Well, our time in Amsterdam has come to a close and it’s time to go home. As I write this we are flying high somewhere over the Atlantic ocean on our way back to Toronto; this is providing me with the supreme luxury of about 7 hours in which to collect, organize and document my thoughts for closing out this blog. Time was the one thing there was just simply not enough of during this trip, so the next few hours will provide a near-bliss opportunity.
First of all, I want to say thank you very much to all of you who sent through their comments, compliments or “liked” the postings, be it in an email to either of us or via the WordPress comments/reply function. I am very flattered and grateful that so many people followed our humble little attempt at a blog and were interested enough to follow our daily experiences. I apologize to everyone for not getting back to you individually with my thanks for your comments, but this was only due to the constant battle with time or, more specifically, the lack of it.
A special shout-out to Miss Jackie for all her invaluable help in my grappling with the blogging beast that is WordPress. Knowing nothing about WordPress, I initially thought I had bitten off more than I could chew when I opened an account with the intent of photo-blogging this trip; WordPress was quite daunting to me at first.
On Keeping A Travel “Photo Blog”
This was my first attempt at keeping a public-access “blog” of any type while travelling. In all my years of travel, be it solo or with Vince, I’ve always kept a detailed daily journal of everything I/we have done during a trip. For a number of reasons, most of which I won’t go in to, it is very important to me that I do this. Years later, when I look back on any of my travel journals, they bring back that warm and fuzzy feeling (well, usually – depends on the destination).
This photo blog of our Amsterdam trip was a different mode of journalling for me this time out. As you can see, I kept the blog format to a (mostly) picture format as opposed to talking a lot about things we experienced. This was intentional for a few reasons:
- I am a photographer, not a wordsmith
- the perpetual lack of free time to journal – it’s faster and easier to post pictures than to write about your experiences
- the photo blog was a way for Vince and I to share our daily pictures on a broader scale, rather than doing a nightly email with attachments out to the various people who might be interested (or not) in what we had seen/done that day.
After completing my humble attempts at blogging this trip, I have developed a HUGE level of respect for those who travel blog/vlog professionally (a la YouTube, etc.). The level of dedication, enthusiasm, persistence, humour, patience and time that goes into a professional blog or vlog effort must be utterly astounding. As mentioned earlier, time was (and always will be) the thief when one travels anywhere in the world. After almost 12 hours of slogging through the daily pouring Amsterdam rain and returning to the hotel as two sodden messes with pounding feet, pounding heads, aching knees, grumpy, exhausted, frazzled and starving for a proper meal, the LAST thing on God’s green earth we felt like doing, or had the stamina to do, was to sit in front of the computer for another 2-3 hours trying to compose some daily thoughts. Again, this is one of the main reasons I mostly stuck to pictures in the blog. So much easier.
When I was a little boy growing up on our prairie farm in Alberta, we would have an occasional infestation of ants who would build a thriving anthill in the garden or an out-building. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of ants would congregate in a pile and work frantically to maintain their colony and existence in a mound of sand or dirt. The ants, of course, were a destructive force to foliage, vegetables and crops, so either Mom or Dad would pour a bottle of gasoline on top of the anthill to kill the little beasts. When the gasoline would hit the ants they would scurry madly and wildly over top of each other in a totally chaotic, wild, unpredictable fashion. It’s not pain-free being burned alive.
Central Amsterdam is one giant, out-of-control anthill that’s had gasoline dumped on it. Despite all our months of careful pre-trip research, hours of watching preparatory YouTube travel videos, reading guide books and following online discussions, we were NOT ready for the utter mayhem that greeted us when we arrived in the city, stepped out of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station and into the streets. There is no traffic organization, structure or right-of-way to anything or to anyone. We did not find the dedicated bike lanes we were told about. Instead the bikes compete with the pedestrians, cars – and in many places, trams – on streets which are just barely wide enough to allow a Smart car to pass. On many busy corners where there is tram traffic there are no street lights to control the flow of the trams, bikes and pedestrians, so you need to be extra cautious to get across the street without becoming a tram hood ornament.
