Saturday, September 3, 2011

An Entire City Under Water


My best description of Amsterdam, Netherlands is that is it very much like San Francisco on steroids! I was blown away with the vitality of this city, and wished I had more time to see what it has to offer.

Anyway, our day started early once again with a private car. We begin our day by a drive into the countryside to visit Zaanse Schans, a quaint, old Dutch village that has been lovingly preserved.

Amsterdam, NetherlandsOnce in the Zaanstreek region, there were literally hundreds of windmills covering the countryside, but today only a few remain. Twelve of the remaining mills have been carefully moved to this quaint village where they have been lovingly restored and maintained in working condition. Our driver took us into the village by a back entrance, thus avoiding the hordes of tourist pouring into the main gate. The village is a thriving community which is owned by a Foundation. Residents receive up to 70% of the cost of any renovations to their properties, and properties can be purchased at a big discount. However, the family must then agree to maintain the homes in their original condition and to live there for at least ten years. They must also accept that it is a living museum, and so they may not surround their property with gates or fences, but must maintain everything in its original state.

On our arrival, it was so quiet and peaceful that you would not have known we were so near the city of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam, NetherlandsChildren were at play, mothers were out walking their babies, and it was a glimpse of Dutch life that was very interesting, right down to the wooden shoes being worn by the locals. It was a beautiful day, and I was able to grab some very good photographs, which I hope to get on the net later today.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Arriving at Amsterdam itself, we entered a blur of activity. Narrow streets, canals everywhere, and the hustle and bustle of traffic; all added to the aura of organized chaos. Crazy as it sounds, buildings are purposely tilted forward on their fronts, in order that goods can be lifted by rope to the upper floors without hitting the lower floors. If you look carefully at some of our pictures you will see the buildings leaning.

DSC_7146Adding to that impression of chaos were the bicycles. They were everywhere, and they always have the right of way. Along every sidewalk and street there are bike lanes, and believe me, if you so much as set one foot inside that lane, you do you at great personal risk. I had seen something like this in Copenhagen, but nothing prepared me for what I saw in Amsterdam. The Netherlands is populated by some 16 million people, of which around 800,000 live in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, however, there are over 1,000, 000 bicycles! Add to that the fact that the city is spread over 70 islands, boasts 60 miles of canals, and has over 1,000 bridges; then perhaps you can begin to get the picture.

Since its inception in the 13th century, Amsterdam has been a melting pot of cultures. It has a rich history in the arts, and is a major trading center in the world. People from all over the world can be found here: hence my comparison to San Francisco. However, as with New Orleans, it is a city which lies below sea level! The city was originally kept water free by the giant windmills which pumped water outside the man-made dykes which surround the city. In 1932, a 22 mile long dam was created to seal off part of the Zuider Sea, thus allowing large landfills and a huge growth in the area of the city. In order for our ship to enter the harbor, we first had to pass through a lock which lowered us down to the level of the water inside the dammed area.

Lisa and I were so fascinated by our visit to the city, that after our private tour ended and we ate a quick lunch on the ship, we got back out and had a taxi take us to the world famous Rijksmuseum. While the museum is undergoing restoration, they have accumulated their most famous works into one massive exhibition. Thank goodness the museum was not open all the way, because we were so tired after viewing only a portion of their items, that it was all we could do to drag ourselves back to the ship. We did get to see some of the most famous Rembrandt paintings in the world and they had all been cleaned and looked better than any Rembrandt I had ever seen before.

So, tired but happy, we set sail tonight for Zeebrugge, Belgium and yet another day of adventure,


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