Red Herring?

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We got up a bit earlier than the day before, and had breakfast out on the chilly balcony, after saying goodbye to Jasper. We cleaned up a bit, and packed up a bit, knowing we had to get back around 4:30pm to get ready for our train ride to Paris.

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We rode our bikes – about a 15 minute ride – to the Stedelijk Museum, which is a modern art museum near the Van Gogh, Rijks, and other museums. We loved the art! We especially loved the first floor, with pre-1960s art, but also some of the more modern and contemporary works as well. Pieces by Kandinsky, Mondriaan, Cezanne, Sol Lewitt, Esther Kroon, Hans Haacke, Nam June Paik, Jean Tinguely, Hellicar & Lewis, Werkman, and Naom Gabo stood out to us.

1930s design... IKEA source material
1930s design… IKEA source material
Poang chair, anyone?
Poang chair, anyone?

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We were running short on time because we had to return the bikes by the early afternoon, so we hastened our pace through the rest of the museum and gift shop and rode back to Frederic’s. We attempted to get a guy to take pictures of us on bikes, but the timing is more difficult than it seems 🙂

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IMG_0408We sat down by a canal and ate sandwiches. We brought the ukulele, convinced we were going to play it, but yet again, it sat in the case. Nearby Frederic’s is a neighborhood called the Jordaan, which is a highly recommended stroll in all the guidebooks. It’s very picturesque, with fewer canals than other neighborhoods, but more shared central space in which to play and sit. It’s a posh neighborhood – very expensive to live there.

Our guidebook’s tour was great. It told us of secrets you could never know just by walking by… for example, there’s a certain door you can open and walk in to the courtyard of a 17th century home for widows. The sunlight filters in to a majestic garden. At some point, maybe 45 minutes in, we were ready to sit. We looked for a cafe that the guidebook had recommended, great for outside seating on a terrace next to a canal. But there were no seats left. We tried to find another place with good seating, but to no avail. We went back to the cafe and begrudgingly went inside for sandwiches and coffee. It was nice to rest our feet, but Amy really wanted to sit on that terrace. C’est la vie!

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IMG_0434We were running low on time and still needed to stop by a herring stand. We found one near the central station, and got up the nerve to order raw herring (filleted, with the tail still on, and raw onions sprinkled on top). A traditional Dutch snack, at least for some of the older crowd 🙂 We got one to share and Nathan was the first to give it a go. He enjoyed it greatly. As you can see by Amy’s pained expressions, however, she was not a fan. To put it mildly.

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Bike garage!
Bike garage!

 

IMG_3280We headed back to Jasper’s, packed everything up and went to the train station to catch our train to Paris. We were running low on time and Amy was getting nervous, although we had built in some buffers. The train from Jasper’s to central station was running about 5 minutes late, but we made it to the Thalys train about 15 minutes before it left. The ride was fast, with just a few stops (just over 3 hours from Amsterdam to Paris, which are about 500 km distance by car).

Once we got to Gare du Nord, we were supposed to catch the Metro line 2 to Couronnes. Unfortunately, there was not a single sign in the train station with any hint of a metro line 2. After wandering around for awhile, we went to an information desk. We asked the guy behind the counter if he spoke English (in French), and he said no. We tried to communicate what we were looking for. He was not helpful, at all. In fact, he seemed tired and very annoyed, and was just not nice. This was our first interaction in Paris and it lived up to all the stereotypes.

After poking around a bit more and debating what to do, we went to another information desk, hoping that our second try would be more successful than the first. The second guy was nice, but also didn’t speak English. He tried to communicate with us and at least got us headed in the right direction, though it wasn’t really clear what we needed to do. We got up to the RER gate and, not knowing what to do next, paused. We were nearing the height of our frustration and Amy was about ready to cry.

Someone asked us for help (ha!). We saw the same guy asking a nice younger woman for help, so we asked her for help after he left. As she was trying to remember how to walk to line 2, an Indian man overheard us and asked if we needed help. He explained that he knew where to go and worked as a French/English translator so he liked to practice with people. He shuffled us through the RER gate with his pass (probably not allowed), and walked us towards the long series of hallways that would lead to the Metro line 2. We were extremely grateful for his help, and didn’t have much trouble after that. We made it to Sheila and Austin’s place. Sheila had left a family gathering to come meet us at the apartment, and got us acquainted with their very very small home – 27 square meters… Google it 😉

Biking through Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum and Vondelpark

Having been in Europe during the summer many times, we thought we knew what the weather would be like. So we didn’t even look up the weather in the cities we are traveling to. Mistake! Amsterdam was cold… jacket and scarf cold, especially in the morning and evening if you’re on a bike.

