Last weekend, my family and I went to Amsterdam, where we met up with relatives visiting from the US.
It always surprises me how quickly one can travel from one country to another. Sometimes, I feel like I haven’t really moved at all. One minute, I was at school, racing to finish my Flemish exam, the next I was running to catch the metro, then I was at the train station, and then, presto, I was alighting in Amsterdam.
Our first thought was : wow, this train station is filthy — not the best first impression. There was about a week of trash overflowing everywhere. We figured the workers must be on strike, or something, which we could forgive the Netherlands for, as it happens so often in Belgium. (And at least here the trash was inside. In Belgium, trash bags stay on the street, where crows and foxes can tear and pick through them at their leisure).
Despite the initial stench, we really had a lovely weekend. I had never been to Amsterdam, and it is a beautiful city. The canals, charming architecture, and ubiquitous bikes were exactly what I look for in a city.
The bikes, however, can be quite murderous. Once, I naïvely thought a bike would perhaps swerve a little to avoid me, as the street was crowded. As the biker loomed closer and closer, I realized he was not about to budge for the likes of a pedestrian. An important lesson learned. (In Amsterdam, they even have “limobikes”, which people peddle haphazardly while sipping champagne and making lots of noise).
On Saturday morning, we rode the tram to the Van Gogh museum. The endless line quickly dissuaded us, and we meandered into the Vondelpark (Vondel was a well-known 17th century writer, I later learned). Despite the glorious sunshine, the park was not-overcrowded, so we spent some time leisurely strolling — and enjoying the bikelessness!
In the afternoon, while the others napped, Pops, The Brother and I took the tram back to an American bookstore, where we also re-fueled with lovely chewy cookies (and some strange tea that none of us really liked).
After dinner, the whole family acted very spontaneously — which is hard with a group of ten people — : we just hopped on the first tram we saw, got off after a few stops, and chose a random place for dessert (ice cream, of course).
On Sunday, we all got up late and lounged over a lazy breakfast. Our hotel was right next to the train station, and from our seats, we could look out and spy on the people in the nearby train. (There wasn’t much to spy on, though. Our most interesting observation amounted to : “Oh look, the lady in the white sweater is reading a book”).
Despite the attractions of croissants and voyeurism, we actually did make it outside. We trooped onto a boat and toured around the canals, or grachten. There weren’t enough seats, so Mum and I sat on the steps up front, and got to hear all sorts of interesting stories from the captain.
This was really a pleasant, peaceful way to visit the city. Soon, however, we realised it had been almost two hours since we had eaten or drunk, so we hastily disembarked to remedy to that. The rest of the afternoon was spent in the same fashion, riding or walking around, or just sitting and drinking tea.
All in all, we had a wonderful time. It was great to be able to see the family again, and to do so in such a nice setting.