Amsterdam….City of Cyclists

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I have spent most of my adult life trying to get in better physical shape. I now know the solution…. move to Amsterdam. Everyone there, both young and old, is in good shape because the entire city rides bicycles. If you don’t have one, you can rent one everywhere.

And although the city is quite walkable and beautiful, it is most definitely not safe for pedestrians. The main streets are designed like this…. pedestrian sidewalk, bike lane, car lane, tram lane, car lane, bike lane, pedestrian sidewalk. Walkers must juggle five busy lanes of traffic to cross the street. After my first close call with a bike, I became ultra aware and began shouting out, “Bike!”, “Car!”, “Tram”, to the others in the group. Or in some cases, “Run!” was our only option. I must admit it sharpened my attention skills and occasionally provided good exercise for my reflexes.  Smaller side streets are more manageable as bikes and cars share the same lane.

It will forever be a mystery to me why there are not more accidents. I witnessed one mishap that was actually caused by pedestrians.

The Dutch are ingenious with their bikes. They have designed every manner imaginable to carry things on their two-wheeled vehicles. My favorite was the children being delivered to school or daycare in a wheel- barrow styled box attached to the front of their parent’s bike. I saw as many as 4 toddlers crammed into these open boxes, smiling, waving, laughing, and eating with not a helmet in sight. Older kids doubled on handle bars, cross bars, or even on the fender rack.

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In Canada we have parking lots and garages for cars, but in Amsterdam there are two and three level garages dedicated to bikes. Everything from railings to trees are utilized to secure your bike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another rather interesting thing about this city of waterways is the fact that there are virtual few if any barriers along the canals. People parallel park mere inches from the edge. It was amazing to watch them maneuver into place. Of course, the lack of railings also resulted in this…

20180904_145158.jpg20180904_145209.jpgBarges with a crane on one end, regularly scoured the canals to remove bicycles that have fallen in. A guide on the Hop On Hop Off boat joked that the canals are one meter of water, one meter of mud, and one meter of bicycles. He is probably correct. These guys were working near our boat so it was interesting to watch what came up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This cycling mecca absolutely fascinated me. While sitting at our favorite pub located on the corner of a busy intersection, it was fun to watch what I fondly referred to as a “bicycle ballet”. Riders passed each other in perfectly synchronized harmony without ever stopping, no matter what direction they were going. Car drivers on the other hand were often sitting helplessly waiting for a break in the dance so they could join the fray.

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Perhaps I should pull my bike out of the shed and pump up the tires. I may have been inspired!

 

Thanks for reading,

Penny xo

Houseboat Living Part 2

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Living on a houseboat is not without its challenges. The fact that our boat was once an open deck freighter only added to its quirkiness. Most people we met found it rather extraordinary that four women ranging in age from 70 to 80 would choose this mode of living. After all, the deck was on a 45 degree angle, there were no railings except on the slippery metal gang plank, the stairs were narrow and steep, and we were given no instructions on how anything worked. We were left a list of rules. I still laugh when I read them.

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What could possibly go wrong?

Getting our luggage inside was our first ordeal. We worked like a chain gang passing each piece from one to the other down those stairs.

Our next concern was the washroom situation. We had chosen this boat because it had 2 bathrooms, but the second bathroom might as well have been in another country because there was no way to maneuver along that narrow passage to the far end of the ship in the dark of night or in rain. It’s a given that with age comes frequent peeing, especially during the night. To give some perspective, I took this photo from the doorway of the bedroom. Now imagine making your way in pitch dark (two were sleeping in the bed you can see) from the bedroom to that door on the left side at the far end, navigating furniture, loose floorboards, a substantial tilt, and a multitude of squeaks while under the influence of a little wine. We became experts!

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In the middle of the night, I would stand in the doorway until my eyes became accustomed to the dark then plot my course to miss chairs and tables, and hop over precarious floor slats. Then do the same in reverse. Our worry about 4 ladies sharing only one bathroom was completely unnecessary. We operated like a well-oiled machine.

The bathroom itself offered a challenge. The sink was so high that it required a small ladder to get your chin over the edge to clean your teeth. We nicked this one from the far bedroom since we were not using it. It was needed there to climb into bed.

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To get clean towels or bed linen, you had to climb on the roof of the boat from outside to access a large cupboard where supplies were stowed. Every once in a while the water heater would turn itself off when someone was in the shower, but we called and got instructions for resetting it.

We were very fortunate with weather conditions; however, one day it rained very hard. That was when we learned most of the skylights leaked.

20180829_184332.jpg We grabbed every pot and bowl from the kitchen to catch the drips. Mieke called the owner to report the problem. We were laughing so hard our sides ached. The very next morning, owner Paul showed up with a big box of chocolates and a bottle of champagne to apologize for our inconveniences. We were still laughing. 20180829_184313(2)

My favorite part about living on the houseboat was spending the time together. In a hotel, everyone goes off to their room, you order room service or have to get dressed and go out for breakfast or coffee. On the boat, we made coffee and breakfast together and sat around in our pajamas planning our day. Late in the afternoon, we would sit out on the deck drinking wine, snacking, and watching the activity on the Amstel River.

