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Sep 13, 2005 - Amsterdam
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Liedespelein Square Too much to drink or smoke on the way home? Anne Frank's House 
First Stop - Amsterdam

It is hard to believe we are in Amsterdam and our year long journey has begun. All the planning and coordinating to get this trip going was at many times overwhelming and incredibly stressful. Packing your life up for a year, moving from your home, leaving your job, saying good-bye to family and friends and not to mention all the planning and coordinating reservations for our trip - quite the job - however we are already sure it is all going to be well worth it! September 09th as we left Canada I have to admit I was feeling pretty overwhelmed and thought that it would take me many weeks before I would wind down and become relaxed falling into the travel rhythm and our new temporary retired lifestyle. Now a only a few short days into our trip I am happy to say the relaxation has come quick and easy as we have settled into our comfortable little canal house hotel and started to meet other travellers from around the world as we explore the sites of Amsterdam.

Even though we are both very relaxed and excited about finally beginning our year long adventure, we both still is still very surreal! As we explore Amsterdam and prepare to head off to Paris next the trip feels like we are away on an extended vacation to Europe. Thoughts of Israel, Africa, Asia and the South Pacific seem so far off in the future they seem like some other trip not part of this adventure.

So what have we done in Amsterdam? Walked and explored, drank coffee and Heineken, taken in the sights and sounds of Amsterdam including of course the famed Red Light District and the Anne Frank House museum. Although neither Eric nor I are too big on going to museums, I would say a definite must for everyone coming to Amsterdam is to visit Anne Frank's house and museum. The museum is well put together and now connected directly to the house and rooms discussed in the famed diary. After viewing the exhibits in several rooms of the museum you actually enter the Frank house where you walk through the very hidden stairwell behind the bookcase in the back office leading you upstairs to the annexe. It was here in the annexe of the house the two Jewish families hid in fear of the Nazis for over two years. Eventually young Anne and her family were caught and sent to the concentration camps where they were condemned to death with the exception of her father Otto. Otto who survived went on to publish the diary of her young and talented daughter depicting the fear and hardships they endured throughout their years of hiding through the Nazi reign. The experience of walking through the very rooms where they hid for years, reading quotes from her diary, listening and watching recordings from Otto Frank and the helpers who lived through the terrifying years and the world's most horrifying acts of prejudice and discrimination was a powerful and moving experience. All proceeds from the Anne Frank foundation go towards combating prejudice, discrimination and oppression and the museum is a great reminder to us all today to live and let live - the very thing the residents of Amsterdam residents do so well.

Amsterdam is probably most famous for the Red Light District loaded with prostitutes, coffee houses where pot is sold off a menu, sex shops and clubs and bars offering any wild fetish or theme you can imagine. Coming from conservative North America the red light district is a wild tourist attraction as prostitutes strut their stuff in street side windows and open their doors to interested men. When a price is agreed upon, the man enters, curtains are drawn for an hour or so before they reopen to take on the next customer. There certainly are many drunk and stoned hedonists types wandering the streets and alleys but the over all atmosphere of the Red Light District is a safe and busy one that is a must see for any visit to Amsterdam.

If you enjoy people watching Amsterdam is a place for you. Known worldwide for its tolerance and open mindedness Amsterdam attracts all types. Streets are filled with people and we have had our share of time hanging out on street side patios drinking the odd glass of Heineken or foamy cup of cappuccino. Enjoying a Sunday afternoon coffee on a quaint patio beside one of the canals we were treated to a unique impromptu busker show. Around the corner of the canal came an all black gothic looking boat with four strung out characters. Their boat looked as if it had been taken straight from a scene in a movie such as Mad Max (if they had boats) or WaterWorld and their toothless smiles, and glazed over harmless grins created an image not to be forgotten. As they stopped to perform a couple of songs for us a very upscale traditional canal boat comes by and ties up along side the 'rebel' boat. Out comes an accordion from one the boat guests and they join in a spontaneous jam session for us and the other café patrons. Ironically enough, this all took place directly under the "No Busking" sign but certainly no one was going to complain as these two canal boats entertained us on an Sunday afternoon. As they rapped up their little session a toothless busker shouts out "Only in Amsterdam does this kind of shit happen!" and then stumbles back into his chair as they cruise off in the canal to their next stop.

