Amsterdam was uplifting, reaffirming, and almost spiritual for me. This picture, in a church converted to a boutique hotel, is striking and deceiving.  Meant to pay homage to the hotel’s past, it just says indulge to your heart’s delight to me!  Religion has played a seminal role in Amsterdam, of course, with the Catholics conquering, the Protestant Reformation, and the purging of the Jews in WWII. Today, despite its many churches, Amsterdam strikes me as a city where anything goes — which goes with my way of thinking, but doesn’t seem to fit its past.

We left Spa Belgium and meandered northwest, then northeast, then west and then southwest along the Netherlands/Belgium/French coasts of the North Sea.   It’s been a lazy, hazy time in which our schedule was loose and our destinations blurry.   We rolled through the country sides of Belgium, a bit of Germany, the Netherlands and eventually France.  We took in the rolling hills and farms of northern Belgium, the unexpected dense forests of the Netherlands, the sand dunes along the  North Sea, and the juxtaposition of wind mills with oil tankers in Rotterdam.  Along the way we got gobbled up in the crush of Dutch freeway traffic, got lost in one of the world’s largest ports, Rotterdam, and spent time in out-of-the-way Dutch beach towns.

Karen and I disagree on Amsterdam.  She didn’t like its almost chaotic, certainly frenetic, maze of bicyclists, pedestrians, trains and cars.  Stepping carefully is Rule #1 for new comers to this city so as to not crash into a biker or scooter.  It’s emblematic that most bicycles don’t have brakes.  Why use brakes when you can bounce off a pedestrian to stop?

All of this is true, of course, as Amsterdam is a chaotic, frenzied kind of place in which everyone and everything is moving, which is exactly why I like it.  At a different time, and certainly different age, I could live in there,  At least during the 60 days it’s not raining.  It’s a smaller, more charming version of NYC with canals.

Canals and water play a major role in Amsterdam.   The city is ringed and intersected with canals of all shapes and sizes.  Amsterdam is an international city primarily as a result of the city controlling 50% OF THE WORLD’S TRADE in the 1500/1600’s.  Like NY or LA, one can tell its an international place by just looking at the different kinds/shades of people.

House boats of one kind or another line every canal.  Some are large, others are tiny and barely afloat.  I fantasized about living in one until I heard the price:  $300K Euros for a permit and $400-1,500K for the boat.  Aside from the house boats, Amsterdam is a 1%’r kind of city with town houses costing tens of millions of dollars.  Puerto Vallarta and Sandia Park here I come!

I’ve liked a number of places we’ve stayed on this trip.  Thonon-les-Bains, France. Verona and Florence Italy.  Bad Ass & Wild (look it up), Monschau, and even Breda NL.  Amsterdam is the only place where I could see living.

Here’s what the last week or so has looked like.

Forty-five minutes north of our Monschau hotel is the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery honoring thousands of US WWII heroes who died in the fields, forests and hills of this part of Belgium. On this occasion, we visited the grave of Samson Hershfield, Sam Hershfield’s namesake, who was killed in action on Christmas night 1944. Looking out over the thousands of crosses, I wonder if American’s today value what these heroes gave their lives for?

I found my Valhalla in Breda, Netherlands. The biggest motorcycle store I’ve seen in years. Made good use of this stop to gear-up for the Second Half. It was heaven.

Our first hotel in Amsterdam was down this street in Old Town. While looking narrow to this American’s eyes, it’s a busy thoroughfare with bikes, people, scooters, motorcycles, cars, trucks and skate boards.

I immediately wanted to get to Amsterdam’s Red Light district. The District is having a hard time since it was legalized. Many predict it won’t be around in five years.

Empty windows. What, the Ladies of the Night don’t work at 4PM? What’s with that?

We stayed at a gorgeous Art Nouveau era hotel built in 2012.

Luxury does not beget happiness. Many of our fellow travelers didn’t seem like they were happy campers.

Row of oldest homes in Amsterdam. Townhouses in heart of the city go for multi-millions.

House boats of all kinds line every canal. There are only 2500 house boat permits in all of Amsterdam, thus the cost of living in a house boat is astronomical.  The canals were historically critical to this city of seafarers.  Most of the buildings now houses were warehouses way back when.  Most have sturdy hooks at the top to hoist spices and other cargo up.  Now a days these hooks are used to get furniture and appliances up and down.  One night after a couple of drinks I thought I was hallucinating as many of the building seemed to be leaning forward.  After another glass of Rose, I was relieved to find out that many of the buildings do lean forward to avoid damaging the merchandise as its hauled up to the top floors.

We took a wine and cheese tour boat ride. The tour was great, the wine and cheese not so much

On the water

This famous house boat is called the “Kim Kardashian” for obvious reasons

City of bicycles and bicycles and bicycles. Most people have more than one bike: a throw-away for night time partying, an everyday commuter, and a racer for long rides. Not surprisingly, there are companies that lease bikes including repairs and replacement if needed.

One way of finding your bike — and love–  are flower bikes. This one has “I love Michelle.” Practice started when a husband decorated a wife’s bike and she never lost it again

Lots and lots of partying on boats, cafes and just about everyplace in between. Summer nights in Amsterdam are special.

We’re told this is the most photographed cafe in Amsterdam. Looks like all the rest to this un-trained eye.

We had our own Walti-Style party in a bar over-looking a canal. Above Karen’s head is one of the oldest pictures of Amsterdam, circa 1300s. Here KR and I look at map, Google, Booking and assorted other sources of ideas (including of course Sammy H’s) to determine our next step route-wise. Our decision is to go west to the sea, then follow the coast southwest.

We finish a walking tour of the city.

Unique houses are around every corner.

My kind of city where the mechanic and rolling tool chest comes to your rescue. Why hasn’t this caught on in the US?

Beginning of trouble. We find ourselves needing to cross a mini-ferry somewhere close to the Rotterdam harbor. For the second time in this trip, we become utterly lost. No Garmin, no Google, no Apple. Road closures in every direction. We were finally rescued by two bicyclists and we raced away from the harbor.

Belgium beach along the North Sea coast.

We came across this little guy and immediately thought of Bogart

Beach town in Colijnsplaat NL.

KR walks along the sand for the first time this trip.  BTW, this beach is about 30 minutes from Dunkirk where the Allies barely escaped in WWII.

 

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