When you hear a bike bell, you dive out of the way! That should be the first thing that you learn before a visit to Amsterdam.
Most of the locals ride their bike everywhere and the whole city is set up with an excellent system of bike paths. Make no mistake, however, these bike paths are for bikes, not for tourist to wander around like your drunk Uncle at Christmas dinner. Once you embrace that idea, Amsterdam is a wonderful city to explore.
For our first stay in Amsterdam, we rented Rembrandt Square Houseboat that was ideal for its charm and location.
It turned out to be one of the best decisions of our whole trip! Amsterdam has always been about its canals, so you feel so connected to the city when you stay on the water. It was comfortable, warm, and had big glass doors that opened directly onto the canal. Our host told us that this was because, during certain festivals and events in Amsterdam, it was common for passing boats to pull up, hang out, and maybe share a drink with people staying there before they moved along. Besides its friendly functionality, it gave us the most picturesque view of a bridge that crossed the canal with boats passing under it as they lazily worked their way down the canal. After a long day of exploring, it was the most serene feeling stare out those doors, sip a bottle of wine, and watch the boats pass by. There’s truly no experience like it.
We really enjoyed the various waterfowl that would come up to the sliding glass doors and visit us, looking for a handout.
We had been warned that the swans on the canal would aggressively seek food if you left the sliding glass doors open, to the point of inviting themselves into your houseboat. We laughed the whole thing off until we met Bubbles.
Bubble’s (on the left) was a troubled young swan, who grew up on the wrong side of the canal.
It was said that he had earned his reputation by fighting in the swan pits of Siberia. Rumor had it that the homemade knife he carried was made from the tusk of a walrus, his first defeated opponent. That was the same knife he pulled on us one evening as we returned to our rented floating home.
We had spent the day exploring the Dutch countryside, listening to our tour guide and snapping pictures of anything that would stay still long enough.
We went to Zaanse Schans where one could get an idea of life in Holland in the 17th and 18th centuries, which had over 600 windmills in the area. We also visited the Wooden Shoe Factory in Marken, and bought wooden shoes, which we figured would be extremely practical for living in Los Angeles. For our last stop, we visited the Cheese Factory in Volendam, and little did we know that the one of the cheeses we purchased in the gift shop there, would save our lives on our return to the houseboat.
As we went down the ramp leading from the shore to our houseboat, I caught the sight of a flurry of feathers out of the corner of my eye.
I had just enough time to get one of the wheels of cheese we had bought in front of me to defend myself. Bubble’s knife streaked through the night air and embedded itself into a wheel of goat’s milk pesto cheese, barely missing my heart by inches. I yelled for Michelle to run for the door as I twisted the wheel of cheese around to sink the knife deeper before Bubbles was able to use it to stab again. We could hear the jeers of the other swans as they cheered him on. Seeing Michelle get safely inside, I jumped for the door, grasping the edge of the boat and hanging on for dear life. I pulled myself up to the deck, fell through the front door, and lay there gasping on the front of the boat like Martin Sheen in “Apocalypse Now.” In the back of my mind I heard Marlon Brando whispering, “the horror, the horror.”
Once inside, we quietly huddled together in the dark safety of our living room, holding on tightly to each other as the adrenaline rush was still pumping through our veins. We timidly peeked through the curtains to get one last glimpse of what would haunt us for the rest of our lives. Bitter in their defeat, Bubbles and his crew swam off into the dark recesses of the Amstel canal, eating the cheese they stole and flashing gang signs at us.
Amsterdam is a romantic place, filled with beauty and history. The people embrace an openness to their life style that accepts all people from every walk of life. There’s a tranquility in the air as you stroll around the canals. The people are tall and beautiful, the cuisine wonderfully eclectic, and the city embodies everything that you could hope for in an enlightened utopia. Just remember to carry cheese and keep one eye on the canal, for Bubbles.
NOTE: The story of Bubbles may have been greatly exaggerated for dramatic effect. 🙂