Monday, April 21, 2014

The Adventure Begins… Boats, Windmills and Tulips

An Adventure can take many forms. For me, it often involves a journey off the beaten path with no real schedule and no real destination in mind. But, an Adventure can be as simple as a bike ride through a park, a weekend drive through the countryside or a vacation to Disneyland.

The only thing that is commonly required for any Adventure is a journey, a bit of uncertainty and the fulfillment of a dream.

About two years ago, my mom shared with me that she was interested in visiting The Netherlands to see the tulips in bloom. Initially, this type of trip did not really sound like an Adventure to me. But then I thought about it a little bit more. It would involve a multi-modal journey - travel by airplane, river boat, bus and foot… it would involve some uncertainty - traveling to a number of destinations… and it would fulfill a dream - a lifelong dream of my mom's.
A little backstory. You have to understand something about my mom… she is pretty awesome. She is a native Texan. She grew up in Houston when the south was still segregated. She studied hard to earn a bachelor, master and doctoral degree in education. She worked hard and smart all her life. And after my father passed away when I was a teen, she raised three kids on her own. She's been very successful as a professional. And yet, I'd say she's been even more successful as a mother.

It did not take me long to decide that joining my mom on this trip would be a great adventure. So off we went…

Day 1 - Houston to Amsterdam
I've come to the realization that my mom is cooler than me. A while back I gave my mom an iPad. She uses it all the time. And now she's actually a gamer. Here she is tearing it up on Dragon Vale while we wait for our airplane. She also knows how to travel. For a 10 day vacation she brought just one carry-on sized luggage and a second carry-on hand bag. Go light… Go fast… Do more!
We flew from Houston to Amsterdam. Luckily we had a direct flight.
Not so lucky, the United Airlines flight attendant dropped a container of salad dressing on my lap at the beginning of the flight. After trying to clean it with soap and water, then club soda, I had to travel for the remainder of the flight with wet pants and this stain. 
Once we landed, we were greeted by a guide at the airport and were shuttled through the city to our boat. We would be traveling with Viking Cruises on a river boat from Amsterdam to Hoorn, Arnhem, Kinderdijk, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Walcheren, Rotterdam and back to Amsterdam.
As we were passing through Amsterdam I saw this tall three mast ship. I thought to myself, wouldn't that be cool if we were traveling on this boat. 
But alas, we were traveling on a more contemporary form of ship. Our river boat was modern, sleek and pretty luxurious. The boat was only on its second journey, so everything inside and outside was new.
There was a nice sun deck at the front of the boat.
 The dining room was contemporary and very well appointed.
And the bar was pretty swanky.
But we really did not join this cruise to stay on the ship. We wanted to see the cities and the sights. So on our first day, we set off on foot to explore Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is a densely populated city with narrow streets, many houses in a row and a multitude of bicycles. Much of the city was actually built below sea level. Most of the old houses and neighborhoods were constructed over water on top of long wooden poles sunk into the ground.
Because of this type of construction, many of the houses actually lean. If there is a house on the right or left of a house, it is not a problem. But if the house stands alone, like this one, it is quite expensive to support and restore these houses to prevent them from tipping over.
 Besides quaint houses, Amsterdam has a number of canals, bridges and bicycles.
We walked by an outdoor city market where fresh fruits and vegetables were being sold.
The Netherlands is also famous for the variety and quality of their desserts. Chocolate, ice cream and waffles are easy to find in many of the storefronts. This is a picture of some Dutch ladies admiring some delicacies inside a dessert shop.
Amsterdam is also perhaps infamous for its coffee shops which openly sell marijuana. It is actually not legal to grow, buy or sell marijuana in The Netherlands, but it is tolerated and taxed. A local told me that few locals really take advantage of the coffee shops, it seems that most of the customers are foreigners.
Locals more often spend time at outside cafes stylishly drinking coffee or beer.

Day 2 - Amsterdam
 The following day we boarded a smaller river boat and cruised through the canals of Amsterdam.
We passed through a number of canals and under a number of bridges.
Along the way we learned about this crest and its symbols which were prevalent throughout the city. The crest depicts a ship, flags and shield - all of which hold deep meaning for Amsterdam. The ship recalls the importance of the city's nautical past. The 'XXX' symbol is actually three vertical St. Andrew’s Crosses. St. Andrew was a fisherman who was martyred on an X-shaped cross in the first century AD. In its most official form, the coat of arms is also decorated with the Imperial Crown of Austria and lions.
After our canal boat cruise we walked to the tulip market.
There were freshly cut tulips of every color.
You could buy the flower or the prized bulbs.
There were also a selection of other souvenirs available for sale such as these wooden clogs.
This starter kit for growing marijuana.
And these little Amsterdam houses.
We walked around a bit more and took in some of the street scenes.
There were a number of nice wooden boats.
And other symbols of the sea.
Eventually we returned to our river boat and enjoyed a nice dinner.

We rested and prepared for the adventure that unfold over the next few days.


  1. Very cool.. Looking forward to reading more about this adventure!

  2. What an awesome trip to take with your mom. You are very fortunate to have such a wonderful mother!


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