Sunday July 1, 2007

07-Amsterdam Dutch girlThe time is 10:30pm – and it’s still daylight outside! Weird! We finished dinner in the Seven Seas Restaurant half an hour ago, and my watch told me I should soon be thinking about bed, but when we stepped out on deck a few minutes ago, Amsterdam’s port was still a hive of activity all around us.

I can’t help wondering what it’ll be like when we’re much further north – in Helsinki (Finland) with maybe only a couple of hours of darkness? Double-weird!

We spent much of day approaching this famous Dutch city, first through a lock in the sea-wall (the ship was now sailing on water that was a metre below sea level), then along a lengthy, winding canal.

Holland is small (you can drive from north to south in just a couple of hours), densely populated (16 million people), and famous for its islands, bridges and bikes. And with picturesque waterways, cobbled streets, colourful markets, and steep-gabled mansions, the Netherlands’ capital is one of the most captivating cities in Europe.

We’d come prepared to be captivated – and we weren’t disappointed!

07-Amsterdam windmillsOnce the ship was berthed we headed ashore for a drive through the canal-laced countryside to picture-postcard Zaanse Schans – a ‘dike village’ dating back to the 13th century. Here we inspected a windmill close-up (watching a 300-year-old monster-mill grind peanuts into oil and stockfeed) … sampled a range of yummy red- and yellow-cased Dutch cheeses … and witnessed a clog-maker at work (buying a few souvenirs for the grandkids, in the process.)

07-Amsterdam clogsThen we were off again – for a leisurely walking tour through a very old, stunningly-preserved fishing village: Edam. It was gorgeous, quaint, oozing with charm – and we had the good fortune to be there on the final day of Edam’s 650th anniversary celebrations. The town’s streets, alleyways and canal-banks  were crawling with locals decked out in olde worlde costumes, and music and laughter filled the air.

Our mad midlifers were made to feel totally welcome, and it was a struggle to tear ourselves away, I tell you!

Well, it’s 11:30 now, and getting dark at last. But the ‘Marco Polo’ is overnighting here – so brace yourself, folks, because we’ve got lots more of Amsterdam to see yet!

TOMORROW: We go Dutch down the inner-city’s canals in a glass-topped boat. So stay tuned …

Yours bloggedly – JOHN