Leaning towards Amsterdam
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Amsterdam; this the slimmest, trimmest, healthiest looking city-full of people I've seen anywhere. It's gotta be the bikes. They are everywhere. I mean it. It's the main mode of transportation and bicyclists are streaming around the city like blood through the veins and arteries of a body. Who are they? Students, businessmen in suits, power ties flapping behind them, Mothers with wooden child carriers, like gigantic Dutch clogs, on the front of their bikes, shop keepers, older people who you'd think would be huffing and puffing but aren't. I heard you can peddle your bike completely across the city in 20 minutes, and the way they peddle (they don't stop for anything), I believe it. You cannot cross the street without a near miss from a bicyclist. And by the way, crossing the street downtown means crossing a bike lane, then the trolley lane, then the car lane, then another trolley lane, then another bike lane
The Dutch here have coffee shops that are not coffee shops (the shops sell marijuana openly to anyone of age). They all just have the same sign over the door, "coffee shop" for identification to the local populace and to appease the authorities, as pot is really illegal but okay to sell as long as you advertise it as coffee. "Live and let live," that's the Amsterdam way. For a cup of coffee you don't go to a coffee shop, silly tourist, you go to a "cafe." I'm not making this up. If you go into a "coffee shop" to use the phone, the smoke is so thick you can get high just while calling home.
I realize I have yet to say anything about the city's beautiful canals, charming architecture, windmills and tulips but really, you can see all that on Wikipedia can't you? As Ilana likes to tell me, "enough with the pictures, buy a postcard!" So do I buy a postcard? Okay, for her I spend five minutes picking out post cards that look like the pictures on travel brochures
Okay, okay, Amsterdam is what we're talking about, and we loved every minute of it...except maybe the time we hungrily walked two miles along a canal to find the pancake house Ilana had read was "not to be missed." Okay, I of little faith didn't like walking past miles of perfectly suitable cafes looking for flip-happy...I mean The Pancake Bakery, but the cakes ended up being one of the most memorable meals of the trip! I should know better than to question my wife on food. The city is charming, beautiful, laid-back and wonderful. We stayed in an accommodation Ilana found online, owned and operated by a delightful young couple, Hans and Flora, who had a beautiful two-month-old baby and lived on the floor below us, with their parents living below them. Our room was on the outskirts of downtown, just across from a picturesque canal. We were situated four flights up a narrow spiraling staircase, "huff and puff," and just a couple of blocks from Vondelpark, which is an sprawling, lush expanse of rolling green grass with gardens full of tulips and daffodils and ponds loaded with ducks and swans
Amsterdam is a city of canals and they are all lined with charming, picturesque Dutch apartment houses, restaurants and shops which are all leaning into each other because, like Venice, their foundations are sinking. At first you look at them and cock your head, you know, the way a dog does when it's trying to figure out what you meant by "are you ready to have some fun?" "Aren't those buildings leaning?" you say. "Honey come look at this, stand right here...no, don't cock your head."
We went to museums to see the works of the Dutch Masters, including Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Vermeer, we took a canal boat ride through the beautiful town,(sorry, I used up all my adjectives already--beautiful will have to do--look at the post card...if you can find it), under the bridges and out into the harbor, we visited the spectacular, deliriously colorful Keukenhof Gardens with it's rainbow plantings of tulips and other bulb flowers, we ate delicious meals and fabulous pastry, caught a bus to the quaint town of Edam, where they make that wonderful cheese, took a free city tour with a great guide who has a degree in History and is an actor by profession. He was so well-informed, funny and interesting. He did a whole skit out in front of a "coffee shop" about how unknowing tourists wolf down the pot brownies, not knowing how potent they are. He went through every stage of them getting unwittingly stoned out of their minds and ended up on the ground holding his head; just hilarious
Amsterdam is a city of the old and the new. Unlike most of the rest of Europe the economy here is booming. New buildings are going up like mad around the riverfront. There's the Bibliotheek, the new 6 story library that contains no less than three restaurants, an entire floor of CDs and hundreds of available computers. We grabbed wonderful and inexpensive meals twice in the museums' sixth story restaurant there during our stay, enjoying stunning views of the old city from the deck. There's NEMO, the new Science and Technology Museum,which sits out in the water and looks like the prow of a giant green ship. Across the river channel sits "The Eye," another new museum of art, which features amazing architecture inside and out but doesn't yet have exhibits to match. There are new office, art and apartment buildings gleaming with steel and glass, adding a modern touch on the outskirts of the charming old city.
Yes, we also visited Israel and Hamburg, Germany on this trip but it's too much for one blog. Israel of course was an experience like no other. 4,000 years of history beneath our feet and the people we met there so colorful and unforgettable. Ilanas' experience as a volunteer for the Israeli Army, and of course the wonderful time spent with our nephew Joel in Tel Aviv and Haifa.