 

As I mentioned previously, houseboat living is not without its challenges and is certainly not for everyone; however traveling itself requires all of us to step out of our comfort zone and be open to new experiences. I had a fantastic holiday because the people I was with were amazing.

Thanks for reading,

Penny xo

P.S. Stay with me for more about the trip.

Ship Ahoy!

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It has been several weeks since my last post as I have been busy fulfilling another item on my bucket list…. Amsterdam.

Well over a year ago, four of us decided to plan a trip to Amsterdam. Life temporarily got in the way, but in August we realized our goal. To make the trip even more fun, we chose to rent a houseboat instead of  hotel rooms. This is a normal practice in the city of canals. So back in January, I found a web site called Bookahouseboat.com . There are quite literally 1000’s of houseboats available for rent in this city. The first question we are always asked is, ” Who is going to drive it?” The boat does not move. It is simply a floating hotel minus room service.

Booking a houseboat, sight unseen, can be a little disconcerting even for the most adventurous; so, add to that fact that we are four senior women and you have an interesting situation. We are all seasoned travelers, so we are accustomed to a variety of accommodations from luxury hotels to smaller B&B’s, but nothing could have prepared us for our boat. We had of course seen interior pictures, but nothing above deck. I think we all had in our mind that we were renting something like this….

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When in reality we had actually rented the huge green freighter at the top of the page. Yes, the “Everdeen”, built in 1928 and used to haul sand and gravel up and down the canals, became our home away from home. It was tethered to another huge freighter on the Amstel River in an excellent location beside the famous Magere Brug better known as the “Skinny Bridge”.

After flying all night and arriving at 6:30am in Amsterdam having had no sleep, we were very anxious to check into our accommodations and put our feet up. Unfortunately, our check in time was 12:00 noon, so we stowed our baggage in lockers at the train station and went for breakfast. After eating, no one felt like wandering aimlessly, so we called our contact number and asked if we could move into the boat sooner.  He was very kind and said he would call the cleaning lady and give us permission to wait on the deck until she was finished.

With some difficulty, we found a cab to hold the four of us and our luggage. It was no more than a 5 minute drive. I would love to have had a picture of our faces when we first set eyes on “our boat”. Someone finally said, “What have we done?” Like the blind leading the blind, single file we pulled our suitcases over the gang plank.

There were four chairs on the tiny deck with a gas fire pit in the middle. Sounds lovely, right? I need to mention that the deck is on a 45 degree tilt. I quickly learned to brace my chair legs against the edge of the fire pit lest I sail across the deck, over the open edge,

20180827_182231 and into the water. And there we waited contemplating our situation until the cleaning lady finished.

She finally gave us the okay to come inside. Once through the door, there was a narrow stairway to navigate down to the living quarters. The interior was exactly as we had seen in the advertisement; it was very spacious, clean, and bright.

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However, the main reason we had chosen this boat was because it had two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

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We found the first bedroom easily. The second was going to be a bit of a challenge especially after a glass or two of wine.

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The second bedroom was located in the stern of our ship. As the picture demonstrates, one must make a precarious walk along the narrow, railing-less footpath to reach said bedroom complete with its own toilet and claw-footed bathtub. Needless to say, we decided to use the pull out couch in the living room instead.

The initial shock gradually wore off and we looked at the bright side of our rental. Less than half a block away was a great little pub that became our local. Around the corner was a nice little grocery store where we stocked up on breakfast essentials and all the wine we could carry. The tram stop was only two bridges away and restaurants were plentiful in every direction. But best of all, there was always something happening on the busy waterway by our boat.

The morning we were leaving our “old girl” was bittersweet. She had grown on us all with her quirks and groans and loose, squeaky floorboards. We all miss her and would go back in a heartbeat. Sometimes in life you have to throw caution to the wind and just take a chance.

Thanks for reading,

Penny xo

P.S. More to come on our adventure.

 

Planes, Trains, Boats, and Tourist Buses

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And here we are outside St. Peter’s

I love to travel. It is my favorite type of holiday. Yes, lying on a beach or sitting at a cottage are very relaxing, but I prefer to explore new places and cultures. When my kids were much younger, it was exciting to introduce them to little pieces of the world. I would scrimp and save all year just so we could go on an adventure. Later, I traveled with a couple girls I worked with because as teachers, our vacation times were the same.

As I got older, I began traveling with my girlfriends since most of us were both retired and widowed. Our families were grown and gone, so we had the freedom to do as we wished. And most importantly, we had known each other for so long that it was easy to spend time together. 

Several of the earlier trips were with large tour groups on those huge tourist coaches with a guide. I suppose it is a convenient way to travel, but I quickly grew to dislike the rigid schedule imposed. Whine Country Tours.As we gathered more confidence, it became fun to plan our own schedules, book our own hotels, drive ourselves, and eat when and where we chose.

