Amsterdam is a truly unique city. There are more than two bikes per person because the flat terrain makes it very easy for the inhabitants to maneuver via two wheels (I guess they have one for the weekends?), most of the bikes are black, and one speed....the speed being-fast. They whiz by, and you pretty much have to dodge the bikes, because I'm not sure they have brakes built in, at least, none that I saw in use. When we arrived, everyone was 'biking' to work in their business clothes. Some people were biking their kids to school in little wooden carts attached to the front of their bikes, and they were EVERYWHERE. There were parking garages, bridges, and side walks absolutely covered with these metal beast. The lights even have a green/red bike as one of the signals. Canals run everywhere, and the town is filled with very narrow, very tall, gabled houses crammed side by side. At the top of most of these houses are round, dangling rings/hooks, these are used to move people's furniture in or out, since the doorways, and stairs are too narrow to take furniture in the traditional way, they hoist the pieces up. The buildings are also slanted forward in many cases so the frequent rains don't run down the walls and create a humid environment inside, they just run 'off' the buildings. Because of the 'marshiness' of this area (I'm going to take up writing science textbooks with all these great land descriptions), the houses are ALSO tilting to the sides as the sand below sinks, and the foundation loses it's stability.
It's the least likely place to have built a city given the foundational issues, but yet, it thrives here in all it's wobbly ways. The first thing we did was hop on a canal cruise and head down the main canals.
We passed the church (and it's bells) that Anne Frank wrote about hearing each night. We passed tons of house boats (many people moved into houseboats after WW2 for various reasons, and it's interesting to see gardens, and typical homey set ups floating on the canals), and we passed lots, and lots, and lots, of gabled houses. After the canal cruise, our next stop was a diamond shop. Apparently Amsterdam is one of the top three sellers of diamonds (due to a Jewish businessman who moved into town years ago and brought his diamond sales with him). We got to see them shape the diamonds, and then we got a lesson on the 4 C's (I just have one C requirement-I hope I get a diamond sometime this "C"entury).
OK, really, why did we go on this diamond excursion? There is something even more important than a girl's bestfriend, the diamond, and that would be-the restroom. There were 'free' restrooms at this stop, so we went through the 30 minute explanation, and presentation, and then utilized their facilities. I think the bathroom situation in Europe is going to get it's own post, but let me just give a little foreshadowing: toilets cost money! They can be anywhere from 50C to $2.25, depending on the location. For that, I expect someone to spray me with Chanel #5 before I exit the place, but no, I paid to pee in a hole in the ground once, and most of the toilets don't have seats. More on this later, but this is the draw of the diamond factory for me! Free facilities! No diamonds were acquired, but a great goal was accomplished. Our next stop was a closer look at one of 'the' windmills. What's so strange is that most of these are built on top of buildings, I'm positive there is a mechanical, and functional reason for this, but I'm just going to stick with the word 'strange.'
Next we were dropped off in the town's center, and we had an opportunity to walk around, shop, eat, and just look. This was also Mom's first opportunity to try out a secret like of hers, that, ironically, is a pretty wide spread habit of the European's life style-fries with mayonaise. It's true, a little weird, but true. My Mom 'discovered' she liked this years ago, and though she doesn't put a dollop of mayo on her plate FOR the fries, if there is any around, or left overs from a sandwich, she will dip her fries in this, bleck. In Europe, it's a tradition. I passed on these, though I had a few of the fries, but I spent my time consuming a Belgian waffle. Before I move forward, I have to say that french fries are EVERYWHERE, served with everything. In Europe a 'meal deal' would be a pizza, drink, and fries. I think we got them with most of our meals, no matter what the main entree.
We shopped around the streets, some of the 'side streets' were narrow, and pedestrian only, which was nice, and it was a busy part of town, and the canals are never far away.
OK, I can't leave Amsterdam without addressing it's reputation. When my brother found out this was one of our stops, he was worried, he called several times to make sure we were OK, but I can say, even though the 'red light district' and the coffee houses, with 'green, leafy finds' were just a street or two away from where we were shopping, we did not encounter any unsafe situations. The shops that were in this area did offer a lot of 'souvenirs' that would commemorate some of these vacation destinations if you chose, and I don't know that I'd bring my kiddos into a lot of the shops because you did just have to pass over some of selections (it reminds me of some beach shops near 'spring break' beaches), but if you choose, it seems that this tarnished tradition can be avoided upon a visit, and we did not have any bad experiences. In fact, I really liked Amsterdam. I thought it was very colorful, and (let me bookend with the word I began with-)unique.
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