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Amsterdam 🇳🇱

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On the road again 🎶 or more aptly, on the train again! 🚄

After a lovely week at Alanna's aunt and uncle's house near Brussels in suburban Belgium, it was time for our next excursion. Uncle Paul drove us to a nearby town with a larger train station where we caught a regional train to Antwerp. From there, we got on a Thalys train en route from Paris to Amsterdam. The seats were very comfortable, with well bolstered head rests and plenty of space for Alanna to knit or to use a laptop. Our total time on various trains was about two hours, and our total travel time was about three.

We arrived at the large central train station at about lunch time. We sauntered across a half dozen tram tracks to a small cafe in front of the station, just ahead of the lunch rush. I ordered a giant meatball sandwich thing and Alanna had a more traditional sub. We shared a giant plate of fries with mayonnaise! Mayo is the traditional dipping sauce around this part of the world.

After lunch, we walked around the city and did some exploring. The city center itself is pretty small. You can walk across it and back in about an hour. We walked up and down various streets along canals, all laid out in a sort of hexagonal grid surrounding the train station.

After a few turns, we found ourself on one end of the red light district. During the day, it's a pretty normal street. The shop signs are a little weird, but I think most of the kinky stuff happens beyond the small storefronts, or perhaps we weren't in the "right" place. Not looking to find one of those locations, we continued on exploring, admiring the beautiful architecture and unique rows of houses.

Zaanse Schans

Unlike most of our previous stops, our lodging was not in the city center. I can't quite remember why I picked something a little further out, but I think it had to do with pricing and a lack of affordable accommodation that wasn't a hostel. I like to sleep in, and a room full of people getting up and down at all hours just hasn't seemed appealing yet! :)

To get to our hotel, we needed to catch a train from the central station headed north out of the city. The train was scheduled once an hour and ran until 2am. From there, it was twenty minutes and a half dozen stops to our destination. As we descended the small platform and crossed under the road, we could tell something was different.

We ascended back up the stairs on the other side of the road and immediately our noses were assaulted in the best possible way with a rich aroma of cocoa and chocolate. Unbeknownst to us, this town was home to a small chocolate factory! Alanna was in heaven. As we walked the final ten minutes to our hotel from the platform, we passed a small cafe called "Smells Like Chocolate".

Our hotel was nestled on the river and featured a large patio overlooking the calm water. The river was about 500 feet wide, and just across the way we could see a half dozen traditional dutch windmills lazily spinning away in the afternoon breeze. We settled in for the evening and got some dinner a few hours later across the street and then went to sleep.

The next morning, we awoke bright and early at 11am and headed across the river to investigate our surroundings. I didn't know all of this stuff was here when booking so it was a pleasant happy accident! We toured a museum dedicated to the history of the windmills and discovered these are some of the only ones left standing after the industrial revolution declared them obsolete. Hundreds of windmills used to line this river and today only a few remain.

After the museum, we toured inside one of the windmills, this one crushing exotic rocks from around the world to make fine powders used to make paint. Giant stone wheels in the center of the structure are twisted in a circle, driven by the power of the wind. Most of the windmills operate in a similar fashion, harnessing the winds energy with a series of gears to create movement and power various contraptions.

Now approaching the mid afternoon, we headed back across the river in search of lunch and a nap before heading back to the city for the evening.

A night on the water

Back in Amsterdam central, we had some time to kill. Once again we set off exploring. This time we went sort of west and followed a large street south. We wandered around for a bit and decided to split up and meet back at the station in a couple of hours. I think Alanna went to eat some pastries and talk to a friend back home. I did my usual thing. Walk until I find something interesting, buy a drink, rinse, repeat.

The activities for the night were a candlelight canal tour of the city I had stumbled across online. Always a little impatient and partial to punctuality, I arrived 15 minutes before boarding even started, only to find we actually needed to get on the boat on the other side of the city center! I called Alanna and met her outside a cake shop and we briskly walked through the tightening maze of people and streets towards the boat.

We arrived about 10 minutes before castoff, just enough time to get settled in while the remaining passengers streamed onto the boat. We got a seat right at the front of the boat behind the captain, our table a hatched pattern of wood with one inch square holes, likely a feature of this boat's prior life without a roof! The table had three freshly corked bottles of wine in different varieties and some cheese and crackers for snacking.

For the next two hours, we lazily drifted through the tight canals of the city. Every five minutes or so, our hostess would pick up a small microphone and explain the history of the sights around the city in French, English, and German! The rest of the time, we were serenaded with classic love songs and the sweet smooth jazz saxophone solos of a bygone era. I couldn't help but chuckle when the hostess would switch the microphone off and we were again blasted with a wall of emotional music at the height of a final chorus.

Just as the night was really descending between the tall rows of houses, we pulled back up to the small makeshift dock along the canal. We wandered back towards the station trying to find some food, but unfortunately everything I was in the mood for had a line. We took the train back out to the burbs, planning to stop at a restaurant on the way to the hotel, but Google had the wrong info and it was long closed as well.

I chugged some water instead and went to sleep.


The next morning we set off back to the city to return the way we had first came. By the mid afternoon, we were back in Belgium and relaxing in a now familiar and cozy "home".

I really liked Amsterdam, and the Dutch philosophical approach to urban planning is truly something I think everyone should experience. Even with the crazy growth of hundreds of years of history, the government has made it a priority to make every inch of the nation accessible by train, bus, and a short walk or bike ride. Sure, there are still lots of cars, but it's not the only option and by no means are you destined to be a social hermit if you don't own a car.

Some light Google-ing has turned up some planning documents for the city of Dallas. They have tentatively approved the construction of a short metro line to service downtown. An actual underground metro! It will connect to other Dart Light Rail on either end that continues off into the suburbs in opposing directions. I'm hopeful for its success and the extension of the line(s) in the decades to come, as our society transitions away from fossil fuels and infrastructure becomes smart enough to enable a new type of urban living in America.