Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rhine River Cruise Part 7 - Amsterdam

The last leg of our journey entailed packing our bags, boarding a bus, and taking an interminable ride to a conference hotel about an hour away from Amsterdam in the middle of fallow tulip fields.

We did see windmills, both modern and traditional, along the way.

After rushing to eat a buffet lunch (the do-it-yourself-espresso/cappuccino machine was a wonder to behold and produced some fine coffee), we got back on a different bus headed for Amsterdam. Upon arriving we immediately boarded a boat and took a canal tour which was extremely pleasurable and relaxing. Both the bay and canals held sights to satisfy. One of the most interesting and unbelievable structures turned out to be a 4 deck parking garage that was designed just for bicycles. And the place was packed! Bikes were heavily used in the city. In fact, Amsterdam had traffic lights just for bikes along with pedestrian cross walks. If you did not use a bike cross walk, you took your life in your hands. You could truly be run over!

We had about an hour to roam the city before meeting back for dinner. My husband and I headed for the pedestrian only shopping district. A bustling place with shops and green and brown coffee bars. The brown bars served coffee. The green bars (several bearing the name Grasshopper) did not serve coffee. We must have passed over a dozen green bars, many of which had open windows (with enough smoke to almost obtain a second hand high just from passing by). We also admired the gabled architecture of the city.

At the end of the shopping area we encountered a square replete with old, impressive brick buildings. In the middle of the square was a carnival with thrill rides and a haunted house. Definitely, a city of juxtapositions and incongruities. And, for me, fascinating.

After dinner was the obligatory tour of the red light district. This section of the city was bigger than I expected and contained numerous glass doors filled with “merchandise.” The lax and party-like atmosphere really reminded me of New Orleans.

The next day we boarded a plane for home. What an interesting and breathtaking trip. If I had the chance, I would visit each place again, but in depth. This cruise was only able to scratch the surface.

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