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We lounged around until 10:15am and headed out to take the train into the Central Station. We wanted to ride bikes around the city, and found this great place called Frederic’s Rentabike. There are many options to rent a bike in Amsterdam. All of them, seemingly, scream “tourist”. Mike’s Bikes are painted red; Yellow Bike, a green bike… etc. Frederic’s, however, just has normal Dutch bikes (that look about 50 years old – a good thing in a city that had 100,000 bikes stolen last year alone).

Amsterdam has nearly a million residents, about as many bikes, and a million tourists coming through every month. In 2008, it was rainy and we were new to the city and to traveling together. We hit all the touristy spots our first time – a canal boat tour, Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt House, and Vondelpark, all within 2 days.

This time we wanted to relax and really enjoy the city. Riding bikes was a little scary. There are bikes everywhere. Cyclists, people on mopeds and motorcycles, teeny cars, pedestrians, trams, and cars all vie for space on the road. There are bike lanes almost everywhere, which really helps, but the teeny cars, mopeds and motorcycles can be in the bike lanes too! Also, you can ride both ways on any of these paths, regardless of whether it’s on the left or right hand side of a road or canal. The real terror comes when approaching intersections, where all forms of traffic converge. An image in my (Amy’s) mind is of a child riding his bike less than two feet from the tram, which is gliding alongside him. Each oblivious to the other, while anxiety and intrigue wrestled inside of me.

Although biking Amsterdam is nerve-wracking, it is also exhilarating and SO MUCH FUN!!! We really really really encourage anyone going to Amsterdam to do it. And we hope to bring some Amsterdam back to Orlando 😉 Let’s go, Critical Mass!

IMG_3190We stopped by an open air street market near the New Church, got some fresh squeezed OJ and bought a souvenir. And we realized flea markets are pretty much the same everywhere. Then we rode down to the MuseumPlein, through the arch of the Rijksmuseum and parked our bikes. Before we went in, we ate our pack lunch and took some pictures in front of the giant “iamsterdam” sign (I Am Amsterdam) that was crawling with people from all over the world (literally).

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This was our second time at the Rijks; much of the museum was closed last time, which was fine since our schedule was so packed that time. So we had pretty high expectations, now that the entire museum is open. But we were a bit underwhelmed. We think we have seen enough 16th – 19th century paintings for awhile. Yes, we love Vermeer, Rubens, Rembrandt, Jan Steen… but we really find ourselves attracted to late 19th century and certain threads of 20th century art.

IMG_0361After the Rijks we got back on our bikes and rode around Vondelpark. This huge park right by the main museums of Amsterdam has miles of trails and acres of open green space, punctuated by ponds, woods, cafes, and a Picasso sculpture. It is really fun to ride around, get lost, and not care where you are because you at least know you’re still in the park. We were on the lookout for a Herring stand (the fish… there is a traditional Dutch snack of raw herring and onions that we wanted to try). We had seen it in all the guidebooks and been told by many people that we had to try it. More on that later.

IMG_0373We didn’t find a stand, but we had heard about a brewery in an old windmill in the city (called Browerij’t IJ) and decided to head there. An Aussie from Frederic’s Rentabike had recommended two specific beers there, Columbus and Zatte. We ordered the beers and some cheese and salami, sat down outside, and relaxed for a bit. Our butts and feet were hurting, unused to the amount of biking and walking we had been doing.

Aside: Some of you may have read our blog from 2009 when we biked 1000 miles across the United States (or seen our recent PechaKucha talk about the trip). You may be wondering, why are they tired out by a bit of biking in Amsterdam? Well, we very rarely ride in Orlando, for a few reasons. First, when we got back from the trip, Amy was hit by a car three weeks into bike commuting. Corroborating this, Orlando is statistically one of the worst cities in the US to be a pedestrian or cyclist (in terms of injuries/fatalities). Second, there’s not a deep enough bike culture that has raised awareness among our driving population… aka everyone… so no one, whether tourist or local, is watching out for bicycles around Orlando. Third, for the most part our city is not designed for cyclists or pedestrians. There are a few exceptions, as certain neighborhoods fight to bring this kind of culture and infrastructure to bear – e.g. College Park, Thornton Park, Baldwin Park, and Audobon Park. Unfortunately, we don’t live in one of these neighborhoods, and though some of our favorite local haunts are in them, it’s hard to get there safely on a bike from where we live.

