Last Stop: Amsterdam… and now HOME!

It’s hard to believe our trip is over!  In a way it seems like a long time ago that we left, but in other ways, it flew by.  Now we’re back, and still a little jet-lagged, but I want to do a last post to capture our experiences in Amsterdam, and wrap up some feelings about our trip.

Wednesday, October 29 was the first of our two full days in Amsterdam.  Our hotel was near the airport, to make it easier to catch our flight on the last day, but that made for more of a journey into the center of the city for sightseeing.  We boarded a city bus and bought what I thought were transit passes for the day, and rode in to Amsterdam.  Side note:  We found Amsterdam to be the most expensive city on our trip.  Transportation, food, everything just seemed to cost more than the other places we had been.

The city has tons of museums, but I had read about one that really caught my interest – The Museum of Handbags and Purses.  You won’t be surprised to know that Dave wasn’t as interested as I was, so he sat outside on a bench next to a canal and waited for me, taking pictures of things that caught his eye:

Canal tour boat. We took one like this the next day. See the guy standing in the doorway behind the boat? See next photo:
Doorman at the Waldorf Astoria, across the canal from where Dave was sitting. He was there the next day too, when we went on the canal tour. Nice outfit!

I loved the Handbag Museum, and recommend it, but I think I only saw one man the entire time I was in there.  They don’t allow photos in the exhibits, but there was one bag on display in the restroom stall:

At the Handbag Museum, in the restroom stall. This one was relatively plain. There were others far more beautiful that I couldn’t photograph
Stained glass window on the ceiling of the Handbag Museum. Look closely and you’ll see that there are purses in the design.

I also wanted to see the Van Gogh Museum, but the line was super long and I wasn’t willing to spend the time waiting.  We walked around and took in the sights instead.  Amsterdam had many streets with light fixtures or “chandeliers” hanging down, that were especially pretty after dark:

One of the streets with “light fixtures.” I think these are up all year, not just a holiday thing.
More street hanging lights. They are lit up during the day, but look even prettier at night.

Canal at twilight

When it was time to head back to our hotel, we tried to hop on a tram (like MAX), but found out that our “passes” were only good on the bus, and specifically, the bus company we bought them from.  So we commenced to try to find a bus stop for #197, the only route that went back where we needed to go, and this took about an hour (not counting the actual ride once we found a bus).  Another strike against Amsterdam and very frustrating for us.

On Thursday, we decided to take a train, instead of a bus, to the city center.  That worked pretty well, and was faster and only cost a little more.

We took a canal cruise, which was a relaxing and enjoyable way to see the city from a different angle.  We passed many houseboats (most of them were actual boats converted into living quarters) with plants and gardens on them, and went under very low bridges that boats can just barely squeeze under.  Homes and businesses lined the canals, built narrow and touching each other, with many different architectural styles.  In the harbor were big freighters, cruise ships, and ferries.  It was kind of a gray, chilly day, so we rode inside.  I apologize that the photos aren’t very good, taken through the window:

A typical scene from the canal boat — buildings with no space between them, many different architectural styles
Bicycles parked on bridges (and everywhere else)
Boat-turned-house, a floating home on canal

Bicycles are just EVERYWHERE — parked along every street curb, on bridges, and right on sidewalks.  People were riding on every street; you have to watch out more for bikes than cars when you cross.

After the canal cruise we walked to the Anne Frank House Museum.  I was so glad I had pre-purchased a timed-entry admission and lecture in English before we left home.  The line for this museum was around-the-corner-and-down-the-block LONG!  But we just walked right in.  The lecturer emphasized that while Anne’s story was documented, and she has become a symbol of Holocaust victims, Anne was just one of millions of people, including over 1.5 million children, who were murdered by the Nazis.  The whole museum experience was very somber, and almost all the visitors were silent as they made their way through the exhibits.  We took our time in reading and viewing everything, and we were there for over an hour and a half.  No photos were allowed in the museum part, but there were some displays in the lecture room that we could photograph.

