Ever been to Amsterdam? I hadn’t either until two of my children decided to show up in that city at the same time. One ended up there from Canada with his girlfriend and the other travelled with me by coach (12 hour trip) from London Victoria Coach station. That’s how I get to see my kids these days….ad hoc. And in various places. But Amsterdam was a highlight for me for many reasons. First because two of my children were there and it was a chance to visit a place I had known from books and films, other people who had visited and, of course, Anne Frank’s diary.
I had thought that travelling by coach with my daughter for 12 hours would give us a great opportunity to bond. She had been staying with me for most of January and was even here for my book launch. But, she is a restless soul and seemed to have lots of like-minded friends who love to travel or who live in London. These travellers were all converging on London over the time she was here, on their way to other climes. Needless to say she was occupied most of her time in London with friends. Dad just has a place for her to hang her hat. Not to worry. I had her captive for 12 hours on a coach.
We no sooner got on the coach than my daughter found a seat, took both of them because it wasn’t full, and fell asleep. I sat across the aisle and took up two seats myself. I contented myself with watching her for most of the journey, like I used to when she was little. Once in a while she would wake and ask for one of the treats I had bought for the journey or to ask me where we were. I can live with it. It prepared me for the next few days hanging around young people who have a far different agenda to my own.
We arrived in Amsterdam around 10pm, or a little before, the Euroline coach letting us off at its terminal near the Metro station Dulvendrecht which we rode to Zuid Amsterdam. I read all the unique station names along the route. My favourite was Henk Sneevlitweg. Sounds like a character from Lord of the Rings. From Zuid Amsterdam we caught a tram to a stop near to the hotel Bronckhorst on Bronckhorststaat where we were staying until the next day when we met up with my son and his girlfriend at an Air B&B in the east of Amsterdam on Conradstraat which is parallel to Czaar Peterstraat where you can get groceries at the Czar Peter Supermarket and headache pills from Czar Peter Chemist. Peter the Great may not have been amused.
We eventually found our hotel after walking for an hour in the freezing cold following my daughter’s directions. It was about 50 feet from where we got off the tram. We checked in some time around 11:30 and ordered a pizza….as you do. My daughter stayed up to Facebook with half the world. It was my introduction to a week in the world of youth. How soon we forget. The kids seemed indefatigable from about noon to 4am. The rest of the time they slept. Dad got up early to write and read. The kids bar hopped, went clubbing and spent time in cafes….yes, those cafes. The week became a weed fest. Not for dad. He gave that up before he even got started. Dad is mellow enough.
It was also my introduction to the whole idea of Air B&Bs. I had never heard of them before this. Stop gasping. Many of you hadn’t either (aren’t I optimistic that more than 2 people are going to read this?). The concept requires us to go online and look for places owned and rented out by the people who know how to make money. We stayed at the home of what we thought at first to be a famous Dutch jazz pianist, as his picture was on the cover of a Dutch magazine with the title ‘Man of the Year’ prominently displayed on the back of his front door. He also had a massive grand piano in his sitting area and a stack of jazz records on vinyl. Turns out he is a Dutch stand-up comedian. That, to be sure, must be the oxymoron of oxymorons. Old dad had to sleep on a mattress on the floor because his son and girlfriend slept in the big bed behind a screen. Times have changed.
Before my son arrived, my daughter and I left the hotel the next morning and went our separate ways for the day. I wanted to see the town and she wanted to find a cafe. Naturally. One thing you have to aware of in Amsterdam. Any establishment with the word cafe on its signage sells weed. Sure, coffee too, but who knows what’s in it? So, dad did the tourist thing, walking down Van Baerstraat to where a bunch of museums stand, including the real Van Gogh museum, not the huge one along Damrak heading to the central train station that has all the fake (copies) Van Goghs. From there I made my way through the antique shop streets, past huge churches and small boutiques and along canal straats, laid out so precisely in half circles from the main waterfront, joined here and there by shorter spurs. Quite precise and quite lovely. Very picturesque. I love being near water and this is the city to be in for just that. Miles of canals all with boats of varying sizes moving along or moored, frequent tour boats and grand old buildings lining each canal. Water everywhere.
But that isn’t what attracted my attention the most. I was not prepared for the onslaught of so many bicycles on the narrow streets. I’d heard that everyone cycles in Amsterdam, but I thought that’s just what people said, comparing it to other cities where the automobile rules the byways. What do I know? I spent a week being whistled at (not in the nice way) and yelled at, “Hey, hey!'” to get out-of-the-way when I forgot to walk on the part of the very narrow pavements meant for those of us on foot. The cyclists get the wider paths. With so many tourists in the centre, it takes skill to navigate the walking paths along the canals. And there’s no let up. Lines of cyclists pass every few seconds. If you have to cross a street, better take care and go while you can between bikes.
Bicycles everywhere….literaly everywhere, very old ones, some newer ones, tied to the railings across all the bridges with not a space left open, along the canal banks chained to anything fixed and especially the myriad steel bike racks set up just for that purpose. With all the people riding and the thousands tethered, I dread thinking what the streets would be like if everyone went riding at once. That actually would be a sight to see. When I got to the central train station, a huge bicycle parking lot held thousands of bikes presumably for commuters. Bike mad. Very little room for automobiles. The green way to go. Just don’t run me over or it’ll be the red way to go.
My son and I actually had a day to ourselves as the girls decided to cycle around the city….when in Rome and all that….but I wanted to walk. I’d be dangerous on a bike these days. We had a great father/son day. On our last night together, I decided if you can’t beat ’em….and we all walked to the local dead-end canal, drank a bottle of champagne and then ended at a local watering hole to drink some vodka concoction and play euchre on lovely old red leather sofas and chairs and chill before sleep. It was 2:30am before I crawled onto my mattress. The things we do for our kids. Thanks goodness it’s only once in a while.