We arrived in Amsterdam, the Netherlands early in the morning. There were two ferry boats scheduled to take us around and show us the canals. We were on the later one and so didn’t need to be ready until 9.30.

The harbor is a busy place and we were the third ship at the same dock. So the first tour people left our ship, waltzed through the next ship and finally through the third one and reached land. As soon as they were off the ship, the two closer boats were ready to leave the port and we did a little maneuver to allow them to leave and then we were docked right next to land.

By the time we were ready to get on a ferry it was easy to navigate. We moved down the docking wall and picked up an enclosed ferry captained by a Dutchman. He was the person who had to untie the boat as well as drive it.

The canal system is all manmade and contains brackish water in it. Amsterdam is sometimes known as the Venice of the North unlike the city we were in earlier which called itself the Venice of Germany. Apparently, lots of people would like to be like Venice. However, the canal system in Amsterdam is flushed daily so unlike Venice it doesn’t get stinky and old. It was another cold day in Europe and so the water wasn’t a problem either way.

As we sailed through the canals, Colin was our guide. He is an American who has lived in Holland for years and can speak their language. He has been the easiest guide to understand although both Eva and Miriam speak wonderful English. Colin was able to point out the areas of interest.

This land was not really supposed to be inhabited as 30% of it is below sea level. As they dredged out regions in which to expand living area, they needed the dredged land to help increase the elevation of the land on which they wished to build and they needed a place to pump the water. Therefore the canals were dredged of dirt and filled with water creating a double benefit. Then, as the waterways needed to be there anyway, they became the road system.

The old buildings erecting in the 1500s and 1600s were placed on pylons as they were constructed. There was a premium on land here and so the buildings were narrow and tall. Over time, the pylons have sunk and so the buildings began to lean. They are called the leaning or drunk buildings. There were quite a few leaning and some would lean left while their neighbor would lean right.

They have beautiful facades because in days gone by, there were no street numbers. Each house would be identified by the way the front of it looked. Often there were distinctive rooflines as well as decorations on the front of the buildings. They are very expensive today, even though they lean. The houses have been maintained in their original look on the outside, but can be fixed up inside. Many of them have had their floors redone to take the leaning into account so that the floors are level.

There was a mixture of new buildings as well as the older buildings. We passed a new building which was quite large. It is named Nemo and is a children’s science museum. Some people love the building and some believe it to be an eyesore. It was quite distinctive.

Years ago, some high school tech kids built an exact replica of an old ship. It was built to the specs of the old glory days of the Dutch naval supremacy. There were tall masts and fancy rigging to hold the sails. It was sailed once and only once. The center of gravity was so displaced that the ship listed dangerously. The only thing to do with it was to turn it into a museum, so that’s what they did.

The ship was much smaller than our ship and held at least twice as many sailors in less than half the space. It was not to be confused with a luxury liner or touring ship of today. Men have the easy ability to pee anywhere and seem quite proud of that skill. However, there were no bathrooms built on the ship. There was a pronged six by six sticking off the back of the ship. One sat astraddle the beam and this became the poopdeck, I guess. There was no toilet paper back in the day, either. So there was a rope that hung below water level with a frayed end that would be “cleaned” between uses.

It wasn’t really difficult to understand the high desertion rate. You could escape the ravages of the cold and churning sea with the lovely sanitary facilities and live on a warm tropical island full of beautiful women. However, if you were caught deserting, you were summarily executed. Apparently this was a viable option for many.

The bridges over the canal were built hundreds of years ago. They are low and the boats were built with them in mind. However, the canals are busy, busy places. Our captain was in constant communication with a central location telling the other end every time we moved from one canal street to the next and where we were on that canal. There were several places where we waited for other boats to pass through the canals towards us and in other places, others waited for us to pass through.

There are lots of people in Amsterdam and it is said that there are twice as many bikes as people. Everybody has their beater bike they use for riding around in town and keep locked outside. These bikes have a large propensity to simply disappear. It seems to be great fun to steal a bike and either sell it for drugs (this is Amsterdam, remember?) or else to simply dump it in the canals.

The canals are said to be 9 meters (10 feet) deep. Three meters are sludge, three meters are bikes, and three meters are for sailing. It probably isn’t quite that bad because the canals are dredged routinely. They do pull about 20,000 bikes from the canals each year.

