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NETHERLANDS
 
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We visited Amsterdam in January of one year and again in late June a few years later and thoroughly enjoyed the place. It isn’t the prettiest city we’ve ever been to in Europe and certainly not one of the biggest but we found the people to be extremely friendly and fun loving---if not a little wacked, and I say that in a very positive way!

The canals (they call Amsterdam the Venice of Holland) were frozen during our winter visit so we couldn’t take the famous boat tours around town. But we did do a lot including a visit to the infamous red light district where the hookers sit in neon wrapped windows waiting for paying customers. 

During a summer trip to Amsterdam we did hop aboard one of those boat tours and it was highly interesting and informative.  Only one problem.  Rude tourists. If you just want to enjoy the ride and sights and don't plan to take any pictures, disregard the rest of this paragraph.  But if you do want to snap some still shots or film some video, try to get on early. They seat you "three deep" on the boats and if you don't have a window seat, shooting pictures is pretty much out of the question.  Even if you're the first to buy your tickets for the next trip, getting on early  isn't easy because of some rude tourists who push right by you.  I don't want to be too specific about a group that was noticeably rude pushing and shoving their way onto our boat but let's just say they were senior citizens with gray hair and they came from a country that has a flag with the colors of black, red and gold.  We couldn't believe how rude these people were!

One place you should definitely visit is the Anne Frank house, a truly moving experience.

The Anne Frank house is the place where the young girl, her family, and another family hid from the Nazis during World War Two because they were Jewish. Sadly after a couple of years of living in complete secrecy on the upper floors of a canal house somebody turned them into the Germans and they were taken off to the death camps. Anne Frank was 14 when she died. Shelly Winters starred in the Anne Frank Story (a movie) and won an Oscar for her role. That very Oscar was donated to the Anne Frank house and we saw it during our visit along with sections of her actual dairy. What a sad story. 

Anne's father, Otto, survived the ordeal because he was away when the Nazis came to the house. After arresting those found in the house the Nazis looted the place and removed all the furniture.  When planning to allow tourists to visit the house, Otto Frank was asked if he would like to recreate the furniture the way it was when they lived in the hide-out.  He said he wanted nothing done to it. Nothing was to be changed.  He wanted it to be left precisely the way the Nazis left it and that's what you'll see when you go there.  Pictures of some movie star favorites of Anne Frank remain on the wall protected by a plastic liner.

Visit the Anne Frank House online by clicking here.

The “smoking coffee houses” are interesting over there to say the least. We are simply not into the dope scene in any way but we did go in one of ‘em on purpose just to take a look and we stumbled into another one by accident.

The biggest chain of dope smoking cafes is called BULLDOG (web site here). They sell only two things there--lousy coffee and, I’m told, potent hashish and pot. They actually send little menus of the various types of hash to tables. We had the coffee, thank you very much!

Another time we were riding a tram (Amsterdam has so many canals that a subway system wouldn’t be practical) and saw a “Cyber Cafe," got off at the next stop and back-tracked to the cafe so we could check this web site from Amsterdam. I figured out how many guilders it would cost per hour to go on line and got crackin’. Moments later I smelled dope and sure enough, even this cyber cafe was a hash house. I still find it amazing that accessing this site from Amsterdam was absolutely the same as if I were accessing it from home in the USA.

One thing we learned and fast is that bicycles abound in Amsterdam. There are two sidewalks--one for pedestrians and another for bicyclists. I almost got mowed down a number of times. A friend who is a Northwest flight attendant had a friend who broke an ankle after being run over by a bicycle rider in the city!  So if you go, be careful!

On a summer trip to Amsterdam my wife almost bit the dust.  She didn't hear the bicycle bell going off and the guy on the bike had to go into a slide to miss her.  It's a good thing, too.  She would probably have done considerable damage to his wheels!!!!  Just kiddin' honey!

My very favorite thing about Amsterdam were the friendly locals--always with a smile! They were happy to give directions and seemed to go about life with a devilish smile in their personality unlike Dublin where we found people to be just, well, just getting through with  life.

Amsterdam is the only city I’ve been to where you can get on a tram without exact change. In fact the driver will gladly sell you an all day pass and even pause to give you helpful directions. This IS a friendly place. The freshly brewed Heineken beer is quite lovely, too.

Food is good in Amsterdam.   I would highly recommend one restaurant that we found during our summer trip there called the Sea Palace, a giant floating Chinese restaurant (their website is here).  I asked locals about this place and they said it was okay but nothing to rave about.  We found it to be one of the best Chinese restaurants around.  It had a vast menu and while we all ordered different items, each was expertly prepared and arrived at the table piping hot.  The Sea Palace was designed after Hong Kong's famous Jumbo Restaurant which we tried a few years ago.  In our opinion, the Sea Palace is  a lot better  and without the rude wait staff we found at Jumbo.  To read more about our impressions of this restaurant, click here.

Another good restaurant is De Oesterbar.  Good but expensive seafood.  And watch out for the jenever booze.  Your waiter will tempt you and it's like drinking rocket fuel.  Read more about our experience at this restaurant here.

One more note about Amsterdam's culinary scene.  They now have a legitimate Hard Rock Cafe!  On our first trip there they had a boot-leg type bar called the Hard Rock Cafe with a similar logo.  But the new place is the real deal and sits right on a canal.

We’ll definitely be returning to Amsterdam and will see much more of Holland.

One final recommendation.  If you have an early morning flight out of Schipol Airport you might want to consider staying at the new Sheraton right at the airport.  It's a luxurious five star hotel with a very friendly and efficient staff.  It's totally soundproofed, too, so the jet noise isn't noticeable.  And to get to the airport, it's just a short indoor walk since the hotel is right at the airport. I'd say this is our favorite airport hotel in the world.  And we're hard to please!

NETHERLANDS CURRENCY IS THE EURO. IT USED TO BE THE DUTCH GUILDER.  DRIVING IS ON THE RIGHT AND DOWNRIGHT CIVILIZED COMPARED TO MANY OTHER CITIES.  YOU'LL NEED YOUR PASSPORT ON THIS TRIP.

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