If You Go

For many of us, Amsterdam is place to change planes. Fortunately, Schipol Airport has lots of comfortable places to relax and pass the time ...but it’s also a very easy airport to travel to get in and out of.

In transit from Vancouver to Johannesburg we found ourselves with about six hours so we stowed our bags in the airport lockers and took off for the city. The train station is conveniently located in the main concourse of the airport and delivers us to the Central Station of Amsterdam.

This grand old dame of a train station is located in the old, historic district of Amsterdam, right on the canals, a great place for walking.

Amsterdam CanalsWe happily strolled up and down pleasant, tree-lined canals, over the myriad and picturesque little stone bridges. Without design, we wandered into the red light district - nearly naked women, posturing in small shop windows. A tourist raises his video camera, preparing to tape this world renowned tourist attraction – the woman angrily yanks the curtains of her display window closed until he has left the area.

Chinese, Italian, Moroccan, French, Middle-Eastern …ethnic districts are obvious from the signage on shops and restaurants. We are wandering the world in a few easy blocks.

Canal areas of old Amsterdan are faithful to the photos in guide books -picturesque. And the renowned liberal attitudes of Amsterdam are in full view. I took a photo of Steve cosying up to the six-foot marijuana plant guarding the entrance of a smoke shop. Yes, it's all legal here. I'm sure the requisite photo taking stamped us as obvious tourists (as if the daypacks and tourist map hadn't already). However, survivors of the uptight 60s that we are, a time when we saw cohorts thrown in jail for seeds in the ashtray, such open enjoyment of the weed, still had us mouthing "Can you believe this?" to each other.

Amsterdam Sex ShopsAlso amazed by sex shops in the red light district. You can buy pretty much anything here – including plenty of stuff that I wouldn't have a clue what to do with.

Bicycle lanes run down the middle of pedestrian streets. I don't whether I am more of a hazard to the cyclists or they to me as I keep wandering into the middle of the cycle lane, oblivious until I hear the "Dring! Dring!" of their bike bells. Amazing I didn't get run over – a credit to the cyclists, certainly not me.

There are bike "parks" everywhere. Some, in the center of the business district are multi-level, just like the car parks at home, but these house thousands upon thousands of bicycles.

In North America cyclists competitively spend thousands of dollars on the latest mountain bikes, here it is a little different. While I was told that cyclists may have such expensive wheels for their weekend sports, in the cities the bikes are clunky, old-fashioned looking high-seated affairs that owners often paint in odd looking colours and patterns, to make them easily identifiable in the crowd of thousands and simultaneously unattractive to thieves.

Amsterdam is 100% flat so the riding is pleasant and easy. I could well imagine the pleasure of riding to work every day ….when the weather is as glorious as it was on the fine fall day we were there. There were some bright yellow bikes just propped up here and there. I wondered if these were the "borrower" bikes I had read about. You pick them up, ride them, and leave them for the next person. As I said, I had heard about this, but couldn't remember if the system I'd read about was in Amsterdam or some other city. Not wanting to risk "stealing" someone's transportation, I reluctantly left the bright yellow bike leaning up against the building, unridden, but wistfully remembered.

Took a canal cruise – interesting but not the highlight of my life that I had been led to believe it would be. The sun was beating down through the greenhouse- like roof. Combined with lack of sleep aAmsterdam Windmillsnd jet lag the whole cruise turned into a waste of good money because I kept nodding off.

Amsterdam is full of world-renowned museums and art galleries. With just the one afternoon to devote to this, we narrowed in on the Van Gogh museum – well worth the time although some of his best work (in my humble opinion) seems to be found in other European Galleries.

On a return trip back through Amsterdam six weeks later, we had a little less time, so we went up to one of the “tour” kiosks in the airport and had a whirlwind van tour of the countryside surrounding Amsterdam.

When all I have is a few hours in a city ...I really enjoy these short tours. Our guide on this 3-4 hour tour was very knowledgeable about all the issues surrounding diking and reclaiming the land from the sea – learned a lot. Also saw
beautiful windmills and a glimpse of small-town life.

Really enjoyed the cheese factory tour – admit that until that day I had never Wooden Shoes understood why people love Gouda – and now I do. The cheese that those people were creating in their cottage industry bears absolutely no resemblance to what we get in North America. None at all.

The wooden shoe factory tour? I could have lived without that one as I refuse to believe anyone would actually wear those clunky things ...but each to their own.

If You Go

...leave Schipol Airport for Centraal Station every 6 or 7 minutes. The trip takes 15-20 minutes and currently costs 3.40 Euro each way.

If you are going to be in Amsterdam for longer than a few hours it may be worth your while to get an Amsterdam Pass as this provides one-price access to transit and museums/galleries.


Carolyn Usher