Netherlands
Gemeente Amsterdam

Here you’ll find travel reports about Gemeente Amsterdam. Discover travel destinations in the Netherlands of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.

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  • Day17

    Amsterdam - A Very Wet Welcome Indeed!

    September 5 in the Netherlands

    It was a bit bittersweet to take our last climb up the 8 feet to our loft bed in London.  I wont miss the tricky and tenuous descent in the middle of the night to tinkle ... but ... it was so nice and cozy up there.  I was hoping our bed in Amsterdam would be as comfortable!

    GRATITUDES: John has been reading blogs about travel (while I was under the weather and tucking in early!) and one tip he picked up was not to use the barcode check-in device at the train station, but rather to go to the desk to check and ensure your seats are facing forward!

    We did so ... and ...discovered our seats were not!! THAT could have been a bit challenging for my motion sickness ... so ... the kind Eurostar staff reassigned our seats ... AND... gave us a table!!!  Turned out there was no one seated across from us so we had lots of space and room to breathe!!! 👌👌👌

    Let me begin by saying how much we enjoyed train travel! We were so impressed with Eurostar!  No wasting 4 hours in airports prior to departure and claiming bags after arrival! We only needed to arrive 30 minutes before departure.  It was sleek, smooth, swift, spotless and silent ... except when we were underground!

    GASPS: According to the stats, 334.7km an hour is it's fastest.  We were travelling @300km/hr for most of our trip! AND apparently their are 50.45 kms of train travel through each tunnel between the UK and the mainland ... and ...each tunnel is 75 meters below sea level!! It was such a stress free mode of travel.

    GAHS:  Well ... given we have escaped rain for our first three destinations (Scotland, Ireland and England) ... it should not have come as any surprise that we might get wet in Holland.  And ... we sure did!  Thunderstorms were booming and the water was falling in cascades when we arrived.

    We left Centraal Station on foot ... GPS in hand ... searching for our little abode amongst the umbrella laden lanes. And ... before too long we found it!  It was nestled almost invisibly between the "Seed Shop" and the Italian restaurant. And ... those seeds are not for gardening! 😏

    After taking the highest climb up the narrowest bank of stairs yet ... we got settled into our humble space ... and ... hastily unpacked our yet unused rain jackets!

    GRATITUDES: At the recommendation of the lady at the wine store ... we enjoyed a very nice Dutch inspired lunch of croquettes and spicy beef stew on baguettes at a place called "Blom"!  It was delicious ... 👌

    With full tummies we donned our rainwear and wandered a bit to acquaint ourselves a little more with our surroundings! I think I've already gone a bit 'nose-blind' to the 'pot'- pourri (if you get my drift). So so many skunks around here!! 😉

    GRINS: And, we barely logged any steps before we had to take off our jackets.  The thunderclouds cleared and we enjoyed the walk ... sans rain.

    GASPS OF ENTHUSIASM:   Guess what?  They have baked potato bars that you choose your toppings just like you would at a Subway.  We didnt have one ... yet ... but it's on my ' to experience' list. 

    A little further along the way ... we spotted a little table for two by a canal and stopped for a drink. A glass of wine was $3.50!!  The best price I've seen anywhere... and ... it tasted lovely! 😍

    Anyway ... wondered about trying to follow Google maps to restaurant we picked out and somehow ended up in the red light district in the midst of what appeared to be a movie shoot!! And... if you've ever seen those three windows with the ladies of the night selling their wares ... well ... we walked right past them!! Perhaps when we have more time we'll head back to take it all in ... but for that moment ... there was no time for window shopping!! 😀

    Oh my ... no shortage of unexpected moments to treasure! But ... now ... we are safely back in our room and looking forward to unwrapping more gifts from Amsterdam tomorrow! 🧡
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  • Day18

    Another Day of Dutch Delights!

    September 6 in the Netherlands

    We started our day back at Blom because we noticed yesterday that they served dutch pancakes! And then before I knew it, there I was, tearing up at the table to the sound the server voice at breakfast! She had a deep, husky voice with a cadence and intonation that reminded me of John's mom. It has been almost two years since we've heard Oma's voice.  I was moved with remembrance from memories tenderly tucked into my heart. 💙

    Breakfast was delicious ... and ... uniquely Dutch. While John had a bacon and apple dutch pancake ... I had a ham and cheese omelette. Mine came with 3 slices of soft bread (not toasted) with a wee little smear of butter that Oma would have scoffed at.  It also came with salad.  yep. Salad with breakfast! One of the joys of travelling for me is to experience all the different customs and tradition and rituals!

