May 22 – 25, 2015
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Our last three day weekend was squandered, somewhat due to bad weather but ultimately due to poor planning. I wasn’t about to let that happen again and Dan and I immediately made arrangements to spend a few days in a place completely new to us: Amsterdam.
We had both heard great things from our colleagues about the city and we were interested in seeing it for ourselves. We booked the plane tickets and I found a canal boat that we could call home during our visit. We were set!
The weather looked promising: a little overcast, not too warm and periods of sunshine: excellent weather for urban exploration. In order to maximize our time, our flight left Basel Friday afternoon, directly from work. Flying time was just an hour and twenty minutes and we were in the Netherlands. No one had checked our ID when we left Switzerland, and no one bothered to check our ID once we landed either. No one knew that we were here!
Leg room on planes – it ain’t what it used to be!
View shortly after takeoff from the Euroairport
Coming into Amsterdam
Our jet, reflecting in the airport’s windows
The train station is connected directly to the airport and the tracks ran through an interesting urban landscape. Many of the larger buildings had distinctive designs and the variety was surprising. I had read somewhere that it was an hour journey so I was quite surprised when we arrived at Amsterdam’s Central Station after only fifteen minutes. We had arrived.
I was immediately taken with the city as soon as I exited onto the street from the Central Station. So many people, so much activity, so many things to take in! We headed for our houseboat, not knowing the best way and enjoying the meandering route we took. The streets were narrow and brick and teamed with people. Dan and I learned one thing quickly: while the entire city appeared to run on chaos, bicycles always came out on top. No matter what a bicycle came up against, be it person, scooter, motorcycle or car, the bicycle took the right of way. Every street crossing and intersection gave us pause to check carefully in all directions for any approaching bicycles.
The canal where our boat is moored
The door on our boat
We made it to the houseboat and were met by a friend of the owner who gave us the key and a quick tour of the boat. It was a lot more impressive on the inside than the outside. Our room was in the stern of the boat and the bed tucked under the wheelhouse. The boat was on a fairly quiet canal and only the occasional cruise boat slid by. We were both surprised by how little the boat moved; it was tied up tight against wooden supports that didn’t allow for much lateral movement. I was actually slightly disappointed by this, but I guess I should just go ahead and get that hammock I’ve been wanting.
Dan demonstrates the swing in the boat
Looking towards the entrance stairs
Our room under the pilot house
View from the living room
Once we dropped off our bags we headed back out in search of dinner and mini introduction to Amsterdam. Every street was teaming with people, sometimes walled in closely due to the tall buildings and sometimes spread out in open plazas. So very much to see!
We decided on an Italian restaurant called “Piccolo Mondo”, which was conveniently close to our boat and were fortunate to get a seat before the rest of the place filled up. Our meals were very good and we enjoyed people watching while we ate. Amsterdam is a great place to people watch!
Keeping an eye out for trouble
The bikes we saw were overwhelmingly old, clunky and awkward-looking. I wondered why in a city that spends so much time on two wheels the people wouldn’t be more particular about the bikes they rode on. Much later I learned that bikes were stolen – a lot – so no one bothered to buy anything worth stealing.
Child seat on the handle bars
The sheer number of men was amazing. For every woman we saw there were probably ten men. Of course, the numerous woman “working” in their booths was an obvious reason for this imbalance. It was interesting to see the world’s oldest profession up close and personal, after hearing about it throughout my life. The locals don’t find anything special about it – it’s just another job. But the visitors are there to see it and gawk, and gawk they do.
The booths were on small, narrow street and on the ground and first floors and well-lit. The women behind a glass window, usually clad in tasteful bikini-type clothing, and quite honestly they usually looked bored. But when a single guy, or a group of guys, walked by, she would smile and gesture and beckon them with her finger. The women didn’t bother to do this when Dan and I walked by.
I had heard that it was impolite to take pictures of the prostitutes so I made it a point to never point my camera in their direction. One man, however, apparently didn’t get the message and stood directly in front of a row of windows with his camera out. The woman in the middle booth threw open her window and hurl a string of Dutch curses at him that would make her mother blush. Not that I understood a word of it, but the tone spoke volumes and the camera was immediately withdrawn.
Amsterdam’s Red Light district
Red Light District along the canal
Since I couldn’t take a photo of real women…
One thing that caught us off guard after having lived in Switzerland was the sheer number of stores and businesses that were open after 10 pm. I could buy a late-night Reeses Cup!