Well you've all heard about
Amsterdam and I think that this is probably one of
the few instances where I found the rumor to be an understatement
of the reality. It is a Weird place. Of course, drugs, at least
recreational drugs, we never did determine where/if the line between
"recreational" and "hard" was drawn, are readily
and legally available and drug use is rampant. It's not like there
are people laying in the alleys with used hypodermics hanging
out of their arms. It's not that sinister. It's more like a large,
at least relative large, percentage of the population, particularly
those you encounter while walking around the streets, and particularly
those in the infamous red light district, appear to be there in
body only. They're glassy eyed with a relative stupid grin fixed
on their face. People, particularly young people, have come from
all over the world to take part in the lifestyle, but many of
them don't appear to know that they arrived yet. Space cases abound.
All age groups, with the possible exception of the very old, participate.
It's not a particularly
comfortable atmosphere but then it's not exactly threatening.
It's just different.
We stayed in a marina across
from the center of town. A free passenger ferry ran back and forth
to town every 15 minutes or so 24 hours per day. It ferried foot
passengers, bicyclist and motor scooters back and forth. Many
passengers on the return trips, were still enjoying the effects
their afternoon in town. They walked, they rode bikes and, the
particularly scary ones rode motor scooters. During the ride across
(about 5 minutes) they bobbed and weaved (usually not in sync
with the ferry) and looked glassy eyed and smiled. Once the ferry
dropped it's little ramps they were off ... at absolutely full
throttle. The exhaust from their motor scooters tracked the sinusoidal
path they followed as they headed up the street.
Drugs and drug abuse notwithstanding,
Amsterdam is a very cool city. They canal system is comprehensive.
Some canals radiate outward from the waterfront like spokes in
a wheel. Others cross these radials in semi circles at ever increasing
distances from the waterfront. Virtually every
large city we have visited has had a canal system to some extent
or other but none was a tenth as extensive as the system in Amsterdam.
They truly were the circulatory system of the city for centuries.
Now they're a beautiful curiosity ... and a great way to get around
The Netherlands is a relatively
small country which had a disproportionately large influence on
the development of the world in the 18th century. They were probably
the most successful merchant shippers of the century. They launched
hundreds of ships and thousands of voyages to the Far East (the
Dutch East India Company). They brought thousands of tons of goods
back to Amsterdam whence they warehoused it, wholesaled it and
shipped it to points all over Europe. Amsterdam probably was the
mercantile center of the universe (at least the western hemisphere
of the universe) at the time.
Three days were all we had
to spend in Amsterdam so in the morning of 10.Aug it was up and
out the North Sea Canal back out to the North Sea (what did you
expect?) and off to England. This was an overnighter with the
dark hours spent in the English channel. Prior to dark we got
across the shipping lanes so we could navigate down the channel
north of the lanes and minimize our chances of being run down
by one of the steel monsters.
Barring tete a tetes with
the occasional ferry crossing the channel our trip was relatively
uneventful. The most uncomfortable aspect of night voyaging in
a relatively confined space like the channel is not being able
to see objects that might be lurking in your path. Andy and Camellia
saw some barrels pass by our starboard side in the early morning.
We missed them but it brought home the reality that there was
stuff floating around out there and there was no way we were going
to be able to avoid it if it happened to be in our path. Incidentally
later that day we heard a "navigational warning" about
The white cliffs of Dover
passed by about 0800 the next day and we tied up in Brighton,
England about 1600 that afternoon. Just prior to Dover we crossed
zero degrees longitude so we were back into the front half of
the world. It was Sister's first venture into the front half.
For us it was
good to be back in our half. We took pictures of the GPS screen
at 0 degrees E/W but they turned out to be pretty uninteresting.
It was something of a relief
to listen to people speak English, see signs in English etc.