Thursday, August 02, 2012

Netherlands July 29

The only person packing this morning, I got up at about 7, so as to not wake the others absurdly early.  We trekked through Brugge, but most of the restaurants were not open early, so we had to eat at a tourist place in one of the main squares; very expensive, compared to what we have been paying ($15 as opposed to $8 or so), but it was good food and filling. The owner/manager appeared annoyed at the presence of customers. All in all, I would probably have preferred to go to a grocery and have a breakfast picnic, but no stores were open. As we sat the horse carriages showed up.
The trip to Amsterdam is in two parts, first traveling to Antwerp, then on to Amsterdam, for about $60, including $9 for the bike. I could probably have avoided the bike charge by folding it, but my anxiety about connections and getting on and off where high enough to accept the extra charge. When Sara was with us, we were able to piggyback off her student discount card, which amounted to about a 40% discount, so the difference is substantial.

There is quite a difference in the attitudes about bicycles between the two countries.  Belgium is not quite as fanatical about bikes; the paths are often less prominent, drivers take bikes less seriously and bikes don't seem quite as welcome.  Still better than the US.
Since the train tracks are not elevated, you don't get much of a view of the cities and what we saw while cycling was far superior to the views from the train windows.  On the second leg, the bike compartment was first, included in the first class section, but I was not allowed to sit in first class.  As a result of not wanting to stray too far from the bike and trailer, I sat in a jump seat in the bike section.  Not quite as comfortable as a regular seat, but I was in good company. 6 or so others where there as well and after a spell, we struck up interesting and humorous conversations. I told them how inferior I felt because one was reading "The Last Cavalier" by Dumas and another "The Prince" by Machiavelli, while I was reading a Tom Clancy novel. We joked that I should just buy a hardcover of something sophisticated and use the jacket to cover my book.  As a matter of fact, you could do that with an entire home collection. One person was Dutch, two French and the rest English.  The English got partly off at most stops to have a smoke.  Really funny. I was oldest, but one of the English looked to be about 30.

Off the train in Amsterdam Centraal station, mass chaos spread before me.  Buses, parked bicycles all over and tons of people, with no signs I could read.  I followed the largest quantity of people to locate the  exit. Outside, my compass helped with orientation.  If I had had a decent map starting off, it would have been faster finding the hotel, but it was fun and a pleasant challenge just figuring out how to move with the wide variety of traffic. Fortunately, I have now been in the Netherlands long enough to recognize many traffic signs and have been blessed with learning outside of huge cities, where the various traffics are lighter and more forgiving. I had to ask 5 different people for directions and I had written the name of the street on my hand.  It was pretty amusing how easily people accepted this as okay behavior.  One guy actually took my hand and re-oriented it to better read the writing and another told me it didn't say anything.  I think what he meant was that he didn't recognize the name of the street, but his English lacked a way to express that.  It came out funny and I laughed.  Hope he wasn't offended. The last person I asked (when I knew I was quite close), was highly irritated with himself, because he said he knew the street was close, but couldn't place it.  He took out his phone and looked it up. It was one block away. Even people who proclaim to not really speak english speak it better than I speak Spanish. Generally they stumble trying to find the exact word they want, but they always get their meaning across. I found myself trying to speak french or spanish, because I don't know Dutch. This probably confused people further.
The hotel is very nice, but the one woman seemed short on patience. A man stepped up to help me and he was very good; he told me that though I could not take the bike to my room, I could store it overnight in the baggage room and disassemble it in the courtyard out back.
Dumping my trailer and stuff in the room and using the map the front desk gave me, I went out to explore and better orient myself to the city.  Like a wheel, the city is easy to get around and the streets are generally well marked.  I found the Amsterdam, Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum, checked the Red Light district for private boats for a canal tour (unsuccessfully), rode through Vondelpark, found St. Christopher's church and shopped in an Albert Heijn grocery store. I also stopped for a pancake with cheese and ginger, and learned how to say "have a good day", which sounds a little like "fine a duck". It appears that my attempts to learn some words before I came failed, since I ended up with the wrong words somehow.
Drank wine and ate stroopcakes in my room and read my book by the open window overlooking the city as the sun went down.

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