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Published: March 13th 2017
Clear skies and turquoise seas shown all the way to Spain as we passed along the Tangier coastline on our last day Morocco. The warm morning air did not mix well with the exhaust fumes in the back of our tiny red Petit Taxi as we made our way along the shoreline road to the airport. The window cranks had been removed, common on many taxis in Morocco, and fresh air would be minimal during our ride. The driver was friendly enough and he even stopped to pick up a friend for the ride. As usual we mainly talked about Trump, typical when Moroccans found out we were from the U.S. We passed through many of the neighborhoods we did not visit during our short stay on the tip of Africa. It was a strange feeling to be moving on. After 6 moves in 6 weeks we were used to changing houses, but today we were changing countries and even continents.
Two short flights interrupted by a long layover in Madrid meant we wouldn’t arrive until quite late at night. We were excited to slow down our pace. It would be nice to spread out and perhaps sleep
in for a few days.
The frozen air in the jetway was shocking as we exited the plane into the snowy Amsterdam night. We could see our breath and the chill was penetrating. It felt fresh and despite the late hour, we woke up immediately. Immigration was easy. The sliding doors opened and we burst forth into the bright lights of Schipol’s mall-like arrivals area. The signs led us to the taxi stand in the frozen street. A cab driver in a new Tesla picked us up. Amsterdam’s airport has the biggest concentration of Teslas in the world. The glowing console display panel mapped our entire route to our new house, calculating our time of arrival to the second. Quite a change from the unidentifiable tiny red taxi with the exhaust leak we started the morning in.
I imagine the founders of Amsterdam who decided to use three X’s for the cities symbol did not have the foresight to see into the future. They could not have known that when today’s visitors see the XXX displayed prominently throughout the city (even on churches and city offices) the symbol probably takes on a different meaning
than they intended. Amsterdam is well known today for its permissive attitude toward prostitution and marijuana use. The smell of pot is prevalent when walking anywhere in the downtown area, especially around the ‘coffee shops’ where it is so easily purchased. Whether young or old, nearly everyone seems to be under the influence. Partying young people and giggling old people can be seen wandering the beautiful canals enjoying the easy freedoms.
While coffee shops can be found in most areas of town, the red light windows are only found in the very center area of town. The area is no secret and is readily listed as the ‘Red Light District’ on all tourist maps. The girls (and boys) in the windows dance or wave to passerby’s to attract attention. They seemed to attract a mostly foreign audience, perhaps some of whom have come specifically for this form of entertainment. It is funny to see couples walking arm and arm sneaking looks into the windows as they pass.
The other thing that is immediately noticeable is the number of bicycles that are in use. Much of Amsterdam is below sea level and thus flat, so
it makes for nearly perfect conditions for two wheelers. Reportedly there are nearly 1 million bicycles in the city. They are everywhere and take some time to get used to. Parts of most sidewalks are reserved for a bike lane. It takes a few days to get used to not wandering into the busy lanes while strolling the canals. Most riders leave their bike outside when they are not using them. This means almost every available structure has a bicycle locked to it. In many areas the sidewalks are so full of bicycles that it is difficult to avoid them without walking into the roadways. We found that it was often more challenging to cross the bike lanes than the streets.
The weather during our stay was quite poor with frequent rain and even light snow on a few days. Fog often covered the city in the early mornings and most days only had a few hours of sun, if any. We had a tiny studio on the tenth floor of a huge apartment building in the Bos en Lommer neighborhood of town. Unbelievable views over the entire city helped to cure the potential doldrums we might
have had on days we were forced to curtail our adventures. The weather changed often and days that started sunny often turned stormy or vice versa. We especially enjoyed the views at night when the city lit up. It was also nice to have wonderful markets filled with all the items we had missed for the last few months of travel. On stormy days we enjoyed preparing many fine feasts while waiting for the storms to pass.
Transportation was easy throughout town, either by bus, tram, metro or train. I don’t think we have ever been in a better connected city in Europe. From our house we could be anywhere in the city (and even entire country) within a short time. We took advantage of the trains to visit a couple of places outside of Amsterdam during our stay. We visited the popular cultural park of Zaanse Schans. It is located just north of the city and has many windmills and traditional Dutch houses that have been relocated to the park along the river. Cheese making shops and a wooden shoe factory could be toured. Several of the windmills were operating and could be toured to see
how they were used for early industrial production.
We also went to the gorgeous nearby city of Haarlem. The historic downtown area was spectacular with well-preserved houses, squares and streets all surrounding a massive medieval church in the center. We enjoyed a picnic by the river across from several restored sailboats. We moved inside when the day turned gloomy, but we greatly enjoyed having tea inside one of the wonderful establishments in the historic area.
We found that Amsterdam was one of our favorite cities we have visited in Europe. While it has world class art museums, beautiful architecture and gorgeous canals, I think the best part of Amsterdam is the spirit of the city. It is filled with free spirited, multi-cultural people who can easily converse in multiple languages. They seem progressive and energetic and aggressively moving into the future while at the same time preserving their historical past. We were a little limited due to the time of year and the weather, but as we were preparing to leave we noticed the leaves coming out on the trees, the flower bulbs were sprouting everywhere and grass was growing where snow had been
just weeks before. I know we will be back to visit this special city, hopefully soon.
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