July 21 – Amsterdam
“The trouble with the way we travel,” I commented to Steve, “is we see so many lovely little out-of-the-way places that aren’t the big draw cards, that when we come to see the “main event” places, we’re a bit judgemental.”
What I meant by that is, we are lucky enough, on the bikes, to travel to a lot of beautiful towns, cities and villages day after day after day because we move on so often. It’s not the same as going on holiday “to” a particular place. When we’ve seen so many lovely, less known places, when we see the “celebrity” cities that get all the attention, at times we badge them with “it’s not as nice as…” Amsterdam suffered that fate today. It just wasn’t for us.
I started the day with a morning run again and then we decided not to ride the bikes to Amsterdam after doing some reading about what to do and where to go. We were just doing the usual tourist research about the areas in the city, to find out what we might like to see as we roamed and as we read, we found the subject of bikes mentioned often (as it would be in relation to Amsterdam I guess) and along with that, the subject of bike security was mentioned often too. We kept reading about how ruthless the bike thieves are in Amsterdam, how rampant bike theft is and then Steve read the blog of another cycle tourist who’d spoke to a local who was on their 16th bike, with all the others being stolen. Even though we have super dooper locks, we decided not to chance it, since everything we read kept mentioning bike theft. Even with them locked in a secure place, we would have had one mind on “will they be there when we get back” along with concerns about the rest of the trip being scuppered if someone decided to make off with them. We were only going to ride there because we wanted to, for the novelty, not because we had to, so we decided to leave them safely behind and just purely roam instead.
A quick bus ride into Haarlem and then a quick train trip into Amsterdam and we were walking out of the Central Station into the thick of the tourist strip. Back to back souvenir shops, fast food places and garish signs for chain stores everywhere. We hot footed it out of there as fast as we could and started roaming, looking for the picturesque parts of the city. We looked…and looked…and looked. We weren’t finding much, other than more advertising signs for this brand or that brand or this chain store or that chain store, mixed in with souvenir shops and take-away food outlets. We did see the Royal Palace though.
We stopped for elevenses to gather our thoughts, consult a map, get our bearings and plan our onward search for the hidden charm of Amsterdam, which must be hidden, because so far we weren’t seeing any charm at all.
We walked around the corner to see Anne Frank’s House, then into some of the outer streets. We roamed around the Jordaan and there were some nice canals and some quieter streets, but they were still just streets, nothing particularly preserved or striking about them. Just streets.
Back towards the centre we went, back into the thick of the crowds and noise and gaudy signage. We always like to visit the Old Town in any town or city that has one. It’s there we usually find the historic buildings and the stories of a place. It’s the Old Towns that give us the sense of a place, its back story and roaming through the original areas of a city helps to put the modern into perspective. We set off for Amsterdam’s Old Town, to see the historic quarter and find some stories from this city’s past. Ummm, well, it wasn’t what we were expecting. Rather than seeing a historic centre, we saw…gaudy signage, more chain stores, more souvenir shops and nothing picturesque at all really. Amsterdam just wasn’t doing it for us. With a small city like Haarlem just 20km away, with beautifully preserved historic buildings, lovely streets and squares, we were giving Amsterdam the stamp of, “……..is nicer than here.” The Netherlands is full of beautiful towns and cities and Steve would daily make the comment, “Is there even such a thing as an ugly town in The Netherlands, because we haven’t seen any.” Everywhere we’ve been has been lovely and preserved and charming and delightful. Today, alas, I think we found the answer to Steve’s question. We had found one that didn’t fit the pattern we’d been seeing. It was as if Amsterdam could be a beautiful city, with beautiful buildings and of course the maze of canals, but all that beauty has been completely shrouded in every shade of commercial awfulness. That of course, is just our observation and the observation of two people privileged enough to have seen many, many other wonderful places, against which we are judging (maybe harshly), this city of Amsterdam. We did the same to Venice on our last Grand Tour. We didn’t feel the magic there at all either. We’d been to delightful little places in Italy that we’d never heard of like Vigevano and Venice just wasn’t a patch on that for us. So, Amsterdam is in good company and if we didn’t feel the magic here or in a place like Venice, well, like I said, maybe the problem is ours!
We continued to roam and saw Rembrandt’s house, some nice buildings and of course the canals snaking their way around the streets. It could have all been so lovely, but we just couldn’t find that special something that could break through the curtain of gaudiness and the “just another city” feel that followed us around. I usually take a lot of photos. I’m always looking for a shot and I average 70-80 photos a day. I took 105 in Haarlem yesterday and today in Amsterdam, just 17. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t seeing much that I wanted to capture. Of those I did take, I tried to find the nice shots in and around the less picturesque.
So, that was our day. Another day of roaming. Another day of being lucky enough to visit another notable city. It just wasn’t for us I’m afraid. A matter of taste. A matter of preference. A place for many, just not for us. We’re really glad we went though, because “you never never know if you never never go”, so we’re glad we roamed there and we have our impressions that are at least based on an experience. Perhaps different to others’ impressions, but that’s OK. Tomorrow we hope to get on the bikes and do some exploring around the region. We’re not exactly sure where that will take us, but that’s part of the fun and maybe we’ll find another of those “tucked away places” that we love finding. That, I have to say, is a little more us!
Distance ridden: 0 km
Distance run: 10 km
Distance roamed: 10.8 km
Weather: sunny and warm 22C