What did you do when the electricity went out? We discovered only one of our five flashlights had good batteries, but it was enough light to round up every candle we could find.
There we sat — in front of the blank TV. So we talked and reminisced about all the family vacations we’ve taken over more than half-a-century of marriage. It was like an old-fashioned slide show with no pictures.
One of our favorites has to be our first trip to Europe.
It was 1969 when Jack, our 7-year old, Jay, and I embarked on our own “If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Belgium” driving tour through seven countries in three weeks. We’ve learned a lot since then.
No, I’m not going to review our three-week itinerary. Instead, I’d like to compare the Amsterdam of 1969 with the Amsterdam we visited last year. and I’ll share some of the travel tricks we’ve learned over the years.
Many things were the same. Amsterdam is still a charming city with unique architecture, great history, great art, great food and wonderful sights.
In 1969, the Dam, the main square, was a major hangout for hippies who came to Amsterdam because of easy access to marijuana. They draped themselves over anything that looked like a place to sit or lie down — not a particularly attractive sight. We noticed very little of this last year.
There is definitely a drug culture, but legal drugs and strict regulation have minimized drug dealers, gangs and territorial disputes. This seems to have ruined the “use as rebellion” prevalent years ago. There’s even a museum giving the products and use a scholarly look.
In 1969, I was astonished at the number of women who didn’t wear hose. Today, nobody does, but you can’t really see a lot of legs because the sidewalks are so crowded.
Street crossings are more of an adventure now — dodging bicycles, trams and general traffic. Little else in the historic area seemed different.
Pre-planning is important to me. I’m a big fan of Rick Steves and always buy his guide books before we go. We make a list of our must-sees but leave lots of time for wandering and unexpected opportunities.
Don’t always pick the most popular attractions just because everybody does. Often, you’ll spend lots of time and money when there are many other less-crowded, interesting things to see.
After I check out Rick’s suggestions for the best attractions, I cut out the pages I need and put them in an envelope. Carrying a whole guidebook takes up too much room and adds weight.
Since we schlep our bags a lot, I’ve learned to pack extremely light. Rolling clothes saves space and leaves fewer wrinkles.
Over the years, we’ve developed the practice of slowing down and spending more time in each destination. We love Hop-on-Hop-off bus tours. We buy a two-day pass.
The first day, we ride the entire route, getting our bearings and noting places where we’ll want to spend time. The cool thing about these tours in Amsterdam is that they are a combination of bus and canal boat segments. We also bought tram passes for more flexibility.
This latest trip, we skipped Amsterdam’s most visited venues: the Rijksmuseum (we wandered through the gardens), the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. Check in advance for tickets and consider a city pass.
Instead, we visited small galleries and sampled cheese in cheese shops. There are a dozen Henri Willig Cheeseshops in Amsterdam, and their cheese truffle dip and a box of crackers makes a great on-the-go snack.
We also toured small museums and a zoo. Plus we had plenty of time to just stroll through the streets and along the canals.
Here are some of the highlights of our latest visit:
• Walking — exploring a street market and the flower market, seeing Rembrandt’s house and a sculptural interpretation of his “Night Watch,” people watching. There’s so much to see here.
• Eating — The Central Library rooftop cafeteria proved perfect for our first meal — lunch — in Amsterdam. Not only was the food tasty, the deck provides one of the best views in town. Tiny Van Kerkwijk was so good, we ate there twice. The menu is whatever the chef is in the mood to fix.
Because Indonesia was once part of the Dutch empire, Indonesian rijsttafel is a treat to be savored here. Literally “rice table,” it consists of a bowl of rice surrounded with numerous bowls of meat, vegetables and other accompaniments.
• The Museum of Dutch Resistance covers the period from 1940 to 1945 when the Netherlands was occupied by the Nazis. This can’t be considered a fun stop, but it is an important one.
• The Museum of Bags and Purses, housed in an elegant 17th century canal house, takes visitors from before pockets were invented to contemporary times. Sadly, this museum recently closed permanently. Hopefully, the stunning collection will find a new home.
• A home for religious women since the 14th century, the Begijnhof is one of the most beautiful and quiet spots in the busy city.
• Sleeping — ah, this was an experience. Because accommodations in the historic area are expensive, we tried some less expensive alternatives. We stayed on a canal boat — sometimes disasters make the best stories. Check out: 405magazine.com/an-amsterdam-surprise. and we stayed in a hostel; we had a private room with bath, very minimal but clean, with lots of young people from all over the world.
St. Augustine said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
Money spent on travel is an excellent investment. The memories last forever, and trips are great to relive when the electricity goes out.