. Must say that we were travelling at 130 kms per hour, yet being passed by most cars. They know how to drive, no one stays in the fast lane like in North America where we seem to have people that do not understand the meaning of fast lanes.

Our hotel in Strasbourg was just on the edge of the old town, so a perfect location, not noisy. Got settled as we were spending two nights here then headed out to discover the old town.

A little history about the Alsace Lorraine region. The region was created by the German empire in 1871 after it had annxed most of Alsace and the Moselle department of Lorraine, following its victory in the French Prussian war. In the early 20th century, the increased militarization of Europe, and the lack of negotiation between major powers, led to harsh and rash actions taken by both sides in respect to Alsace-Lorraine during World War I. As soon as war was declared, both the French and German authorities used the inhabitants of Alsace-Lorraine as propaganda. Th French jailed french who they thought sympathized  with the Germans and the Germans occupied some french homes. German authorities developed policies aimed at reducing the influence of French. In Metz, French street names, which had been displayed in French and German were changed to German only and the “germanization” of the area started in 1915. In 1919 after the war, the Treaty of Versailles annexed the area back to France. Then comes WWII. Although the area was not annexed back to Germany, they did take control of the area and in 1942, people from Alsace and Moselle were made German citizens by decree of the Nazi government. It reverted back to France in 1945 after the war.
It is no wonder with this kind of history that the Alsace Lorraine area is a confluence of French and German. Most people we have come across in this area, waiters,hotel staff, store clerks, etc. all seem to speak a minimum of three languages. (German, French and English). What a gift. One still sees the german influence in the architecture and some of the street signs stiil have both french and german on them. Most menus in the area are in french and german as well, and lots of the local Alsatian food also bears the german influence.


One thing that was immediately noticeable here in France was that we saw people begging, both young and old. The economy here in France is still struggling and has high unemployment among the young people. We did not see any of this in the Netherlands, but of course, that may have just been where we spent our time, not sure.
When one is in France, you must speak of the food. With the german influence being so strong, one sees choucroute (sauerkraut), spaetzle, and lots of sausage on the menus. The food served in this part of France is in large quantities, which does not happen in other parts of the country. One thing I love for lunch are their “salade complete”.. This refers to a salad which will normally have vegetables, nuts, cheese and sometime meats. Believe me, enough salad to share. On one evening in Strasbourg, we opted to go to a traditional Alsatian restaurant. Very cosy and the food was delicious. I had magret de canard on a bed of choucroute (duck breast – one of my favourite meats in France) and Robin had Baeckofen (a stew cooked for 3-4 hrs comprised of three types of meats, mutton, beef and pork and various vegetables). The word means baker’s oven.

Another specialty of this region is Tartes Flambees. Bread dough rolled out very thin and covered with creme fraiche (sour cream) or fromage blanc (fresh cheese) and are served with different topping. Think thin crust pizza with cream!

The weather has been fantastic here in Europe, since we arrived, if not too hot! +30 C most days. So we have stopped for the odd afternoon thirst quencher. Usually a dark beer for Robin and I have opted for Aperol spritzers, Kir Royale or Cremant d’Alsace (their version of champagne). Not sure if good for our waistlines, but sure taste right at the time. Will definitely have to hit the gym when we get home with all the wonderful food an drinks.


I am pretty sure I have mentioned this in previous France blogs, but I love some of the French expressions. “Je vous ecoute” which a waiter will say to you when he is ready to take your order….the literal meaning is “I am listening”. Another is “Bonjour or Bonsoir Messieurs/Dame” literal meaning “Hello Mr./Mrs”.

When walking through the old town on our first full day, we noticed armed guards in the main square by the Cathedral, not surprising considering everything that has gone on in France in the last few years. This is somethimg that I believe we will see more and more, unfortunately.

Beautiful Cathedral here in Strasbourg. An amazing pipe organ and lovely stained glass windows. Nice water feature outside the cathedral along the Palais Rohan.

