Last week we took a 4 day trip up to Amsterdam with Sean’s sister Jenny before she flew home to the US. We picked Amsterdam kind of like we picked Barcelona – Jenny was flying straight home from wherever we went, so we just looked for a city with convenient, good priced flights for both her and us, and Amsterdam was the winner. It’s kind of fun picking vacations that way. There is a lot less pressure and expectation than going somewhere you’ve dreamed of your whole life. So far, it’s worked great for us. Barcelona was awesome, our trip to Cambodia, which we loved, was chosen because that was the only tour we could find that fit our time frame and budget, and Amsterdam gets an A+.
Amsterdam is situated on over 100 kilometers of canals, and is a almost perfectly flat, very walkable and bike-able city. The buildings ooze charm, the city is full of flowers, every road has a parallel bike path running next to it, the canals are beautiful, and overall, it’s just a lovely city. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of canals and buildings. It’s totally clean, the people are all very nice, and everyone we interacted with spoke perfect English.
I think the city has a bit of a reputation of being filled with partying/drugs/prostitutes, but I found that to be entirely not the case. Marijuana is legal there, and there are coffee shops that sell it, but it’s used very causally and isn’t really in your face. Prostitution is legal there as well, but it seemed to be confined to the red light district. We took a stroll through there one evening (before it got too dark), it was filled with tourists and didn’t seem too wild. There were a lot of sex shops, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to describe the experience of walking by dozens of prostitutes in the shop windows next to you tapping on the glass to get your attention as “normal”, but it was as classy as you could possibly make that sort of thing. I can’t comment on what happens there after dark though, we made sure to be out of there by then.
We walked all over the city, did some shopping, sight seeing, museum visiting, and a lot of eating. It’s such a treat to go somewhere different and try all the food. We had Indonesian, Indian, and Dutch food, along with a lot of other snacks (stroopwafels! and lots of cheese).
The Anne Frank museum is in Amsterdam and is located in the secret annex where she and her family spent two years before being taken to concentration camps. The museum is really interesting and well done. The house is empty except for a few things, but there are pictures of how it looked while they lived there. They also have her original diary, along with other stories she wrote, stories about the people who took care of them while they lived in the annex, and interviews with her friends and father, who survived.
For more information on Amsterdam during the German occupation, we went to the Resistance museum. It told a really interesting story of people who joined the Nazis, people who resisted, and people who followed along. It has the stories of a lot of brave people who fought back, protested, and hid Jews and others who were at risk of being taken to camps. It also tells the harder story of people who joined the party, and those who complied. It makes you think about what you would do if something like that happened now, would you have the courage to risk your own life and fight back, or would you go along with it?
For our last day there, we rented bikes and cruised the city. I can’t believe how bike-friendly the whole place is. There are separate bike paths and bike lights for all big roads, and smaller roads have a bike lane with cars who are very respectful. There are more bikes on the roads than cars, and cycling is usually faster than driving.
Everyone bikes here
We biked out to a really wonderful lunch a little way out of the city. The restaurant was called De Kas and was recommended by a friend of Jenny. It’s located in a big greenhouse in a park and they grow all the produce that they serve. The restaurant is beautiful, and everything was mouthwatering. I highly recommend it.
We made a few more stops on the bikes, did some shopping, had a delicious Dutch dinner, and the rode our bikes through their public park, Vondelpark. The park is huge – 120 acres – and is beautiful! There is a huge bike path that goes through the whole thing with people running, walking, and biking. There are lots of ponds and lakes, play structures, art, and even an open air theater. It’s beautifully maintained, and it looks like the people respect it rather than trashing it. It was so fun cruising around on our bikes.
And then, home to beautiful Sicily.