Sunday, November 25, 2012

Amsterdam - Part Two of Three

Other posts in this series:
Part One of Three
Part Three of Three

In the first post of this series, I focused on my experiences and impressions of the city of Amsterdam. This post will focus on our excursion into the countryside just outside of the city. This was primarily a bus excursion, with one exception that I'll mention later. Immediately upon leaving the city, we entered the Dutch countryside, which was lined with farms. Our tour guide explained that there are no suburbs in The Netherlands because land is so scarce that every inch of it must be maximally used.

We drove along the Zuider Zee, a large inland sea that was once salt water, but has become fresh water since most of its inlets from the North Sea were closed during the 20th century. Our first stop was a small village. Highlights here included walking around the village, and touring a combination cheese and clog factory which - surprise! surprise! housed a gift shop! I bet you never would have guessed that!

I guess the good thing about clogs is they can be put to other creative uses when they're no longer any good as footwear.

I'm not sure if the owner of this home intended to share some humor or insult tourists. This is not the first knick-knack I would consider putting on my windowsill.

Now, I don't know what you would think, but I found it very strange that

a) the cheese factory and the clog factory were both housed in the same small facility, and
b) the expert cheese producer who explained the cheese making process to us was also the expert clog maker who explained and demonstrated the clog manufacturing process to us.

The authenticity of the entire venture seemed just a tad suspicious to me.

After finishing our tour of the first village, with its possibly ersatz cheese and clog factories, we took a ferry to our second stop, a fishing village. As you've seen so far, this was a gray day. As we boarded our ferry, gloomy, threatening clouds loomed overhead.

When we arrived at the fishing village, we disembarked onto a street that was clearly a tourist trap. I assure you that no one was fishing for a living on that side of town; unless one counts fishing for tourist euros. That's the second suspicious bit of this tour. The third one was that our tour guide led us to a meeting place right in front of a fish and chips shop that she recommended highly to us. Her first recommendation came as the boat was pulling into the harbor. Her second recommendation came as we stood outside the fish shop and discussed our return meet-up time. Her final recommendation came as people gathered for our departure. Can anyone say "kickback?" It sure seemed likely.

Dave and I needed less than three seconds to decide that

a) we weren't eating fish and chips at the guide's recommended restaurant, and
b) we weren't wasting an hour browsing tacky tourist shops.

So, we opted to leave the harbor and walk around town. We discovered that it was a very attractive little town, well worth browsing for awhile.

Yes, this is a real cat sleeping cozily in a window.

You may not be able to tell it easily from the photos, but many of the houses we saw in these villages were very tiny. I can't imagine that the Dutch build up much clutter in their homes, because I don't know where they would put stuff. I'll mention here that, when we took our canal cruise on our final evening in town, I noticed that the houseboats were sparsely furnished. That's not to imply that the houseboat residents were poor. My conclusion was that many of the Dutch probably lived frugally and avoided wasting money and space on junk. Something to think about...

When we arrived back at the harbor, I bought some shrimp from a stall that was not recommended to us. It didn't matter, it was tasty and it held me over until supper, which we wouldn't be eating for a couple of hours yet. When our group got together, we walked through a section of town that Dave and I hadn't seen yet and boarded our tour bus. Naturally, some ignoramus from our group had wandered away and gone nosing around inside a church instead of coming to the bus with the rest of us. This really irked me because, instead of leaving the jerk behind as we should have done, our third stop was cut really short because we got there late. Thanks a lot, buddy.

Our final, shortened, stop was a village that housed several old fashioned, still-functioning windmills. A word about windmills. As we rode the train through northern France, Belgium and Holland, we saw many windmill farms. This is great for power production and energy conservation. Sadly, the beautiful old windmills are quickly becoming icons of the past. Our guide informed us that there are only a couple of hundred of them left in the entire country. So, if you want to see some of them, you'd better get to The Netherlands pretty soon, before they're all gone.

I mentioned in the first Amsterdam post that the city is ringed by many miles of canals. Since most of The Netherlands is below sea level, most of the country is lined with canals as well.

After quickly running through (almost literally running, unfortunately) this last village, it was time to return to the city. Even though the skies had threatened to dump on us all afternoon, they held their water, for which I was grateful, as I didn't have an umbrella. When we arrived back at Amsterdam, our bus dropped us off across the canal from the Amsterdam's central train station, a very large, beautiful building. Too bad they don't build 'em like this anymore.

My final thought on this day's activities. I'm glad we took the opportunity to tour these outlying villages, as it gave us a chance to see some of the countryside, as well as a very small slice of Dutch village life. Having done it once, I wouldn't do this particular tour again. If we ever return to Amsterdam, I have no further need to see commercialized little villages like these. I don't blame the villagers for making a buck. It's just that, if I'm looking for authentic foreign experiences, I'd rather skip the tourist traps and find some off-the-beaten-track villages to hang around in for awhile.  


Dotti said...

My second attempt to comment! Just getting to these. Love them all! No doubt Paris is debonair, a thing of beauty. But I'm enthralled with the quaintness of Amsterdam and the countryside.

Nicely done!

Evie said...

Having only caught glimpses of the French countryside through various train windows, my impression is that it's also quaint and not nearly as debonair as Paris. I'd love to use Paris or Amsterdam as a staging area from which to tour more of western Europe's small towns and villages - far away from the tourist traps.