Just got back from my little Euro trip, the purpose of which was a conference and paper presentation. But more on that later...
On July 2 I flew from Ottawa to Philadelphia, sat in that airport for 8+ hours, then flew the red eye to Brussels. With a small child kicking my seat, I got very little sleep and arrived rather dazed and groggy. Took the train straight to Amsterdam and arrived there even more dazed and groggy. It was around 2 p.m. - far too early to go to bed - so after depositing my backpack at a youth hostel I roamed the streets.
The centre of Amsterdam is a maze of canals and small streets - confusing at the best of time and more so when I was too tired to properly read a map. I kept heading the wrong way, turning around, twisting upon myself.
I had another chance to visit the city after the conference and was just beginning to get my bearings when it was time to leave. What I loved most was all the bicycles - vintage, uprights that were everywhere. Streets have several lanes - one in each direction for bikes (photo is of one of the signs designating bike lane), one for trams and others for traffic.
Of course the red light district is partly what makes this city so famous. My last night in Amsterdam I was in a youth hostel right in the heart of this - but I had chosen it because it was one of the few that has a 2 a.m. curfew. Most hostels advertise with 'No lockout! No curfew!' which isn't great if you want some sleep. The streets were full of young male tourists who strutted by the windows where prostitutes in glowing bikinis put on a half-hearted shows. There were also rasta youth with glazed eyes, drifting between coffee shops and hanging out in the cobblestone plazas.
For the most part I was alone in my wanderings, but Amsterdam is a great place to people watch. I liked the accepting, non-judgmental attitude. Those which are considered vices in most cities are placed in the open - and become much more humane.