On Wednesday we boarded a Thalys high-speed train at Gare du Nord that was headed for Amsterdam. Tickets were sixty-dollars apiece, a real bargain when you consider the speed and comfort of the travel. The seats, even in second class are much wider and more comfortable than airplane seats. And the average speed for the trip is around 135 mph, much faster than you could ever drive it. And you cannot surf the web or play Sudoku while you drive (or at least you shouldn’t).
The one thing that really surprised us on the trip was how many electric-generating wind turbines dotted the landscape. In my opinion, this is an area, along with solar, where the US has really fallen behind. It seemed as if every farmer between Paris and Amsterdam had at least a few turbines installed on their property.
From the moment we emerged from the Central Station at Amsterdam and climbed into a taxi, we knew we would love this town. Everyone here seems really happy, and they are all extremely helpful and polite. EVERYONE, from the taxi wrangler to the busboy at the restaurant spoke English to us before we even had to ask. When I apologized to the bartender of the neighborhood pub where we stopped for a drink on our first afternoon because I didn’t know any Dutch phrases, he said, ” It’s not a big deal; everybody speaks English, here!” Even the older people can speak and understand several basic phrases—they even seem to enjoy practicing their English. It’s a like a badge of honor.
Aside from the incredible hospitality and friendliness, the place is beautiful. Okay, so it doesn’t rival Paris for the sheer number of monuments, museums, and spectacles, but the canals and old houses are so charming and beautifully maintained it’s almost like stepping back in time. And the entire city is spotlessly clean. There are trash and recycling receptacles on almost every corner, and Amsterdammers seem to take pride in keeping the city clean.
The neighborhood where we stayed is called the Jordaan (pronounced “Your-dahn”), and is often called the “Greenwich Village” of Amsterdam. It’s a non-touristy residential area filled with restaurants, pubs and shops that the locals frequent.
Here are some photos of the apartment where we stayed, including a cute little terrace off the bedroom in the back of the house, along with some random street-shots. We visited the Hermitage museum and the Anne Frank House while we were there, but neither allows pictures.
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