We really enjoyed our 3 days in Amsterdam and it was a great way to start our adventure. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words so we hope you enjoy the photos of our first destination.

Five Fun Things we Learned in Amsterdam:

1. A great way to avoid jet lag is to stay up partying until 3 AM on the first day you arrive after doing the overnight flight to Europe. When you go to bed, you sleep so well when you get up you are pretty much on track...aside from the potential of a slight hangover of course....or is that jetlag...

2. Eric's calf muscles have more than doubled in size. If you have been to Holland you know how tall the Dutch are. If you have spent time with Eric you know he has a bladder the size of a pea. Well, the Dutch mount their urinals on the wall to match the height of their men and poor Eric spent 3 days on his tip toes every time he goes to the washroom giving those calf muscles a good workout!

3. Amsterdam is a relatively quiet city with so few cars in the main canal area. Not only do you not have the vehicles but the sounds of big city horn honking is peacefully replaced with the polite 'ding...ding' from the thousands of cyclists on the streets. Make no mistake though and look twice when you are crossing the roads, as your odds of getting run over by a bike are much greater than a car!

4. Only in Amsterdam can you stumble home from a bar at 3AM and have an over whelming opportunity to buy pot, porn, booze, sex from hookers in the windows and any other taboo you might like...but have to search out to find somewhere to buy a bottle of water!

5. Asking for help with directions can be extra challenging with streets names like Vijzelstraat and Reguliersdwarsstraat - you have no clue on how to pronounce the names or understand them when the locals tells you where to go!!

Carl's 10 Travel Tips for Amsterdam

1. Stay at a quaint canal house hotel rather than a big international chain. Canal houses will offer travellers a much more uniquely Dutch experience with views of the canal and often a nice Dutch garden in the back and breakfast included giving you a more authentic experience.

2. If you enjoy nightlife, come prepared to party. Amsterdam is overflowing with clubs, pubs, discos and has something for everyone.

3. Come with an open mind. Amsterdam is one of the most tolerant cities in the world and as the old saying goes, 'It takes all types to make the world go around.' ...and pretty much all types are found here in Amsterdam.

4. Anne Frank House is a must see, to experience a piece of history and put you back in time to the house where Anne Frank, her family and friends hid for over 2 years from the Nazis before they were reported and most of the family led to their deaths. There are many other museums in Amsterdam too, but I personally found this one quite moving.

5. Pick a hotel that is centrally located and preferably in the Grachten Gordel (canal area) where the series of ring like canals form a hub around the city centre. This area is much more charming than staying in the museum area or by the train station.

6. If your hotel is in a good location and you like to walk or bike you can easily get around the majority of tourist attractions. Amsterdam also has a great transportation system that includes, buses, trams and canal rides and of course, bike rentals.

7. Look both ways before crossing the streets! Not only do you have to watch for cars and trams but the thousands of cyclists far outnumber the amount of vehicles and have their own traffic lanes you also have to be careful crossing. If you are in their way, you will hear the polite 'ring...ring' of the bike bells so much more peaceful and relaxing than the horns of New York!

8. Getting into Amsterdam from Schipol Airport is quite easy. Like many cities in Europe the train stops right at the airport and just make sure you get on the right track and train and for about 3 and half Euros you are taken to Amsterdam Central. From there you can take a cab, bus, tram or walk to your hotel if you are centrally located.

9. Most Dutch speak English. If you are leery about travelling to a country where you do not speak to the language you should not have to worry here in the Netherlands. An English speaking person is pretty much always close by.

10. Relax and soak in the atmosphere. Take time out to sit and watch the world go by from a canal side café. Amsterdam is a great place for people watching!


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