European Vacation — Awesome!

Posted on March 18, 2011


After being laid off from my IT project manager job at Sprint in 2002, I decided to take a much-needed vacation with friends. We opted to go to Europe. Everyone else was flying into Ireland from a New York connection and staying only a week there. I had a connecting flight in Amsterdam, so I decided to leave 5 days early and travel around the Netherlands.

Visit to Amsterdam

I was a little nervous when I landed alone in the Amsterdam Schiphol airport. After maneuvering through the city by myself that first day, I was feeling a bit more confident. Most of the locals spoke English, so there usually wasn’t a language barrier.

Amsterdam and the Netherlands has an excellent public transportation system, making it quite easy to navigate the country with minimal expense. An added bonus was the event called Floriade held in Haarlemmermeer in the North Holland province. It occurs in the Netherlands only once every 10 years, which was a spectacular floral experience for me. I am an avid gardener and was in awe of the varieties of flowers I’d never heard of before. I left with some great plant combination ideas from the displays.

The country is absolutely beautiful. I love the culture, the architecture, the colorful people, the canal systems, the bridges and the melting pot of nationalities you find there. A variety of nations of peoples populate the Netherlands. I love the European architecture — the sidewalk cafes and the large city squares where you can sit, eat, drink, talk and be graced by cultural events. It was unseasonably warm when I visited there in November 2002, so I was outside every day doing something new under the Netherlands sun.

Ho Row

I have to say that Amsterdam proper provided one of the most fascinating experiences I had on the entire trip. Before I left home, I researched Amsterdam quite a bit and thought I was familiar with the layout of the province. One tourist-y thing to do there is to go on a canal tour through the city. Leaving on foot from the hotel to find the launch point, I got lost and ended up on the wrong side of the city central, but didn’t know it.

While I stood at the curb looking across the wide street to see if I could see the canal, I thought it odd in the busiest time of the day that no other people were walking around in that area. I glanced down at my city map to try to figure out where I was, and an attractive businessman with a briefcase walked up to the curb about 2 feet from me. He just stood there looking ahead, avoiding eye contact — another odd thing. No taxis were around, so the thought crossed my mind as to why he was just standing there.

I asked him if he could tell me how to get to the canal tour. He appeared to ignore me, so I asked him again. He replied in excellent American English, “Oh, I thought you were a prostitute. This is where they hang out.” That was a real morale booster … not. I wasn’t even dressed like a hooker. And I wasn’t sure if he showed up to hire me or if he was already going in that direction. Regardless, I was glad he told me how to get to the canal tour, so I could get off “ho row,” put up my feet and relax for a bit while cruising the canals through scenic Amsterdam.

The Canals

The elaborate canal system was fascinating, and I can’t count the number of beautiful and ornate bridges we passed under on the tour. You can catch a glimpse of almost all of the main attractions in Amsterdam from the canals. I was surprised to see that the city allows houseboats to reside on the canals. People live in these houseboats year-round. They raise families in there. I understood the tour guide to say that there was a waiting list for people to put houseboats on the canal, since the city only allows a certain number of them. I was curious how these homes got access to potable running water and disposed of waste … but I didn’t ask.

After the canal ride, I visited many of the attractions and took lots of photos. The main method of transport around the city proper was the bicycle, not cars. At primary points of business, you’d see maybe 500 bicycles congregated in a specific area designated for them. That was a sight I’ve never seen before. I saw a lot of sights in the Netherlands that I’d never seen before.

Red Light District

The second day I was there, I forgot my map and walked through several wide alleys (I think they may have been narrow streets — another European thing) on my way to the city center. I walked past a woman standing around outside with just a towel on who seemed somewhat irritated by the man to which she was talking. They were speaking in Dutch, but I think I gathered that she was a hooker and they were negotiating a price. It was a weird sight and I just wanted to get past them. I had a feeling I was in the not-so-elegant part of the red light district.

Moving on, I passed a number of people smoking pot — in doorways, on bicycles and walking. The smell was pungent and distinct. I think a couple of shops I stepped into looking for souvenirs had marijuana for sale. I was sure I would encounter Rod Serling narrating some version of the Twilight Zone at any time, but, no, it was a common occurrence there, since it is legal.

As I wandered through the city, I ran into the most notable part of the Amsterdam Red Light District. I think we’ve all seen the store-front sex shops in this area on TV, but to see the actual red lights at the store-fronts in person was kind of … well … impressive. They were enormous. I would say they were at least two feet tall and a foot wide. The barely clad girls danced alluringly just beyond the brightly lit, large paned-glass windows.

I’ve never seen anyone move so quickly as when I pulled out my camera to take a picture of one of those hookers. I think she flipped me off in Dutch — do they use a different finger or fingers for that? She kept screaming and hiding and waving her hands to tell me to go away. I just wanted a picture for posterity, for God’s sake. They let themselves be filmed in documentaries. What was the big deal if I took a picture or two?!

Tired of walking the city and fighting with hookers, I finished my self-directed red light district tour and made my way back to my hotel for the night. For the remainder of my stay in Amsterdam, I boarded the train and bus to several other towns in the Netherlands and took in more sights and events in Amsterdam. It was finally time to depart for Ireland …

Posted in: Miscellaneous