Netherlands – Day Four – Boats and Trains

Netherlands – Day Four – Boats and Trains

oday we went on our first official tour of the series, a ride down the canals of Amsterdam on a long, low tour boat.

It sure didn’t look like the best day for it – it was cold and windy and raining pretty consistently. We got on the bus, a bunch of boisterous Americans. The counterweight was the charming Dutch woman, our guide who lives here. She was amusing on the ride out, talking about commuting by bicycles in this city (yeah, soul sister!). When we got to the boat, it was coming down heavier – thank goodness it was enclosed. But the rain didn’t matter, we could see well enough. And as we progressed, it tapered off.

A rainy view of a row of leaning buildings. I’m not sure if they “re-floor” the buildings or just let their marbles roll to the far wall.

Yes, Amsterdam is really something to see from water level. The leaning ancient buildings. The stream of cars, vans, bikes and about every other vehicle you could imagine on each bank. The riverboats moored to either side, some listing weed-festooned wrecks, others floating palaces. Here you see the true Amsterdam, the past enmeshed with the present. By the time we were nearly at the dock, the sun was coming out and it was shaping up to be a nice day. Some of our group stayed in the city center (including mom and sis). JB and I returned to the hotel – we had other plans.

Which was a visit to a local hobby shop. Now that we had Uber, JB and I could call for a ride over to the shop. It was a little unnerving, typing in these strange lengthy addresses (of which the Uber app would remove half). So we made sure with the driver that there actually was a train store listed at that location – he verified that there was just that. And that’s fine; I didn’t want to end up in an industrial ruin where the mob is capping an informant, and we’ve just “seen too much”.

This shop is tucked into the back of a suburban row of houses. But worth the look!

So Harlaar Modeltreinen was a really nice shop in what looks like a converted, expanded garage behind the owner’s house. Interesting to look at all this European stuff (with an occasional batch of beefy heavy-iron Yankee equipment in the mix). I really wanted to buy a model of the Good Year Blimp but there was no way it would fit in my suitcase. In that, I bought enough figures for our club’s primary station – and some benches, too. I spent about 130 EUR, but at least little N-scale guys will fit in the luggage, even 150 of them.

Once JB and I got home, we dumped the little guys off and headed back out on another tram (17), direct to the Central Station (a place I’d seen from afar on our last trip but never got to go into, given my wife’s breaking of her arm (link HERE)).

Funny side story – on the walk from the hotel to the tram stop, there was a woman whose dog was at the end of a long, long leash, just laying on the sidewalk way behind her, a weird beagle mix, long and low and sad. We said “hello dog” and it walked up to its owner at our side, just trotting along. The owner cheerfully explained that her dog didn’t like people coming up behind her. So we talked as we walked – the dog’s name is “Google”. I was looking down at Google and she mentioned that he always had bad hair days. And sure enough, the hair on the top of his head was matted and tangled. He just walked along with this humorous hang-dog look, eying us both wearily and wearily. Finally we parted ways with smiles. Shortly after, we were at the tram stop for route 17.

And on the ride out, the beauty of this city really struck me. Unlike American cities, where everyone is locked in isolation in their cars, the sidewalks were packed, the bike lanes wizzing, the trams cracking, the canal barges chugging. I’d look out my window to see a mid-fifties woman, seemingly unburdened by the bullshit of US culture, riding a bike along, her sliver-streeked hair ribboning back, cool eyes scanning the street for casual dangers as she swept along. Where US mothers will purchase two ton cars of iron to “keep their kids safe”, these moms ride with children piled into the forward tub of their cargo bikes. And so I’d see them, hazed in the glory of reflection off the canals, and feel pride for their accomplishment (and disdain for their timid stateside sisters who think that freedom only comes from holding a firearm on your Christmas card). They were glorious. And their city, so alive!

At Central Station, we wandered about just taking in the sights – it was like Melville’s Perdido Street Station without the sullen tones, a place where people from all cultures and races come together in this nexus of transport. We helped a smiling Indian woman figure out where her hotel was. We strolled the bustling concourse. stopping to pick up muffins from a shop. Sitting with the main port shimmering through the wide open entrance behind me, the station surging around us, it was on of those moments people snap pictures and post on Facebook, proving that for once, they lived the good life. The two of us? We just enjoyed our muffins.

The old train shed roof at Central Station. Yes, the letters on the roof spell “AMSTERDAM”, for lost pilots, I suppose.

Jane makes a life-moment by smiling over our train-station muffins. Much better than Amtrak vending machine food.

Met the sister and mom at a pizzeria down the street after riding 17 back, a very popular place called Norma’s. Great pies, fantastic deserts, and a corner table with the city at my back, the good citizens still winding down from their Dutch tulip trading, or whatever it is they do to employ each other.

This was truly a fantastic day. I hope the rest of them are this good. Come and see if they are, tomorrow!

P.S. Ghost train mystery solved. My sister found out from someone that due to street maintenance, route 1 now threads a temporary route through the city. So yes, all those strange sightings of the Flying Dutchman Tram now make sense. I’m just waiting to see some fellow tour-people whom we helped to go to the Van Gogh museum yesterday morning via Tram 1. I’m sure they will have something to say to me over breakfast. Well, we did it too…


>>>NEXT DAY<<<