Now that the Eurostar has direct trains from London to Amsterdam (only one way so far), it gave us extra incentive to visit Amsterdam :) 

We decided to do a walking tour to start off our trip and enjoyed it so much that we booked another one for the next day. 

Our first tour covered 3 km and recounted the history of Amsterdam through story-telling, and the second tour was 6.5 km through areas that are more off the beaten path.  Both tours were super interesting and funny.  In particular, the first tour was one of the most interesting walking tours we've ever done!  Here are a few notable things they told us:
  • The name Amsterdam comes from the dam built on the river Amstel that passes through the city.
  • Holland ("wood lands") is the western part of the Netherlands ("low lands").  It lies largely below sea level.
  • Since Amsterdam is located on swamp land, each house is built to sit on 40 to 50 wood posts that run 15 meter deep.  This helps to prevent the houses from sinking.  
  • The entire city burned down twice in history, so now there are only only 2 wooden houses left.
  • Napoleon, after his conquest, forced everyone to have surnames. Hollanders previously didn't use surnames and thought the idea was silly, so they made up silly surnames for themselves thinking it was just temporary. Although the French left, the surnames stayed, so, to this day many people still have their funny Dutch surnames such as Naaktgeboren ("born naked"), Piest ("urinating"), Poepjes ("little farts"), etc.

As you walk through the streets, you notice that the houses looks like they are falling over or leaning out into the street.  Sometimes this is due to the rotting of their wooden support posts, but in many cases, the leaning construction is actually intentional!  If you look up at the top of many homes you will see a pulley, rope, and hook.  The pulley system allows for furniture/goods to be easily hoist to the upper floors and attic.  Having the house tilted slightly forward allows the item to be pulled straight up without bumping into the front of the building on the way up.

The Red Light district
  • We always thought it was legal to consume marijuana in Amsterdam, but learned that it's actually "illegal, but tolerated".  Shops are licensed to sell it, even though it’s illegal.
  • Prostitution became legal and regulated in 2000. 
    • On average a lady gets 12 to 16 patron per 8 hour shift
    • The average time that a man spends with the woman is 8 minutes 
    • There are no male prostitutes for women - apparently they did try, but it failed after 4 days 

Jen couldn't wait to try all the Dutch Pancake restaurants we could find!

One of the other highlights of our trip was our hotel.  Hotel Not Hotel had a great location, amazing atmosphere, and a really fun twist on their variety of rooms - one room was made from an old tram car, others were "secret rooms" hidden behind the bookshelves.. and their "Kevin Bacon" restaurant food was delicious!!

There were so many interesting things we learned during the tour (way too many to blog about :) ).  So if you're planning to visit Amsterdam we definitely recommend taking the free walking tour with Free Dam Tours to find out more!  

Gouda & Dusseldorf

It took almost 3 travel days to get from Kalpitiya, Sri Lanka to the start of our next adventure in Gouda, Netherlands.  We started out by transferring to and overnighting in Colombo.  Next, we then flew to Qatar and then London for another overnight.  The next morning, we trained across town to exchange our kites for bikes, then cycled to the train station, hopped onto the Eurostar to Brussels, transferred to Rotterdam, and finally transferred to Gouda.

The original plan was to spend 3 days cycling through the Netherlands, but we arrived to a dismal forecast of dark overcast clouds and pouring rain.  It was a blessing in disguise.. we were exhausted from all of the travel and Jen had brought home a stomach bug from Sri Lanka.

Our AirBnb room was relaxing and our hosts were very lovely, so we spent some time chatting with them, watched movies, and recharged our batteries for the trip ahead. Whenever the downpour took a short break, we'd dash outside to explore and eat at the delicious restaurants. Gouda is one of the nicest towns that we've stayed in, with its cute little market, shops, squares, and buildings. 

Our first stop was obviously at a Gouda cheese store where we sampled Gouda cheese with all kinds of interesting flavours and colours including Basil, Red Pesto, Fennel, Truffle, and Carrot... just to name a few.  We also learned that we've all been pronouncing Gouda incorrectly our whole lives.. apparently their "G"s sound more like throaty "H"s, so when Dutch people say Gouda, it actually sound more like a throaty "how-da"!

On Satuday, as we explored the town, we found ourselves at the Saturday Market where they were showing off... cows?  We have no idea what the cows were there for, but it was interesting seeing them just chill out in a tent in the middle of the square :)

Jen was SOO excited to finally have Dutch pancakes in Holland - apparently it was on her bucket list! :)  
The verdict?  Well, apparently they were just as good as her favourite Dutch pancake restaurant (Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus) in Calgary.  Hahaha! 

On Sunday, we finally awoke to sun and blue sky, so we decided to do 45 km bike ride to Kinderdjik to see the original Dutch windmills.  Kinderdijk sits below sea level, so the windmills were historically used as part of a water management system to prevent flooding and keep the region dry. 

The area was scenic and peaceful, so we stopped here for a picnic of gouda, bread, gouda, fruits, wine, and more gouda. 

On Monday, we made our way to Dusseldorf - the last stop before our cross-country bike trip. Since we were finishing up some work, we didn't have time to do much in Dusseldorf other than a quick wander through town to try out the local cuisine.