Day 99 - Mon Jul 11 Amsterdam
(Chris) Boy what a flight, or should I say flights. Ten hours to Zurich and another 1:10 to Amsterdam. Not even the majesty of the fabulous Zurich airport could make it ok. I didn't sleep at all, and I don't think Jen did either. There wasn't anything particularly bad about the flights, no crying babies or anything... we just couldn't get comfortable enough to pass out. I watched about half of Miss Congeniality 2 (ugh), Constantine (an ok Keanu Reeves horror film), and an obscure Tommy Lee Jones film called Man of the House that was better than you might expect. Or maybe I was just hallucinating by then.
With moderate difficulty, we made it to the hotel, which is a couple of miles from the middle of town, but it was too early for our room to be ready. Too bad 'cause we stank. We walked down the block to a great café for lunch, and then came back and sacked out. I adjusted the alarm for a 2-hour nap, but unfortunately forgot to turn it on so we got a 3.5 hour nap instead. Doh!
Once awake and showered we went for an extended city walk. It was windy and overcast. Amsterdam is simply gorgeous. There are canals everywhere (not as many as Venice but plenty thank you) lined with houseboats, wide leafy avenues, and large numbers of narrow 3-4 story residences. It's very clean and quiet. In part the solitude is because a lot of people ride bicycles here. I mean a ton. They aren't particularly nice bicycles, basic 1-3 speed, upright, wide-seat versions, but they are everywhere. And there are above-ground electric trams also, which are very quiet as well. I suppose that's the reason for the wide spaces... sometimes in-between buildings there would be a canal, and on both sides of the canal a sidewalk, and a bike lane, and a car lane. There are a few cars, but not many. This city is surprisingly quiet for 750,000 people!
After a walk through a lovely outdoor park (Museumplein), and a busy outdoor square (Leidseplein), we went for a canal cruise and crossed our fingers that it wouldn't be another tourist train. Turns out it was reasonably good, and an efficient way to see the city.
After the cruise we went to a restaurant recommended by Lisa Liefke called Pasta e Basta. It was dimly lit with candles, and the food was pretty good, but the draw was that the staff would sing for the guests about every 15 minutes or so. Some of the performers were semi-cheesy karaoke performers, but some of the ladies could really sing, either opera or traditional. It was quite fun and I'd recommend it as long as you can tolerate a very slow pace.
The walk home was eerily quiet, and at 11pm it was still a little light.
Day 100 - Tue Jul 12 Amsterdam + night train to Copenhagen
(Chris) Wow 100 days. I guess that feels about right.
I feel fat from the safaris. Two weeks of 4 fatty meals a day plus snacks, and being driven around in a Jeep just isn't healthy!
Today we decided to join the crowd and rent bicycles to see the rest of town. It's a little overwhelming at first, because there are a ton of bicyclists, and tourists walking in the bike lanes, and right-of-way is a bit unclear sometimes between the trams, bikes and cars. And the scenery just flies by. But you sort of get used to it.
The best thing we rode to was a large park called Vondelpark. It was sunny and about 75 degrees, and people were out everywhere, sunbathing, riding bikes, and sitting around smoking. We relaxed awhile under the shade of a tree while some girls near us played Yahtzee! Sometimes it's reassuring to know how universal things can be. We biked to a couple of other destinations which were cute but otherwise unremarkable.
After returning our bikes, we saved the best for last, the red light district, which is quite close to the train station. I have to say at this point it becomes a tale of 2 cities. We loved Amsterdam when we weren't near the train, but the red light district is something else. I mean, we pretty much knew what to expect, and thought it would be novel. Yes there are numerous cafes that proudly have marijuana on the menu. Yes there are sex shops. Yes there are legal whore houses, where the hooker sits behind a glass door right on the street. If you like what you see you can try to strike a deal, and if that works then she closes the door and drops a curtain. I guess many of the prostitutes just rent the room and then keep whatever they make over the rent (and taxes I guess since it's legal). But most of the girls we saw were not not not attractive. Oh this was at 4pm in broad daylight too, Reeck advised against going there at night. It's also interesting that these businesses freely intermix with grocery stores, eateries, bars, clothing shops and jewelry shops. I guess there's no stigma here.
At first walking the district it felt a little exciting, to see the place we've all heard about. But after an hour or so it just got monotonous and mildly depressing... sort of like your 3rd day in Vegas. Maybe we should have gone in for a smoke to lift our spirits! Anyway I definitely plan on coming back to Amsterdam to spend some more time, it's really fabulous, but I'll probably stick to the outskirts. Call me a prude if you must. J
Note we didn't go to any art museums even though they have 2 prominent ones. Maybe next time!
At 7:07 we hopped the night train for Copenhagen.