The train ride here was confusing. Having to change trains in a foreign country where I understand none of the language is difficult to say the least. I’m here though, and that’s what matters. I am prepared for four days in the canal city of Amsterdam.
Let me tell you one important fact first off. This is the most chaotic city I have ever been in. The streets contain pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, buses, and trams all within two feet of each other. I am amazed that accidents are not more prevalent, and it seems like everything works in an odd harmony of commotion.
After becoming acquainted with the initial chaos of this city though, I am amazed by the sheer beauty of it. As I’m walking down the sidewalk the city greets me with quaint, brick buildings that include small shops as well as homes above them. This repetitive style of homes is broken up every so often by an ancient church or an enormous museum.
Spending some interesting time being lost I eventually find my way to this restaurant I was seeking. Called Maoz Falafel, it is praised as one of the ideal places to get a cheap, filling meal in Amsterdam. Skeptical about the purely vegetarian part, being a very happy carnivore myself, I still decide to try it. This is one of the best decisions I’ve made. The food is such a delicious medley of flavors that I do not want to end. The falafel is encased inside of a pita bread pocket and covered with lettuce. But that isn’t the best part. After getting your falafel you are given free reign of the salad bar in front of you. Cucumbers, carrot slices, pickles, coleslaw, and more are all for the taking to add to my pita pocket. After scarfing down my dinner I am thoroughly stuffed and it is getting late, so I start walking in the direction of my hostel.
The next morning after breakfast I decide to go out and do some “touristy” things. Immediately after stepping out of the hostel door I am greeted by a brutal cold wind and snow. No worries, I grew up in Minnesota, I can handle a little cold wind. Making my way by tram I try to picture the stress induced into the driver of one of these. Having to constantly watch out for little ant people zipping back and forth across the tracks. They sure have some skill.
I step off the tram and back into the cold with my gloves and hat back on. Soon I am standing in front of a door on a side street with a large gorilla in red overalls hanging from a pole next to me. As I walk into Mike’s Bike Tours I’m greeted by Mike, (who I later find out grew up in Saint Cloud, Minnesota), and chat with him for awhile because as it turns out I am the only person who showed up for the tour today. He calls the tour off and ends up giving me a discount on a bike rental for the day and tells me about some places to visit around the city. I thank him and than head out the door to explore.
It’s now after lunch time and I am getting hungry. I read about a fantastic and cheap place to get döners nearby, so that’s my next destination. This place is different than the döner shops in Germany. It seems to be family owned and very small. There is a wood fire oven in the corner that fills the store with the aroma of baking bread. I quickly place my order and find out that they bake the bread for you right there. As she lays dough into the oven I also notice that they use lamb instead of the beef or chicken in the other places. After receiving my meal and handing over 3€ I take a bite. Immediately I realize this is the most delicious döner I have ever had. I quickly devour it and then thank the proprietor and compliment her on the delicious food while wiping excess sauce from my lips.
After my meal I spend some time pedaling around the beautiful canals and bridges of the inner city. Once I finish taking some pictures I push off towards my hostel. By now it is easy for me to find my way back by using landmarks and buildings as a sort of bread crumb system. Once I arrive it is time for some warm up and I use this time to look for other places to see.
There is a small park nearby with what looks like a good amount of bike trails. On my way there I pedal past silent reminders of how important it is to lock up your bikes correctly here. Dissected corpses of bikes show up here and there chained to sign posts and bike racks. Lacking the proper chain routing the bikes have been stripped of their wheels, pedals, seats, and anything else that could be removed from the immovable frame. Bike thieves seem to be like vultures here.
Arriving at the park gives me a better sight to see. It is beautiful. There is a light dusting of snow giving the grass and trees around me a blanket of white. It is cold enough that the park is nearly empty. On the other side of the park is a rather large lake. There I stop and get off my bike to find a swan and two ducks wading around near the shore. Nearby I find a bit of a pumpkin and I am able to use that to lure them near the shore for a photo shoot. I can honestly say I have never been this close to a swan before. It’s rather exciting.
Now that it is getting dark I make my way back to the hostel, shed my jacket and other winter gear in my room, and find a comfortable chair in the bar downstairs to enjoy a pint of Bavaria beer with my book. There will be no more exploring for me in Amsterdam. Tomorrow I am getting on a train headed for Paris.