Thus far, Amsterdam has been the most beautiful city we have visited. The cobble-stone streets cross over numerous canals that run throughout the city. The buildings are tall, compact and skinny, but colorful, beautiful, and charming. We found ourselved wondering from one charming street to the next, no matter where we walked within the city. It was impressively clean and quiet and every thing seem to be in it’s place. The streets were busier with people on bicycles as opposed to cars or buses. Trains run along the main streets, but most were so quiet that you wouldn’t even hear them pass by. There was so little graffitti or garbage that it was almost a shock when we did see any. The city is safe and easy to navigate with restaraunt after restaraunt after high-end shop. I often got the feeling that I could live there, if only it were closer to family. I feel almost embarrassed by the preconceived notions I had of Amsterdam before arriving there. We always hear of the ‘bad’ things, such as the drug use and the Red Light District where prostitution is almost legal…it’s regulated anyway. As far as the drug scene goes, yes there are the infamous ‘coffee shops’ with menus listed different types of joints, mushrooms and the like that you could buy. And yes, the Red Light District has hookers and sex shops all on display. But, never once was I disgusted or distracted by either of these things. The city is far too classy and too clean. In fact, we saw numerous families walking all around the city.
We arrived late in the evening our first night in Amsterdam after a long travel day (Ireland to Brussels via plane, Brussels to Amsterdam via train, local train to our hotel). Our first day we wondered around on foot, just getting familiar with the place and enjoying the peacefulness. We just so happen to stumble accross the Heiniken Brewery and we felt it was only right as tourists to take a tour. After a few hours, a couple of Heinikens and some great conversation with a norweigan couple, we countinued our walk through the city, marveling at how many restaraunts there were. We ended up at the Red Light District and had to giggle at the prostitutes displaying themselves in the windows. Even though we knew we were in the Red Light District, it didn’t feel at all dirty or sleezy because the streets were so tidy and quiet. Police strolled down the side walk keeping everything orderly which is great for the prostitutes. The police are there if they ever get into a sticky situation with a ‘customer’ because as I mentioned earlier, prostitution is regulated. Prices for ‘services’ are fixed so that eliminates pimping and keeps the neighborhood quiet, safe and clean. It was pretty funny though how the women were on display like mannequins in a department store window.
Our second day, we started off with a tour of the Anne Frank house, which was very moving and sad. Great history lesson to start the day, but to lift our spirits, we walked to an outside markets where many of the locals go to buy their groceries like fresh fruits, veggies, cheeses, and sausage. We bought a small chunk of cheese that tasted similar to mozzerela with rosemary added to it. Sooo yummy. We then bought some fresh grapes and, later, crackers for a nice picinic. Before we decided on where to sit to enjoy our lunch, we decided that today would be a good day to rent some bikes and cruz around the city like the locals do. So, off we went on our touristy red bikes down to the docks where we took a ferry across the river to a bike path that led through neighborhoods outside of the city and beautiful park areas. We past by a windmill, the one’s that the Netherlands are known for that was so cute, especially with the goats grazing behind it. We were so into our bike ride that we forgot about our cheese and grapes until we crossed back over into the city center of Amsterdam. So, we found a quiet bench along a canal to sit and have our long awaited picinic. We watched as little private boats drifted by in the canals, followed by some long tourist boats and just as we were finishing our picnic, we heard a large crash where three young teenagers crashed their boat into a tourist boat. Oooopsie. Exciting for us, but we felt bad for them. Off we go on our bikes again back to the hotel where we rested up for our big dinner out. This was the night we were determined to find some good Mexican food. No Tex-Mex, but the real deal…and we found it!!! The only downside, it was expensive! We stuffed ourselved with a bunch of tacos anyway that tasted similar to one of our favorite restaraunts in Baja. Our bellies were so happy, but since there is always room for ice cream, we couldn’t go back to our hotel without enjoying a big scoop on a sugary waffle cone from an ice cream parlor known as Australia Ice Cream. It was delicious!!!