Around the World in 32 Days: Final Country, Number Ten!
Amsterdam! Where to start? It’s bawdy and exciting, in a kind of pragmatic way. Like Bruges, it’s a city of canals but bigger; less cozy and sleepy, more vibrant. Tara labeled it intriguing and intoxicating (no pun intended) and it really is. Bachelor and bachelorette parties, easily recognized by their matching attire – usually with one person in a ridiculous outfit involving lots of penises – weave through the city from one bar to the next. You’ll dodge people on bicycles here the way you would dodge scooters in Ho Chi Minh, but at least they have their own lanes. Unlike here in the U.S., where we still think it makes sense to have soft, squishy humans share the road with giant metal automobiles, in Amsterdam most of the roads have separate bike lanes. It’s not perfect, but it makes a hell of a lot more sense than what we do here.
The canals that loop the city are lined with house boats, some charming, others seemingly held afloat only through sheer will of their owners. The city center, home to the famed red-light district, was one of the more … interesting places I’ve ever been in. Average businesses like restaurants and cafes, juxtaposed with ‘coffee’ shops selling pot and mushrooms, all alongside red lite windows filled with perfectly legal prostitutes – it’s something you don’t find in every city.
We got a pass for a day that lets you hop on and off the canal boats. It’s fun, but sounds like a better idea than it is. The canals are packed with interesting sights, but the boats travel so slow that once you’ve been around the loop, you have little reason to get back on. Eh, I guess if it’s raining. Have a seat, stay dry, rest your feet. But if it’s sunny, you quickly know how it feels to be a plate of food under a heat lamp. That being said, it’s worth it to pay for an hour tour or one of the other single ride packages as there’s plenty to see from the water line. If slow moving
Like most European cites, Amerstam is well stocked with museums to pick and choose from. The Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum are both marvelous and worth a visit, but if you only had time for one, it should be Van Gogh. It’s a gorgous museum, and his life and work are fascinating. Well worth spending severel hours exploring. Don’t wait in line – buy your tickets online. We didn’t book ahead and there was a huge line, but there was also free Museum wifi, which we used to buy the tickets and skip the line. Technology!
I wouldn’t call Amsterdam a culinary destination, but it has it’s share of tasty, unique treats. Stroopwafels, a fantastic smooshed waffle filled with caramel syrup, are great snacks found all over the city. Bitterballens (love the name) are meat-filled fried dough balls that are pretty good too. Chipsy is a local chain that sells perfectly cooked fried in a cone. We tried them with mayo, and that was a poor choice. There is no zip, no zest, no tang, just the lazy mayo sliming up the crisp french fries. Give me ketchup, or give me death. Or, salt. I’ll take just salt. But the Dutch apple pie? It alone is worth the trip across the pond.
We took a twenty mintue train to Zaanse Schans, a small recreated Dutch town outside of the city. It’s a (touristy) glimpse into Dutch history, but it’s fun and suprisingly interesting. Huge working windmills sit along the river, while shorn sheep bleet in the nearby fields. There a workshop that demonstrates how klomp, or clogs, are made (and why they are worn – has something to do with not sinking into the peat bogs they farm and harverst in) that is surprisingly captivating.
Amsterdam is the final stop on the trip. A month of traveling, literally around the world, has left me more than a little worn down. I didn’t schedule any rest days, which probably sounds like I’m whinning, but when you vacation this hard you need a little down time. Ten countries in a month is a lot, even if four of them were microstates.
What did learn?
1: Always bring one bag, and it better be carry-on size. And no wheels, because wheels can and do break. Every tight connection, late flight check in, and every long walk accross cobblestoned Europe reinforced the One Bag philosphy I’ve learned to adhere to. If you check it, eventually it will get lost by the airline (or stolen, or some of it stolen, or crushed, scuffed, torn, or otherwise ruined) eventually. On a trip with a tight itenary, that would be catostrophic.
2: Make sure the bag can worn as a back that doesn’t rise about you shoulders. I’ve seen people with wheelie bags much smaller than my bag forced to gate check, while I cruze on through without a second glance. Sure, my bag migh weight 40 kilograms, but it doesn’t look like it does.
3: Airline status can make a big difference. It’s not just getting into fancy lounges, and free wifi (though that’s nice too). You get to use the business class check-in line, which can be critical when you’re running a little late and the economy check-in lane is longer that the line at a Chik Fil A on free icecream day. You also get weight limits waived, or at least raised, for baggage which can keep you from having to unpack and shufle items around between travelers to avoid overage fees.
4: Always bring an umbrella. Always.
5: Dublin security is the most thorough I’ve ever been through. They check every nook and cranny with a fine tooth comb. And flashlight. And x-ray.
6: Lots of other stuff, I’ll get around to a tips post eventually.
I don’t have any trips planed yet, but I’m sure that will change soon. Until then, safe travels!
How we got here: Intercity train from Bruges about 50 Eruos.
Where we stayed: Airbnb
What we did:
Van Gogh Museum
Red Light District
Dinner at Moeders
LOTS of cheese tasting
Jordan Canal area