    And, it's interesting to note the difference in vehicle traffic here in Amsterdam. Far fewer buses and cars and many more cyclists on pedal bikes!

    John's Uncle Dick and his wife Wil picked us up and drove us back to their home for coffee. Enroute we passed some gorgeous scenery. We drove by the house John's Oma was born in ... and ... stopped by to see his son, Paul! Two of our daughters spent time with Paul when they were in Holland years ago. Paul asked us to send his best greetings to you Sherisse and Britt! He now has three children ... 6, 4 and 6 weeks! 😊

    Dick and Wil also took us to a Museum that explained the building of the polders ... which is where the water has been pumped off the land into the canals so it can be drained into the sea! It was fascinating to learn how the windmills were used to accomplish this until they became too inefficient given the demands of 3600 polders!! And hence ... the museum highlighted the transition to steam pumps instead! I'm not sure I understand the mechanics of it all ... but ... I was intrigued by the ingenuity behind the conceptualization of the feat!! Absolutely fascinating to see how people are living beneath the water line here in the Netherlands!

    We thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and the reconnection with family! And ... because of their kindness, we saw so much of the area outside of the city! They live right beside Schiphol Airport! We got some video of a plane taking off right beside the house. Surprisingly, you can't even hear the planes indoors!

    We look forward to seeing them again on Sunday when they take us to meet with some more Aunts and Uncles. For now, we are tucked on our room ... with some take away from down the street. Feeling content and very happy with our day! It's going to be challenging to narrow down which pictures to post for you ...💕
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  • Day20

    Cruising the Canals ...

    September 8 in the Netherlands

    We slept in and had a fairly leisurely start to the day.... except:

    GAHS: We had been told that Anne Frank was sold out until September 22nd ... but we learned that they hold back 20% of the tickets to sell on each day. So, we started our day waiting in the online queue ... hoping to get two of the last of tickets for today! We started with 110 people before us, then 80 then 59 ... the excitement was mounting! We were both staring at the screen! Our hearts thumped when it showed 45 ... and I got so hot ... I had to take my sweater off! The .... we were 33! John got his credit card out ... just to expedite the process ... in case we got really lucky! Then we were 18 ...and almost there!! And ... finally ... only 1 ahead of us!! 🤗🤗

    I was thrilled when the ticket page opened ... but ...my delight was short-lived! All the tickets for today were already gone. We might try again for tomorrow morning. But ... if it doesn't work out ... well ... I trust it wasnt meant to be! 

    We learned that "ij" is theDutch word for water and there is a lookout point called -This is Holland - where you can see Amterdam by 360 degrees from the rotating restaurant... OR ... by the "sensational swing" that sweeps out over the edge of the top of the building. I tried to catch a picture of it .. but ... the photo didn't quite do it justice!! And no ... I'm not going on it!! BTW ... there 60 types of fish under the ij. Many delicious edible ones too!

    GRATITUDES: We also stopped by to see what the call the " Gay Monument". It is a monument dedicated to show solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed. I was impressed that the city has created a formal honoring of the challenges faced by those who dwell in the minority. There was also a kiosk nearby called the Pink Point: Gay and Lesbian Information. Wikipedia answered some of my questions about the monument. It stated:

    "The Homomonument is a memorial in the centre of Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. It commemorates all gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution because of their homosexuality. Opened on September 5, 1987, it takes the form of three large pink triangles made of granite, set into the ground so as to form a larger triangle, on the bank of the Keizersgracht canal, near the historic Westerkerk church. The Homomonument was designed to "inspire and support lesbians and gays in their struggle against denial, oppression and discrimination." It was the first monument in the world to commemorate gays and lesbians who were killed by the Nazis."

    Interesting to note that the Netherlands took such a lead role in the fight for social justice. "Later, similar monuments were realised in a number of cities all around the world. During the Netherlands’ annual Remembrance Day ceremony on May 4, wreaths are laid on the monument to commemorate LGBT victims of persecution. On May 5, Liberation Day, the monument becomes the site of a street party."

    GASPS: Oh my ... and nearby the monuments was one of the several public urinals for men. No door ... but ample privacy. John noticed several of them around the city ... but .. we took a picture of the one near the monument.

