As a self-proclaimed expert in all things travel, I’ve taken the liberty of categorizing tourists into two distinct groups : Box checkers and Absorbers. Box checkers are busy. They visit 12 countries in 15 days, stop at every Rick Steves’ recommended tourist trap they can find and constantly harass the concierges with statements like, “we want to go where the locals eat.” Their primary objective is to put a completed stamp through every item on their bucket list including their hand-picked list of destinations without taking the time to actually experience what each place has to offer. This group has also been known to interject their travels into every conversation, think that a pair of Merrells and khaki socks will help them blend in and come home with an annoying habit of saying they had a great “holiday” instead of vacation.
The absorbers are the more laid back, enjoy the scenery, smell the roses type crowd. Their approach to travel is to soak in as much of a destination as possible; really trying to get a feel for every place they choose to visit. This, of course, is the group I more identify with and why I’m not spending a paragraph making fun of their quirks and habits! This trip took my wife and I to Amsterdam, the canal covered, leaning house, jewel of the Netherlands that should absolutely be on the destination list for box checkers and absorbers alike. It’s charming scenery and friendly atmosphere made it a great place to visit; even for pessimistic and overly sarcastic travelers like me!
Alright, let’s get the annoying part over with: No, we didn’t smoke weed nor did we solicit services from the “ladies of the night” while in Amsterdam. I know…weird, right? Who wouldn’t want to travel halfway across the world to use a drug that is readily available everywhere else on the planet and potentially contract a venereal disease. It’s a true shame that when you mention that you are traveling to or just returned from Amsterdam, the aforementioned activities are the first things asked about followed by a series of IQ lowering puns and chuckles. Much like the unsuspecting high school girl whose notoriety is sealed after just one back seat handy during the homecoming parade, Amsterdam suffers from a reputation that just never seems to go away. Even if the distinction is without merit (yeah right Nancy…you two were just “talking”), clearing that stink off and starting with a clean slate is a tough thing to do.
All that aside, Amsterdam exceeded our expectations on all fronts. Not that we had bad impressions going in, it’s just been my experience that this city is mostly a stopover on a long European itinerary and never a primary destination. The good impressions started at the airport (of course, I would mention that!). Schiphol Airport is an amazing facility. It’s basically a shopping mall, train depot, supermarket and corporate business park all rolled together with a few hundred planes flying in and out in the background. Even the taxis were impressive. We rolled into town in a brand new Tesla Model X driven by a well-dressed, an extremely efficient chauffeur. It actually makes me feel bad for the Dutch people who visit America only to be met by taxi fleet made up of beaten up, old Buicks and minivans that smell like cigarettes, body odor and bad decisions.
I’m not going to bore anyone with every tiny detail of our trip but we our plan was to explore, experience and see as much of the city as we could. We opted out of the over-crowded, mass produced tour boats and instead took a nighttime tour on a private cruiser operated by Leemstar. This was a great way to see Amsterdam while also learning a good amount of history from our very charming and knowledgeable captain, Arnout. Not only did he point out the various interest spots, he dove into the rich heritage of the city with little anecdotes we never would have picked up on our own. As much as I would have enjoyed being packed in to a glass-topped, floating oven with a hundred of our closest friends, going the route of a classy and very much more pretentious private tour is more my style!
Coming from a car-centric part of the world, I’ve always enjoyed the public transit options in Europe. Amsterdam was no stranger to this and have many to choose from. Buses, trams, trains and even an underground rail (which is hard to believe since the entire country is basically underwater). The trams were definitely our favorites. Think above-ground subways cars, hovering through the streets and completely ran on electricity. They were fast, efficient and you could count the seconds between one taking off and another one approaching. We learned quickly not to be in a hurry to catch the tram…sometimes they were actually sitting on top of each other.
The other transportation phenomenon in Amsterdam are bicycles. Oh my! Bikes were everywhere. They had dedicated lanes all throughout the city just for bikes (and mopeds) which were really where you had to pay the most attention when crossing the road. For the safety of everybody in this city, we didn’t even dare rent bikes and try to navigate around. Within the first five minutes I would have caused a massive pile up that would have ended in nothing less than an international incident. The bikes definitely ruled the road and cars would yield to them on demand. That is so much different than in America where we have an unwritten points-system for how many cyclists you can take out on your daily commute!
When we booked the trip, we were ignorant to many things. One, it was the spring holiday season including May Day (the EU’s version of Labor Day) and the week leading up to Liberation and Remembrance Days. These are times the country celebrates the end of WWII and pays homage to those who lost their lives. This was also the height of tulip season which we learned the Netherlands is the largest producer of tulips in the world. We therefore took a day trip to Keukenhof Gardens and were blown away the grounds. Over 7 million bulbs make up the garden and are arranged in very unique and and varying displays which seem to have no end. As beautiful as it was, I think I’ve had my fill of flowers for the next few years!
In conclusion, any chance you get to spend time in Amsterdam…take it and take it all in. History, beauty, good food (tosti’s are the perfect light lunch) and, yes, the ability to sin on multiple levels are all available in one amazing spot. A big thank you to all the great people who helped make this trip a success and we hope this is not the only time we’ll spend time in your city. Until we meet again!