Friday, September 3, 2010

A day of firsts

Amsterdam does not wake up early it seems.  Even the cafe below our apartment, which only serves breakfast and lunch, opens at 8:30 a.m.  Imagine if Starbucks opened that late?  We slept so late in part because we did not hear traffic noise or bicyclists until after 7:30.  What a treat!

I cooked my first meal in Europe!  Fried eggs, bacon (which is round cut), toast, yogurt, juice, and coffee.  Actually, Doug made the coffee in the Philips Senseo.  We watched the canal come to life as we ate.

We planned for the day, which means that DH poured over the maps and highlighted a suggested route while I took pictures of our bedroom.  Isn't it cute?

Off we went on a convoluted route through a maze of interesting streets towards the famous Red Light District of Amsterdam.

Without warning, we sighted a scantily clad female standing provocatively in a window.  No doubt, we were there.  The Red Light District actually does have red lights which for some reason surprised me.  I was warned by a friend not to try to take pictures.  Rumor has it that you might have your camera taken and thrown into the canal.  I doubt if covers this sort of thing, so we decided not to take a chance.  I have no pictures to share with you.  Considering that we were walking through the area about 11 a.m., there were quite a few girls already at work - young to middle aged, ivory to ebony, slim to stout.  In the middle of this unique district sits the oldest building in Amsterdam, the 14th century Oude Kerk (Old Church).  You can literally stand at the entrance to the church and see the red lights and occupied windows.

Along the streets of the city
We settled in a cafe right outside the Red Light District for a cup of coffee before heading off to the bustling train station.  Doug researched the tram system while I watched for pickpockets.  We tried to find a tour to the windmills and dykes at the visitor's center, but the tour we wanted does not run on Saturday, our only day to explore somewhere outside the city.  The visitor center guide suggested that we just take a local bus to the Zaanse Schans, a nearby town with working windmills.

Letting our adventurous spirits guide us, we tackled the tram system and headed off towards the museum district.  It was raining softly as we exited the tram at The Van Gogh Museum.  Fortunately, the museum has a lovely cafeteria where we ate a "club sandwich" Dutch style - salmon, butter, capers, and thinly sliced cucumber.  Yummy!

The Van Gogh Museum has a security system that could rival any airport.  The museum has over 200 Van Goghs in its collection as well as works from other masters such as Monet, Renoir, Picasso.  We watched an informative short video on the life of Van Gogh then explored the four floors of the museum leisurely for several hours.  I had seen some of the paintings at the Los Angeles Museum of Art when they were on special exhibit, but seeing so many of his works in one collection was quite a thrill.  Occasionally, I would enter a gallery and gasp -- there's a Monet! there's a Pissarro!  a Renoir!

We walked "home" among Amsterdammers finishing up the work day and heading to their own homes.  The grocery store was mobbed with shoppers.  As we got closer to the apartment, we noticed the cafes and bars full of young people sipping after-work beers and visiting with friends.  At our favorite little cafe a block from the apartment (Cafe Wheels), we sipped our own cocktails (Bombay Sapphire on the rocks with a lemon) and asked the bartender about smoking laws.  The Netherlands adopted a no-smoking law in pubs and restaurants only two years ago - the 14th nation in Europe to do so.  If you sit at one of the outside tables, smoking is permitted.  Interestingly, he mentioned that Ireland was the first in Europe to adopt a no-smoking law!

View from our dining table
There are water taxis on the canals.  It is fun to watch people in business attire on their way home from work laughing and talking with others on these taxis.  Reminded me of taking the bus or the train home everyday with the same people and developing friendships.

Tomorrow, the Anne Frank House then more adventures on the streets of Amsterdam!

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