I Am sterdam…

2015-04-10 14.26.14              I am sterdam….

What a great ending for a lovely stay in The Netherlands. Gea and family are so gracious, open and receptive to a visitor. And Gea bravely acted as tour guide to the American Tourist. (Although I was complimented by a Netherlander that I spoke so much more softly than my compatriots.)

The Keukenhoff Gardens were a beautiful sight. And the weather progressively improved. I asked Gea to change the plans – we were going to walk a labyrinth that Thursday. Keukenhoff turned out to be the right choice as it’s only open from March to May. Flowers, you know.IMG_5403 2015-04-09 11.52.31 IMG_5427

Friday was my last day here in the Netherlands. And what a spectacular send off I had. Gea has friends visiting from the states and they were arriving late Saturday morning so I arranged to leave late on Friday from Amsterdam. We took the train to Amsertdam and Gea grabbed the train to Utrecht after seeing me off. So it worked well for us both.

Kids off to school, we walked to the local train station – 5 minutes away! I bought my ticket; we waited just a few minutes for the “local.” It took us from Rijen to Breda. You may recall that Gea came to Breda to pick me up last Tuesday. On my next visit, I get to be a big girl and take the commuter from Breda to Rijen. The train from Breda was an express to Rotterdam, the airport, and Amsterdam.

In no time at all, we were locking our bags up in the Bagage Locker and setting off for the bike rental.

Yup, she made me into a real Netherlander. There was a bike choice, but I opted for the “coaster brakes” bike. Hey. No worry. I grew up on coaster brakes.

Never again.

Next time, it’s a three speed with hand brakes. You don’t really need the gears, but I sure handle braking better with the hand brake. Too complicated (and boring) to describe, but trust me. I found it challenging.2015-04-10 14.38.332015-04-10 11.39.40

Yet I biked in Amsterdam. And not just in Amsterdam, but in rush hour traffic in Amsterdam! With scooters and motorcycles whizzing by, other bikes passing me, and big trucks and fast cars passing within inches. Yikes. But I did it. And it was fabulous. I am looking forward to doing it again (with the different bike!).

2015-04-10 12.04.12The architecture of Amsterdam is beautiful. I could see the burghers out strutting and bartering and supervising the unloading of cargo. We rode through the main square (where the kings and queens are crowned – or resign) and on to a delightful lunch by a canal. Not too difficult to be by a canal. Gea was the official bike locker-upper. Finding a place to lock the bike could be a challenge. There are SO MANY bikes and, in comparison, so little railing space. She was very resourceful.

Lunch was croquettes again. The Dutch national snack/meal. Meat mixed with a thick potatoey sauce, then fried. Shorter but thicker than a hot dog. 2015-04-10 12.08.51I remain successful in being an American incognito. Someone spoke to me in Dutch – expecting a response.

After lunch, we walked over to the RijksMuseum. It was closer than we both thought. They have recently remodeled this museum – to accolades, I have read. Gea was able to explain to me what it looked like before. The main courtyards are now covered, bright, light, and quiet for the number of people. With online ticket and museum pass (me, Gea) we got straight in. Our destination – The Vermeers and Rembrandt. 2015-04-10 13.21.24 HDRI believe I have seen the Vermeers before – traveling shows at the Met, the DeYoung or even Paris a few years ago. But no matter, Vermeer is always divine. I saw my first Vermeer when I was in college and visiting the Met one summer. I believe we determined that the girl with the Pearl Earring is in The Hague – Gea says: Next visit.

Then down the Hall of Honor to the Night Watch. I prefer the drawings and etchings to the paintings of Rembrandt. But this one is awesome – and I mean that as inspiring awe, not in the vernacular of a teenager. It’s huge. And what is more interesting is that it’s actually been reduced in size. When they moved it to another hall before it was in a museum – years ago – it was too wide. So they just cut a foot off on the right and maybe 2-3 feet on the left. To a Rembrandt. (LOL – not a person’s foot. A third of yard…)

We passed by three Van Gogh. There is a separate Van Gogh museum. Next trip.

Quick photo op at the “I am sterdam” art. And back to the bikes. Our next destination: Canal Cruise.

Having Gea as tour guide was fantastic. I didn’t have to worry about a thing, didn’t have to check a map. Just hopped on the bike and followed her. She dodged traffic for me too.

Canal cruise was to be expected. Relaxing. Beautiful scenery. Interesting stories.2015-04-10 15.27.53 2015-04-10 15.42.52

And back on the bikes to look for a place to have coffee/water and relax.

2015-04-10 15.40.45 HDRMost places were full – apparently others had this same idea.   As we wandered further a field (bikes were locked again), we found ourselves on the edge of the red light district. It wasn’t our intent but there were the windows with the curtains. Some open, some drawn closed. Gea said they negotiate a price through the window; when agreed, the girl opens the door, lets him in, and shuts the curtain. A tour guide for a bike tour was telling some tourists not to take their pictures. He said it might result in a fight – or they could get pushed into the canal. Sounded like the girls themselves, or maybe they had a … what? Pimp? Guard? I didn’t want to take pictures. I prefer not to consider the issues of legalized prostitution. Call me an ostrich.

After the girls, we came upon a delightful café in the courtyard of an old church. Gea was pleased with her latte and brownie, I with my sparkling water and carrot cake. It was in the shade – a pleasant change from the sun beaming down on us on the boat and bike. We took our time and then made it back to the locked bikes and set off for the bike rental store. 2015-04-10 17.33.33 This was the worst of the traffic – but by this time I was brave – no, no, the word is foolhardy. And like the horse on the way home to the barn, I just put my head down and pedaled.

Clearly, I made it without incident or you wouldn’t be reading this.

The train left at 1939 and it was 1745 so we had time to walk to the ferry and have a quick bite at a patio restaurant on the other side of the A. I just had a cheese plate, knowing I would have some dinner on the train. Gea had leek soap. 2015-04-10 13.41.05(BTW, did I mention the asparagus soup from Keukenhof? A Netherland treat – wax asparagus. And they have just come into season. Yes. Tasty.) Yes, that is a still life of asparagus!

And back on the ferry (free) to collect our bags and find the platform. Gea, sweetie that she is, stayed with me til my train came and waved me goodbye.

And I am going home now. Saying this with a wry smile – because it came out of my mouth naturally – Home to Paris!

I am riding the Thalys high speed train. In first class. That was a bit of a mix up. That’s what I am supposed to pick with my Senior Carte. But after I made the entire reservation, it turns out that the senior carte does not work on Thalys. At that point, I shrugged and said fine. In fact, there are some benefits of first class. A reserved seat, of course. Comfy-er seats, of course. Meal service. (Although this dinner was cold and not too tasty. Food on the way to the Netherlands was much better)). And now I find I can reserve a taxi for the arrival at Paris Nord. I took the metro when I left. But I am arriving just before midnight and have had a full day of activity and I don’t want to carry my bag up and down stairs. A taxi is just a fine idea.

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