Every trip has become an adventure, and most times you have to just go with the flow. I love to stay in small local hotels; you seem to get a better feel for the culture. I  have unknowingly made reservations in a tiny nine room hotel in the heart of the “red light” district in Rome, in an ancient monastery in the south of France (we had no windows or screens and the pigeons seemed to think they were welcome inside), in a converted palace in Florence (no elevator…our rooms were on the third level and the stone stairs were about 18 inches deep; I have still not heard the end of that one), and in London above the train station where we accidentally overflowed the bathtub and flooded the room. Ahhh the memories!

Not long ago, a friend and I decided to go to China and Tibet. Just getting a visa was an adventure. I think we were the only Caucasians in line with 100’s of Chinese at the Chinese Consulate.  The sixteen hour flight was exhausting. That trip took us on every mode of transportation from plane, train, boat, bus, and even a gondola ride.

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The sleeper car on the train found us paired up with two Chinese men who spoke no English. To get to the top bunk, you had to stand on the bottom bunk, step one foot onto a tiny ledge on the wall and hoist yourself up. Getting down in the dark at night to go to the bathroom was quite the endeavor. Mind you, trying to aim for the hole in the floor to pee while the train rocked back and forth was also a challenge.

Scariest of all was our trip down the Yangtze River. The region had been plagued by torrential rains previous to our arrival. Cities and villages along the river had flooded badly and large boats could not dock in their usual places. In order to get to our ship, we were taken by bus for about a four hour ride to where they could bring the ship close enough to shore for boarding. It was late at night, we were exhausted and hungry, it was still raining and muddy, and we had to carry our luggage down steep steps to reach the fast flowing, dirty river. They had roped together wooden dock sections out to the ship, and crew held flashlights so we could see. If you fell over, you would never be found. The next morning I took this picture of where we had walked the previous night.

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What the hell was I thinking?

All in all the trip was amazing and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Sometimes, you just have to take chances.

This all brings me to our next adventure. Four of us are going to Amsterdam this summer. And to make things even more fun, we have booked a houseboat in the old section of the city to live on for our stay. Check it out with this link….

https://www.bookahouseboat.com/rentals/amsterdam-the-netherlands-rustic-city-centre-houseboat-471

I will definitely keep you posted about this new experience.

 

Thanks for reading,

Penny xo

 

Dressing Room Drama

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When was the last time you bought a bathing suit? For me, it has been many years. Our family no longer owns a cottage, and I don’t have a swimming pool, nor do my friends; however, recently, the girls have toyed with the idea of going away to a beach somewhere like Florida or a tropical island. At this point, it is only talk, but I always like to be prepared. Relaxing on a beach is not normally the kind of holiday that I would choose, and I now know why. The thought of trying on bathing suits is horrifying!

Remember the days when we looked like this….e565aaf5a831c1ff5c43d8391c0be40a
Well, now some of us look like this.

A few weeks ago, while wandering through a local shopping mall, I passed a store called Bikini Village. I paused to look in the window at the shapely mannequins in their colorful outfits. A large banner announced a “Welcome To Summer Sale”. I briefly recalled our conversation about going south and decided to have a look.

I wandered among the racks of bikinis and tankinis for a few minutes. Eventually, a store clerk asked casually if she could help me. I reluctantly admitted it had been a long time since I had bought my last swimsuit. She tactfully sized me up and led me across the store to the one piece suits. After she carefully selected three suits of varying styles for me to try, I followed her to the dressing rooms.

Ensconced inside alone, I slowly undressed remembering to keep my underwear on. I chose the first suit…a black one-shouldered number with ruching across the tummy area. It apparently hides bulges. I tugged and wiggled and yanked and squirmed until I was squeezed inside the stretchy fabric. It was exhausting, and I gasped for air. 4075f49a915dc139b393e748a8704cf2

I stood up straight to check out myself in the mirror. What the hell!!! The mirrors were arranged so you could see yourself from ALL angles. My loud outburst, “Oh my god!” brought the clerk running. She knocked on the door and asked if everything was alright. I apologized for my outbreak, but told her there should be a warning about the three-way mirror.

After another few minutes of pulling and holding my breath, I managed to extricate myself from the swimsuit and got dressed. I was not mentally ready for this task.

I thanked the clerk, and left the store.

A little further down the mall, another window caught my eye. This was more like it, so I headed inside. After looking around, I selected my perfect beach ensemble.

023ddc38b21707cd63cdb450e705f2cc1e5a2ddc9097d318ac0ec268e2f30808927f04ddc21f47aabcf25f95774deaa5 I am now ready to hit the sand. No worries about unsightly bulges, and I can save money on sunscreen. It is light and airy and stylish. And most importantly, easy to get in and out of. I can see myself now relaxing on a chaise lounge under an umbrella with a lovely pink cocktail in my hand. 

I know I need to address the actual swimsuit problem because I do enjoy the water. Perhaps something like this ingenious outfit. 07c654f92c114980a6d78664d2af7d80

I wonder  where she found it?

My only other option is this…66a99ae806df40816ae3795d10d4eaa8

and no one needs to be subjected to that vision. So, I will keep trying to find a suitable swimsuit, but until then, just look for me in my new beach wear.

 

Thanks for reading,

Penny xo