Frederick's Mom's first cousin lives in Amsterdam. They moved there in the 70's with their family to escape the Marcos era of in the Philippines. The Netherlands was a very hospitable country for them and they made a new life for themselves.
We intended to meet her fairly early in the AM, but as we were up so late the night before we didn't end up getting to Amsterdam till 1PM and after walking to the tram station and taking the 1 hour tram into town, we didn't make it to the main station on time. Instead we met Lola Yvonne and took a short walk around the city. We were all quite hungry and we went to the food court at the local “Macy's” type store to get a bite to eat. It was quite good, with lots of variety. I ended up succumbing to the calls of a giant cheeseburger. I had a nice chat with the chef while he cooked the burger. We talked about my Dutch ancestors who came to Nieuw Amsterdam in the 1600's. Gosh this burger was good. I hadn't had a burger in weeks. Once everyone had refueled, we spent a bit of time walking around the city and then took the train and a bus out to Amersfoort to spend some time with Lola Yvonne and her husband.
It took over an hour and half to get out there. The next day we drove that same route and it took about 20 minutes. How long on a bicycle? There are almost more bicycle's than people in this country.
We had a nice dinner, mostly traditional Philippine dishes. They were kind enough to make Spaghetti for Alex. The dutch are such nice people over all, at least in my experience. Everyone we met was very kind and they were all so happy. A recent poll indicated that The Netherlands is one of the happiest countries. They are willing to give the government more than half of their income and let them dole it back out to them. For example, I learned the government takes 8% of your paycheck in a deduction and then gives it back to you in May so you can go on vacation. Plus you get 4 weeks of paid vacation. Really? You want the government making money off your money for 11 months? Some people get a lot for free, but I have to believe someone is paying for all this. The Dutch government isn't just printing more $$ to pay for these benefits. I'll never be able to accept that is the way to do things, but I have to admit it appears to work for them. Everyone there seems to pitch in, but it seems like it would be too easy to scam the system and get quite a bit for doing nothing. They have a saying, “just be normal”. They also say, “Als je voor een dubbeltje geboren bent, word je nooit een kwartje.” Or in plain English “If you were born a dime, you’ll never become a quarter.” I could never live like that. What if you want to be a quarter? That seems soul crushing to me. I'll take my 40+ hour weeks and save up for 3 years for my once in a life time, 3 week vacation. I know I did it. I think is a difficult society for the entrepreneur or someone with ambition. They are happy with their lot, and feel like it's good enough. I have no safety net, but I feel I have achieved a lot more than I would have been able to in a society that babysits you from cradle to grave. Would I accept a lot less, to know I'll always have a minimum standard of living? Hard to say. I could write paragraphs about my conceptual differences, but this is travel blog, not political commentary.
We headed back to the campground and reveled in our great broadband connection. The next day we headed back into town (this time taking the bus in front of our campground to forgo the ½ hour walk to the tram station). We hopped on one of those canal tours and got to see the city from that level. Another continuously inhabited ancient city. History is everywhere. Once the tour was over we decided to walk about the city. The highlight was a stop at a cheese shop.
I'm actually kicking myself for not bringing home some of the cheese. They had this old cow cheese that was to die for...I just didn't feel like carrying it around with me. I did buy fleece wooden shoes style slippers, so tacky, I had to have them.
Amsterdam is a pretty liberal and crunchy city. I felt completely out of place. I thought of my Dutch ancestors feeling the same level of discomfort when they left 400 years ago. That puritan DNA still runs in my blood, I can't help it. It's the mecca for debauchery, disguised as normal. No one's getting hurt and they are all happy, so be it.