As warned, the prior post was the last from Italy. We geared up for our big travel day to Amsterdam (not close to the Dolomites...at ALL), enjoyed our last moments in Alleghe, and pushed out at about 6am.
It took us about 8 hours to drive across both Italy and France, and once again, we tithed heavily in the form of tolls; easily 120Euro, which included 39Euro to drive through a single tunnel under the Alps. When we rolled into Lyon, we fueled the rental car one last time, returned it, gathered our stuff, and headed to the train station inside the airport. We thought we'd done really well to time our 8-hour drive to land us there with a whopping 10 minutes to spare, but a mixup with our tickets eroded that 10 minutes to about 60 seconds. With a lot of ground left to cover, this near-disaster-turned-victory was obvious reason to have a beer, immediately.
We transferred trains in Paris; this time with a couple hours instead of 10 minutes. We got to the Paris Nord station and wandered off for a nearby dinner. Our train ended up being late, so we were exceedingly glad about not cutting it so close, right up until I got waylaid by a gang of undercover customs officers, whose dog happened to be particularly interested in my bag. Unfortunately for them, there was nothing to find (BAD DOG!) and we caught that train by approximately 3 seconds.
With yet another near-disaster dispatched, we elected to not further tempt fate and just sat quietly until we got to Amsterdam. We were lucky enough to have a berth at our friend Nico's house, excellently located and quite upscale. Well done, Nico! We'd have several days to explore the awesome city and we had the perfect home base for it.
Nico holds court
Due to a ridiculously fortuitous coincidence, my college buddy Disco was
passing through Amsterdam the day after we got there on his way to
Oman, so we got to catch up over a late breakfast and a beer. It turned
out that we didn't really have a plan for our time in A'dam; with no
agenda, we were perfectly comfortable to wander about and see what each
day would bring.
One awesome thing about Amsterdam (wait, the MOST awesome thing) is that it's a very un-cityish city. Most of this is due to a heavy emphasis on the bicycle as a form of transportation. In a city of 750k people, there are 750k bikes; this bike-to-resident ratio doesn't exist outside of Burning Man (well, it probably does, but it seemed poignant to us). Most of the cyclists are very fashionable, too. Tall chicks in business suits, txting, riding all about the city. Some form of heaven! The huge emphasis on biking means few cars, no traffic, no smog, no honking, healthy people...on and on.
Primary form of transport
One evening, we went and caught the latest Batman movie at a theater that's easily the coolest I've ever seen.
Inside the Pathe cinema
On another day, we visited the Van Gogh Museum, and I must say that it was quite inspiring to see those paintings up close. They were...alive...and that was cool.
Ed and Ethel transport me through the canals. Faster!
We went with Nico to a rather fantastic tapas restaurant one evening. Dark, loud, and packed to the gills, we relied on Nico to navigate ordering for us, which really just amounted to making sure there was always food on the way. The restaurant got its name from the special ham they served; hard to get and delectable, pata negra was a force to be reckoned with!
Please park your bike ANYWHERE but here
Ham hangs from the ceiling of Pata Negra
The canals are lined with houseboats; some unimpressive, and some truly stellar. Many of them looked to have been moored for decades; this is certainly a viable housing option for some!
Houseboat flies the flag
We spent several of our days simply wandering around from breakfast to coffee to lunch to market to beer to dinner. The winding streets and canals had secrets around every corner, and we were highly amused all the while by the seamless blend of Dutch culture and peerless American English.
The buildings there are almost without exception very narrow, and they also seem to be on the verge of toppling over at any given moment. I didn't do any research to find out what particular construction method led to this, but I can't imagine that being essentially built on water does them any favors.
No square lines
As night fell, the endless streams of business suits faded into the distance and the throngs of tourists became more apparent. There was never a dull moment, but we never made it late enough into the night to really get ourselves into trouble.
Crowds never seem to ebb
We rounded out our trip in Amsterdam, but not before a two-and-a-half day trip to Germany and Belgium for a must-make addition to an already stunning time. Next post will take us to Germany, and then we'll hit Belgium last. However, I must say that Amsterdam is the most livable city I've ever come by. I'd do it in a second, but I hear the winters are long and wet...
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