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Monday, October 30, 2006 

when in amsterdam...

Do as the Dutch do! Which, contrary to popular opinion, does not include smoking pot or hiring prostitutes (the Dutch claim those are just tourist activities). While on my mis-steps walk (see last post), I had hoped to see the city as the Dutch do, but I fear that most of my subjects were tourists, which makes sense because they were on foot in that part of the city. The logical solution: either get out of that part of the city (or even the whole city) or get off my feet. In the past couple days, I have done both, and I think I've gotten a much better feel for the larger area and culture.

Yesterday, Joe and I decided to spend our afternoon venturing out to Haarlem, a smaller city a very short train ride from Amsterdam. It is beautifully old and quaint, and the center of the city (the Grote Markt) almost feels like a step back in time. In fact, it looks very similar now to how it did in a painting done in 1696. We didn't go into many places, unless you count walking through the old city gate, which is now a bike path through what appears to be a castle standing next to a busy road, but instead spent our time just exploring the area. Architecturally, it looked similar to central Amsterdam, but with fewer canals and many fewer people. It was beautiful, and it looked like such a simple life. The big canal was dotted with old houseboats, and of course there was the stereotypical Dutch windmill. I wish we could have gotten out to see the countryside, but the city proved to be just as peaceful in the right parts. It was almost deserted, and so quiet, and just absolutely beautiful. Amsterdam is almost always bustling in the downtown areas, and it's full of shops and bikes and hustle. In Haarlem, things just felt much more leisurely. The lone bikers moved along at their own pace, and people seemed to just scatter when dusk fell. Interestingly enough, it is the source of the name of Harlem in New York, although having been in both places, they couldn't be much more different. Maybe they were back when the Dutch founded New Amsterdam in Manhattan. History is interesting. But anyway, I think my trip to Haarlem made me appreciate the Netherlands as a whole (even though I didn't get that far out into the rest of the country), and not just Amsterdam.

Then, this morning we decided to try to find a good Dutch breakfast to start our day. After wandering the streets for a while, we concluded that the Dutch must not really eat breakfast, because the only open places we could find served overpriced English breakfast. We decided to try to find a cafe some friends had mentioned that was famous for its Dutch apple pie. When we arrived at Winkel, not only was it open for breakfast, but it had a line out the door. To our great delight, they did serve apple pie, and in fact, it was all they served at that time of day, besides coffee and orange juice. Two bites in, we realized that all the other cafes in the city weren't open yet because they would have no chance to compete with Winkel. We're going back for lunch tomorrow. Eating all this good food has been inspiring me to learn how to cook these sorts of things, and now I am determined to make a good Dutch apple pie.

After our Dutch breakfast (okay, so I don't really know if it was a Dutch breakfast, but it was the breakfast place with the most Dutch people of all the ones we saw), we met up with many of the other Roadtrippers for a yellow bike tour of Amsterdam. No, these are not Carleton yellow bikes that might fall apart at any moment and don't have brakes or handlebars, but rather bikes that can be rented for tours of the city. The tour itself wasn't particularly useful, considering we've been exploring the city for nearly two weeks now, but riding on a bike was just great! Amsterdam on a bike is so much better than any other way you could think to see it. It's almost like the city was built for bikes. Cars and trams are too enclosed, and walking is too slow. On a bike, you can glide up and down the old streets with ease, quickly getting lost in the maze of canals. On that tour, I suddenly understood why so many people in this city ride bikes. I really wish I had been riding a bike during my whole stay here. But, alas, there is only one day left, and it is going to be a busy one. Berlin, here I come!

Thank you for your very interesting travel updates. Enjoy Berlin (we did); especially all the multi-colored bears. Papa & Nana

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