When in Rome...
Updated: Jul 4, 2023
The phrase 'When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do' refers to the importance of adapting yourself to the customs of the people who are in a certain place or situation and behave like they behave. It is said Saint Ambrose is credited with first uttering the expression, and his words were preserved by his more famous pen pal, the Christian philosopher Saint Augustine, around the end of the fourth century AD.
However, it's not Rome that I'm writing about; it's Amsterdam.
To celebrate 25 years together, Eileen and I planned our first (and most likely our only) European Vacation. We decided on ten days in Amsterdam, the capital city of the Netherlands. We planned for April 2023 to include peak blooming at the famous Keukenhof Tulip Gardens.
Planning has always been a fun part of any trip we’ve taken over the 25 years together. We like to research the neighborhoods and central locations, the workings of the public transit systems, popular sites, and eateries.
Accommodations are key. While we enjoy the smaller mom-and-pop establishments almost as much as the Marriotts, we decided on a VRBO in the University District in this exciting city. (Another option would have been a houseboat on a canal.) The Metro was a half block away and a grocery store was within a five-minute walk of our ground-foor apartment where we prepared several meals after long days of doing touristy things; and when we needed a nap break, there were no interruptions. The VRBO was the perfect choice.
Ten bullet points to sum up our Amsterdam Vacay:
1. Oh, the People You'll Meet
I imagine there are street performers, artists, and musicians in cities all over the world. We enjoyed chatting with this gentleman from Budapest who sold me his painting of the Homomonument*. He said he'd been to the United States once to see a game as he had a relative who played for the Chicago Bears.
Best $10 Euros Ever Spent.
*The monument is a cluster of three 10mX10mX10m granite triangles and recalls persecution by the Nazis who forced gay men to wear a pink triangle patch.
One of the granite triangles steps down into the Keizergracht (canal) and is said to represent a jetty from which gay men were sent to the concentration camps. Others interpret the step-up from the canal as a symbol of rising hope. The topmost granite triangle is flush with the ground and can easily be missed at first glance.
2. The Dutch have Interesting Gizmos
Take the drain stoppers, for example. Took me a few moments to figure out the purpose of this item at the sink. After placing it, and hand washing dishes, it's easily lifted out of the dirty water by the little hook. How clever is that?
No "Mister Coffee" coffee pots, either. The machine -- similar to the Keurig with one-serving pods.
Our host was puzzled when we asked for a couple of washcloths. After describing the purpose of this item, we were told that the Dutch don't use them, they wash with their hands. And while we're on the subject of bathrooms, all toilets have the water-efficient flush options: a small button and a large button -- depending....
3. The Dutch have cool Signage
A condom shop in the Red Light District
Don't pee in
Bicyclists Cross Now
4. Plastic Bottles and Cigarette Butts
The convenience store cashier recognized us as tourists and as I handed over four Euros; he encouraged us to leave the plastic bottles next to the waste cans located on just about every street corner. The street people collect bottles and receive 15 Euros (about 17 cents in US) for each one returned to a supermarket. It's a way for those folk to purchase food. Plus, rather than having them dig through the trash bags, they can collect the plastic bottles that are next to the trash cans or left on benches. Such consideration! I placed an empty bottle on the chair in front of our VRBO and within a minute, even though I had not seen anyone pass, it was gone.
There are grates in the sidewalks for depositing cigarette butts.
We noticed a street person kneel and remove the grate and then pick through the discarded pieces selecting those with some tobacco remaining.
The man walked off leaving his mess on the sidewalk instead of pushing the butts back into the designated trash area, but still.
5. Metro, Trams, Ferries, and Trains
Getting around the city is super convenient. Trams and buses on the streets, the metro underneath, Ferries that run regularly and on time, and the train system for excursions beyond city limits and into the adjacent country! A seven-day metro pass got us from neighborhood to neighborhood easily, and we still managed to walk several miles each day! On Easter Sunday, we took a thirty-minute Sprinter (train) ride out to Zandvort Beach on the North Sea shore for a lovely day trip.
Pedestrians must be aware of the signage and markings on the roadways as well as the difference between bicycle lanes and pedestrian lanes. If the yield sign is pointing at YOU, you must yield. Bicyclists and drivers have mastered this. Tourists, not so much.
I think it’s understood by all residents that bicycles have the right of way. (I nearly got clipped when stepping into a bicycle lane!) According to their most recent census: there are two bicycles for each household in Amsterdam. Street parking for cars is permitted with a $ 30-a-day permit and there's no guarantee you'll have a spot on the block you live.
Here’s a good example of the pedestrian walkway, bicycle path (rust-colored), and then the roadway. A divided road, the pattern is repeated on the other side: roadway, bicycle path, and then the sidewalk.
It was amazing to watch young mothers with a baby in the front basket and a toddler on a back seat as they peddled past. When it rained, full-length waterproof coats hung or the bicyclist held an umbrella. It wasn't unusual to see folk eating croissants while biking in heavy traffic.
Businessmen cycled next to students, each with determination and purpose. The activity on the pavement was electric and exciting. Both bicyclists and pedestrians push a button for the green crossing signal at the intersections. Bicyclists ride in the same direction as the vehicle traffic, and it's first come, first served for parking for both vehicles and bicycles! Bicycles are parked everywhere: chained to the bridges across the canals, set in front of houses, leaning against trees, and in bicycle garages.
I hope you enjoyed these bullet points about our Amsterdam Vacay. I'll continue with the last five next month!
In the meantime, enjoy every moment wherever travels take you!