Notre Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg
As in other cities/towns we have visited, we have seen a repeating theme of art work….here in Strasbourg were statues of women’s faces, interesting.

Visited the Musuem of Modern and Contemporary Art. Enjoyed what we saw, but unfortunately the exhibits on the second floor were being changed over, so closed to the public. Beautiful building along the canal.

Claire at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

On our second day in Strasbourg we took a trip along the canals and river . The history of the various buildings and areas we passed through were given and a good way to get an overview of the City when one is short of time. Along with some of the historic buildings, we also saw the Council of Europe buildings and the European Court of Human Rights.

Really enjoyed Strasbourg, a must see if in this part of the world. Has everything a great European city has to offer – history, culture, art, cusine and its own unique identity.

P.S. Please excuse spacings and any typos…the blog program I am using and my Ipad not on the best of terms!



Lucerne, Switzerland – September 2016

Lucerne is in the center of Switzerland and is located on Lake Lucerne. Arrived here on Saturday, September 3rd, after a two hour drive from Thun.Last half hour, traffic was crawling, think everyone going to Lucerne for the weekend . Nice hotel with only a bridge crossing to get into the old town, which is a pedestrian only area. Lots of tourists here and a country fair happening. The farmers are showing off their machinery as well as livestock in the old town. One can even try fresh Swiss milk, but they are also selling Swiss beer, we pass on both. Also local fresh fruit/vegetable market stalls along the river.

The famous Chapel Bridge is unique because it contains a number of interior paintings dating back to the 17th century, although many of them were destroyed along with most of the centuries-old bridge in a 1993 fire. It has  restored, and is now probably one of the most photographed places here in Lucerne.

A portion of the City of Lucerne taken from the Chapel Bridge
The famous Chapel Bridge

I think everone knows that the Swiss are known as watchmakers. Those of you who know Robin well, will know that he has a love of watches. Well of course…he is now the proud owner of yet another watch!

After discovering the old town, we stroll along the beautiful lakeside promenade. We then decide to take a boat ride along the lake which passes many of the sights of the area. Beautifuls views of Lucerne and other towns surrounding the lake from the boat. A nice relaxing way to spend our first afternoon here in Lucerne. The old town is simply humming in the evening, so many tourists enjoying the outdoor dining along the lake.

The Promenade
The castle of Meggenhorn
The Church of St.Leodgar as seen from the boat.
Beautiful views….including Robin!
On day two in Lucerne, we decide to do the “golden round trip”, which includes a boat ride, a cog railway, two gondolas and a bus ride to take in Mount Pilatus, which sits 7,000 feet above Lake Lucerne. The symbol of Mt. Pilatus is a dragon. People in the middle ages believed that a dragon with healing powers lived in the crevaces of the mountain….we did not see the dragon on our trip today. It was also believed that the spirit of Pontius Pilate rested in peace on the mountain, so for a very long time ascents up Mt. Pilatus were forbidden. The saying went”Cursed be they who disturb the Pilatus!”.
The boat made several stops prior to our first destination of Alpnachstad. Many people on the boat disembarked at the small village stops along the way, that seem to cater to hikers. A pity we didn’t have more time here to do some hiking. Oh well, maybe another time! The boat trip took about one hour. The next leg was a cog railway, said to be the steepest in the world.

The start of our “Circle tour”

The cog railway was built in the 19th century . The line is 4.6 km long, climbs a vertical distance of 1,629 m (5,344 ft). The line still uses original rack rails that are now over 100 years old. While they have worn down, it was discovered that this can be fixed by simply turning the rails over, providing a new wearing surface that would be sufficient for the next century.

O.K, really  glad I read this after the trip. It was hair raising to look back down the valley from the railway, really steep.

A view from our railway car down to another lower down the mountain…yikes!

It took us thirty minutes on the cog railway to reach the top of Mt. Pilatus. A hotel and observation tower sit at the top. We took a walk along a path cut into the rock and climbed stairs perched on the mountain. Very windy up here, but views of the valley and lake below are incredible.