    GRINS: We enjoyed a wonderful stroll through the local Saturday Market! It went on for blocks and blocks! John got to have his long awaited Paling (smoked eel) along with a warm stroopwaffle. I found another nice light packable blouse! 

    GASPS: And then... at one of the fresh fish stalls, we saw a man cleaning and filleting herring. John enjoys them pickled ... but there was a woman eating one of them. I know that people eat raw fish in sushi ... but she just raised it above her head ... and then ... dropped it towards her mouth (like a worm to a baby bird) and bit right into it. John said he would have tried it were it not for my agast!

    And then ... after all that walking ... we were thirsty. And the one of us who hadn't been snacking was hungry.

    GRINS: So ... we found a canal side table at Café 't Smalle .... right on the water. If you tipped your chair you'd be wet!! We ordered meatballs and a cheese and tomato toastie to share... and met our new friends Katie and Peter ... from California now Denver. We so enjoyed chatting with them!! We shared phone numbers so we could reconnect later in the day ... and perhaps ... share a tour of the red light district together! 

    GAHS: When a boat docked in front of us ... we had to open a walking space so they could alight themselves! And, they were done eating before us (because we were busy chatting with our new friends!). And so we were disrupted again so they could get back on their boat. John offered a hand to several and also helped to manage the rope. Upon completion, one of the gentlemen said ... " you are the nicest people on the planet" Ha ha.

    Crossing the street remains a bit hair-raising. You are not only watching for cars, trains, trams but also bicycles coming in all different directions. There are parking stations for bicycles everywhere! We learned that 60,000 bikes are stolen every year!! This is highest form of petty crime in the city.

    We did, in fact, take a wander through the red light district after supper. We didn't stay long but certainly got a sense of it! We also learned that there are 900 prostitutes ... 290 windows ... and the average time of service is 10 minutes. And, most surprisingly, the most requested type of service is not sexual. It was our first time being out past dark so we took a couple of pics over the bridges! All in all, it was a great day in Amsterdam.
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  • Day19

    Tourist-ing is Tire-ing, but Terrific!

    September 7 in the Netherlands

    GRATITUDES: We started our day at Pancakes and Waffles ... this is a little 4 table and 2 counter cafe with the kitchen area exposed to the patrons.  Big kegs of Nutella decorate the space. Rap music was amusing the cook as he aptly prepared our breakfast and displayed his expertise by tossing our pancake almost as high as the ceiling! 😲

    Then ... off to the Hop On Hop Off bus! We took the entire tour to get a sense of our surroundings then transferred to the boat cruise  It was so tranquil on the water! We were grateful for clear skies as we cruised along the canals!!  We learned that Amsterdam has a world wide reputation for tolerance of diversity. The locals are very hospitable to tourists. We also learned that there are veryfew houses over 4 stories... they all need to be built on piles driven into the sand beneath the layer peat under the polders. 

    Our first stop was Gassan Diamonds. Diamond cutting became an important industry in Amsterdam after the immigration of many Jewish people seeking exile ... around 1945.  We were able to get some lessons on choosing diamonds and got introduced to their own world wide patented diamond cut.  It has 121 facets rather than the usual 57 of a typically brilliant cut stone. Their logo promoting their unique cut is: "Glassan 121*; more than brilliant."

    John really enjoyed the tour and all he learned about the 4Cs of diamond quality ... cut, clarity, color and carat. It was a great reminder for me of my studies years and years and years ago when I got my Graduate Jeweller Designation in Nanaimo BC!

    GAHS: We also visited the flea market ...which started in the 19th century and continues to run daily. They were selling everything from fanny packs to t-shirts to hemp lollipops.

    GRATITUDES: We stopped for a light lunch at a funky little place called "Lunch Cafe Waterloo." John wanted to sit outside ... I preferred inside because it was windy ... and so ... we got lucky to sit right by the open window sill! We ordered the Dutch frikadel along with frietjes and a nice soup. Trip Advisor gave it 4.5 stars. We would agree!  Oh ... and I have noticed a custom in Amsterdam is to provide all the cutlery and serviettes tucked into paper envelopes.  We haven't seen this before in our travels!  It's seems so sensible!

