Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Where there's smoke...


   Our last stop on the travel circuit with Katie's parents was Amsterdam.  As usual, securing a room for the night was the first order of business so we set the car's GPS to a budget hotel on the outskirts of town.  The hotel was full but they arranged for us to rent an apartment down the street for one night.  It was minimally furnished and had the same spongy carpet and white walls that was in my friends' first apartments after they moved out of their parents' houses.  Once again Katie and I snagged the double bed while Bill and Dorothy slept on the two singles.

   Even though the wind chill kept the outside temperature below freezing, there was an extraordinary amount of movement on the streets.  Swarms of tourists were wandering around, alternating between examining their guidebooks and squinting at street signs.  Locals were easy to spot, as they moved at a much faster pace and didn't have Canadian flag patches stitched to their backpacks.  Impervious to the biting wind, the stylishly dressed city dwellers were either running errands with several bags in each hand or walking intently to or from their places of business.
   And then there were the bikes.  There were at least twenty-five bicyclists for every one car on the road.  The rules of traffic in Holland appeared to be more freeform than Germany's, but there are stipulations.  First of all, one's bicycle must look like it would be more at home on a dirt road in the Guizhou province.  The newer it is the faster it will be stolen.  Secondly, one should only be limited in adding accessories to one's bike by the availability of frame space to weld things to - that means crazy utility bicycles with a wheelbarrow attached to the front, a basket on the handlebars, a massive trailer big enough to haul a piano in back, and a few water bottle cages thrown in for good measure.  Also,  bicycling should, before all else, be a family affair.  I saw a woman riding on the side of a busy street with two small helmetless children in kiddie seats behind her and a baby balanced on her lap.  (Once I also saw twenty acrobats simultaneously riding a single bicycle, but c'mon, they're professionals.)

   We made our tour through the city to hit all of the big spots.  The Anne Frank house was moving (emotionally, not literally) and well worth waiting in any line.  The Rijksmuseum was undergoing renovations and consequently a good portion of their collection was not on display - I recommend taking a pass until the full exhibits reopen.  The Van Gogh museum has a great range of the master's works and some from his friends and influences.  The red light district is never more than mildly interesting to all but those people going there for serious intentions.  The city of Amsterdam is currently in the process of disassembling that particular center of seediness, which may or may not change anything.  In Berlin I saw the "world's oldest profession" practiced with more visibility than anything in Amsterdam.

   Whatever happens when you're traveling, new things will be learned.  I learned that driving around Amsterdam elevates my stress levels because there are precious few places to park and things pass by too quickly for me to know if it is interesting enough to stop and check out.  Dorothy learned the not-so-subtle difference between a coffee shop and a cafe.  Based on an informational sign in the window, she also calculated how many grams of magic mushrooms she would have to ingest to take her brain out for a spin.  However that was as far as things went, as Dorothy kept in line with her motto about "doing high risk things in a low risk way".

   For the final night of our trip, we ate dinner at a nice Dutch restaurant on the outermost canal ring of the city.  Katie made Michael Pollan proud by eating a local venison dish, Bill and Dorothy had the hare's leg, and I idiotically opted for the pork satay, which tasted fine but lacked the game chic credentials of my dinner partners' choices.  Just as it was everywhere on our five day trip, we were served huge plates of pommes frites (french fries) with our main courses.

   On the following day, which happened to be my 27th birthday, we visited a museum and walked around for a little while longer.  Then we drove the 3 1/2 hours back to Bonn and ate doner kebabs, a symbolic act to acknowledge that we were finally back in Germany.


1 comment:

judahmo said...

Happy Birthday! Sounds like a great time.