Always make my stomach do flips from heights like these…pretty sure I wouldn’t make a good mountain climber!

A view of Lake Lucerne from Mt. Pilatus
A view down the mountain , note the zig zag hiking path on the right and cog railway track on left.

Our next leg of the circle tour is a gondola part way down the mountain. There are two stops on this section…one being a children’s playground, the other a toboggan run.

Then get off the large gondola and transfer to a much smaller gondola for the remaining trip down the mountain. Once off the gondola, we hop on a local bus to take us back into central Lucerne. A fun way to spend the day.
There is lots more to see in Lucerne, but unfortunately not enough time  on our agenda.

I always get a kick out of hotels and their “environmental practices”. They always have signs in the bathroom about conserving water by not having your towels replaced everyday. Robin and I agree with this practice, but I swear no matter what we do, they replace our towels….gee whiz!

Off to Namur in Belgium tomorrow,  about a 6 hour drive.

Thun and the Jungfrau Region, Switzerland – 2016

Arrived in Thun, Switzerland on Wednesday, August 31st, a two drive from Colmar. A lovely city situated along the Thunersee (Lake Thun) in the Bernese Oberland area of Switzerland. We are only some thirty minutes from Interlaken and the Junfrau region.  While driving here lots of large trucks on the roads, which one sees throughout Europe. Certainly confirms that goods are transported in this way. Also went rhough a lot of tunnels. As we came across the hills leading into this lake area, I was tempted to sing songs from “The Sound of Music”. O.K., I did start singing, but got the “look” from Robin, so I quit….singing in my head though!

Switzerland maintained its’ neutrality during the first and second world wars. During WWII the only way their neutrality was kept was by cooperating and extending credit to the Third Reich…..not sure how that equates to neutrality. It is not part of the EU, however is part of the Schengen countries, so free borders and trade. Official languages are German, Italian, French and Romansch(spoken mainly in southwestern cantons). Military duty is mandatory for all able bodies males when they reach the age of majority, women may volunteer. From what I have read, it looks like they have to serve for 300 days, but then are in the reserves for 10 yrs.

The exchange rate to the Canadian dollar is 1.37. So although lower than the Euro at 1.50, the cost of hotels and food here is higher.

One always hears how clean Switzerland is. So far certainly seems to be the case. Stopped at a restaurant for lunch and used the facilities. A sign on the bathroom door said “keep toilets clean” and had a picture of a toilet brush! The brush was indeed nearby.

We are in Thun for three nights and we are staying in a castle…yes, seriously a castle. Our room overlooks the inner courtyard and the rooms are very modern and have all the amenities one would want. As you are no doubt aware, castles are always situated at the highest point. So this means that we walk down to the town for dinner, but of course, must walk up the many steps back up to the castle at night. Good way to burn off those calories!

Our hotel – Hotel Schlossberg
Walked around town this afternoon to get our bearings, usually the first thing we do. We plan on spending the next two days up in the mountains.

Looking out to the Thunersee, from Thun
We decided to stay in Thun vs. Interlaken to be in a smaller town, and Interlaken is much more expensive as it really is the main tourist area. Having said this, our choice was the right one. Still quite touristy here in the pedestrian only area and along the canals where all the restaurants are situated, but quieter than Interlaken.

Just spectacular scenery up in this area of the Switzerland.

Robin by the Thunersee
A view of the town of Thun from our hotel
A night shot along the canals in Thun
Headed off early in the morning to discover the Jungfrau region on our second day here. We had done some reading about the area and how to get around. Must say, the Swiss are very organized and the train, tram and gondola systems are amazing getting one from valley to valley and town to town. Based on a recommendation from the Thun tourist office, we drove to the small town of Zweilutschinen where we parked at the local train station. At this small train depot we arranged for a pass to first take a train to Lauterbrunnen where we transferred to another train to take us to Wengen (no cars in this town) where  we transferred to a gondola to take us to Mannlichen to start a hike.  All the  different types of transport in this area are well co-ordinated. You arrive at one station and your next train or gondola is waiting.

