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July 29, 2008

Arrival in Amsterdam

So, after yesterday's insanity, we have arrived in Amsterdam! We've lost a day due to the Northeast's air routes being closed for much of Sunday because of electrical storms. But better late than never, and thank goodness for Kim saving us from scrambling to find a hotel in Newark or schlepping into the city to my parents' apartment.

We had an uneventful flight once we finally boarded, and then were thrilled to see all three pieces of luggage come off the conveyer belt in Schipol Airport. We used the ticket machines in the airport, and within minutes were on the train going into Amsterdam. I wish every city had an airport that had an elevator from the arrivals terminal to the train into the city center.

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We followed the apartment owner's directions, and dragged our bags over the brick streets into the Joordan. This area is full of tiny twisting streets, canals, lovely houses with those amazing gables, and a lively street scene. The apartment is pretty comfortable, very spacious, and decorated like a 60's head shop. Macrame hangings, anyone? But the huge kitchen is great, it's extremely quiet, and enormous for the three of us.

We all passed out for two hours, since none of us slept on the flight. We left Dan in his comatose state, and went grocery shopping. I found the wonderful old cheese that my co-teachers Dutch mother-in-law sends her--it's an aged gouda, with a very nutty taste and the texture of parmesean. We also got some other cheeses, vegetables and fruits, and assorted snacks. At bakery down the street we got two kinds of bread, one a very dark seeded one, the other lighter with dill. We enjoyed cheese sandwiches, and then dragged Dan out for a walk.

We ended up getting on a canal boat, and slowly wound through the city's canals. I love the scale of Amsterdam. With low buildings, small streets, bicycle as the main form of transportation, it almost feels like a network of villages. It seems very vibrant and busy, yet with a solid structure of cafes and places for people to stop, sit and talk. The boat ride was a great introduction for our first days we started to get a sense of where things are.

We found a busy Thai restaurant in the neighborhood, and had an excellent dinner.

OK, we made it till 9:00. Time for bed!

July 31, 2008

Markets, Bikes, Museums

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When I told people we would begin our trip with a few days in Amsterdam, I unfailingly got responses that centered on just two facets of the city---pot and prostitutes. They're here, but seem to be more part of a certain sort of tourism other than what we're doing. The vast majority of people I see using the Coffeehauses or smelling like my high school girl's bathroom are not speaking Dutch. I will say however that Amsterdam does seem to attract a rather different sort of ex-pat than say Paris or Rome. *grin*

In any case, it's a small part of Amsterdam. The bicycle culture is more important to the city's daily life. It's a major form of transportation, with bike lanes everywhere. We see people whizzing around wearing suits, heels, children on a seat in front or wooden cart at the back, groceries dangling, a cellphone in one hand. You really need to be careful crossing streets here, and God help you if you unwittingly stand in a bike lane. Across from Centraal station is a three-story bike garage, filled to the brim. Bikes are locked up everywhere. What's also interesting is most of these are not fancy bikes, but real clunkers. I've heard that bike theft is an epidemic, so I suspect people just go with what won't be sorely missed.

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August 1, 2008

Walking and Gawking in Amsterdam

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Larry and I headed out while Dan was still sleeping. We followed a guidebook walk of the Joordan, and then the Nine Streets, moving deeper into the inner canals. The old houses are fascinating, with their differences in gables, decoration, paintwork. We found a few of the old identifying plaques, used before houses had numbers, to identify the occupants by profession or family name. Shops were opening up, and its remarkable how many galleries, strange little shops, and cafes the city can support. Of course, there may be completely different ones next year, if there aren't enough people buying vintage shoes, offbeat toothbrushes, lace clothes, or kitsch artwork.

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