Tree in the courtyard behind the Anne Frank House. The lecturer explained that there was one small window in the attic of the house, from which Anne could look out and see sky and tree tops, when she longed to go outside and this was the closest thing she had to being able to do that.
Vignette of items from Anne Frank House. The plaid book on the right looked like the real diary, which was on display elsewhere in the museum

When we left the Anne Frank House it was twilight and we walked along canals to the train station to return to our hotel.  At this time of evening it was beautiful, and I was able to see why many visitors find Amsterdam charming.  For us, however, we felt it was our least favorite city, but maybe this was because it was at the end of the trip and we were just plain tired.  As I alluded to earlier, the public transportation there was hard to figure out.  After six other countries, you’d think we would have been getting better at figuring it out, but it just seemed more difficult in Amsterdam.  The street names all seemed to have about 14 letters, and after a while they all looked alike!

In not one city that we visited, Amsterdam or any others, did we find numbered or alphabetic street names.  We appreciate that about Portland – it is logically laid out in NE, NW, SE, SW, with numbered streets and some areas are alphabetic.  Plus, most are parallel streets at right angles, versus so many old European towns with diagonal streets, or areas radiating out in curves.  Granted, some like Amsterdam and Venice are made up of canals and multiple islands, so I’ll give them a break on that, because it does add to their charm.

A few other thoughts, looking back on the trip (and for others who may do something similar):  I was glad I took:

  • A lightweight nylon drawstring backpack. I carried it in my purse most mornings, when it was chilly and we wore our coats, then as the day warmed up we stuffed them in the backpack and didn’t have to carry them.
  • I rolled a long strip of blue painter’s tape on a short pencil. We used the tape to secure our electrical adapters to the wall, because they didn’t fit securely and the weight of the cord would unplug them.
  • Stretchy yoga pants for travel days. When you have to sit through a 10-hour flight or an 8-hour train ride, it’s much more comfortable in stretchy pants.
  • Our Fitbit pedometers. It was interesting to see how many steps and flights of stairs we took each day.  Our highest day for steps was 28,252 on the day in Paris that we walked from Notre Dame to the apartment, and the most flights of stairs was 72 on the day we climbed up to Marksburg Castle in Germany.

Things I didn’t use and should not have taken:

  • Dress slacks for me. Took one pair and never wore them.  I also didn’t take a dress or skirt.  Everywhere we went was pretty casual, and I just wore jeans and never felt underdressed.
  • Dave and I each took a paperback book, and didn’t read them!

Timing of the trip:  We had remarkably good weather for it being October!  It was a great month for travel.  Some things were still pretty crowded, but I can’t imagine how much worse the lines and crowds would be in the summer months, not to mention the heat and humidity.  We were prepared for rain and cold, and feel like we really lucked out in not getting much of either!

Style of travel:  Several times when we faced some transportation issues or other hassles, I thought about how much easier it would be to take a tour or cruise, where everything is planned for you and all you have to do is show up.  However, I don’t regret doing the trip the way we did, planning some things in advance, but mostly just going it on our own, figuring things out as we went, and having the freedom and independence to go where we wanted on a day-to-day basis.  I’m sure we saved money doing it this way, and it suited our style more.

Now that we are home, some things I am finding that I appreciate more are:

  • My big washer and dryer, that don’t require coins
  • Not having to hunt for restrooms. Really, what’s up with that?  It was so hard to find bathrooms everywhere, and most of the time once you found them, you had to pay anywhere from 20 cents to one Euro to use it!

Most of all, I appreciate the beauty of where we live.  Sure we went to some places with gorgeous scenery, ancient buildings, amazing artwork, etc.  But Friday evening we were driving towards Hillsboro, coming home from having a late lunch (it was actually dinner for Dave and I) with Thomas, Stephen, and Saori, and we drove out of pouring rain and into a bright sun breaking through huge clouds and an enormous rainbow appeared, making me realize how beautiful and green it is right here.  There’s nothing like being away to make you appreciate home.

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