Sunday, December 25, 2005

Amsterdam - Day Two

It’s been one day and I’m ready to move. After wandering around this morning, I began thinking about how many countries I could live in for one year before I die. In my imagination, the adventures, discoveries and new friends sound fantastic. From my perspective, it’s a perfect plan but, for some reason, Julie doesn’t think much of this idea when I try to discuss it with her. She said something about money, language, work, etc, etc, etc -- but I employed that ancient defensive skill inherant in men and went deaf at the critical moment.

We had a leisure morning and set out about 11:00 to buy a strippen card to ride the tram to the center of the city. The card cost 6 and one-half euros and contains 15 lines. Once we boarded the tram, we folded the card and inserted it into a slot that stamped the time on the card above the line on which we folded the card. The next time we use the card we’ll fold it to a new line and stamp it again until it’s full. The city is divided into three zones so the card is folded over to the number of zones that we’ll ride in plus one. In other words, the farther we go the more it costs because we use more of the fifteen lines. It’s basically an honor system but I read that personnel do spot check riders and have the power to fine them on the spot.

On the way to catch the tram we passed several small open-front shops selling cheese, meat, clothing and flowers. We bought two deep-fried pastries at a booth which was operated by a man and his son. The Dutch signs were close enough to English so that we could ask for what we wanted and pay for them. The young boy waited on us. He was about eleven years old and spoke some English. I was amused by his look of ‘huh?” when I asked a question but he recovered quickly and handled himself with confidence. Language hasn’t been a problem. Many signs are in English and many people can switch immediately to English.

We decided the first day would be an exploring day rather than planning any specific activities. We walked and wandered through a part of the city center. The architecture can keep me going for hours and miles – uh, make that kilometers. In the older part of the city, the canals and streets are U-shaped around a center so I found it easy to wander without getting lost.

The streets are paved with bricks and stone or concrete pavers. Streets can be divided into four zones – pedestrian ways, bicycle and moped/scooter lanes, autos lanes and electric tram lanes – often without barriers. Pedestrians dodge bicycles, autos and trams. Trams pass within a foot or two of people walking the narrow crowded streets. I like this atmosphere of self-responsibility where I’m expected to take care of myself and get out of the way. I must admit that it would be scary with children.

Buildings have a cantilevered beam at the top of a peaked façade that contains a hook or eye bolt. Many of the stairways are small and circular or spiral so the cantilevered hooks provide a way to lift furniture to the upper floors.

Finding a restroom is a challenge. There is an occasional cubicle on some streets that can be used. We chose McDonalds restaurants. At each one, a woman sat outside the restroom at a small table with a saucer. After placing 25 or 30 cents euro on the saucer, she permitted access to the restroom after a quick cleaning with a cloth. It’s a pay-as-you-go approach to sparking plumbing facilities.

Plumbing fixtures are entertaining. I know that sounds weird but it’s true. In the US we press a lever but not here. I heard Abby say that it’s best to try pushing, pulling and twisting any lever, button or knob until something happens. It was good advice. Some that I’ve encountered include a knob on the top center of the tank that must be pulled up, two buttons on the wall (big and little flush) and a rectangular area to be pushed on the top right of a tank. I have yet to see two that are the same. OK, so I’m easily entertained.

We saw seven police today. Julie didn’t think they looked very intimidating on their bicycles which were cruisers. They wore soft caps rather than helmets and didn’t appear to carry equipment such as guns, clubs or flashlights. We never saw a police car.

As we roamed the streets, Julie looked for a Christmas gift for Shaun. The clerks at the men’s store from which she made a purchase were friendly. I mean exceptionally friendly and courteous and professional. They could teach sales.

Bicycles! 550,000 functional bicycles. I don’t think I’ve seen a new or shiny bicycle. They appear to be old, well used, weathered, faded and tired. All are cruisers with broad seats, front and read fenders and a rear shelf to carry goods. It’s not uncommon to see a person sitting sideways on the rear. Some have windshields and a small – very small – child’s seat behind the handlebars. Some have two child seats on the rear. Abby said she has seen them with a small child’s seat up front and two on the rear – a family bicycle. Some have extended front ends with large covered boxes that can carry several bags of groceries. Many of the bicycles have large weather proof saddle bags. I’m fascinated with these bicycles because they’re functional, non-polluting, sustainable and healthy. There are traffic lights for bicycles mounted in poles about four feet above the ground. Also, bicycles are equipped with bells. Very quickly, I learned a ringing bell means “get the heck out of the bicycle lane.”

