Flip Flops are Out… Clogs are IN!
Week 25 of 52
Aloha and goedemorgen! We arrived in Amsterdam safely after a 7-hour train ride from Basel, Switzerland, last Tuesday. As we stepped off the train at 10 pm our dear friend Frank was there to meet us; it was great to see a familiar and friendly face to help us with our luggage and get settled. He helped us get a taxi (and in traditional Dutch style he rode his bike!) to our new home. He gave us such a warm wonderful welcome; he armed us with loads of information that he had collected for us, showed us where to go shopping and told us not to make an important purchase without checking with him first! This is a guy who first and foremost wants to be sure we have a great experience while we are here.
How do we know this great guy? We met him two years ago through craigslist (Sharene’s answer to everything)! We traded our Maui condo for his Amsterdam condo, and over the past two years through the exchange we became friends. We are so grateful for his help and friendship; he even spent all day Friday showing us some of the famous windmills and took us to the cheese market in the little village of Alkmaar — a charming town that dates back, oh, about 750 years… another reminder that we are not in America anymore!
Among his many talents, Frank is also a tour guide for hire (complete with canal boat!) and authority on Netherlands history. If you come to Amsterdam and want a personal tour, he’s your guy! Let us know and we will put you in touch.
Why Amsterdam? It is one of Europe’s unique and most fascinating cities with beautiful canals and architecture, first-class museums and culture, and a very liberal approach to politics and civil matters. No need for a car; you can walk, ride your bike, or take public transportation everywhere, and who doesn’t love windmills and tulips and cheese? Yes, you can smoke pot and pay for sex and both are legal, but the main reason we wanted to spend three months in Amsterdam is that it offers two things other European cities do not: most people here speak English, and the Dutch are a very welcoming people. Unlike the French or Swiss (our dear Swiss friends and family excluded!), people in Amsterdam are happy to have you here and have no expectation that you should know how to speak Dutch. That’s a good thing… because it’s hard! A simple HOW ARE YOU is hoe gaat het met u. PLEASE is alstublieft. Another one we seem to need a lot is I’M SORRY: Het spijt me! (And how are you supposed to pronounce that?!)
Grocery shopping has been an interesting experience. We are thankful for fresh fruit and vegetables and pictures on boxes. We already bought lard when we thought it was butter. Yes, we know, there’s an APP for that… and we just downloaded it. As long as we set aside a couple of hours for grocery shopping we will be OK! Since Amsterdam entertains so many nationalities, you often see LNP on events, which means Language No Problem!
When it comes to paying for things, the Dutch have their own unique banking and payment system, so except for establishments that cater mostly to tourists, don’t bother bringing your VISA, MC or AMEX — they don’t accept them. We can’t set up a Dutch account in the time we’re here, so for us it’s mostly cash. That means we are daily customers of the local ATM; odd but we’ll get used to it. It’s really not too bad — we are old enough to remember when the only way to get money when traveling was by cashing a traveler’s check.
So, why Amsterdam? The city offers diversity at its best and a true melting pot of colorful, warm, friendly people who, like Frank, show their own version of aloha to outsiders, insiders, and just people like us who are passing through and want to learn another way of living.
Speaking of a different way of living, Holland was ahead of its time a few hundred years ago. Windmills were the state-of-the-art industrial parks of the 17th century, with over 700 in the Zaandijk area we visited. They produced paint, milled grain and wood, processed oil, and did much more using wind to turn the machinery. Some of the mills ground down rock to produce other needed minerals — guess you could call this the Silicon Valley of its day!
Once again heel erg bedankt (thank you very much) for coming along for the ride!
A hui hou and tot ziens!
Sharene and Harrison