Going to Europe is not a restful vacation. It’s go, go, go and walk, walk, walk. There is so much to see and do in London and Amsterdam. It’s impossible to see it all. We already have our list of what we missed. In this blog, I’ll tell you what we did and what we learned.
Tower of London
We were with a tour that was admitted an hour before opening so we had less lines and people to deal with inside. Looking at the jewels and learning their history was very cool. But be sure to visit all the exhibits. There are lots of fun facts relating to the history of the Tower, including all the animals it was once home to.
Changing of the Guard
You kind of have to do this. But it’s not that exciting. Our guide took us from the area where they change in and out onto Buckingham where they parade by. Would have liked to have gone into Buckingham, but it’s only open for tours in July and August. Buckingham doesn’t look that grand on the exterior.
This was a favorite for me. The tea was bliss. The sandwiches and pastries were good not great (remember, I have a super palette). But I loved learning about the history and customs around afternoon tea.
I’d love to go back and spend a whole day in Windsor. It’s not far from London. We did not have enough time to see everything. No pictures are allowed inside. Windsor is grand on the inside and out.
You walk through a public park, and there it is. You can only visit a small portion, as it is a working palace. This was the home of Princess Diana so there were exhibits focused on her, including many of her well known dresses and gowns.
It’s just in the middle of a field. There’s even a highway not too far away. What if you saw Stonehenge on your commute every day. I found it fascinating. There was a definite energy there. You could feel it. And the weather changed four times in 20 minutes. It’s much clearer how the stones were moved here (from sometimes hundreds of miles away) then why. It was very evident to me that this place was very special to many people at one time.
The city is so beautiful. The history and artistry are all around you. It’s hard not to be intoxicated by it. Whatever your preconceived notions might be about Amsterdam, you’re probably wrong. The Red Light District isn’t seedy. We went on the Red Light District tour, and it was very enlightening. Prostitution is a legal profession just like being an accountant. Well, not exactly. But we learned a lot about the history of the sex industry. For starters, to have a window in this area, you’ve got to have money. It’s not cheap. I’m not sure where the cheaper hookers are but not here. Another thing is that you won’t find any men in the windows. Apparently, they aren’t brave enough.
You probably also might be thinking there would be drug addicts or bums filtering the streets. Not that we saw. We saw neither homeless people or addicts walking the street. Our guide informed us that in the early 90s, there was a heroin epidemic in the city. The traditional way of dealing with addicts was to imprison them. The Netherlands decided that wasn’t working. So they actually provide addicts heroin to use in a safe place. Treating it like an addiction; not a crime worked. The number of heroin addicts continues to shrink. Crime related to heroin addiction plummeted. And there are very few addicts under the age of 40, meaning that it’s not attracting new users. It’s a fascinating and smart way to look at drug addiction in my opinion.
There are so many things to do in Amsterdam. We made a bit of a dent in the list, but it will require several more trips to see everything. We loved the Van Gogh Museum. You can spend hours getting lost in his brush strokes and story. The canal cruises are a beautiful way to see the city. We took one in the day and at night. On one cruise, we saw the newer part of Amsterdam with its modern skyscrapers. I had no interest in seeing this part of the city. I much prefer the gorgeous and aged row houses.
We also toured the Amsterdam Museum, which provides you a great overview of the city from its beginnings as a port to its growth to international destination. The Royal Palace was open while we were there so we took a few hours to check it out. It was built in the 1600s as a city hall. Now it’s a residence for the Dutch monarchy and is open for touring depending on the schedule.
And yes, Amsterdam has coffeehouses and live sex shows. But it should never be defined as a city of hedonism. The Dutch aren’t conservative or prudish about what many cultures consider taboo. Rather they allow individuals to make their own choices about participating in such activities. They’ve removed the mystique around things that many cultures cannot. When things but come less risqué they lose their appeal to many. In my opinion, I believe they get it right.
Our time in Europe will be a time I always cherish. It’s just amazing and breathtaking to be around such history and beauty. We can’t wait to go back. We left parts of our heart their so we’d know we’d return as soon as possible.