I’ve seen few, very few, overweight people. I assume walking and bicycling contribute to the slimmer population. Another explanation is probably related to serving sizes in restaurants.

Julie has a small backpack that she often wears. Today she packed fruit, crackers and water. We bought cheese and stopped in a coffee shop for a mid-afternoon break. We ordered coffee and tea which was available in two sizes. The clerk held up a cup and asked “this size?” and I said yes – thinking it was a small. As I paid for our purchases I realized it was a large which was smaller than a small in the US. Perfect! Now, I’m curious to go to a McDonald’s. How big are the servings? Do they offer to “super size”?

We bought the cheese at a booth in a street that tugged at my imagination. Think of a centuries old, curved street lined with booths and tents selling food, clothing – everything. The history this street has seen is amazing. Now, it’s filled with two rows of booths selling CDs, DVDs, socks, food, kitchen gadgets and lingerie! As I looked at the incongruity between te building and items for sale, I began to wonder what other time-warped oddities the street must have seen over the centuries.

Shaun spent the day at home in order to complete some school work and received our delayed luggage which was delivered about 2 PM. We checked into our hotel late in the afternoon and met Shaun, Gregory (a philosophy student from Philadelphia) and Paul (a philosophy student from Hong Kong) at a theater about a mile from the hotel. The theater began with 15 minutes of commercials followed by 5 minutes of previews and finally the feature – Narnia. I was intrigued by the commercials. Some were in Dutch and some were in English. As I reflected on it, I realized it caught my attention because the theater in Flagstaff has a slide presentation of commercials rather than videos. These commercials were similar to TV commercials.

After the movie we went to an Indian restaurant and had a late, leisurely meal which we didn’t finish until about 11:30 PM. I remembered to order water properly – without gas. Yesterday, at the Greek restaurant, the carbonated water surprised me. “Water, please – without gas!”

At midnight, as we walked back to the hotel, we saw several people walking or riding bicycles – including several women alone. I wonder about the crime rate and will have to research it.

That was day two – another perfect day.

Now, the task at hand is to convince Julie that we can live in Europe for a year or two – after we finish building a straw-bale house and hiking the 800 miles of the Arizona trail and doing a few other things on our list of goals. Hmmm? Maybe we need to re-prioritize that list.

I'm posting some photos in my gallery but don't want to take the time to insert links in the text above. Too much to see and do. I plan on updating the gallery as often as possible. Cloudy skys made photography difficult so there aren't many photos or any good photos yet.


Blogger Round Belly said...

thank you for the picture links- absolutly fasinating

12/25/2005 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Pendragon said...

Thank you for giving me a nice little escape from Fortress Walmart. It's nice to hear a report from a different place without the usual warnings of how the populace is out to get us or are backwards. Keep it coming, I really am enjoying this! And Merry Christmas!

12/26/2005 05:22:00 AM  
Blogger Gaye said...

It's amazing while visiting new places how we take the time to notice the smallest of things... maybe we should carry this ability to our everyday lives.

No overweight people--my nephew lived in Germany for awhile studying abroad; he said you could always tell which people were Americans--they were the overweight ones... interesting??

12/26/2005 07:08:00 AM  
Blogger Bonita said...

Looks like you are having a wonderful trip, and thanks for the photos - I love the houseboats on the canal. (And, in spite of overcast days, your photos are crisp and great).

12/26/2005 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Matthew May said...

Thanks for the photos.. sometimes the small things are the best things.

Thanks for the great post Paul :)

12/26/2005 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Dale said...

Great pics, Paul. Thanks!

12/26/2005 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

interesting to see Julie in the photo.

12/26/2005 03:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh!!! First of all I never knew my brother was such a good writer. Secondly, I think it would be GREAT if you moved to Europe for a year. We'd love to come visit. Glad to hear you're having such a great time!

Your baby sister!

12/26/2005 04:30:00 PM  

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