AMSTERDAM, AN EASY GATEWAY TO EUROPE
With easy access through Schiphol airport, Amsterdam is a compact city, hosting dozens of world class museums, miles of picturesque canals, well-maintained parks, narrow streets with old-world charm, hundreds of outdoor cafes and cozy bars.
Most importantly, English is the second language. So don't worry if you need help. You don't have to ask, "Do you speak English?" because everyone does.
GETTING AROUND AMSTERDAM, YOU'LL NEED A MAP
We passed innumerable churches, monuments, statues, small clothing shops, jewelry stores, large department stores, high-end boutiques and flea-markets.
It was obvious why Amsterdam is such a popular destination. But there was a problem.
Without a tall landmark as an anchor, walking down one narrow street after another, I felt dizzy as if we were walking in circles. Which is exactly what we were doing.
The bad news is that American credit cards are not accepted everywhere in Holland. At high-end restaurants and hotels, your credit card might be honored, but maybe not, so ask before you run up any bills. When you're walking around town, stopping in cafes, or shopping in small stores, you'll definitely need a pocketful of Euros.
If you want a cup of coffee, don't ask for directions to a "coffee shop" because you'll find yourself in one of the many shops where people go to have a joint or smoke hash. "Koffie houses" serve coffee.
Asian food, for example, is priced higher than Americans would expect. Dishes that cost $14.00-$20.00 USD in the States, might cost double that in Amsterdam. The exchange rate and the fact that tips are included somewhat off-sets the added cost.
Car rentals are available if you want to travel outside of Amsterdam, but for most trips, the train is a convenient, affordable alternative. For example, if you want to visit the Friday morning cheese auction in Alkmaar with its young men and women in traditional costumes, the 45 minute trip was very affordable.
Remarkably I discovered that in the time it took to enjoy my late lunch, my clothes had dried and I was ready to head back out. It was still raining, but I had learned an important Dutch lesson: if you get wet, stop in a cafe, have something hot to drink and a bite to eat. You'll be just fine.
When you’re walking, stay on the sidewalk. If you hear a bell ringing on the left, move to the right, a bicycle is about to pass you. If you don't move quickly enough, you're likely to hear the Dutch equivalent of "Are you deaf?" or worse.