As a side note, when we parked our car in this small train station this morning, a sign indicated that the parking was free for 24 hours. So, having travelled in Europe before, we knew that we had to put a sign in our window indicating what time we arrived. Car rental companies provide you with a cardboard clock that you use for this purpose, usually just in small towns. As we were standing on the train platform, I noticed a pay machine station. Oh no….did we have to get a ticket! We know that the train is arriving in five minutes. I make a mad dash across the platform, get to the machine but its all in German….can’t figure out what to do….an announcement that the train arrives in a minute…oh well, I make the decision to throw caution to the wind, forget trying to get a ticket and make another mad dash across the platform to catch the train.

A map of the Junfrau region
We  hiked for one hour  along the Panoramaweg, classified as Switzerland’s most hiker friendly trail. This hike took us from the top of the gondola stop above the town of Mannlichen to the town of Kleine Scheidegg. Even before we start our hike, the first thing we hear is cow bells and sure enough a few cows coming up the trail to greet us!  Must say that the numerous trails in this area are well sign posted, no problem finding your way around.

The views along the trails  are simply spectacular, almost a lack of adjectives to describe the different panoramas.

When we booked our tickets for the day, we decided not to go to the top of the Jungfrau, but once we finished our hike in the town of Kleine Sceidegg, we changed our minds. As I said to Robin, how can we come this far and not go to the top. So we take the next cog train which took 30 minutes to get to the top, mainly through tunnels. The train makes two stops where you can get out to take pictures at the view points that have been dug out of the tunnels. Once we reach the top we are at 11,333 feet and it is 2 degress C.

The tunnel
It took 16 years of work to dig the tunnel and it opened in 1912. Wonderful views of the various peaks and the Aletsch Glacier. Spent some time at the Jungfrau to enjoy the views and the snow. Funny to watch some tourists who we were sure had never seen snow, quite amusing to watch their reactions.

Then train back down to Kleine Scheidegg where we stop for lunch. We take in the local special of bratwurst with rosti….yumm, but lots of food! Sitting outside next  to us is a St.Bernard called Scarlet.

Back to our hotel after taking the train back to our car. What a great day in simply spectacular surroundings! By the way, no ticket on our car. Assume the time clock worked!
When we went for dinner tonight, we asked our waitress about all the young soldiers we have seen around whenever we are in the town of Thun. She told us that Thun was home to the largest military academy in Switzerland. They are all dressed in their uniforms and the waitress said certainly well behaved  when they are out in the evenings.

Set out early again for our last day in the Jungfrau. We decide to drivo Lauterbrunnen, a town further up than where we parked yesterday. The last town where one can take a car. The car park sign says free, but you still have to take a ticket, a huge covered parking lot.

We take a cable car, then transfer to a single guage railway to get us to the town of Murren , a lovely Alpine town perched on the top of a mountain. Definitely no cars here.

A view from the town of Murren
We decide to go for a short one hour hike, classified as easy…..well yeah, maybe for the swiss…more like intermediate…all up hill. Still great to be getting some exercise with all this beauty around us.

Great hike near Murren
Today, we headed to Mt. Schilthorn at 9,748 feet. This peak is known as the sky high James Bond peak. In 1969 “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” with George Lazenby, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas was partly filmed up here. So, needless to say, once you get up to the viewing area, one is bombarded with everthing “007”. The viewing area is a 360 degree platorm, so great views of the valleys below. Quite rugged in his part of the mountains.

A view from Mt. Schilthorn
At the top is a stairway that is perched on the side of the mountain. Both of us opted out on this one…a little too much air…a little afraid of heights!