    GASPS: Heineken is Dutch beer!! We always thought it was German! There are 2500 house boasts in Amsterdam ... all fitted with gas and water and sewage and electricity. They became popular after a housing shortage after WWII.  No more permits will be allowed.  Mooring charges are in effect and residents are not allowed to leave their moorings.There are 250 bridges in Amsterdam  ... and ... some of them open! One of them was lifted today during our canal cruise to allow boat traffic through! We learned there are 40 parks in Amsterdam.  Apparently, there are 200 plus 'coffee shops'... but they told us they don't sell much coffee! 🤔

    GASPS OF GRATITUDE:  We had been told that the Van Gogh Museum was sold out for today ... but one of the Hop-On Hop-Off staff said some spaces sometimes open up about 4:00pm.  So ... we thought we'd try our luck and show up there at 4:00pm.  And ... they were just closing down the ticket sale booth .... BUT ... we got IN!!! 😁

    It was definitely worth the effort to see it.  One could feel the sense of angst and darkness in so much of his work.  We learned so much about his life and were invited to a deeper appreciation of his passion for peasant workers ... and ... that he didnt care what color things really were!  It was so interesting .... ! 👌

    But ... in all honesty ... by 6:30pm we were pooped out!  So we decided to call it a day ... no more museums or tours.  Just eating a loaded baked potato ... and then ... back to our room, post our blog and head off to sleep. 😴

    GASPS: But ... on our way home a young man came running past us ... at warp speed ... with a bag in his hand! And then... low and behold ... another young man fled past us in hot pursuit! As it was becoming clear the first was a thief and the second was the robbed ... a policeman on a bicycle came speeding along as well! It was a real live 'chase' just like in the movies!! We have no idea if he got away or not ... but ... it certainly raised our blood pressure! And ... it was a great reminder to be especially careful with our things in these parts.

    Okay.... nighty night from us! We have more touristing to do tomorrow so we need our rest! Good afternoon to all of you! 😊
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  • Day21

    Our Last Day in Amsterdam!

    September 9 in the Netherlands

    Today was the very first time we've had 0 percent chance of rain here in Amsterdam. And so ... we bravely went forth without our rainwear ... and ... guess what? Yep. A sprinkle of rain found its way to us early in the day ... but afterwards ... it was nothing but warm and sunny and bright!

    GROANS: We tried to get one of the last 20 percent of tickets that went on sale today for Anne Frank but, sadly, we were not successful. So, we opted to go to the Rijksmuseum before we met with family!!

    GASPS OF AWE: It was really worth seeing! We preferred the works we saw here as opposed to Van Gogh. Maybe its just that I don't have a good enough eye, but there was a child-like quality to Van Gogh's work that is not as appealing to me as the work of Rembrandt. I guess ... each to their own ... but now I know my personal preference! John felt the same. Oh, and as we were leaving the museum, we heard a fabulous group of buskers playing some unique instruments! One of the staff said they'd been playing there everyday for the last four years! I got the sense that we enjoyed their music more than he did! 🤔

    GRATITUDES: We were worried about having enough time at the museum because our Hop On Hop Off tickets expired at 11:30am. But ... they very kindly extended our tickets to accommodate our needs! Wow. We never expected concessions like this ... even though we are seniors! 😉

    GASPS: We were shocked by the lack of traffic this morning ... both foot and vehicular. It was dead quiet. We are not sure if it was because it was early in the morning or because it was Sunday ... but we had not yet ever seen the city so quiet!! And, we couldn't help but notice the tilting and leaning forward of one of the buildings! Many of them are tipping sideways, but there are some that are falling forwards a bit! GAH!

    GRATITUDES: After our time at the museum, we got to have the #1 rated fries in Amsterdam! You can choose as many sauces as you'd like! They were fresh cut this morning and they tasted like it!! Scumptiousness wrapped in a blue paper cone!! We thoroughly enjoyed them as we waited for our ride out to see more family in Vinkeveen! 

    MORE GRATITUDES: And, it was such a delightful day meeting with John's mom's side of the family! Great conversation filled with oodles of laughter and lots of warm reminiscences! We got some beautiful photos of the canals in behind their homes! And ... had fun getting everyone into one family photo on the sofa! BTW ... the family sends their warmest regards to our daughters and their families!! 💌

    We had a nice roasted 'kip' dinner (chicken) with Dick and Wil (who kindly drove us to Vinkeveen) on the way home and now we are back in our room waiting for space in the washing machine! We need to get packed up and ready to leave for Utrecht tomorrow morning. I have to say that I won't miss this room ... but ... the location was phenomenal!!