IMG_0383We met up with Jasper for dinner at a pizza place in his neighborhood. We all headed back home. We were very tired, but it was too early to go to sleep. We were debating going back out, versus watching a movie. But we had no idea what to do or where to go. Amsterdam is known for being a wild party city; that’s not our style. We decided to head back to the windmill brewery. It was still light outside, but very cold. Unfortunately, it was closed. We debated heading to the central station but decided against having to navigate on bikes at night, still jet-lagged and leery of the red light district. Tired and slightly frustrated, we started heading back in the direction of Jasper’s apartment. We had seen a wild party with lots of people from former Dutch colonies (Surinam, St Maarten, Aruba, etc). But that looked like more of an adventure than we wanted. We found a nice little neighborhood cafe on the water, parked our bikes, and walked around a bit. There were a lot of young people on the streets, possibly getting into some mischief. Back at the cafe, we had a drink and people watched, then headed back to the apartment and had a great conversation with Jasper before going to sleep.

Orlando to Amsterdam

We always forget how difficult traveling is. We always forget how wonderful it is.

About two weeks ago, we picked out all of our clothing for our month-long European adventure. We then proceeded to “test drive” some of our outfits as we ran errands around Orlando. After laying everything out, including all of Amy’s roller derby gear (she’ll be skating with the Paris Rollergirls), we saw that it wouldn’t all fit in our two backpacks, small shoulder bags and ukulele gig bag. So we cut down our clothing allowance – again – and managed to get everything packed with a little bit of room to spare.

Matching on purpose :)
Matching on purpose 🙂

There’s just something about getting on an airplane with all of your things strapped to your back and having to shove it all in the overhead compartment. It’s sort of stressful, sort of invigorating. You don’t know if there will be room when you get to your seat; if there is room, you don’t know if someone will get mad when they come in after you and can’t find a spot for their stuff.

Everyone knows sleeping on an airplane is terribly difficult. This was true for us as well, taking the redeye from Orlando to Dublin, followed by a short flight to Amsterdam. We ended up in an exit row seat, which was a double edged sword. Nathan had lots of leg room (plus!) but we were right behind the galley (minus!) so it was light and loud pretty much the whole night.

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This is what a redeye does to Nathan
This is what a redeye does to Nathan
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Hey look at that, 407!

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Our number one mission when we got to Amsterdam was to find a prepaid SIM card for the iPhone we brought. We were not successful. After wandering around the airport and then the Amsterdam Central Station for awhile, we decided to just call AT&T’s international help number and see what fees we’d be facing if we used text messaging. Turns out it’s not that terrible… incoming messages are essentially free (they count towards our normal plan limit) and outgoing messages are $0.50/msg. So we texted our host in Amsterdam (Jasper, a friend we made via CouchSurfing the last time we were here, in 2008) and he met us at the train station close to his apartment.

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Bikes and ridiculously small cars

We wanted to sleep. But we didn’t. Instead, after catching up a bit with Jasper, we went grocery shopping, picking up some snacks, breakfast and lunch food, and food to grill out at the party we were going to tag along to.

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Jasper has an amazing park a short walk from his apartment, called Flevopark. We walked up to a big group of young people grilling food, playing games and just enjoying the spectacular weather. The park was filled with young and old and everyone in between, enjoying life. No cars – everyone came on bikes. The great thing about the Netherlands for two Americans who speak no Dutch is that almost everyone speaks impeccable English!

We hit a volleyball around in a group and played a game called “Werewolf” (basically, “Mafia”, for those folks who know what that is). The sun did not seem to want to set. It was 10pm and it was still incredibly bright outside. The sun set at about 11pm and was up again at 5:15am (when we briefly woke up).

Hanging out with locals in a beautiful park, cooking good food, was a perfect way to start our trip.