Back down the mountain…gondola, another gondola, train, another gondola. Simply amazing the way one gets around in this area., a real adventure. Well, we finally get to the car park and our ticket won’t work in the machine. There is a call button that we use , as no one in the ticket office. A parking officer comesalong and explains the machine system to us and indicates that we owe 8 Swiss Francs. I say “I thought it was free parking”. He smiles and says…”Madam, nothing is free in Switzerland”.

A final dinner is Thun, wonderful meal outside at one of the restaurants along the canal, this area so lively at night. Our dinner tonight was so interesting and delicious. We both ordered fish and our dishes were accompanied by fresh steamed and seared vegetables along with fresh fruits. May sound weird but what a great combination.

Such spectacular scenery in this part of the world, so enjoyed our time in the Jungfau.

Colmar -August 2016

Left Strasbourg and took the rural roads, specifically the wine route road to get to Colmar. The main road would have only taken one hour, but the plan was to visit the small towns along the way, so we arrived in Colmar three hours later. What a great choice! The villages along “La Route du Vin” were so charming and quite busy as was Sunday, so a lot of French people getting away for “le weekend”. 

A little aside, we left Strasbourg early, so stopped at the first little town for breakfast. All of a sudden, loud music blaring from the main square just a few meters from us…..wonders never cease….the locals doing Zumba. In addition to this, a bus load of tourists arrive and a few of them,  along the periphery of the square, are trying to shake to the music…..really bad, but at least made us smile. 

We continue on our along the winding roads and marvel at all the picturesque scenery and the beautiful little villages. The thing that is most striking is the hundreds of flowers that that are planted everywhere. Entrances to the villages, window boxes on the houses, store fronts, etc. They also decorate houses and store fronts with all sorts of decorations, sounds odd, but pictures below should give you some idea. 

Colmar is the wine capital of this growing region. The route winds along 170 kms., there are 119 wine producing districts, 15,600 hectares of vineyards, 4,200 winegrowers of which 890 sell their wine and the area opened in 1953. The nearby Vosges hills block the rainfall from the area so provides excellent growing conditions. They mainly produce white wines…pinot blanc, sylvaner (haven’t tried this varietal yet), riesling, muscat (tried this, very good), pinot gris and gewurrztraminer. The red is a pinot noir and they produce a “cremant d’Alsace” similar to a prosecco/champagne (very nice as well). Finally a selection of desert wines. Someone commented that we seem to be doing a lot of drinking….well “yeah”, we are in France after all! 

I spoke is the Strasbour blog about the german influence, and it continues here. A sampling of the names of the small towns along the wine route…Orshwiller, Bergheim, Turkheim, Wintaenheim, etc. Of course, also french names….Husserons les Chateau, Saint Hippolyte, Saint Nabor, Saint Leonard. Man oh man, the french certainly like to name their towns after saints…..wonder if that  is because we are so holy….or if we need forgiveness for our sins! Notice I included myself here! 

The beautiful countryside and small towns along “La Route du Vin”

Made a few stops along the way, including Sainte Odile, a monastery dating back to the 12th century. Is still used today, and part of the monastery has been transformed into a hotel and one can come here as part of a pilgrimage or for a holy retreat. Beautiful scenery as the monastery sits on top of hills overlooking the valleys. A heavily treed area just below the monastery, leads into the vineyards. Can’t stop too long here, so no time for a retreat. Need to help the economy and drink some wine.

The views from the higher points on the wine route and the countryside simply beautiful and the towns so charming!

Our hotel in Colmar just a block from “Petit Venice” and the old town. The canals are very shallow and not very wide. They have small punt boats that will take you along the canals, and at one  point you   must bend down to ensure you don’t hit your head on the arch of the bridge.  The old town here is quite large and love the winding streets. Once again, we have asked the hotel for restaurant recommendations, and always good. 
Last night we ate at a restaurant adjacent to the canal and while we were eating we saw what looked like a white muskrat swimming  in the canal. All the french people were so excited. I asked the waitress what is was and she said a “ragondin”, and she went on to say that the reason everyone was so excited is the fact that it was white, she said they were normally brown. Had to find out from a google search what kind of animal this was. It is a “nutrea” an aquatic rodent. Once Robin found  out the english name, he told me that nutrea’s are often referred to in James Lee Burke’s books and the settings of these book are in the deep south of the U.S. The lady at the front desk this morning told us that some people make some sort of a pate from the ragondin……not something I’ll be trying anytime soon..just looked like a big rat in the water…no thanks! 