    In the final analysis ... we have made the most of our time here (sans Anne Frank) ... and ... I have a fond appreciation for the beauty of the canals and the dutch pancakes and the croquettes ... oh and I forgot to tell you ... they have cream for their coffee! And good strong coffee at that! ☕

    It's hard to fathom that we are half way through our journey at this point! We have seen four different countries and hope to see three more before we get home! We're packing lots of memories into our hearts with each and every destination❣

    Sending love and hugs from our full hearts to yours ...k&j
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  • Day839

    Amsterdam! Day 1

    October 13 in the Netherlands

    The time had come to explore the Netherlands' world famous capital city! After a prompt set off on Saturday morning Will navigated the van to Amsterdam City Camp on the North bank of the River IJ. The area was rather run down with building and road works, overgrown verges, random grafitti and a general air of being unloved. The camp itself was accessed via tall electronic gates, one for vans and one for pedestrians. Vicky got started entering our details into the machine. Despite having to pay extra for dogs there weren't any dog facilities, so the warden helped us choose a plot close to the entrance so Poppy didn't have to walk too far for the toilet. After parting with €56 for two nights we scanned our barcoded ticket, the big gate slid back and we parked up between two other motorhomes on the gravel. There was space for about 100 vans but we chose one of the 50 spots that came with electricity to give the batteries a treat. We made a plan to stick the ticket to the door handle whenever we were in the van. Vicky could just imagine going out to take Poppy in the middle of the night and getting locked out of the compound!

    It didn't take us long to get the tandem down and cycle to the NDSM ferry point, although we did need to wait for a bridge to open and let a large boat through. We are almost getting used to it by now! The city runs free pedestrian and bike ferries between various points on the river and they are hugely popular. We waited about 15 minutes, taking in the floating 'Botel', the grafittid submarine and the pancake boat in the harbour area.

    Our transport came and we squeezed on with the other 200+ people. The blue and white boat zipped us accross the IJ to west of the city where we headed towards Noordermarkt. The cycle tracks were great when they were open but several junctions were undergoing work and nobody knew where to go. There were a great number of tourists mixed in with a few locals and you can imagine the mayhem, with hundreds of bicycles and mopeds cutting accross lanes, stopping, turning and generally being confused. Between Vicky looking at Maps.Me and Will steering around hazards there wasn't much chance to take in the sights, but it was still miles beter than walking and we felt a lot safer on the tandem than we did in many cities.

    The streets and canals were layed out in a grid pattern. Noordermarkt was located in one of these long straight roads, with two lines of stalls taking over the car lanes. We again left the bike chained to itself and entered the gauntlet! It was very busy and difficult to move at times. Vicky was rudely barged to one side by a couple of women and to her shame, barged one of them back when she encountered them later on. On offer was a mix of fruit, veg, raw and processed meats and fish, quality clothing and jewellery. We picked up some mushrooms and beansprouts and were a bit shocked when the seller charged us €5.50. It seemed a lot of things were priced highly for the privilage of buying them at this particular market. A greek stall was selling spinach in filo and pepper stuffed with rice at a reasonable price, so we had lunch on the go. For desert we found traditional Dutch poffertjes - like fluffy, mini scotch pancakes cooked to order, topped with a knob of butter and more than a sprinkling of icing sugar. We'd both have these again if we saw them!

    We were relieved to find the tandem still there and peddled our way towards the Sex Museum - a 'must see' when visiting Amsterdam. Vicky had visited with her friend Mel when they were at uni more than 15 years ago, so was looking forward to a return visit. The museum has a range of displays; artifacts and art from different cultures, photos, comic books and life size models. Many of them poke fun at sex, such as the old flasher in his mac that moved out of the shadows on rails.

    When we'd finished looking round it was getting hot and we needed to get back to Poppy, so returned to the ferry point at the beautiful Station Centraal. This stately red brick building with its two gold faced clock towers was resplendent in the afternoon sunshine. The multilayered bike racks behind it were also an impressive sight as we waited for our boat. It was crowded on board and some people decided they needed to move further forward, despite the lack of space. One person in particular pushed past Vicky and stood very close behind Will, casually holding on to the rear handle bar of our tandem!

