We arrived yesterday morning at 5am having been awake all night, boy were we tired. Luckily our hotel room was ready and no sooner did we enter the room we all fell asleep on the bed for a few hours! We emerged again at 1pm- looking for coffee and breakfast, while most people were looking for lunch. It was cold and rainy, still first thing we noticed were the daffodils everywhere....and green grass yeah! Goal one accomplished! And the second thing we noticed were the bicycles.......bicycles everywhere. Moms riding around with two or more children in tow. The bike seats are as simple as they come no fancy 5-harness systems! We walked around in the rain looking for a coffee shop. It was a little trickier than I expected as most of the "coffee shops" are for 18 and over. Well we found one and had a yummy though suprising lunch. I ordered a bagette sandwich with homemade, olive paste and gorgonzola. I read assumed it was a typo homemade olive paste etc. I am still not sure what "homemade" is raw beef? smoked beef?, ham? smoked salmon? other fish? My mystery meal was however really good!
We returned to the hotel for more layers Brrrrr! and decided that the best way to get familiar with the town was going on a canal tour. There are canals everywhere! More canals than roads, and a total of 2500 houseboats with running water and electricity. Most are pretty old, some even have gardens on the roof. The tour was great- of course it did not help with getting familiar with city. We saw so many different bridges...some brick, some wood and some metal. We followed the tour with dinner and a short walk. We were hoping for an early night but JET LAG kicked in especially the little person with us she wiggled and tossed around the bed for hours and hours and did not fall asleep until 3:30 am. As a result we did not wake up until 10am.
Breakfast was a fancy hotel buffet. Zoes favorite were the mini pancakeswith fake syrup! and a donught with lots of yellow frosting. The Dutch are BIG into waffles and donughts with frosting-pink,yellow, brown, stripes- they make one particular little girls eyes twinkle with excitement!
Todays plan was the Artis Zoo by getting there by canal boat! The name of the Zoo was "Artis" which means Nature as a teacher of Art" Zoe's favorite animals were the zebra, wallabies, elephants and giraffes! There were even a couple of Argentinean anteaters. Pretty cool. I had never seen one before. Funny to see raccoons at a zoo! They seem so exotic over here!
There were so many statues everywhere and Zoe wanted a photo taken with everyone! I think she took an assignment from her teacher Kate O'Shea very seriously! We walked and walked and had a good time. I am not usually a fan of Zoos but this city Zoo seemed small and sweet. It was Zoe's first Zoo experience. We had so much fun that we missed the last showing at the planatarium! I promised Z a trip to a planetarium when we return. She is pretty excited about that.We returned back to the hotel by canal boat.
By today the third morning in Amsterdam we were beginning to get the lay of the city. Imagine everywhere you turn either a bus, tram, car, van, bicycle, or herd of pedestrians coming towards you! or a drop to a canal! We are keeping a good eye on Zoe! and are finally understanding what comes which way and where we end up when we turn down a different street leaving our hotel. It sure is located in Central Station, literally!
It has been raining, cold and windy since we arrived. It is so mild we are told! Still that has not ruined the fun...though I wish I had brought Zoe's rain boots and pants! For puddle jumping, she cannot help herself. We really did manage to travel light this time.
This morning we decided to take a tour that led us outside the city on a bus. Good idea as we certainly saw things we would have never seen.
A windmill village. Windmills everywhere and traditional wooden houses. It is unbelievable how many canals and small water ways this country has. I am already dreaming about a kayaking/biking adventure when Zoe is a little older! Who is coming? The country is completely flat with super bike lanes that even boast their own traffic lights! I'll have to get a photo of them. You cannot imagine how many bikes there are. There is even a three huge story bike parking lot! where the bikes are parked so close to each other it is a woner anyone can tell them apart, or pull theirs out without all of them falling like dominos! Can you imagine that! Some people have decorated theirs with red polka dots or a basket of flowers so that they can recognize their own bike. I think there are more bikes than I have ever seen in my life! and NO helmets!
Next stop was a wooden shoe making workshop. Now this was super cool. Walls of clogs in different sizes and designs ranging from red polka dots, traditional clogs, to roller clogs to plain unfinished wood. We even saw some similar to Roseys dansko clogs! A man wearing the biggested clogs I have ever seen showed us how to make a pair! It took him just a few minutes! Wooden clogs are still worn by many outside of the city because they are waterproof and warm. A lot of the country side is reclaimed land which means that it used to be underwater. It is 3 meters (about 10 ft) below sea level! So it is very wet. Imaging pumping the Ashfield Lake and making it into a farm and living there!
We stopped to have Dutch pancakes for lunch. There are thin more like crepes. HUGE. Zoe kept wondering why she did not get a kids size like at Elmers. We miss maple syrup as the sugar syrup/mollases they serve here stinks! I met some of you are sugaring these days. We are so lucky that we live close in such a sugaring area it is really a gift we have. Easy to take for granted. In fact in general the food here has been non impressive. Maybe we just have not hit the right spots. We have been told about an organic market "noordermarkt" (market) but have not gotten there yet. Gina had a "champagne cream pie" that she said was totally yummy and decadent.
Next stop was a cheese farm where they make "Edam" and "Gouda". We keep seeing black and white cow motifs in the gift stores but have not seen one cow yet. Now this is fine by me as some of you may remember that I am not that fond of cows! but today we found out that they are still in their barns as it is still too cold for them but a month from now we would see 2 million Holstein cows out on the fields! Dairy is a huge export for the Dutch. How many of you have tried "Edam" or smoked "Gouda cheese". The cheeses sit for up to 8 months depending on how much flavor you want. Luckily we got to try some at the farm....yum yum!
Our last few stops were at fishing villages of the Lake Ijshell. The second one was my favorite it was called the town of "Marten" and had about 2000 inhabitants. It used to be an island so it keeps some of that feeling of being isolated. But in recent years it connects to the mainland by a dike. Basically a a long road on the water. Cool. The village is BEAUTIFUL, all the houses are hunter green with black doors and shutters and a red very triangular roof! each house also has a matching little house for bicycle storage and some even a smaller one for their rabbits! There were no roads on the "island" only a skinny, picturesque foot path and a narrow waterway, There is a parking lot outside the village where the locals leave their car! I loved the feel of this village and told Zoe that I wanted to move there and she immediately reminded me that we live in Ashfield and she loves it!! Although Marten felt so isolated it was only apparently a 45 mins-1 hour bike ride into Amsterdam! That was the last stop before we were dropped back at the hotel.
After a quick rest we set out again on foot to explore more of the city. After a good walk we stopped at a coffee shop, where Zoe had a smoothy and proptly fell asleep head on the table. It was only 5:30 but I think we wore her out. SO back to the hotel we went!! By 6pm we were all asleep!
I uploaded many more photos over at my flickr account.