The International Writers Magazine:Euro Travel

What’s new in old Amsterdam?
Natalya Popova

"Welcome on board our flight back to Bournemouth"
BACK to Bournemouth? – surprised I looked around closely inspecting my fellow passengers. Does this mean the crew is confident that no one would leave Amsterdam for Bournemouth unless there is an absolute necessity to return home…?...

Pleasingly there were a few Dutch people around. Hope they were jumping with joy and singing with happiness when they bought their tickets to Bournemouth, just as I did when I got mine to Amsterdam.
Amsterdam! Everyone knows of the city? but…
How much do we know about it?
How different can it be from England, since Holland is situated just across the Channel?
How different can the Dutch, with their soft: "Got mor’ham" and passion for good cheese, be?
Loads to my astonishment.

First, to be precise, it’s Netherlands not Holland! Even though the world Holland it often used by even Dutch to denote the entire country. Holland is a central-western part of Netherlands divided between two provinces (North (Noord-Holand) and South (Zuid-Holand) and makes up roughly 13% of the area of the country. It is considered that the word Holland is derived from holt land ((wooded land) but we spotted no wooded areas around there)). We didn’t travel beyond the county so my reference to Holland here is politically correct. We (when I say "we" I mean my husband Richard and myself) visited Amsterdam and Leiden, and in 4 days did enough walking to worn out 2 pairs of shoes each. This made us to appreciate the idea of Dutch "clogs" and bicycling around.

Bicycles. I never been to China but it is, interestingly, one of the countries I would draw a parallel of similarity with Holland because of the extensive use of bicycles….

All ever imaginable types of bicycles … The numbers were unimaginable – stores of tightly packed bicycles at the major travel stations day time. Impressive. Bike lanes predominate (place being mainly flat helps) and bicycles take priority. They seem to appear from everywhere and move fast. Richard said that he was feeling safe from bicyclists only when standing on the tram lines or on a bike himself.

Japan may also be a country to draw another parallel with Holland. Why Japan? Because not only the Japanese love eating raw fish - so too do the Dutch. Raw herring (actually enzyme-cured) is a typical Dutch delicacy. It is sold from fish vans and very popular. Good break (Dutch KitKat really) when you need to relax and revive -you dip it in chopped onions and then lower it down your mouth holding the tail with your fingers. Just as simple as that. Very good for you. Very Dutch. Yes, integrating into the real Dutch life comes at a cost - forcing down (to wash off that fish) oh gosh, the local beer (hard way of life.) Strange, locals serve their white beer with lemon. To get a better feel of it you have to have plenty of it. To appreciate fully. To get the feel, you understand.

And there is much more in Amsterdam for an amateur traveler.
First museum on our way from the train station was Sex Museum. (and this is well before the Red light district). Though we gave it a miss.
Also there is a Marihuana museum.

Flower market sells starter packs of cannabis (penalties are stiff if to try to export). Open use of marihuana is arguable as it is one of the drugs to develop physical dependancy upon. Whatever Dutch argument for use is, I, however, wouldn’t want my son to stay here during his gap year in case he develops a strange passion for botanical studies (like growing cannabis). "Growing solutions" are widely presented across the city. Intellectual discussions around the subject probably do continue at local coffee shops. Warning here! Amsterdam coffee shops (not to be mistaken with English! which I honestly wasn’t aware about and learnt in a hard way) are in other words cannabis cafe’s.

P.S. In Amsterdam, coffee shop means a place where cannabis is openly sold and smoked. Though soft drugs have not been legalized in the Netherlands, it is tolerated when used discretely. Hard drugs are strictly prohibited. So please be careful not to get into one when looking for a quiet cup of coffee.

There are though many different kinds of "normal" cafes -where people eat and drink traditional foods. Good place suggested by many guide books is the Pancake Bakery House. It is famous for their, as you have probably guessed, delicious "best in the town" pancakes (crepes of a size of a good big diner plate which are flavored with syrup or international sweet or savory filling) and very Dutch Poffertjes (tea-spoon sized pancakes which are traditionally served warm with lots of powdered sugar sprinkled on top). The place is very Dutch, a bit cramped and smoky, and is easy to find. It is about a block away from the Anne Frank House and the Westerkerk. Alternatively choose a nice café by a canal.

Canals are everywhere. Amsterdam has about 90 islands, separated by 100 kilometres of canals and linked by about 400 stone bridges! Not a surprise the town is known as the "Venice of the North". Walks along the canals are very pleasant, no traffic and easy to navigate yourself. If lost just ask. Everyone speaks perfect English.

Why do they bother to speak Dutch at all? Many words are similar to English but with extra "A" like: Street is Straat, Central is Centraal. Some words can be guessed in a context. This is not a surprise -Dutch belongs to west wing of Germanis languages, the same language group as English. However, it is very different as the whole way of living. Lawrece Weiner’s little sculpture on a "straasse" says is all: "A translation from one language to another - Een vertaling van de ene taal naar de andere".

The short and long of it –a trip to Amsterdam is not only very affordable (from £1.49 per one-way ticket) but can be full of fun and adventures. Must see places, of course, are: the Van Gogh and Rembrandt museums (2006 is devoted to 400th birthday celebration of its famous son). Hotel and a car can booked on the internet or found on place as you go at the Tourist Information Centers "VVV" (but might be a bit more expensive if not booked in advance). Transport is very good, so nothing could stop one from traveling around Holland and even further into Europe! The airport shuttle bus and trains depart to/from Schiphol airport every half hour direct to Centraal Station….
..So back to Bournemouth.

Thank you Bournemouth Airport for being so close! With the new prefix "International" Bournemouth Airport brought us, country pumpkins, many good possibilities to become if not world but European travelers and to explore further. And it seems nothing can stop us from doing so - our Monday September the 11th flight to Amsterdam was completely full!

Nice to be back. Though the taxi driver broke the news that we didn’t miss anything with regard to the weather which was grey and rainy. Back to normal then….

© Natalya Popova October 11th>
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