We arrive in Amsterdam in the early morning.  As soon as we clear Customs, we head for the train station (conveniently located in the airport) and buy a ticket.  The agent tells us we have three minutes to catch the train, and we'd better hurry because there's about to be a strike and there may not be another train all day.  We make it with a minute to spare.

We've arranged to rent an apartment.  We arrive before the homeowner goes to work, so we're able to drop off our bags and do some early sightseeing before succumbing to jet lag.apt1.jpg (119685 bytes)  apt2.jpg (123022 bytes)

Our apartment aptfrontJC.jpg (122082 bytes)    is located near central Amsterdam, within a hundred meters or so of a metro stop and bus and trolley stops.  It's not fancy, but it's clean and cheap.  If it wasn't in the attic aptfront.jpg (160828 bytes)at the top of 77 steep, winding stairs  stairs.jpg (120709 bytes), it would be perfect.  

Because the Dutch tax houses based on their width, houses are generally very narrow and very tall.  Since it is virtually impossible to move furniture up the stairs, all houses are equipped with easily removable windows and a hook and hoist system at the upper eave.  Our place was a bit unusual since instead of an external fixed hook and beam, the beam could be extended out through the window as needed.  ceiling1.jpg (61845 bytes)  beam1.jpg (78231 bytes) Some houses are angled out to reduce the chance of furniture crashing into the front of the house during moves.

After a quick freshen-up, we take to the streets to see the city.  stevestreet1.jpg (123767 bytes)  streetscene1.jpg (97925 bytes)  We find that it's not hard to find yourself in interesting spots, like stumbling onto a photo shoot, photoshoot2.jpg (144389 bytes)  photoshoot2.jpg (144389 bytes) or finding the red light district.  

Sex, Drugs, and the Dutch

The Dutch attitude toward life "If you wish..." is most apparent in their attitudes towards sex and "soft" drugs.  Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands.  The most common sign of prostitution is in the various red light districts.  The women work out of small rooms with full length windows.  If she is in the window, she's available.  If the curtain is closed, come back later.  redlight.jpg (101296 bytes)  The prostitutes are licensed, must undergo periodic health testing and pay taxes (many of them don't like the tax part and would prefer to work illegally).

In addition to running the Jerry Springer show with Dutch subtitles, the local Fox station runs soft-core pornography after 10 pm.  Talk about a surprise when you're flipping channels looking for CNN!

Amsterdam leads the country in the number of "Coffee Shops" per square kilometer.  Here you can get a cup of cappuccino, check your email on the complementary computers, and select from a menu of several types of marijuana or hashish.  There are no penalties for possession of up to 5 grams of either drug, but penalties for trafficking are severe, which leads to the big paradox of the Dutch approach to drugs - shops can sell small quantities, but where do they buy their stock, since trafficking is illegal?  There are also shops that sell seeds and growing supplies, though it is illegal to grow your own unless you are a licensed breeder - another paradox.

Though the Dutch system would never make it here in the states, it does make you wonder if we're doing the right thing with our wars on drugs.

Our days in Amsterdam are primarily focused on getting ready for the bike tour and dealing with jet lag.  We're not museum people, so we passed on the major museums and the Anne Frank house, but figure we'll see them on the next trip.  

Because Indonesia was once a Dutch colony, you will find Indonesian restaurants on almost every street.  The signature dish is called "Rijsttafel" or "Rice Table" You get a couple of bowls of rice (steamed and coconut) and up to 20 small tastes of dishes ranging from sweet and cooling to burst into sweat hot (hotter than anything I've ever eaten - and that says a lot).  Be adventurous and give rijsttafel a try.

After a day or so in Amsterdam, we had a craving for Mexican food, so against Jayne's better judgment, we gave one place a try.  mexfood.jpg (126658 bytes)  We've had this craving in other parts of the world and have discovered some truly amazing interpretations of "Mexican" food.  (Such as the margaritas in Melbourne made with lemon juice.  The owner/chef explained, in his sunny Pakistani accent that limes were just too expensive.)  Surprisingly, this place wasn't that bad, though they didn't have chips and salsa.

Harbor1.jpg (96651 bytes)  Harbor - green building is a museumlizardpark.jpg (167905 bytes) We could never figure out the significance of the statues in this green space we dubbed "Lizard Park" microcar.jpg (107608 bytes)   Though not the smallest car in Holland, this Swatch model is the smallest that's fully street-legal.  There is one car type that has a moped engine that can be driven on the bike paths.

By Saturday, we've seen most of the town, and are ready to bike.