After we finished our visit to the Anne Frank house, Mitch and Carrie and Aaron and I had a couple of hours to explore Amsterdam. We started by grabbing lunch at a small cafe near the Anne Frank house. We all had a famous Dutch dish: half smoked sausage with bread and french fries. It was delicious! Let me tell you, these Europeans really know how to cook a potato.
After lunch, we decided that one of the best ways to see the city was from its famous canals. We hopped on one of the canal tours that departed from near the Anne Frank house. From there, we traveled around the city and saw some of the more famous sites. Amsterdam looks much the same from the water as it does from the street, which is absolutely beautiful. The architecture of the tall, narrow, canal houses and the house boats lining the sides of the canal are gorgeous to look at. Interesting tidbit of information, a houseboat is pretty cheap, only about 70,000 Euro, but the permit to park one is expensive - about 300,000 Euro. So for about 400,000 Euro, you, too, can have your very own houseboat on the canals of Amsterdam!
Fun fact: the part of the city inside the canal rings, and canal system of Amsterdam is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, the city planners in the 17th and 18th century built the city, quite literally, by draining the swamp land. So before this, Amsterdam was a swamp. After, it was a thriving port city. Crazy!
The tour was about 75 minutes long, but we got off before we had completed the tour. We wanted to see the floating flower market in the center part of town. Yes, floating. The flower stands sit on houseboat platforms. To be honest, I didn't even realize it was floating until I saw pictures of the back side! Years ago, the flower market was held only on certain days, but became so popular it's now a daily event. You can buy everything from cut flowers to bulbs to cannabis starter packs. They even sell special bulbs that are 'export quality' that you can take home with you. Note that in order to take bulbs back to the states, they must be accompanied with an inspection certificate dated within 6 weeks of the date when you re-enter the country. And you're limited to 12 bulbs at time. If you want to bring more than that back into the country, you will need a special permit from the government.
The weather was beautiful that day for walking around - mid 50s and sunny. But it was windy. I think that's a common theme up there. Crazy thought, but perhaps that's the reason that windmills are also synonymous with the Netherlands...
Bikes are everywhere here, and for good reason. The narrow streets along the canals are pretty hard to navigate with a car any larger than a Smartcar. They often even have their own lanes and traffic signals. On more than one occasion, we were almost run over by a bicyclist while we were walking. No one wears a helmet either. Perhaps it's my American showing, but with that many cars and that many bikes, accidents are bound to happen, and a helmet is one of the best, and easiest, ways to stay at least a little safer. Perhaps the next time we visit, I can convince Aaron to rent bikes. Or not. It probably won't happen.
On our way back to the car, we stopped at a coffee shop (not that kind of coffee shop, although it could have been, I'm just oblivious) that we discovered the night before. Carrie and I wanted to get a Bambino, which is frothed chocolate milk with a shot of espresso. And yes, it is just as delicious as it sounds! If you have a taste for fancy coffee, check out a Coffee Company branch in Amsterdam.
Quick side story, the night before we had also gone into Amsterdam to grab dinner. We parked at an underground garage and when we got up to street level and stepped out, the first thing we all smelled was marijuana. And then noticed the coffee shop across the street, which didn't appear to sell very much in the way of coffee. Of course that would be the first smell of Amsterdam we got! We all had a good chuckled at it.
In short, I loved Amsterdam, even though the bicyclists are insane. We want to get back there sometime this fall, hopefully to see some of the fall colors over the canal and see some things that we missed on this trip (just not enough time to see it all!).