    Back at Martha Motorhome, Poppy had enjoyed having the electric fan on while we'd been out, settling easily into her bed after a little walk. We chilled with her and ate tea, but thanks to the bike, we still had plenty of energy to head back into central Amsterdam that evening. We chose to go on foot and once again took the free ferry over the river. We planned to visit Abraxas, one of the many coffeeshops this city is famous for. We caught the first ferry that arrived, meaning we needed to walk further once we docked on the south bank but we really enjoyed taking in the night time sights. The city lights had been beautiful from the river as they reflected off the water. Now we walked among them, through quiet streets, past the marina where huge houseboats were moored, some with pontoon terraces. One of these supported a communal play area and long picnic table where a dozen or so residents had gathered to make use of the warm evening. Many boats had golden fairy lights illuminating their cabins or strung above their decks and arched bridges were lit by bright bulbs tracing their outline. It seemed quite magical at points.

    Reaching the cannabis corridor the pavements were lined with bright display windows pedalling all sorts of seeds, leaves, buds, block, oils and the paraphernalia that went with them. These establishments were intersected by mouth watering bakeries selling cream cakes and pastries, chip shops and pizza places. We saw several coffeeshops as we walked along, with people sitting around low tables sharing hookah pipes and bongs. As you can imagine the atmosphere was pretty chilled out and we enjoyed people watching, especially the expressions on our fellow night owls' faces.

    Neon lights alerted us to Abraxas coffeeshop down a narrow alleyway. The staff were very helpful, with one bar selling drinks and snacks and another with a digital menu, selling cannabis products. We bought a couple of vegan blueberry muffins and climbed the steep wooden spiral staircase to the first floor where we found a couple of low stools. The air was smokey but thankfully tobacco was prohibited and the open window we were next to provided a cooling freshness. Coffeeshops aren't allowed to sell alcohol but one of the 'Abraxas Crew' brought us a good coffee and an elderflower lemonade to sip on. After a while we found ourselves relaxing and grinning. The atmosphere was chilled with pairs and small groups drifting in and out, sharing the curved wooden benches that made a U shape around 3 of the 4 walls. It was proving to be an enjoyable experience, enhanced by a frothy hot chocolate and a little Dutch stroopwafel biscuit for Vicky. Nearing 11pm we happily made our way back to the central station ferry port and took the boat back to our side of the river.
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  • Day31

    Hello Amsterdam, Goodbye Portugal

    October 18 in the Netherlands

    It certainly would have been very easy to spend more time at the Castelo de Estremoz. In fact it would have been very easy to settle into this lifestyle permanently. With its palatial rooms, marble staircases, incredible antique furniture and priceless works of art, it really did give us a brief taste of what royal living must be all about.

    To complete the fairytale picture, we awoke to find the surrounding area had been covered over by an impenetrable white blanket of cloud. The castle and a few other nearby small mountains protruded through like islands on a white sea. It was spellbinding to see and we felt that our adventure had been given the final seal of approval.

    It would also have been wonderful to have spent much longer over breakfast. The huge dining hall and carefully prepared tables surely warranted at least an hour or two while we savoured our cereals and pondered the news of the day. Unfortunately it could not be. The problem was that the servants did not open the breakfast hall till 8 am and our bus was due to leave at 8.30 am. Where was the justice in that ? Life can be cruel sometimes.

    In spite of the haste, breakfast was still something I will never forget. I have dined in some pretty exotic places over the years, but this was probably the epitome. Everything else will be pretty mundane by comparison.

    When we loaded our luggage into the bus I walked over to the statue of Santa Isabel, where we had left the two scallop shells. They were still there. Behind the statue the white sea of cloud showed no sign of lifting, although the sun was already shining brightly over our heads. I hoped that Paul and Jan were enjoying the views with us since they had accompanied us all the way in our hearts.

    All too soon it was time to bid farewell to Estremoz. The bus squeezed its way out through the medieval streets and over the drawbridge. Soon we were on the huge motorway and speeding back to Lisbon. An ideal opportunity to grab a few more minutes of sleep.

    We still had one final Portuguese highlight to experience. The incredible Vasco da Gama Bridge across the Tagus River was completed in 1998 and, at 14 km long, it one of the longest in Europe. It certainly must have made a huge difference to life in the capital when it was opened to the public.

    At Lisbon airport we bade farewell to the rest of the group, while Allan Barlin and I headed inside to get some information about our flight. Our next stop was Amsterdam for a couple of nights, before heading on to a week in Switzerland. Allan is a farmer from NSW and I had shared several adventures with him in the past. I always enjoy his wild sense of humour and his easy going manner.

