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Dutch Dreams

Just spent three days and nights in Amsterdam. My sister and I stayed at the Barangay B&B, which is very close to the train station. The B&B is owned by a couple, Wimmo and Godwin, who were very gracious and accomodating hosts. We were actually greeted at first by their friend Ron, who made us tea and provided us with a map and a visitor's guide. He immediately set about marking up the map for us, pointing out the Jordaan (an arty section of shops and cafes), the Red Light District, some museums and some of his favorite restaurants. He also gave us a discount coupon for a boat ride.

The B&B wasn't cheap (about $500 for 3 days, which is still cheaper than hotels), but it was very comfortable. My sister and I had a floor to ourselves. Both our rooms were large and comfortable, decorated in a funky tropical theme. On the floor below there was a communal breakfast room stocked every day with fresh breads, muffins, cereals, meats and cheeses. We made our own breakfast and washed our own dishes, which Rena found odd for a B&B, but I liked the homey atmosphere of it.

Amsterdam is definitely a walking city and pedestrian friendly. The city seems to be an interesting mixture of old world austerity and a modern upbeat vibe. This was most evident in the constant flow of sturdy Vermeer-black bicycles and whizzing Day-Glo Vespas. On our first night we walked through the more touristy section which led to the famous Red Light district and then into Chinatown, where we had a couple of fine meals. Both my sister and I are hopelessly direction-challenged, but she was determined to understand the map and managed to guide us (in an often-roundabout way) through the city and get us back to the B&B. I, on the other hand, was happy just to wander aimlessly. After a bit we stopped for a coffee and quickly discovered we were in one of the many cafes where more than just coffee is available. My sister, who doesn't partake of that sort of thing (or hasn't for years) was the designated walker for the evening, while I had a "special treat". It went well with my cappucino and I felt quite at home with the city's laid-back sensibility.

Most of the time was spent walking along the canal streets - the Herengracht, the Prinsengracht - and ducking down small streets. My sister is a budding photographer and found plenty to shoot, some of which should be posted on this site soon. We did manage visits to the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, which was huge, so we restricted ourselves to the Rembrandts, Vermeers and Steens. But the real work of art as far as we were concerned was the city itself. The buildings towered with a sturdy beauty and my sister fell in love with the huge windows. Whenever I go to a city or town I always wonder to myself if I could live there. I think I could definitely see myself living in Amsterdam. It would probably be a challenge to learn Dutch, but on the other hand the place seems so laid-back and easy-going that it might be easier than I think.