Day 2 in Amsterdam was a bit better. The sun was out and the wind died down. We decided to wander away from the center. Upon leaving the hotel I was immediately annoyed by the scene on the streets at 9 am on a Friday morning, folks wandering around with their hiking packs and suitcases, having just arrived and looking for the party to get started, others sitting out in the sidewalk cafes starting the day with lots of beer (or maybe they were still going from last night). In a recurring theme, we noticed how trashed everything was – cans, broken and empty bottles, garbage bags lying on the sidwalks and floating in the canals. The kids loved the swans in the canals but reported feeling sorry for them as they navigated the garbage and, in some cases picked at it to see if there was anything worth consuming.
Anyway, we wandered out of that and very quickly found ourselves in some nice, quiet, canal-lined neighborhoods with a mixture of old housing and newer condos/apartments. The city is definitely oriented to bicycles (meaning there are bike lanes everywhere, but there is also clearly no pedestrian right of way when it comes to either cars or bikes). And we saw lots of families out on their bicycles. I could imagine that, if you mostly avoided the more touristed and trashed areas of downtown, the city would offer a nice and in many ways unique life. Although I wouldn’t come back as a tourist, I would be interested in visiting friends that live in the area.
So, we walked for a bit and then stopped at some random cafe for lunch. I had a pancake with goat cheese, honey, pine nuts and radicchio. We went back to the hotel for a bit and then we took a canal tour to kill time before the train. When I was a kid I read a Nancy Drew mystery that was set in Amsterdam so I had prior ideas of what the canals are like. I ended up being a bit surprised because I imagine that the residences would often have direct canal access but, in fact, it seems that streets line the canals and that very few individual buildings have direct access. There are many houseboats but I was also surprised to see a good many boats that were in various stages of sinking and clearly abandoned.
After the canal tour we walked to the station. People walk fast in Amsterdam and they are clearly annoyed by tourists (I would be too) stopping in the middle of the sidewalks to consult maps, etc. They were rude. Beyond Paris rude. I watched one guy yell “Move!” and actually push someone out of the way.
We arrived at the trainstation about 20 minutes before our train. The station was basic, crowded and dreary. There was nowhere to sit while we waited for them to announce our platform. Instead, we stood in front of the monitors with the other waiting passengers, being buffeted on all sides by people pushing past.
In the end I kind of felt that there was an acquiescence to powerlessness and embrace of decline that characterized the place. I was glad to get on the train and leave Amsterdam behind.