By Jim Hunt
Our arrival at the Amsterdam Central train station was a relaxing end to a pleasant three-and-a-half-hour train ride. We gathered our luggage and headed out to find a cab to our hotel. One difference from Paris was the unbelievable number of bikes at the station and on our ride to the hotel. Amsterdam is second to Copenhagen, Denmark for most bikes per capita and over half of all city journeys are done by bike. The city has wide bike paths, and it is not uncommon to see dozens of bikes coming at you as you wait at an intersection. You see young kids riding in small carts behind their parents and elderly people riding with bags of groceries in large baskets on the front of the bikes. It is estimated that while the population of Amsterdam is around 800,000, there are more than 1.2 million bikes. And that is not to mention the thousands of electric scooters that buzz around the city.
Our hotel was called the NH Amsterdam Centre and it was a very nice hotel located in the heart of the city. After storing our luggage at the hotel, we headed out to our wine and cheese cruise on the canals. The take-off point was located in front of the famous Anne Frank House and we took pictures in front of the Anne Frank statue and the door to the house. The cruise was on a thirty-person boat, with a captain and a young Italian girl named Sara who took care of the drinks and cheese.
I would recommend taking a cruise to get to see a lot of the city in a fairly short time. Sara told some stories about the founding of Amsterdam and why it was such an important city. The spice trade was the key economic factor that brought wealth to the city, and it was said that many types of spice were worth more than an equal weight of gold. And because Amsterdam was susceptible to flooding, the houses had hooks protruding from the top of the buildings to hoist up the spice to the top floors for storage.
Our fellow passengers on the cruise were a mixture of people from throughout the world. Sitting across from us were four young guys from the Philadelphia area who were celebrating a bachelor party. They were in a good mood and drank their share of wine, right up to the end of the cruise. Sara explained that in the old days, the canals were often very smelly and polluted. As public sewage treatment came into favor, the tourists flocked to the scenic waterways and Amsterdam became a favorite vacation spot for people from throughout the world. She also said that most residents had small gardens in the back of their homes.
Some of the houses along the canal are leaning in different directions and it is quite noticeable to the naked eye. Sara explained that much of the city is built on wooden pilings and after many years, the wood rots and the houses lean. When they get too bad, they are demolished but many people put up with the off-kilter houses.
Amsterdam is a very walkable city and we enjoyed walking along the cobblestone streets and keeping an eye out for bicycles. There are hundreds of shops and restaurants, and we enjoyed some delicious meals. Our granddaughter Avery ordered some French Toast at a small café and it was one of her favorite meals on the trip. The city is very safe and easy to get around and the weather was in the mid-60s, which made it even more enjoyable.