    Our flight to Amsterdam went quickly and smoothly enough.Somehow we even scored the only empty seat on the plane - right between us. We arrived at Amsterdam's huge Schipol Airport right on sunset.

    The walk to the baggage collection area seemed almost as long as our Camino Walk a couple of week's earlier, but we eventually found carousel number 4 and waited for our luggage. About twenty minutes absolutely nothing had come out of the chute. Not a thing. At least we weren't the only ones waiting, so we weren't really worried.

    After a few minutes longer I decided to do some investigation. I made an immediate discovery. On the very next carousel a familiar looking bag was looking very lonely as it went around and around all by itself. It was my beloved blue bag. I don't know how long it had been going around while we had been facing in the wrong direction, but I was just pleased to be reunited with it. I called Allan over and we soon found his bag as well.

    We then walked about 3 km to the taxi stand (Schipol is a VERY big airport) and waited for the next taxi. Instead of a taxi, a futuristic black craft pulled up alongside us. The alien invited us to get aboard, so we did. The alien pressed a few buttons on a giant touchscreen and we silently slid off into the traffic. I wondered if the alien knew any English so decided to speak to him.

    "What sort of machine is this ?", I asked.
    "It is the new Tesla, Model S", it replied.

    Apparently it was only two months old and it certainly made for an interesting and entertaining ride. It took off like a cut snake and cruised effortlessly and silently at 120 kph while the huge screen showed our progress through the streets of Amsterdam. I had certainly never been in a taxi like it and it was almost worth the 55 Euro it cost us for the transfer to our hotel.

    After we had checked in to our rooms, I took Allan on a brief tour of the neighbouring area. I had to explain to him to be very careful when you order cookies with your coffee. It's that sort of place.
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  • Day31

    Tilting Buildings and Tall People

    October 18 in the Netherlands

    When I first visited Amsterdam, some years ago, the first thing I noticed was how tall the people were. I first thought that I had shrunk by about 10 cm, but discovered that the Dutch are now the tallest people in Europe (and maybe the world). This is even more remarkable because, a century earlier, they were well known for being very short.

    Just what caused this dramatic gain of stature is open to debate, but many put it down to their large intake of dairy products. Whatever the reason, you do feel a bit like you are in the land of the giants.

    The other feature that visitors soon notice is that none of the buildings are vertical. Some lean prodigiously to the left, others to the right, and many just look like they are about to fall straight forward into the street. Apparently the whole city is slowly sinking into the mud, and the residents seem comfortable with the fact that spirit levels would be completely redundant in this city. It certainly does add interest and charm to the place.

    Of course the other things that makes this city famous are the thousands of bicycles that clog every street and that are chained to every suitable anchor point. It is soon evident that there are many more bicycles than people, suggesting that some of the chained bicycles may not have been ridden for a long time. Other unloved bikes are simply thrown into the canals in their hundreds. This means that regular dredging must be done to retrieve these bicycle remains and stop them from completely clogging the waterways.

    On this visit we only have two nights in the city, so I was happy to just spend my time wandering about and revisiting some places that I remembered fondly from previous visits. The weather was fine and cool, those early hot days in Madrid and Bilbao now seem a distant memory. I have now packed the shorts into a remote part of my luggage, not to see the light of day till I return to Melbourne.

    Because the buildings of Amsterdam have very narrow and very steep staircases, it would be impossible to deliver anything larger than a small matchbox to the higher floors. For this reason every building is equipped with a protruding beam at their highest point. This is done so that a pulley can be attached to lift furniture and other items to the upper floors. As we walked about the city we witnessed numerous deliveries being done in this way. We could see that the brawny lifters who were hauling the ropes certainly would not have to waste money on gymnasium memberships.

    As I was walking the streets and looking at the strange assortment of shops in the tiny alleyways (many selling hash & other drug products) I did witness one interesting event. A young, well dressed young man rapidly came out of one of the large department stores and intercepted a middle aged guy wearing a large backpack. He flashed some sort of ID in the face of his victim and then escorted him straight back into the store and up the escalator to the office. The guy had obviously been caught shoplifting and offered no resistance. Some types of crime happen the world over.

