"Head on a swivel. Always remember, head on a swivel". Those words are our mantra the minute we step out of the train station in Amsterdam. Bicycles wiz by in every direction, their bells dinging menacingly at the constant flow of clueless tourists stepping off the curbs. The bike culture here is such an interesting way of life. Almost everyone we talk to commutes to work by bike. Life here is conducted on the bike. Business men and women ride in expensive suits, briefcases dangling off one handle bar. Parents shuttle their kids to school on the bike, and couples all decked out bike to dinner. More than a few new moms have whizzed passed me with a Baby Bjorn strapped to their chest. I saw one woman very pregnant, and another with 4-inch Christian Louboutin heels peddle past me. Dogs are not walked here, they are biked, running along side on a leash. Oh, and no one wears a helmet. When it rains everyone either suits up in rain gear or takes public transportation - but not unless it's really storming we are told. After a few days of walking everywhere, we get bikes too. It is a faster way to get around, and a whole lot safer than crossing the street.
Central Station. In addition to this parking, there is a 3 level parking garage just for bikes. We frequently had a hard time finding a parking spot for our bikes around town.
How you get two kids to school, three kids to school, and bigger kids to school when it's raining.
Evening commute. Dog, briefcase, suit...and she's on the phone. I love this photo.
Occasionally the bikes end up in the canal. We walked by this barge and it was empty. An hour later it was full of bikes dredged from the canal. No wonder used bikes are only 60 Euros.
The other reason used bikes are so cheap. They are stolen all the time. We are instructed to use two locks on ours.
Bells are a critical piece of equipment to avoid collisions. Most are small, cheap, nondescript jobbies. These are heavy, big, and likely to get stolen. Totally impractical. So I bought one. Maybe we'll use it as a door bell on the camper.
Off to dinner!
We are in Amsterdam for almost 3 weeks before we go back to the rig. We have rented a tiny Airbnb apartment in my favorite neighborhood, the Jordaan. Our plan is to hang out here and really get to know the city. Before we settle in though, we spend time with friends from home. In Paris. One of the things I love about life here is that these amazing cities are so accessible by train. Our friends Al & Cheryl are finishing up a vacation in France and delayed their flight home so we would overlap. We have three rainy, glorious days together. Seeing them makes me a little homesick, but it is so good to connect with old friends who know us so well.
What to do when the bartender asks you to leash your dog in a trendy wine bar in France? Put a fashionable scarf on him, but of course!
We escaped the rain at the Musée d'Orsay, a museum housed in the former d'Orsay railway station.
A blogger in Paris. I hung out here our last afternoon while John roamed the city with his camera.
Cue the Jason Bourne music
The trains also go to virtually every city in Holland. Our next train trip is to Den Hague to visit my cousin Lianne and her family. Before we meet them though, we are on a mission - to see The Goldfinch. John and I have both just recently finished (and loved) the Pulitzer Prize winning book by the same name, and discovered the actual painting the novel is based on is in the Mauritshuis museum, around the corner from Lianne's office. Amazingly, Lianne has never been there. Another little painting is housed there too, so we take silly selfies with the masters...and make a bee line for drinks and dinner.
Friends we met back in Panama, Mike and Aletta, live just outside the city. When we parted ways back in Bocas del Torro, they offered the standard, "Hope to see you again some day...let us know if you are ever in Amsterdam". Well...here we are! Mike and Little Dave pick us up after a 30 minute train ride to their adorable town, Akersloot. Lunch at their house turns into dinner at the beach. A couple weeks later, they join us in the city after work for really good sushi and take us for drinks in a local bar (with singing, lots of singing in the Dutch bars!). We have friends in Amsterdam!
Mike, Aletta and Dave
Evening at the beach. So gezellig.
John and Mike talk about opening a beach club here together. Note the name of this place in the background. Not such a crazy idea...
Tot Zeins, Dave!
One thing I really love about Holland...I am not tall here. Really. This girl is well over 6 ft. and most of the women are around my height. The men are all taller. It's awesome!
There are soooo many other things to love about this city, too. For one - the café culture. Thousands of outdoor café’s, along the canals, on the sidewalks, in the town squares, neighborhood corner bars, along the harbor front…everywhere. If the weather is nice, every chair is occupied. It’s impossible to stay inside when the sun is shining. We find ourselves in many a café chair as well - too many. It is people watching at its best. We love it.
We did a lot of this. With lots of frietjes. Waaay too many frietjes.
While we were having dinner here, John was walking back from the bathroom when he saw an older man trip on his way out the front door and go down. John went to help him up. I followed. As we were lifting the gentleman to his feet a voice calls out, "Well, isn't that random". It was Dennis, a guy we met near Cancun, Mexico! We had told him we were in town but hadn't connected. We barely recognized him......we all had drinks the next week. So completely random.
Drinks with Dennis. John's kiteboarding friend we met a year ago in Cancun.
Another thing to love, of course, are the canals. Private boats cruise the canals almost every evening in the summer. Boats of every size and price tag glide along the water, some leisurely sipping wine and sampling fancy cheese, others crammed full of partying students or corporate blue suits. My cousin, Sander, lives here and has a boat too. So we are lucky to get an evening on the water like a local. Couple hours of cruising, then dinner is on the boat. John and Sander order a pizza from the restaurant where we are tied up along side, some wine, a few beers…it’s hard not to fall for this city.
Typical scene on the canals.
Thanks for a great evening, Sander!!
Then there are the museums and the festivals. Amsterdam reportedly has over 400 festivals in the summer. We decide on one called the Taste of Amsterdam in Amstel Park. All the best chefs show up here and showcase their food. We chat with some famous chef, sample great food, and remember what it's like to spend a Sunday afternoon like this.
When the weather gets chilly, which it often does in the summer, we head to the museums. World-class museums are here, Rijks, Van Gogh, Stedelijk…the list goes on. We hit all the biggies and a few small ones. We didn’t even scratch the surface of photography, design and architecture.
We are thoroughly enjoying our time in Amsterdam. Maybe a little too much. John jokes (ok maybe only half jokes) about moving here. He says he will go move the truck and come back so we can stay for the summer. The truck of course is in Peru. Moving it means doing a border run to Bolivia, in which case he wouldn’t be back for a month. We aren’t really serious but we talk about it. The first few days in our cute apartment, we comment to each other that we are not ready to go back to the camper.
Number 46 Laurierstraat
View out our window in the front
...and out the back.
The neighborhood bar on the corner. John went down and played chess a few times with the locals.
This city has us thinking about the future. And agonizing about it a little. Where will we live, what will we do with our days. Could we work here? Go to school? We tried on a life here and it kind of fit. We like the comfort - of friends, family, in a very liveable city. Maybe we love it here because it feels a little like vacation. Many long-term travelers will tell you that traveling is not a vacation. Our life on the road is not a walk in the park. It can be austere, unsettling, and sometimes difficult.
But as our departure date nears, we remind ourselves that we didn’t commit years of planning and significant resources to get comfortable. We are half way to our goal and we want to stay on track. So just as we did when we were having those starry-eyed conversations over other people's blogs before we left home, we read a few blogs posts on Bolivia, Patagonia...what's still to come. We feel excited. We are ready to leave the comfortable nest we have made for ourselves here. It's not going to be easy, but on the road we roam free, we explore, we move. We suffer a little, but the payoff is huge. For now, a longer Dutch life will just have to wait.