Saturday, September 5, 2009

Amsterdam



72°
Rain, sprinkles, pouring rain, gushers of rain, clouds and finally sun and in the seventies

By Claire
It's been 3 days of high intensity culture and language shock, jet lag and a frenzy of spending. We had a wonderful day in Amsterdam yesterday. We walked to the metro station 3 blocks from our campsite, Camping Gaasper, and using our 24 hour pass, we were on our way in a matter of minutes. I like the brick sculpture placed on the platform waiting area.



We started with what was supposed to be a free 3 hour walking tour. Our tour guide, Ryan, from Australia, was fantastic. Enthusiastic, knowledgeable, booming voice and we could understand him!

It began to rain just as we were about to start so Chuck and I immediately pulled out our rain pants and helped each other get them on. It made all the difference. We were completely outfitted in waterproof gear: hat for me/hood for him; the pants, waterproof shoes and jackets.


There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing

The rain was nothing to us, even though at one point it absolutely poured. I felt sorry for the cute girls wanting to look good wearing flip flops and light denim jackets. One young guy had on shorts and a t-shirt. Ryan took pity and gave him his rain jacket as long as the guy would carry his backpack too. We walked and walked, learning all about the history of Amsterdam and the Netherlands, stopping often at various famous sites. One of the funny sites we saw was the pisser shield. This is to deter the young blokes out drinking at night from peeing in the corners along the streets. The device deflects the pee onto the pisser’s pants. Ryan mentioned that it kind of ruins the mood, especially if you’re on a first date.

Ryan explaining the Pisser shield

An interesting piece of art was found set into the brick walkway—a breast and a hand.



About 90 minutes in we took a break for toilets and food. We had planned to find a place with WiFi after the walk so we could update the blog, check our e-mail and get something to eat, so we just sat and relaxed. We all gathered again then took off to see some art. About 2 minutes into the second half of the walk I suddenly realized I didn’t have my backpack on. We raced back to where we had been and saw that it was gone. Thankfully, the camera was in my pocket and I wasn’t carrying too much. We asked a woman if she had seen it but she shook her head. Disappointed, we headed to the door when a guy came up and said “backpack”? We were overjoyed and followed him to the next building and down a hall. He went into a room and handed it to us indicating that we should check to see if anything had been taken. We just thanked him over and over and rushed out, running to try and catch up with the group. Unfortunately, we never did find them but knew that they would be ending the walk at the Anne Frank House and that Ryan would be at the pub across the street. We had planned to give him €10 as a tip and to talk to him some more. However, it would be another 45 minutes before they showed up and the pub was touristy and expensive and WiFi was expensive. So, we headed back towards Central Station for more likely places to sit, eat and blog. We passed a really cute, hole in the wall hippie kind of place—just our style—and went in and asked if they had WiFi. They didn’t so we trudged along and got about 2 blocks when the skies just opened up and dumped on us. I thought it might even be hailing. We made a split second decision to go back to the café and ran for our lives. What a good decision! Vegetable Curry soup with thick pieces of bread, cappucinos and the most incredible banana/cherry cream pie with coconut on the top. It was warm and cozy in there, great music and very friendly.



We were very disappointed not to hook up with Ryan again but grateful to get the backpack. Turns out it had my dark glasses, and my set of keys to the camper. We were so lucky!

We walked and walked some more and finally found a “coffee shop” with free WiFi as long as we bought a drink. So, two cappuccinos later and thoroughly enjoying the second hand smoke from all the weed being smoked, we were able to get the blog up. We really had a good time in there. Even the rap music was fun. The place had a clean bathroom and was very mellow. What more can you ask for? One funny thing was the sign at our table saying “no smoking”. Apparently, you can smoke pot or herbal cigarettes but not tobacco.



Finishing up with checking email and uploading our post for the blog, we decided to check out Blokkers, a local chain store much like Target. We found a small broom and dust pan and several plastic organizer boxes. Our camper is wonderful but it definitely has space limitations so in order to live comfortably we need to find a place for everything and have everything in its place. You can’t imagine how many times we have torn through one pile or another looking for something. One of us will think we are sure we know where it is or we are sure we just saw it…..

Walking out of Blokkers and strolling along we saw the canal cruises and since by now the sun was out and it seemed like the perfect time to do this, we went back to the store and asked them to hold our purchases. The cruise was interesting, the lighting was perfect and I felt the most relaxed since we arrived. It really was fun. Here are a few photos, some taken through the window of the boat:


Six Bridges


Rembrandt's House


Houseboat with bikes and laundry


Houseboat with a garden


Look carefully to see the narrowest house.


No trip to Amsterdam can go without a mention of the bicycles. It seems that there are billions of them. We think of Davis as being the “bike capital” but we have nothing on the people of Amsterdam. When you aren’t leaping out of the way you’re amazed at just how many people of every age use bikes to get around. The bike lanes are amazing and completely off street. Motor scooters use them as well and I’ve seen quite a few motorized carts for disabled people zooming along. Accessibility is complete here.


We picked up our things from Blokkers and decided to head back to Homer who has been sitting quietly in the campground for 2 days with no driving. However, when you’re traveling with Chuck, dessert is involved. So, we made a detour to a bakery and enjoyed an éclair and an apple “something or other” with nuts. Yum. That ended up being dinner.

Back home, we got even more organized, including making up a list of where everything is (electronics in cupboard A, for example). We also put up the photo collages I made of all our friends and family. It’s great to see everyone but also makes me feel a little bit homesick.


Our new kitchen

Hall of Famers

The Pantry. I always wanted one at home in Davis but didn't have the space...

