Wonderful Amsterdam and Paris

Last month I had the good fortune of visiting an old and dear friend in beautiful Amsterdam, Netherlands.

I arrived at Schiphol Airport at about 9am local time after getting about two and a half hours of sleep on the plane trip (the Netherlands is about six hours ahead). After passing through customs my friend met me at the gate and I was whisked away to the train terminal (which was connected to Schiphol). (This was all strange to me as the only train I was on previously was an Amtrak and it’s not connected to anything but other Amtrak stations.) We then arrived at the train station in Amsterdam and proceeded to board a tram to my friend’s neighborhood, in the center of Amsterdam.

And so the journey magically began, some jetlag, a beautiful morning, a strange and wonderful place, and a close friend from long ago; a recipe for wondrous things if there ever was one.

On the first day my friend was delicate enough to give me the physically-easy tour of Amsterdam, for the physically and mentally jetlagged. We took the tram to Oosterpark (I think it was Oosterpark) and walked around for a bit. Then we enjoyed a quaint ride on a boat through the canals of Amsterdam.

The next day we borrowed a friend’s bike and took a bike tour of Amsterdam. Amsterdam was unique to me in that all modes of transportation bow down to the bicycle — buses, cars, trams, and pedestrians all give way to people on bikes! And what a great way to see Amsterdam! I remember following behind my friend as we zoomed through the streets and I just laughed out loud in sheer enjoyment — I felt like a kid!

Amsterdam is a beautiful city filled with canals, old building, cobblestone roads, lush parks with ancient Sycamores, and plenty of things to do and see for all types of people.

That evening we took in a Jazz concert at a swanky locale by the waterfront. We cozied-in before the concert to learn that they would be recording the event! The group was lead by a guitarist whose original music we would be listening to that night. He was backed up by a 15 piece band. The music was awesome — it was so good that it brought tears to my eyes! What had been a semi-random Jazz concert outing turned out to be the best concert I’ve seen in my life! The guitarist and his music reminded me of Wes Montgomery being backed by a big band! I could enjoy the music and also watch the guitarists hands as they flew over the fretboard! At the end of the night they did some retakes of portions of songs and I was amazed at how they just redid a few measures of the songs — that the artists could start in the middle of a song just like that and then the engineers could splice that into the previous recordings amazed me!

After the Jazz concert, we biked through the famous Red Light district at about 11pm at night! It was such a fitting mode to take in this notorious tourist attraction. The thin alleys of this part of Amsterdam were filled with groups of men, their eyes large and their bodies lurking, all gawking in the windows at the prostitutes. We weaved in and out of them on our bikes and headed home. A few days later while we were on foot, we passed by a few prostitutes in windows on a quiet street far removed from the Red Light district. I almost fell over as I saw these naked women out of the corner of my eye — it was totally unsuspected!!

The next day we stopped by the hospital for a spell. This hospital was unlike any hospital I’d ever been in! Just inside the entrance was a grand hall and all about were the sounds of voices! And the voices weren’t all generally depressed and sick. The hospital had an entirely different feel than an American hospital. It seemed like an open, happy place to be. Even the nurses and doctors seemed down-to-earth and open, compared to their American counterparts.

I also recall sitting in a large waiting area for a few minutes in the hospital, waiting for my friend. On either side of me were at least 10 empty seats. A young woman walked by and sat right next to me. It was strange! Americans like to keep their physical distance for the most part if they can help it. But here there was a kind of coziness, on the tram, on the street, in trains, and cafes. There was something comforting about it that I couldn’t put my finger on.

The next day I met some of my friend’s Dutch acquaintances. And what can I say about the Dutch? Well, the Dutch are for the most part, tall, good looking, and well dressed for starters. And they seem to have a nice, dry sense of humor. The Dutch also seem to not get involved in too much drama. They speak their minds and keep things aired-out. But I recall a few conversations where I thought the chatter would keep going, but instead it fell off abruptly, like straight down off a cliff! It was unusual! Unusual for me, but I suppose I could learn some lessons from the Dutch.

The next day my friend had planned a ‘surprise’ trip to Paris! So we hopped the high-speed train to Paris!! The train passed through wee Belgium and into the French countryside before picking up speed — I mean we were cookin’! When I returned home, I learned that the train was traveling at speeds in excess of 100mph! The fascinating thing was that the train cabin was so quiet and the ride was so smooth that it didn’t seem like we were going that fast. Things were whipping by though!

After a few hours on the train, we arrived in Paris and scrambled to the metro (subway) and to our hotel. (Fortunately for me, my friend is a seasoned traveler. Otherwise it would have taken me a few more hours to find my way in the Paris metro. After a few metro trips under my friend’s tutelege, however, I felt comfortable making my way around.)

That afternoon we took in Notre Dame cathedral and enjoyed the bell tower tour. The next day we visited the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Montmartre, and the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur (at night in the rain!). The following day we visited the courtyard and gardens of the Louvre. (I’m short here with Paris because I could go on forever, and some secrets must be kept, right?)

Paris compared to Amsterdam… well, what can I say… the buildings were more beautiful, the food was more delicious, and the feel was more magical! Such a wonderful blur it was — a taste of Paris in two days!

So what did I learn?

The food in Amsterdam and Paris is SO much better than it is here. Every meal we ate was delicious (the food in Paris was out of this world!), as compared to maybe every other meal in the US. You take a chance when you eat out in the US. There, no chances.

The old buildings and streets provided for such a warm, lived-in feeling. This in contrast to the newer buildings and especially single-family dwellings in most of the US. Just warm and connected as opposed to cold and disjoint. On the other hand, the only time I got a long view of things was on the train to Paris and in Amsterdam forest, on the edge of town. (This is also a personal preference that I have for smaller towns and the country.)

I was also stuck by city-living and transportation there. A car is not required to get around Amsterdam or Paris. A bicycle is all you need in Amsterdam. However, this same bicycle could quickly get you killed in Paris. But the trams, trains, and subways seemed remarkably comfortable, safe, and convenient. I think we (in the US) have something to learn here, especially with our system of automobiles and gasoline.

It was so nice to be able to walk everywhere, pick up some food, or stop in a cafe and enjoy a drink. It was all easily accessible. Whereas here, one needs to get in the car to go do the same thing. The journey here (in a car) is not as enjoyable. Our journeys are disconnected from each other and I think we pay for it in a myriad of ways.

So all of this leads me to think that people value each other more there because they appear to value food and companionship and physical closeness more than we do. But as I stated before, I was in the magical spell as soon as I stepped out of the customs area at Schiphol! 🙂

I’m ever thankful to my good friend for being my tour guide and companion on this fabulous trek! It is a trip I will not forget.

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