Europe – Spring 2011
I finally returned from my European adventure, well actually I only wish I had just returned as it has been almost five months since I came home. Unfortunately, I have been so busy I am just now getting around to organizing my photographs and writing about it. As I mentioned in my pre-trip blog, I was in Europe to visit my son Josh during his study abroad semester in Vienna. On the way to Vienna, I made stops in Amsterdam and Munich. The flight over was a easy as could be thanks to United Economy Plus (6” of extra leg room for the best $80 I ever spent!) as was getting into Amsterdam Centraal Station via train from the airport.
I visited Amsterdam in 1981 for a grand total of one afternoon so I consider this spring’s visit to be my first time there. I discovered a city that is like no other I have ever visited because of the canal system, people, openness and walkability. Think Venice without the humidity and sewage smell. In the historic city, you don’t need to watch for cars when you cross the street because there are so few of them. You need to watch for the silent killers – electric trams and by my estimate one million bicycles! Everyone from businessmen in suits to Rastafarians bike everywhere. Now you might think they ride nice new European stylish touring bicycles, but you would be wrong. They ride what look like pre-WWII heavy steel bicycles mostly because of the cobblestone streets, but perhaps more importantly because they are practical and unpretentious. I found the Dutch to be the most down to earth, friendly, non-judgmental and unpretentious people I have ever spent time with so no need for a new fancy bike when you have one or can share one that is perfectly functional. I believe these characteristics are pervasive in their culture reflected in their lifestyle, respect for the environment (now that they have control of it) and their contemporary architecture and engineering. Amsterdam is clearly a fantastic place to live with no concern for being welcomed or accepted for exactly who you are. The city is vibrant, open and diverse as a reflection of this philosophy and not filled with the tension created by automobile traffic as so many other cities are.
A few of the sites I visited and highly recommended:
Amsterdam Museum – excellent exhibit on the history of the region primarily focused on economic drivers and the engineering of reclaiming land from the sea.
Ann Frank House and Museum – we finally got in on Saturday night at 10pm which was an appropriately quiet hour. I had read the Ann Frank Diary on the flight over so being there brought it all to life.
Van Gogh and Rembrandt Museums – need I say more about these two Dutch painters?
Canal Cruise – the best perspective of the city, its infinite crooked buildings, draw bridges and harbor.
Edam – we took a half day bus tour to this small coastal town just outside of Amsterdam to learn about many Dutch customs including wooden shoes, dikes, cheese and operating windmills. Edam was spectacularly quaint – beautiful homes, two monumental churches, and public plaza, all connected by narrow stone streets and a mini-canal system loaded with innovative manual draw bridges. The drive to Edam brought us by numerous tulip farms which painted the landscape in a rainbow of colors.
Dam Square – Times Square meets Piccadilly Circus with amusement rides.
Food surprise – for a city near the sea, surprisingly little seafood in restaurants.
The pancakes are the best – thin like crepes, but you can put anything on them like pizza and they are served any time of day or night.
Beer – Heineken with no aftertaste (what do they put in the American version?) Grolsch and Amstel among many other local micros. I’d love to be the company that provides the exterior beer signs for Amsterdam as there are twice as many signs as bicycles!
Street Cleaning – there are very few trash receptacles and in a town that can party like any other so the streets are completely littered at the end of the night. However, they are sparkling clean by 9am because the street cleaning crews are enormous and have state of the art equipment!
No Guardrails – not on the canals, not anywhere – take responsibility for your own actions – if only we could.
Houseboats – they are made from everything including masonry and there is no requirement to connect to the sewer system. (don’t swim in the canals)
Red Light District – a must on a city walk, just keep walking!
Coffee Houses – aromatic.
Hard Rock Café – unfortunately there is one.
Please, go visit Amsterdam, go for at least 4 or 5 days and when you are there, look me up!