Speaking of animals, you see pictures of storks everywhere here. We found out that the storks are the official bird symbol of this region. Apparently the storks are retuning as the corn crops have just been cut down, so they feeding on the remains of the crops. Unfortunately we have not seen any, of course with the exception of their pictures on tea towels, casserole dishes, aprons, oven mitts and umbrellas and all other useless paraphanelia that tourists might buy! No, I won’t be bringing any of these items back home, not my style.
On our second day in Colmar, we headed off to complete the wine route. We winded our way up into the hills to explore ancient ruins ” the three castles”, more like watchtowers, but still interesting to see. We took the time to do about a half hour hike in the forest near the ruins. If one had more time in the area, certainly a lot of hiking trails in the hills. 

Whenever we have been driving in the countryside we have seen crosses in front of the vineyards,  something we have have seen everywhere in the French countryside during our travels. On one of the traffic circles as you enter Colmar, you see a small version of the Statue of Liberty. Colmar is the home to Auguste Bartholdi, the designer of the Statue and other major installations. 

We notice not as many tourists here in Colmar as in Strasbourg. Nice change. 

Typical wine glasses in the area are short and have green stems. At least the don’t have pictures of storks on them! 

Love what happens when locals walk into a restaurant or cafe. They look around and say ” Bomjour Monsieurs/Dames”,  so basically ackowledging everyone who is there. Can you imagine walking into Starbucks and saying “Hi Ladies and Gentlemen”. 

I usually order a cappucino when we stop for a break and sometimes served with whipping cream on top…yum. This morning I  had the scariest cup of cappuccino.

Out in the countryside again today to visit Chateau Haut-Koenigsbourg. A wonderfully restored castle originally  built in the 12th century. Located above the wine valley.

As we were leaving the restaurant last night, the waitress said “Bonne fin de soiree”…”enjoy the rest of your evening” . I love the french language! Really enjoyed Colmar! Off to Switzerland tomorrow morning. 

Utrecht and Maastricht – August 2016

We rented a car in Amsterdam and headed off to Utrecht, an hour from Amsterdam. Found a great little restaurant for a late breakfast, then walked through the old town of Utrecht. We stopped here and in Maastricht based on a recommendation from our friend Ernie Verkade. Thank you Ernie, both places were very special and unique. Utrecht has a beautiful cathedral and a medieval centre. We walked around the town for about an hour, then back on the road to Maastricht for the night.

The cathedral in Utrecht, specifically the cloister.
The canals in Utrecht

If not mentioned before, the weather here in this part of Europe is hot, hot, hot…..+30 every day since we arrived on Tuesday. The air conditioning in the hotels are having a hard time keeping up. We are sweltering in the afternoon, so usually back to our hotels for a couple of hours, then off again for dinner and evenings strolls. The light in the evening is so wonderful, great for picture taking. 
In Maastricht, a beautiful hotel just off the old town. We wander through the old town and stop at a riverside cafe for our first Dutch apple pie. Normally would be accompagnied by coffee/tea, but by gosh it is so hot, I opt for a Radler (lemon flavoured beer) and Robin has a dark ale. Yummers…but need to return to hotel to cool down for an hour or so, before we head out again. Wonderful fresh fish for dinner. 

Robin enjoying the view from a bridge in Maastricht
Both Utrecht and Maastricht very pedestrian and bike friendly. Robin and I often think what would we do without a GPS in the car….then we remember the days we drove in Europe many years ago with just maps and did just fine!

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%.