Surprise! I’m behind on posting a couple of beautiful backpacking trips in California, but here I am in Amsterdam alone in my tiny airbnb room at 9pm (I don’t stay out at night when I’m by myself), and thought I would write an update. It feels like old times when I would post every couple days while out on my big trip. I’m amazed how well I can still type on this little ipod!
Okay, setting the stage: I’m in Europe for a week to attend the wedding of my friends Rick and Marjorie. They live in Australia, Marjo is French (hence the wedding in her family’s garden), and as you may remember I spent a lot of time with Rick in Nepal. He was my guardian after Ben and Sean left on my first trip during the 20+ earthquakes a day time. We connected there again last January, and that time Marjo was there too. The three of us actually spent New Years together in Pokhara! Now they are engaged and I am the only representative from CASD USA able to attend. I’m super excited.
I flew into Amsterdam late last night and went straight to the bus to this airbnb and to bed. This morning I had a simple breakfast here and then took off on a borrowed bicycle to ride randomly along the canals surrounding the city.
The bicycle infrastructure here is Amazing!! There is a separated bike lane on almost every road, of better quality than many of our roads back home. And more people bike than drive so cars actually look out for you and give you the right-of-way. More about biking later.
This is my first time in Amsterdam, and this morning was my first walking tour ever. My hosts recommended it to me, with the hook that this tour showed the locations of some “hidden churches.” It turns out that this city known for being super liberal (prostitution is legal and marijuana is openly tolerated) outlawed Catholicism for 300 years – after the 80 years war against, you probably guessed, the Catholics.
I was fascinated and I’m actually glad I took the tour. I learned a lot of things I wouldn’t have learned by wandering the city by myself. For instance, I learned the reason the famous canal houses have their unique shape. Merchants stored their goods in the attic (the basements being full of water), but because they were taxed based on house frontage, many houses and their stairways were too narrow to carry anything up. If you look closely you will notice that nearly every house has a hook attached above the attic window. They would throw a pulley and rope on this hook and lift things up that way-to go in through the windows. They actually still use them for the same purpose, although more couches and less silks.
Besides the architecture and the churches we also walked through the red light district (and saw prostitutes in windows), the university district, the canal district (my favorite), the jewish district (gutted during WWII for firewood by the Dutch not sent to camps), and Dam Square (named because it is on top of the original dam that made building most if the city possible in the first place).
The City is pretty, and smaller than I thought it would be, but it doesn’t have any of the awe-inspiring cathedrals or palaces that you find in other big European cities. So this afternoon I took the bike across the river to Amsterdam Noord. The ferry is free because the city planners are trying to get people to relocate there instead of sprawling outward east and west. I wanted to get out into the countryside and it seemed the beat way. I didnt expect to find myself in one of the sweetest little neighborhoods Ive ever seen. I was taking random roads in the general direction I wanted to go and ended up on Nieuwendammerdjik, which reminded me of the little row houses in Cambridge.
I stopped after some miles to put on sunscreen and heard a cyclists worst fear-the tssssssss of air leaking out of the tire. The old bike had old tires and it looked like the back one just split open, somehow damaging the tube inside. I checked the map and decided on a much shorter loop but had to check again in about a half mile when I was already running on the rim and knew I had to walk. I asked some guys if they had air or knew of a bike shop. They were workers on a construction project, not locals, and didn’t know. I walked further back the direction I had come and asked more folks talking by their cars. They sent me back the other way again to a bike shop under the bridge. I got there just in time to see the interior safety screen roll down and lock. I tried knocking but the glass was thick. At that point it was 4:30 pm and I estimated I had a 2+ hour walk back to the airbnb, and was feeling low. The buses dont have bike racks or allow them inside (that I saw anyway), and I taxis always feel like cheating to me, plus I was rather in the middle of nowhere. So back I walk again for the fourth time through the same intersection and then hear a holler of “Sorry?” from behind. Turns out the construction workers stop work at 4:30 too, and that first guy I asked for air offered me a ride wherever I needed to go. He said I must have been very lost, walking back and forth, and he had a 2 hour drive home and said an extra 15 minutes wouldn’t make a difference. Hallelujah! I didnt even get his name but it was such a kind thing. My travel miracle for the trip.
I got back to the bnb around 5:15 and they offered me their other bike. After a few minutes I was off again. I had been told by multiple people that I should take a canal boat tour, and I surmised taking it at sunset would be an even better idea. So for 20 bucks I wrapped myself in a blanket and had a glass of rosé, some Old Amsterdam cheese, and an hour long ride through the canals with an old Asian photographer as excellent company in the back of the boat. When we docked it was already dark out and time for me to head back. And here I am. Belgium tomorrow, although I haven’t any idea where yet…..