Monday, August 16, 2010

Amsterdam or Amersfoort?

Craig and Annie joined us for a Tues-Fri trip to Amsterdam, about a 6-hour train trip from Berlin. More accurately, we joined them, since they planned the entire trip, bought the train tickets, and booked the house where we stayed about an hour's train ride from Amsterdam in a little town called Amersfoort. We arrived early enough to walk around our scenic little village and eat ourselves silly on tapas.

The following morning we took the train down to Amsterdam, only to be overwhelmed by the hordes of tourists. We walked around with Craig and Annie for a couple of hours looking at crooked buildings on canals before retreating to a cafe for breathing space. Following lunch, Craig and Annie retreated all the way to Amersfoort while Eric and I saw some additional sights.

We visited the Houseboat Museum, which confirmed that Craig was correct in referring to them as "housefloats." Most of the live-aboard barges have neither sails nor motors and only leave their moorings every 3-4 years to have their bottoms cleaned. I guess it's still waterfront real estate, but it kind of takes some of the romance away knowing that they're really only floating apartments. Still, the museum was interesting, with lots of pictures and videos of the creative ways people have utilised the limited space aboard their housefloats.

Then we moved on to the photography museum, as Eric and I both tend to enjoy photography more than Renaissance paintings of fat ladies, fruit, or men on horses. Unfortunately, the only exhibit on was by some famous fashion photographers, which translated to lots of female nudity. For a while, I felt like we were in Amsterdam's famous sex district rather than a museum.

We followed the museums by a stroll through what the guidebook referred to as one of Amsterdam's most "international" markets. It was only international in the fact that in cities all around the world, they try to sell pointless crap to tourists. After killing a little more time at a canal-side cafe with a typically surly waitress (but nice, cold beer), we checked in on the line for the Anne Frank house again. Apparently everyone had read that it was the "must-see" attraction in Amsterdam as the line had to be at least 3 hours long, even at 6:30 pm. Knowing my attention span, after waiting in line that long, I wouldn't have the patience to read any of the exhibits, particularly with strangers touching me. Thank God for the internet, where I can view pictures without sharing others' oxygen!

Amersfoort felt like a refuge after the crowds of Amsterdam, so we decided to spend the rest of our time there. Therefore, our 4-day trip to Amsterdam turned out to include only about 8 hours in Amsterdam, but we were happier for it. Amersfoort was really, really lovely and surrounded by a perfect canalside trail for jogging or strolling.

Our last full day in Amersfoort was the best day of the vacation yet. Eric and I rented a couple of cruiser bicycles and rode down to Utrecht. We were a bit sketchy on how the bicycle highway system worked, turning a 23-km ride into a 2.5 hour tour of the countryside, but it was fantastic anyway.

Utrecht was more touristy than Amersfoort by less overrun than Amsterdam. We enjoyed wandering around for a while before visiting the Dick Bruna Haus museum. I always thought that Miffy was a cheap knock-off for Hello Kitty, but she was actually the inspiration. Dick Bruna started drawing her in 1955, and Hello Kitty didn't appear on the scene until 1980! The Miffy books are the second-best-selling children's books, just behind Roald Dahl's collection. So there.

Overall, we spent about 7 hours on the bikes that day, and it was great to stretch our legs and breath some fresh air. I've been jogging when I can, and goodness knows we've been walking enough, but sometimes the sight seeing really does feel more like a death march than recreation.

One thing that was surprising was how well the Dutch all spoke English. Many of them barely seemed to have an accent. This is in sharp contrast to Germany, where very few people seem to speak English, and where I can't understand the train announcements that are in English any better than the ones in German. Now before anyone gets up in arms, I realise that I'm in their country and speak no German - I'm just highlighting the comparison between the two countries.

Now everyone's first question upon hearing that we were visiting Amsterdam was whether we would be partaking in any illegal drugs. I'll disappoint you all by telling you here that the only Amsterdam substance we imbibed was Heineken. While we had an 8-months-pregnant lady to blame our lameness on, it really comes down to a lack of interest in spending one day of four in a semi-comatose state. And we weren't entirely sure how to order it anyway...

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