We passed a tall tower crowned, literally, with the Hapsburg crown. This area was once under the Hapsburg rule back from our Vienna days. What a familiar sight here at the end of our tour.

We disembarked the ferry right outside the Anne Frank House. The museum next door was doing a booming business and the wait was at least two hours to get in. It was our group’s mission to walk to the Dam Square. We set off in the bitter wind and cold.

We stopped at a cheese shop and the woman shared some cheese with us. It is some holiday being commemorated and so her Gouda cheese was turned orange by adding a bit of carrot to the cheese making. She had young cheeses just a few days old to mature cheese that were months old. Her shop was part of the local church/market combo.

We passed over a bridge where a gay memorial was placed on land and in the water commemorating all the gays who were slaughtered during the Nazi occupation. It wasn’t just Jews who were persecuted. Gays were also on the list along with Catholics, gypsies, and the feeble or infirm.

While we were in Germany, they had fought the Thirty Year War over the squabble whether they would be Catholic or Protestant. Here in the Netherlands, they fought the Eighty Year War, taking a much longer time to decide the issue.

We came up to a magnificent building called the Royal Palace. No royals lived there and it wasn’t a palace. Although Amsterdam is the capital, most government business is taken care of at Hague. However, back in the late 1700s good old Napoleon came through and conquered the place. He installed his brother as ruler of the region and his brother took up residence at the Town Hall. It was then that the building was named the Royal Palace. A few years later, they got rid of the French but kept the name for the building.

The cathedral next to the Royal Palace was another medieval church. It is now a museum unless something Royal needs to be done. Then the cathedral becomes a church again, gets reconsecrated, the royal thing happens (marriages usually) and afterwards, it goes back to being a museum again.

Amsterdam has been the most raucous place we have visited. The people are very busy and must get from here to there and if you are in their way, too bad. Just because you have a green light saying you can cross the street, it doesn’t mean you won’t be run over by some busy driver who must get to his destination. There are bikes, mopeds, tiny cars, regular cars, and the trains all vying for driving space with the buses. All in all, it was extremely risky to daydream while walking.

We finally got to the Dam Square and there were wonderful warm buses. In the afternoon, there was a chance to go out walking and visit the red light district. I was too cold and too uninterested to take the walk. Dick went. It is strictly forbidden to take pictures and if you are bold enough to try, some large man will descend upon you and not just remove the pictures, but destroy your camera. At least that is what we were told. No one tested the theory.

There was a Ben and Jerry’s place. There was no ice cream there. They did have brownies. They weren’t regular brownies, but marijuana laced brownies. While it is legal to have drugs here, it is not legal to sell them. However, the coffee shops are where you go to buy pot either rolled or bagged.

The national government has been trying to rein in the drug trade as it is not as wonderful as it might seem. However, Amsterdam makes lots and lots of money on tourism and one of the big draws is the legal drugs available. They have pretty much ignored following new laws restricting drug use.

It was spring break time and so there were more party people than usual. They come from England which is quite close by and have access to sex and drugs and I have no idea about the rock and roll.

Our last night on the ship was quiet. There were some people who had to leave for the airport very, very early. Barb and Bill were among the first departure people. We are the last to leave the ship for the airport. We are the only people going and were supposed to leave here at 2 PM. However, we were out of our room by 8.00 so that the new arrivals would have a room by noon. They were coming aboard the ship by 7.30 in the morning and will keep arriving until the ship sails shortly after 6 PM.

I asked Krystal if we were the first tour of the season. We weren’t; we were the second. I asked if she had done this on the day we arrived as well and she said she had. The crew is awake at 2 AM in order to get all of us off the ship and they work until around 8.30 or 9 when we get out of the dining room. On the first night, there is some music in the lounge so the bartenders are still awake. Most of the arrivals are dealing with jet lag so they aren’t staying up too late.

But this is a really long day and Krystal was so bouncy and cheerful even then. What a great crew and what a great trip. Now to get on a plane and back home. We don’t arrive at our house until Sunday afternoon some time as we only fly as far as Atlanta. I’m thrilled with the trip and have been amazed at all we have seen and done and experienced. Still, I can’t wait to be home again.