    Tomorrow morning our brief time in Amsterdam will end as we return to the airport to catch our flight to Zurich. That is where Allan and I will begin our Swiss Railways Adventure.
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  • Day840

    Amsterdam! Day 2

    October 14 in the Netherlands

    Considering we were so close to the heart of a capital, City Camp Amsterdam provided a relatively peaceful night's sleep and we woke ready to explore. On today's agenda was the Western Canal Ring. The centre of Amsterdam is surrounded on 3 sides by 4 concentric canals, bending round the core. The Western Ring is said to be the most photogenic so we once again took the tandem on the ferry and navigated our way in. It was another bright, warm day, the sun cutting the streets in half by shining a spotlight on one side whilst casting the other into shadow. We spent the morning wandering along the canalsides, stopping to admire the eclectic collections of houseboats moored on their vertical banks, crisscrossing quaint, arched stone bridges and noticing the oranges and reds as they began to show in the corridors of trees. We made a point of visiting Reguliersgracht, a canal that linked two of the radial waterways and was reputedly the prettiest. It was smaller and the trees more mature than on the main canals and although it was beautiful, we would only have put it on a par with the Western Ring.

    Our tummies were beginning to rumble so we made a beeline for Dam Square, the place where this great settlement was founded and whose title is combined with that of the River Amstel to produce the name Amsterdam. We needed to get back to Poppy so opted for a takeaway cone of frites and a hotdog for Will from Chipsy King. The chips were advertised as Belgian but the Dutch cut them thicker. They went down a treat as we sat on the cool stone seating behind the white stone obelisk at the eastern end of Dam Square. As we ate we took in the sights and people watched. The old Royal Palace, originally the town hall, stood at the western end, its large stone bricks dulled with time and exposure to pollutants. The 15th century gothic style New Church sat beside it with tall stained glass windows, its facia similarly muted. All of the tall stately buildings surrounding the open cobbled space were impressive, although their appearance would have been enhanced by a little TLC. When we first started our journey around Europe we'd been shocked to hear so much English spoken in the cities we visited. It has become something we now expect to a certain extent but in Amsterdam there was a particularly high number of English speaking voices.

    Our appetites satiated we peddled back to central station and caught the ferry over the River IJ for the last time. We'd been able to see so much more on the bike than we ever would have on foot and after spending some time with Poppy we had enough energy to take a walk around the NDSM neighbourhood close to where we were staying. An old shipyard transformed into a cultural and creative hub, the streets and buildings had a rough but vibrant feel to them. Tentatively setting foot inside a huge manufacturing warehouse we found it had been populated with shipping containers used as artist studios. Upstairs was a free exhibition showing a range of disciplines from cut paper designs, to welded iron, conceptual art and painting. Outside, walls were covered in grafitti; a mix of hastily sprayed tags and incredible murals with most things in between. We were particularly drawn to a huge painting of a child's multicoloured face with the title 'Let me be myself'. After researching it, we learned it was a 240 square metre representation of Anne Frank painted by world famous Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra in his signature style. The house where Anne hid from German troops for 2 years is located in central Amsterdam and now exists as a museum.

    Flagging slightly, we made our way to Noorderlicht café; an arched greenhouse turned trendy venue. The outdoor picnic tables by the river were packed but we found a spare place to sit inside where there was a grassroots duo singing and playing keyboard and saxophone. We ordered a couple of shots of Jenever (Dutch gin), some local beers and sat back to enjoy the hip atmosphere and performance. The walls were strung with heavy bohemian style curtains in rich colours and we could imagine that when the sun went down the place would be transformed from a light and airy space to something cosy and snug, with warm lights twinkling.

    We really enjoyed our two days in the Netherlands' capital. As always there was plenty more to see and do but we felt we'd picked up a flavour of the city. We are glad we didn't visit mid summer because even this time of year it was very busy with tourists. We loved the free ferries and how easy it was to get around by bike. The beautiful canals gave Amsterdam individuality and the enjoyable coffeehouse experience wasn't one we could have had in many other cities. The NDSM neighbourhood had real character not to mention colour from its many murals, but there is more to a country than its capital and it was time to move on.
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  • Day4

    Vondelpark und Paleis op de Dam

    September 3 in the Netherlands

    Heute war ein ehr entspannterer Tag dran. Wir saßen lange im Vondelpark nachdem wir über den Albert Cypus Markt gelaufen sind. Danach haben wir den Königspalast besichtigt. Zum Abschluss des Abends gabs für uns noch leckeres Israelisches essen in den Foodhallen und ein kleines Törtchen!

You might also know this place by the following names:

Gemeente Amsterdam, Amsterdam

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