Last summer I decided to drop out of the corporate world for a bit. I had reached a point in time where, after 20 years in the race, I felt the need to explore unchartered territory for a while, both personally and professionally. To kick off this determined new way of growing, learning and living, we decided to take some time wandering through Europe. Most of the 5 week trip was spent in the Frenchman's land and a bit in Spain, but my special request was a stopover on the way home to the city affectionately referred to as Mokum, meaning simply "place".
I chose Amsterdam for many reasons, but given my hopes for a different perspective, I found Amsterdam's way of living to be calling my name. The people and their unique city have unabashedly embraced a life that ignores modern moral convention (coffeehouses and red lights) and modern means of meandering and dwelling. There are over 165 canals and an estimated 600,000 plus bikes in the city. And over 3,000 houseboats lining the canals. They are a melting pot of over 187 nationalities and, I know now, happy, beautiful, accepting people.
Although there are definitely some intriguing boutique hotels in Amsterdam, I didn't even consider them for this trip. It was clear to me that a houseboat would be my little way of getting my family and I a bit "off the grid". The choice of which boat happened like kismet when I started with a quick search on vrbo.... the first houseboat posting I opened featured a deck with a view of the giraffes at the Artis Zoo (the oldest zoo in Europe and the third oldest zoo in the world). Giraffes are my favorite animal and Luke will totally dig it! It's very unusual for me to wing it on these types of decisions, but without anything more than the rave reviews on vrbo, I booked it!
We arrived a bit travel weary and I was crabby that our little summer getaway was nearing its end. But once I stepped on to the deck of the Medicijnman, I gazed across the canal to a magical view of several giraffes and zebras grazing under the sun. I passed my gaze on to Luke who was also enthralled with the same view. We giggled and came in to our new experience with a revived spirit.
The Medicijnman (Medicine Man) was once a sailing boat converted in the 1950's to a houseboat. It is not at all fancy or fashionable, but is authentic, charming and quirky in its own way. Hanging on the wall is a print of Uma Thurman and John Travolta dancing to Chuck Berry's "Never Can Tell" from Pulp Fiction. It's comfortable, clean and very cool.
When not out taking in the rest of city, we were perfectly happy to sit on the sundeck and play countless games of rummy and admire all the locals and visitors taking happy hour on the canal. Each passerby waved or raised a glass to us and many exclaimed "Medicijnman!" with a smile. It was festive and relaxing and we were all so happy to be a part of it.
The boat is located in the old centre of Amsterdam, away from the hustle, but close enough to walk or bike anywhere. Nearby are quaint restaurants, the Artis Zoo, the Van Gogh Museum, etc. The owners offer museum discount passes, bike and boat rentals. We opted to get on the bikes for gettin' around. Biking through the city made us feel alive and IN it! There is no other way to do it, rain or shine. If you do nothing else touristy, definitely travel through the canals on a boat with a tour guide who will talk you through the city's history and allow you to take in the beauty from the inside.
The people in Amsterdam appeared to me to be peculiarly healthy and happy. For the Americans a little worn out on trying to get by with their atrocious French for weeks, it was great to be greeted with English and a smile. The owner's mom Caty even gave us a cell phone to 411 her whenever we had a q about anything at all. Special touches, special city, and an unforgettably special sojourn!
food & libations: A Tavola (nearby Italian restaurant worth visiting at least twice), Koffiehuis van den Volksbond (also walking distance, candlelit rustic charm with delicious comfort food), apple tart at Cafe Winkel
cool for kids: boat living is just plain cool... looking out of the portholes especially, peeking at the giraffes and zebras at the zoo across the canal, feeding the swans, NEMO science and technology museum
must visit: the entire city by boat (tip: for a little extra $, you can charter your own private tour), your pick of over 50 museums, Artis Royal Zoo, De Negen Straatjes (The Nine Streets) shopping district