We didn’t realise we had already crossed over the border into the Netherlands until we were at McDonalds off the autobahn looking at a map that had a “you are here” mark on it. I noticed that the autobahn has steadily got more and more congested, making it more stressful than usual to drive. After our lunch stop it took us about 20 minutes just to drive out of the car park and get on to the motorway again which was directly outside. The trip took longer than we expected so we didn’t arrive until after 3pm. The area we stayed in was called Almere in Flevoland about 35 minutes’ drive to Amsterdam. Almere wasn’t around 30 years ago, in fact like Amsterdam it would have been underwater, and it used to be sea! Interestingly Amsterdam is on average something like 5 or 6 meters under sea-level. Almere has around 200,000 inhabitants and the government plans to expand this to 350,000 over the next twenty years. In the photo below is taken on the dike about 100 meters from our apartment. The level of the land on the right side of the dike (which has a road on top) is much lower than the lake on the left. The lake on the left was formed when the Dutch closed off the area from the North Sea.

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The apartment we are staying in is on the ground floor of a large block of identical looking blocks spread all through Almere. I can’t understand why the developers made everything look the same. The apartment has two bedrooms; a large lounge, kitchen and everything we need expect a hairdryer and a toaster both which Karen considers essential. On the downside it’s rather shabby, needs a spring clean, has loads of spiders and webs outside (see spider photo below), has a fan in the bathroom that continually drones in the background and a gas stove that must have been ready for retirement when they first installed it. On the bright side we are thankful that it is quiet here, no vehicles racing past all night long and also the bed is comfortable.

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After unpacking our bags we did our usual drive to the closest supermarket and purchased all the groceries we would need for the next three days until we shift again. In the evening Karen and I spent the night planning where we would go and what we would do the next day. Another past –midnight going to bed so the next day, Wednesday we started a little later than we had hoped. It was a big day as we wanted to take a look at Amsterdam. First we drove half-an-hour to a suburb just across from Central Station in the city where we were told you could park all day for free. Unfortunately we could not easily find these magical car parks, only ones for 2.5 hours maximum. We drove around for another half-an-hour before finding a park which was further away than we had hoped – still we were thankful for anything by this stage. The walk to the free ferry that would take us over to the city only took about fifteen minutes but we were freezing as I had underestimated how cold it would be so we didn’t take our warmest jackets. Hard to believe the past week we were outside with 30 degree temperatures.

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Once on the city side we walked out of Central Station, took photos of this magnificent building and then walked quarter of an hour to the library. Yes – that’s right library!

It was no ordinary library rather the most amazing library I have been in. Evidently it is the largest library in Europe, 28,500m2! On the ground floor and the top floor were restaurants, among the best I have seen, the food looked amazing! You purchased the food at one end of the room, and then in the rest of the room and going outside onto a deck were dozens of tables. When I say room, I don’t mean a small room but practically the entire floor of the library building. By the looks of it a lot of business people must frequent the place; some looked like they were having meetings, others just on a lunch break. Here is the view from the top floor:

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After lunch we went down to the ground floor, past a piano which the public are invited to play (if they can play professionally), down another floor to the kids section of the library. I was impressed with the place.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to check out the other floors but there are 600 internet-connected computers which anyone can use and 1.7 million books in case you want to read the old fashion way …

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I had hoped to visit the Resistance Museum (Amsterdams Verzetsmuseum) however we didn’t have time as the number one sightseeing event for us was to walk along the Prinsengracht canal. We were about half-an-hour away from the canal itself but the walk there via Dam square was also enjoyable. Once we reached Prinsengracht we simply walked along it and took photos. As we had arranged to meet Nick and Karen Klinkenberg between 4:30pm and 5:00pm we didn’t have time to be fussy over which coffee shop to drink at; however the one we chose pointed out as we were going inside that you had to be over 18 years old to come inside, that explained the smell! We sat outside and talked about marijuana with the kids …. an easy topic compared to questions from Amy about the Red-Light District which we wanted to avoid on the way to Prinsengracht!

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Nick and Karen kindly walked us around some streets. Along the way Nick introduced us to a few Dutch food specialities such as Croquet (Broodje Kroket).

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We went past the Amsterdam Stock Exchange building – the stock exchange, started in 1602, is considered to be the oldest in the world.

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After dinner, pizza, we continued our walking tour where Nick pointed out the XXX’s symbol on a street sign, which I had seen earlier on seats and assume were to mark the start of the red light district! It turns out that these are three Saint Andrew’s Crosses and part of the Amsterdam coat of arms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms_of_Amsterdam).

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By the time we got home it was 9pm and then the kids wanted to write in their journals so it ended up being yet another late night for them.

The next day, Thursday, we slept in and decided not to go anywhere so I could do some work and the kids some school. Bit of a shame but you can’t go on forever …

(Week 30B: Tuesday, 11 September 2012 – Friday, 14 September 2012)