I AMsterdam

(Stolen from a Netherland’s tourist ad campaign).

We had to venture outside Amsterdam to see real windmills. This one was near the enchanting town of Gorinchem, not far from the renounded pottery town of Delft. Click to enlarge.

Dammed if Amsterdam isn’t the most ideal tourist destination I have ever seen. Set amidst the backdrop of charming old world architecture, utterly enchanting canals and boasting more bicycles than cars, Amsterdam still manages to feel really hip and modern.

Canals and bicycles, iconic Amsterdam

Chose your own adventure and Amsterdam will provide it. You want world class museums? See the originals of paintings you have seen all your life at the Rijks Museum, filled with Rembrandts and Vermeers. Or the Van Gogh (the Dutch say Van Gawk) museum housing Vincent’s incredibly beautiful but somehow heartbreaking images. My guide book likened his work to ‘a series of suicide notes’. Side panels include snippets of his wild and tragic life in both Dutch and English, helping the viewer get inside the head of the great but flawed artist. Truly a thought provoking, mind altering exhibit.

My guidebook described this image as the decisive moment a group of notables notices someone new walking into the room - they all look up in anticipation. Who is it, they appear to ask. Many of you will recognize this as Rembrandt's classic Dutch Masters - used ad naseum in cigar ad campaigns in the 60s, rendering it trite to many. Sad, because the original is truly a magnificent example of Dutch Renaissance painting, painstakingly perfect in detail.

Had enough culture? Stop at a ‘Coffee Shop’ for a mind alteration of a different kind and I’m not talking caffeine – there’s one (or two) of these pot shops on just about every block, particularly in the Red Light District. I was surprised to find no less than 4 very large churches located practically within arms length of the Ladies Behind the Windows. Chris and I, along with hoards of other window shoppers strolled the narrow alleys for a peek at the steamy side of life. The vibe was more electric and exotic than sleazy and we never felt anything but totally safe.

The Red Light District was packed with 'window shoppers' on a Saturday afternoon.

My favorite part? Strolling aimlessly along the scenic canals - a new vista around every bend. Window shopping of a different variety, I loved poking my head in the zillions of small boutiques selling everything from tulip bulbs (had to have some), cheeses (ate all I could), silk scarves (yes, I bought one – you know me and scarves), Delft pottery (yes again), and Dutch chocolates (duh).

Add to this the fact that Schipol is one of my favorite airports in the whole world, with great connections into the city and you have a destination worthy of traveler’s time and money. I will be back!