Friday, May 20, 2011

Zack in Amsterdam

10 degrees Celsius is 50 degrees Fahrenheit, a fact lost entirely upon me when I picked out my clothing to wear last night. Five months of a fairly standard 80 degrees has distorted my sense of temperature. I assumed Europe would be enjoying summer when late spring is more like it. I surely stick out like a sore thumb much more than usual with hiking boots, tan shorts and a worn tropical, button-up shirt.

First impressions, more English translations would help but people are friendly enough. I was quickly redirected to another platform by a kindly trash collector, barely catching the train to Amsterdam Centraal. For breakfast, I order something vaguely similar to a favorite of Coffee Cue, a chocolate waffle with banana, corresponding roughly to pancakes with Nutella, of which I am reminded of as it sits just behind the counter. With the exception of Hotel Le Galion in Lome, Togo, I had not had a really breakfast in months so it was rather top notch.

Also interesting, the area I am in just off Centraal station does not seem terribly busy for being in the middle of the morning commute although the train in was relatively empty as well. Of course, there are people on bicycle, plenty of them compared to what I am accustomed too. I would guess that this particular district has turned itself into a Disneyland of sorts, catering to tourists as I walked by a deserted casino and several shops selling unmentionables. It may be an indication of the tourist economy there or the Dutch work ethic.

Wandering further in the neighborhood, HotelScooter offered three hour bicycle rentals for 8.50€ so I explored the city that way. I rode up and down endless kilometers of canalside streets, past the Anne Frank House, and up still more narrow streets. Amsterdam has got to be one of the most friendly bicycle cities in the world as new streets are without dedicated bicycle lanes and drivers are rather kind to bikers. Pedestrians also provide a grudging respect. At some of the traffic lights, there are even lights similar to walk/don’t walk signs but with outlines of bicycles. Plus, I was in the company of a great many other cyclists which is a refreshing change from both Ghana and the US where that is rarer. While I was helmetless, no one really speeds as most of the bikes are not really made for it, leisurely paced rides are the name of the game. There were even specially built bikes with from compartments which can be used to house kids, dogs or both. I wonder if the occasional significant other must ride there too.

By the time I got to Dam Square, the rear tire gave out on me, giving me my 11th flat tire in as many months. Luckily, wheeling my bike back to the shop was not far as I had been much further than that. He gave me a new one and extra time if I so desired. I decided that my last stop on the new bike was Vondel Park, the Central Park or Boston Commons of Amsterdam. As Amsterdam is a rather elderly city, it was small but a refreshing change of pace compared to Amsterdam.

I had lox over sliced bread and a blueberry smoothie just across from Amsterdam Centraal Station. I wandered historical neighborhood and the Chinatown just nearby before climbing back on the train Schiphol airport. Unlike the US, the Dutch installed a train station below the floor of their terminal so it was easy to do. If anyone hopes that I smoked unmentionables or saw the unmentionables district, they will be sorely disappointed as neither terribly appealed. There were very few people smoking unmentionables and the unmentionables district had little appeal as well.

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