Update: Remember the Indian fellow who rented the camper with plans of seeing Europe in 9 days? Apparently he called Richard that first night and wanted to know if he could return the camper because his kids were bored. Richard suggested Disneyland Paris. I hope it all worked out.


Gray skies are just clouds passing over. ~ Duke Ellington


Bike Shopping
September 4, 2009

Cloudy with sunshine and occasional sprinkles
By Claire

Our goal today was to buy a bike with gears for me. No one needs or want gears in Amsterdam. Our plan is to use the bikes as alternate transportation while leaving Homer in the campground as well as just going on a fun bike ride or stopping at the market.

We had a lengthy discussion with the campground manager about where to find a good used bike. He made suggested checking out the bike repair stations near the metro stops and marked the map of those metro stations for us. Off we went to the first stop, Van der Madeweg. Each metro station has several very helpful employees available for questions. We asked one if he knew where a bike repair shop was that also sold used bikes. He looked skeptical and enlisted the aid of another employee who agreed that there were no bike shops around and that we should go to another stop. We thanked them, ignored their advice and headed out the door. After walking for a couple of blocks we decided to stop into a store that rented and sold tools and equipment. The very friendly guy at the counter told us to go to Halford’s, a super store that carried bikes, about half a mile away. He even drew us a map. We found it rather easily and walked into a small store (they know nothing of SUPER stores here and would faint at the site of some of ours, I’m sure). Within minutes I found a new bike that was perfect and had gears! The best part was the price, only €149. We discussed a few things and decided to buy it. He said they would get it all ready for me and we could pick it up on Monday, 3 days from now. We told him we were leaving on Sunday and after some persuading, he finally agreed to have it ready by 5 pm today. We picked out a lock and a bell and fenders then left to do some more shopping. We walked back to the metro and went to the next recommended stop where we could find stores. Boy did we score! We found a car free pedestrian shopping center that had everything and more that we needed. I think we are finally done with the shopping! The differences are pretty interesting. We searched and searched for Scotch tape but could only find packs of 6 rolls with no dispenser. When we asked how to use it and didn’t they have any that came with the tape holder we were told that those were only used in an office. It’s really a challenge to buy food and try to figure out the list of ingredients in Dutch or even what the flavor is. We picked up some yogurt today that we knew was peach but there was a picture of some other kind of fruit that we couldn’t identify. Whatever it was, it was the best I’ve ever had. We continue to ask questions and are grateful that our first stop is a country full of people who understand English and can help us.

Thoroughly exhausted once again, we caught the metro, made a transfer to another line without a hitch and had lunch at home. After a few hours we went back to the bike store and while Chuck walked carrying the new bike pump, fenders for his bike, and two huge, intimidating and HEAVY locks, I biked and we met back at the metro station for the trip home. I love my bike! It’s light, responsive, and has 18 gears!


We are feeling more and more confident and are frankly amazed at how well we did today traveling to various areas around town not visited by tourists. Rick Steves always talks about living like a local—well I think we’re doing just that. Right now Chuck is lounging on the sofa with his laptop and we are listening to music on our iPod speakers. Tomorrow we hope to go bike riding and then just relax at home. Sunday we will head to a couple of small towns in the Netherlands. For now, we are happy and content, sleeping well and enjoying our experiences, however humbling.

Update: Chuck is at this moment dancing to Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al”….I think the nap he took after dinner has revived him from our extreme shopping experience.

Update #2, Sept. 5: Just when you think you really know what you’re doing, life comes along and makes sure you still have plenty to learn. I was walking to the campground reception to get metro tickets when I felt something on my foot. I thought it was a leaf so I leaned down to pick it up and realized I was dragging my underpants underfoot. I had stuffed them inside my jeans the day before.

This blog is coming to you from the Amsterdam Bibliotheek which has hundreds of computers available as well as free WiFi anywhere in the building. It’s the most amazing library I’ve ever seen. Floor after floor with huge windows everywhere. There are also “pods” that can hold two people and offers complete privacy as well as computer hookup and of course, wireless.

Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing. ~ Helen Keller



Best thing that happened: Geting a new bike
Worst thing that happened: Discovering they were out of our new favorite cereal at the campground grocery.

Expenses over 4 days:
Food €97.78
Campground €92
Transportation €38.40
Outdoor Chairs €89
Misc. Supplies €102.93
Bike + pump, fenders, tools, locks, bell, 2 tubes €268.90
Canal Cruise €17

Total: €1,406.07

Running Total: €25,840.49

2 comments:

Paul King said...

Hey guys,
Loving the blog! A vicarious trip. My caution as one who loves his iPhone and all things tech is to not let the documentation take you away from the enjoyable
moments. I'm sure you are aware. My 2 cents.
I do love the comprehensive writing however including personal impressions and sharing feelings.

My heart stopped for a few when the pack got lost!
Glad it worked out.

The pictures are lovely. My thoughts turn to Europe and how long overdue I am to be there. Maybe to live one day.

Till next time.
Paul

Pat in Santa Cruz said...

Claire and Chuck,
Wow! This blog is such a treat. It's just like reading a favorite novel...only you guys are setting the pace! I experienced an "incredible sinking feeling" when you noticed you no longer had your backpack. You were indeed lucky! A pantry - who would have thought you would have more amenities than at home? :-) Chuck, thanks for the explanation on the camper challenge (everything in reverse and twice.) LOVE the photos - the bike, relaxing, so cool. Amsterdam looks like Bruge. Bon voyage as you travel to your next stop.
Love, Pat