Jun 24, 2008

Europa Europa

Europe was....great. I've always wanted to go there but business and family seemed to take me everywhere except there. I was pretty nervous about leaving Robbie for 8 days - but he had a great time with Grummy and Grumpy.

Amsterdam is probably one of the 3 most interesting city I've ever been to...and I've been to a fair few: Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, Melbourne....not to mention a few stateside cities.

What I loved most about this city was that no matter where you went, the architecture was charming, old and unique. The canal houses on postcards and in guide books weren't just one "section" of the city as I had expected - the WHOLE city looks like that.

The other thing Toby and I really enjoyed was the thousands of individual tiny shops, cafes, coffee houses (we never went in to any of these - I'll explain in a minute), restaurants, etc. They don't have Chili's, McDonalds and Starbucks on every corner like we do. They had very few chains at all from what I could tell. Instead they have a profusion of family-owned establishments occupying tiny buildings that have stood longer than we've been a state...most of them longer that we've been a country.

A culinary adventure? To be sure! But we never went hungry and the food was universally tasty, fresh and interesting.

I had been looking forward to taking billions of photos all over Amsterdam but 98% of the photos I have were taken with my pocket camera.

Part of the reason for this was not wanting to be weighed down with a hulky camera. We walked an average of 6 hours every time we went out in the city. Our hotel was outside of town so we had to take a shuttle, a train and then a metro tram to get to where we wanted to be - more reasons not to be lugging a camera. Finally, Holland does not suffer from high rates of violent crime or even drug crime (how can it be a crime if it's legal!?) but theft is rampant. Bike theft is a national pastime.

So, without further ado - here are some of my pocket camera photos of Amsterdam. These are just Sunday's pictures - we did nothing much more than walk around neighborhoods.

Evening canal - notice the locals enjoying their dinner canal-side. You could also call it "parking lot" side because their bikes are all chained up nearby.

One of ten thousand charming streets in Amsterdam.

The cafe where we ate dinner Sunday. I love this scene because it was so typically "Amsterdam". This was a neighborhood cafe we stumbled upon. There was a football (soccer) game on inside, a kid playing soccer out front, everyone was just lounging about. Waiters in Holland (and in most of Europe, I suspect) do NOT bring you your check unless you ask. Europeans spend about twice as long eating dinner as Americans... and bringing you a check would probably seem like showing you the door.

A side view of the same cafe. Are you beginning to see a trend with th bikes?

More bikes further down the alley of the cafe.
Amsterdam has one of the highest people-to-bike ratios...and they don't ride them as a leisure activity. They are aggressive, fast and extremely daring on a bike! They could give bullet bike riders a lesson in lane splitting.

One of Amsterdam's 1300 bridges. Think about that...I bet all of Utah has fewer than half that number and Amsterdam is a small area!

For a lot of people, Amsterdam is also synonymous with vice - but as you've seen above there is really so much more than that. They do have the red light district and they have hundreds, maybe thousands, of coffee shops. The name "Coffee Shop" seems to be a code word for "place to come smoke pot with the windows open so that when naive tourists walk by they say 'what is that smell?!' "

Unless you like the smell of pot (and why would you?), don't linger near a coffee shop.

The red light district is easily avoided but worth a tour at least once...because it really takes seeing it in person to grasp the concept. We walked through it with a hundred other tourists. We saw elderly couples and a few families with small children (I wouldn't do it...but to each their own) and all kinds of people....mostly just tourists.

There were also some patrons, mostly intoxicated, singing Dutch soccer songs to passers by wearing the opposing team's colors.

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