THERE ARE COUNTLESS REASONS WHY TRAVELING WITH JEFF IS GOOD. He keeps the budget organized, he can fix stuff in the dilapidated old houses we rent, and he isn't afraid of anything. I, on the other hand, am a worrywart who is kind of weary of everything. I know I wouldn't even be on this trip if it weren't for him - He tempers my concerns on an hourly basis, like talking to strangers when I really don't want to, checking the hallway after a weird noise in a janky Vietnamese hotel, or coaxing me into a rushing river where he's swimming with ease. He'll ride a moped just about anywhere, and I just hold on and trust him.
Most-recently he was brave enough to rent a boat in Amsterdam. A lot of people would be nervous to do it, and probably let the days slip by without, but he marched himself to the marina, slapped down a credit card and said "We simply must!" We're boat people, be it speeding around our lake at the cottage or just watching yachts sail by in Florida, so we couldn't pass up the chance to putz around Amsterdam's legendary canals.
It's one of the most-magical places we've been. It feels like you're inside a snowglobe or a Dickens novel, with its charming streets, low-slung bridges, and Victorian façades. While we'd spent a week wandering on-foot, it really came to life on our last day when we hopped into this small tin boat, with its solar-paneled roof and environmentally-friendly electric motor; this city is meant to be seen from the water. For the entire day we meandered all over, through the smallest channels and very biggest, fully outfitted with a cooler full of booze and food. We packed the hard metal seats with cushions and blankets, I reclined at the bow, Jeff at the motor, and our friend Joe in middle. It was easily one of the greatest days on this entire trip, though it's increasingly hard to choose.
1) The tricky part about staying in a truly special accommodation is that the home itself becomes part of the experience. So you have to decide to leave the space to go and visit the city it happens to be in. When all you want to do is drink wine on the deck. (More on that in a previous post.)
2) There are 2500 houseboats in Amsterdam.
3) There are more than 550 000 bicycles on the streets of Amsterdam. In a city with a population of 800 000 people. It's actually kind of alarming to see the heaps and piles locked to every available post or tree.
4) "Cobalt is a divine colour. And there's nothing so fine as that for putting space around things." - Vincent Van Gogh
5) Amsterdam is just a little bigger than Manhattan but feels way smaller.
6) Rent a boat from www.Boatly.nl. There are lots of time options (3 hour periods, or all day) and it's a terrific way to see the city. It's not scary - these are the slowest boats, by a long shot, on the canals. Give right of way to everyone and just take it easy. Pack a picnic. The boats are electric/solar powered and adorable. Stuff it with pillows and blankets for comfort.
7) We're often looking for options other than flying. While jacked-up buses in South East Asia were often not charming enough to skip a flight, a stylized cruise/ferry from Rotterdam to England sounded right up our alley as a good alternative to the headaches of air travel. After a 90 minute tram/train/metro ride from Amsterdam we arrived in Rotterdam where we picked up the Stena Hollandica. They allow you to board 2 hours early, so we got to enjoy our cabin for 8 instead of 6 hours. On day-crossings, the cabins are more than 50% discounted so we chose the Comfort Class Cabin which includes a mini bar, coffee/tea and snacks, full bathroom, desk, and outside picture window view. Such a great way to avoid the crowds and enjoy a quiet ride. We napped, we read, we watched TV. Brilliant.
8) Amsterdam after dark feels a little unhinged. Sure, it was Pride weekend and we wandered around the Red Light District, but the whole place has a general feeling of recklessness, in a good way. It's fun.
9) Cafés sell coffee, Coffee Shops sell pot. Cafés are not allowed to call themselves Coffee Shops in order to keep this distinction clear. There are rumours that it's been made illegal for tourists to visit Coffee Shops in Amsterdam to buy/consume pot. This is not true. It's a little intimidating at first, but waltz on in and do as the locals do. There are usually menus so you can easily point to what you want, instead of stumbling through jargon. Most sell pre-rolled joints as well as loose marijuana. Enjoy. Don't be scared. Bear in mind that it IS in fact frowned upon to smoke in the street, so keep it to Shops or the comfort of your own AirBnB deck.
LOCATION: Edinburgh, Scotland
DATE AND TIME: Thursday, August 15, 2013 1:30AM British Summer Time/Wednesday, August 14, 2013 8:30PM EST
Location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Accommodation: Enjoy Life on a Sunny Houseboat! ★★★★
Accommodation: Enjoy Life on a Sunny Houseboat! ★★★★
The most-special place we've stayed on the entire trip. So beautiful. On a quiet canal just outside the city centre, though Amsterdam is really small. Super close to great tram lines, grocery stores, Coffee Shops, cafes, and everything else. You can easily walk to the city centre in 25 minutes. I wrote more about the emotional impact of this wonderful home in a previous post.
Keeping the budget in-line, we ate at home and picnicked. This was so easy to do. For great groceries, visit Marqt, a medium-expensive shop that feels more like a market with tons of local/artisanal/blah blah blah stuff. Otherwise we shopped at Albert Heijn stores which are more affordable and perfectly great. Good cheese selection, produce, bakery items and lots of wine and beer at super-cheap prices. They're on every corner.
★ RATING OUT OF FOUR BASED ON OVERALL EXPERIENCE.