I’m sometimes asked, ‘what’s your favorite European city?’. It’s a question I always have a little trouble answering. I’ve written in this blog about our adventures in places like Paris, London, Rome, Budapest, and many others. Which was my favorite? It’s a tie.
But I think I can answer this question: Where did you have the most fun? Used to be Dublin. But after visiting for five days last month, there’s a new leader in the clubhouse: Amsterdam. Here’s a look at a little of what we did.
Enjoy biking? If so, you’ve come to the right place. Did you know that there are an estimated 900,000 bikes in Amsterdam, and only 800,000 people. That’s right, every eighth person owns two bikes. I figure its even more than that. Look at all these bikes!
Some of the bikes are designed for multiple (small) passengers.
There are so many bikes and bikers that the bike way network is every bit as omnipresent as the vehicle network. Sadly, some bikers display much of the same behavior as their motoring brethren. Take a close look at what this guy is doing! He’s taking distracted driving to a whole ‘nuther level!
We rented bikes and went on a long bike ride ourselves, from Amsterdam out to a place called Marken Island, home to an awesome wooden shoemaker named Bart, whom we saw in action. An interesting topographical feature of the ride was that several kilometers was along a dike, a system built all across the Netherlands over the last millennium that serves multiple purposes. First, it prevents floods since fully 50% of the nation’s land area is a meter or less above sea level. The dikes also allow the reclaimation of land for agricultural purposes. The Netherlands ranks second only to the U.S. in the value of agricultural exports – lots of tomatoes, chilis, cucumbers, and flowers, of course. This field would be underwater if not for the dike we were riding along.
We were there at the wrong time of year to see much in the way of crops, but we did encounter these guys.
So everyone likes the bikes and dikes. What else does Amsterdam have going on, you might be asking yourself. So here’s another great idea: Walk the canals. Amsterdam is built within a series of 8 or 9 semicircular canals. Here’s what they look like.
Or better yet, take a “candlelight” canal boatride, like we did. The tour features an up close view of the city at sundown from the canals, a selection of great cheese, and all the halfway-decent wine you care to drink. I still managed to take a couple nice photos, including this one.
I enjoy a good museum as much as the next guy, and so we took in two great ones during our visit. (This would have happened even if it hadn’t rained those days.) First, you can’t very well spend time in Amsterdam without visiting the Van Gogh Museum (and be sure to pronounce it “Van Gogg” if you want to blend in with the Europeans). Here is a very famous picture he called ‘Sunflowers’ or something similar painted by Vincent in 1888, before succumbing to mental illness, getting in an argument about God-knows-what with his roommate Paul Gaugin, cutting off his own ear, and ultimately committing suicide in 1890.
We also spent four hours in the Rijksmuseum, the Dutch national museum. It’s awesome. Didn’t take any pictures there, though.
And one more of the best things about the Netherlands: friendly people. I had some time to wander the streets, taking in the vibe and the distinct aroma of the city. I made a few new friends, including these folks.
Move over, Dublin!