The “sidewalks” (and I use this term very loosely) are extremely ragged and broken up, and almost always blocked by bollards, potted plants, chained-up bikes, maintenance/repair cones, caution tape or have huge holes in them or bricks missing from the surface. In many parts of the central city it is literally impossible for two people to walk beside each other, shoulder to shoulder; you must walk single-file. One is constantly forced to step off what passes for a “sidewalk” into the frenzy and chaos of the street. Vehicular – and *especially* bicycle traffic – is conducted at top speed, resulting in a melee not unlike the aforementioned anthill situation (see my “However…” notes about the cyclists, below). This is a terrifying and confusing situation when you come from the controlled, organized, grid-like structure found in most newer North American cities today. Amsterdam is an extremely old city which has grown organically over the years and the Netherlands is one of Europe’s most densely populated countries – you really feel those facts when you’re in central Amsterdam.
The Dutch people are absolutely wonderful and some of the nicest people on the planet, despite some of the old and false stereotypes out there. We fell totally in love with them.
Although they may at first seem stern or curt in their speech, it only seems that way compared to our innate Canadian politeness and “niceness”. Everywhere we went, the Dutch people treated us with extreme respect, were kind beyond measure, always had a smile and a pleasant thing to say, were cheerful and interested in us and were interesting people in general. Absolutely lovely, hard-working, accepting, ambitious people. They have a tolerance and live-and-let-live attitude that is unlike any in the world. Side-note: they love Canadians.
…there is a dichotomy here. Put an Amsterdammer behind a bike and it all changes. All hell breaks loose. Behind the handlebars of a bike these people go like proverbial bats out of hell. They are hyper-aggressive in the extreme and do not yield or slow down for anyone or anything. Their sole mission in life is to take you out, and they do this with a demonic gleam in their eye, a stony expression and nary a sideways glance. Dodging these psycho-killer cyclists – more than anything – added a major element of stress to this trip. Vince and I joke that it will take a couple of weeks to lose our “traffic paranoia” once we get home. We were in constant fear for life and limb. I think we’ve both developed some serious whiplash from looking all directions repeatedly before crossing the street.
Dutch is truly a mystifying language – so many i, j and k letters thrown together. It took me a day or two to get the “grachts” (canals) and the “straats” (streets) sorted out. Street names like “Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal”, “Haarlemmerhouttiunen” and “Stadhouderskade” do not easily roll off my little Anglo tongue. Vince fared far better than I with the language, as Dutch in several ways sometimes reads like a derivative of German (according to him), in which he has the basics.
And the FOOD!! Oh Lord, don’t get me started on the delicious Dutch cuisine – chocolate, sweet pancakes, rich coffees, breathtaking desserts, cheese, Stroopwafel, Bitterballen, Stamppot, Poffertjes… OK, now officially drooling…
Would I come back for another visit? Uuummmm… probably. A valuable lesson learned this trip, though – next time we would spend only a couple of days in Amsterdam and do a tour of the smaller Netherlands towns and villages. More beauty and less stress that way. During our trip, whenever anyone asked us how long we were staying in Amsterdam and we replied “10 days”, they looked at us like we had either gone mad or suddenly grown two heads. Apparently no one stays in the city for that length of time, the average stay in the city being two or three nights at the most. I now see why. Yes, it’s pretty intense but is equally beautiful, fascinating, unique, romantic and rewarding.
I always have mixed feelings when a trip draws to a close – I’m very sad to see it end (ah, the pleasure of stepping outside one’s life for 10-14 days) but it’s also wonderfully reassuring to get back home to the reality and solidity of the day-to-day: friends, family, pets, work, colleagues and life in Toronto.
All-in-all though, this was a great trip and we’d do it again in a heartbeat! There were the usual highs and lows (more highs than lows) which happen every time we travel, but in the end it was all (very) good.
Until next time….
Over & Out From Amsterdam,
MJ & VB