14
May

Trecker’s Travels, Day Nine: Bobbing and Weaving

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By: Jamie Trecker

AMSTERDAM – In what is becoming a habit on my travels, I’ve ended up in a strange place. I’m parked in a houseboat along one of the main canals in this city.

‘Why, Trecker?’ you ask? Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Other “good” ideas of mine have included: traveling from Berlin to Warsaw on a Soviet-era sleeper train; going to El Salvador at the tail end of the guerra sucia; and visiting Scotland in July. It has been argued, frequently and loudly by my partner, that my travel plans suffer from too much whimsy.  

However, I am happy to report that despite bobbing about on the Ringvaart van der Harlemmermeerpolder, that this is hardly the worst decision I’ve ever made. I’ve got a windmill to the left of me, a pumping station to the right and water out my front door. It’s quite peaceful. There are rabbits and ducks about. People row past and wave. One could get used to this.

Houseboats are fixtures along Amsterdam’s canals. The potted history is that, after World War II, there was a sharp housing shortage in the city combined with a surfeit of suddenly decommissioned naval barges. The Dutch are nothing but ingenious and today an estimated 2,500 families live along the inner waters of the city. Then, it was cheap and practical. Today, it is not: there are no more moorings left for sale and the cost of a houseboat has gone through the roof. What was once bohemian has gone upscale, meaning that today you can find “boat-els” and private lessors throughout the city.

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

The canals form a web across the city, creating nearly a hundred small islands with nearly 2,000 bridges. They make Amsterdam a maddening city to navigate even with a well-thumbed guidebook, a cellphone and a sextant. (Every landlord I’ve met here opens their spiel with “when lost, please do not call me and tell me you are ‘on a bridge.’”) But if you’re going to get lost, you might as well do it the way the Dutch do, on a bike. I got a blue one, with a basket and a bell. The bell is important: the bike has no brakes.

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