Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Trip to Amsterdam, Netherlands (June 2015)

Kristin and I arrived in Amsterdam to join a brand new tour organized by Expat Explorer. This tour, called Northern Explorer, will cover 10 countries in Scandinavian and Baltic countries in northern Europe. Mr. and Mrs. Jay Yoon and Mr. Jae-sup Choi from New York also joined this tour.

It became far too long to document the entire trip in one post, so I have decided to split it into each country.

Our tour leader was Tim Sayer, a Brit who has been with Expat Explorer for more than four years. He said he had the longest seniority. The driver's name was Henk, known to be a veteran driver in this industry. The group consisted of 45 people so the bus was pretty full. They are from all over the world, largely from Australia, a few from Aruba, a couple from New Zealand, two ladies from California, a few from Malaysia and Vietnam, Philippines, India and several from Canada, plus us and the Yoons and Mr. Choi.

The day was bright until almost 11pm. This was the new experience of white nights. But, thankfully, these white nights made this trip possible covering so much everyday.

Now Amsterdam. This is not the first time to travel to Amsterdam, but the city is so full of many events, museums, places of interest and things to do. So it is never boring to visit this exciting city.

As we gathered as a group. we went out to take a canal cruse to see the city on the water. Netherlands is a country with 25% of its land below the sea level and 50% of the land within one meter above the sea level. The Schiphol Airport, the hub for KLM, is 4.5 meter below the sea level. Naturally, the country has developed an excellent water management system to keep the country dry. Amsterdam's city flag has three X's (St. Andrew's crosses) and they signify that the city should be protected from black rats (causing black plaque), fire and water hazards.

The canal cruise boat
Kris with the Yoons and Mr. Choi
Canals and bridges
There are boat houses throughout numerous canals and it was quite surprising to hear that the boat houses are worth 250 - 300,000 euros. Wow...! Expensive! I would not pay that much for such shabby-looking dwelling structures! (Sorry...) So these people were showing themselves off when they sat out on a small porch, waiving at us when we passed by. Hmmm... Reportedly, the buildings along the canals were built somewhat tilted on purpose so that they may be easily adjusted for movements because of the soft marsh lands where the building stand.

They claim that the water in the canal is good for swimming but it did not look suitable to me.

The country is pretty flat and draws a lot of wind. Thus, it has also developed a good way of using this wind for energy via the famous windmills.

Amsterdam's population is approximately 850,000 people but has 1.1 million bikes. Every where, people are biking. It is the most common transportation. In Amsterdam, bike riders have the right of way not only over cars but also pedestrians. We had to watch left and right often to make sure we do not interfere the bike riders. Bike routes were well developed wherever you went.

After the canal cruise and quick dinner on the cruise boat, we entered the Red Light District. In Netherlands, prostitution is legal and prostitutes are an official profession. Ironically, the Red Light District developed around a church that existed before the district's development.

Why called Red Light District? When Napoleon conquered Netherlands, his soldiers got infected a lot by the prostitutes who were infected by the sailors who came to visit. So Napoleon implemented a strict measure to require the ladies to receive health check regularly. Only those who received the certificate of good health were allowed to do their business. This certificate's color was red and the ladies waved their health certificates to attract their customers. Well... whether it is true or not, the district is now marked well by flashing red light polls around the district.

It was an awkward and uneasy feeling to walk around the district where the ladies display their bodies through the ground-to-ceiling glass windows, wearing seductive skimpy clothes. The space where they display themselves is a rented space that costs them 100-150 euros per session, meaning per night. Obviously they will have to work hard to make any money beyond the break-even. The profession may be legal over there, but, even so, it is a form of profession that puts down human dignity rather than lifts it up. We left the place with bitter taste in our mouths. On the way out, we spotted a place called PIC, representing Prostitution Information Center. Yikes...
Rijks Museum
Bikes on a bridge and a canal
Keukenhof Poster

Bull Dog is a coffee shop where they sell not coffee but marijuana... legally. Many visitors come to try this drug that is usually illegal else where.

We also visited Dam Square, passed by Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum.

Netherlands is also famous for its tulips (Keukenhof - tulip festival), tasty cheese and yummy caramel waffles. We stopped over at a small farm (Clara Maria raising 120 cows) to watch how the gouda cheese and Dutch clogs are made. Dutch clogs are no longer widely used because the land is now pretty much paved, unsuitable for walking on the clogs. The gouda cheese consumes a lot of milk. To produce one kilo gram of cheese, they use 10-11 liters of milk and the process takes 7 days. The cheese may last for good theoretically, but the taste deteriorates after 5 years. Amsterdam is also home for Amstel beer.
Dutch clogs
Dutch Gouda cheese
Amsterdam is a vibrant but crowded city. - Jeffrey

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