Installment #2 from Our Man in Amsterdam, which would be me. (dR Daily will return in its regular form this weekend, only to go away again when I start dispatching from that other canal city in Italy.) Today was getting-the-lay-of-the-land day, with much walking and tramming and touring.
Boats. The weather was cool and gray, ideal conditions for a canal boat tour. The captain/tour guide in our low-slung glass-top boat seemed just a leeetle bit bored with the whole endeavor, but his sardonic undercuts to the multi-lingual taped narration were amusing, from his commentary on the town’s oldest prostitutes (78-year-old twins!) to his assessment of what the narration called “one of Amsterdam’s finest hotels,” the Heineken-owned De L’Europe. (“See that hotel? See how there’s no people around? You want to know why, go online and see the prices.”)
Buses, that is to say, Trams. I think what we were riding on today was BRT, the much-vaunted Bus Rapid Transit that Tampa Bay can’t seem to get its transportation-challenged head around. Whatever you call them, these were, compared to buses in the States, a Mercedes stretch limo as compared to a rickshaw. You walk up, tap the window, tap your transit card to the thingy by the door and you’re in. What’s that? Don’t have a card? Buy one from the nice representative sitting behind a rounded counter just inside the door. It’s like the bus has its own concierge. And the main transit hub, Centraal Station? It’s like International Plaza with buses. Gleaming, full of fancy shops and utterly efficient. Plus what is perhaps the chic-est visitors’ center in the world, like a Conran or an IKEA only with cooler stuff: coffeetable books, designer tchotchkes, all with clean lines and good graphics. And the I Amsterdam card, which will give us freebie admissions to multiple museums, a transit pass and a free canal tour (OK, we did that already, but the deal still seemed to be too good to pass up.)
Bikes. So many of them that there are two-wheeled traffic jams, especially when one of the drawbridges is up. The bikes speed along, too, at what would seem to be a death-defying rate, and no one wears helmets (including the father I saw today racing along with his young daughter on his shoulders). One would think there would be deaths, and many of them, but I’m reminded of what Fast Lane Travel’s Peter Sontag told us about speeding on Germany’s Autobahn; the drivers in Germany can go that fast because they know how to drive. It’s notoriously difficult to get a drivers’ license in Germany; I don’t know if the same level of restrictions applies in the Netherlands, but it does seem evident from observing these cyclists that they are very confident in their skills (and their ability to avoid spills).
Another day, another café (or cafés). My husband had the audacity (or the vermetelheid or, even better, the gedurfd) to order a Philly cheesteak in a restaurant called Cafe Zurich in the city of Amsterdam. (The sandwich was beautiful, although the beef, served in big chunks, was a little tough.) Again, our waiter had to bend down to serve us from a lofty height — and like our friend from yesterday, was anything but lofty in attitude. Tonight, at another wonderful little place called Bar Spek, the servers were not quite as tall but did live up to another Dutch stereotype — extreme blondness. That little Dutch boy on the paint can wasn’t an outlier; though the city puts the multi in cultural, it’s got the blonde thing cornered.