Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Partir en France is alive again! I have just left France spending my last evening in Nice. Nice is a fun city in the summer. The winter also, but whether dining, drinking, walking or just people watching in the snaky labyrinth of Old Towne it is so alive in summer that simply being surrounded by it is more than enough entertainment.

So I was in France and Monaco for over 7 months, “Did I learn to speak French?” I guess that depends on what you mean by “speak”. Yes, “I can speak French”, but I think I’d be torn apart in a debate with a 3 year old and ‘L’Enfant’ would certainly have better grammar! I didn’t get any practice on the boat, but as soon as I started mixing it up with the locals this last week things started to come together if ever so slightly. I had to break myself out of the habit of quickly telling someone speaking French that “Je ne parlez pas L’France” or “I don’t speak French” because as I would finish the sentence a bell would go off and I’d realize that I did in fact sort of understand what they had just said. I think I was 1 French girlfriend away from actually making sense of the language. Good thing I left, I hear the French girls can really put the claw into you.

End Score: Monaco = Lots O’ $$$ with no charm! French Riviera = Considerable $$$ with character and things to do! Travel Tip: St. Tropez and for that matter Portofino, Italy are tourist traps. Keep your visit down to a day trip and move on. Do you really want to spend your hard earned vacation dollars on way overpriced fashions and to gawk for hours at luxury yachts backing into their berths? It can be quite the spectacle when you look up and see that your 5 person play entitled “A Completely Un-Dramatic Yacht Berthing” in 1 Act (hopefully?!) is being played for a Standing Room Only crowd (there isn’t any seating) of 400 people. And they are always gone by the time you get the gangway out and have a chance to ‘pass the hat’!

So even though I could have stood a few more days in Nice I was ready to make like a tree and leaf. Where to then?? Well my bank seems to have pulled its finger out of it’s a*s so that saves me a trip to the U.K.. After much consideration I decided that Amsterdam would be a good place to hole up for a while until I could organize the rest of the journey.

So at 6am I practiced my French one last time as I handed off the hotel key to the elderly gentleman returning to the hotel with a ’sac’ of freshly baked baguettes. He said he worked for the hotel, at least that’s what I think he said?!?

Arriving in Amsterdam I was a little surprised to find it sunny, but cool and breezy like early spring or late fall Jersey shore weather. I overheard a traveler say to someone at the other end of the phone “Yeah, it’s boiling here!”. I’m thinking “where are you from?!” and regretting donating all my warm clothes to The French Legion. And by ‘French Legion’ I mean whatever group of French recipients that wind up wearing two bags of clothing.

A quick ride on the train takes me from the Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Central and from there it’s a short walk to the ‘Budget Hotel Inn’. I’m a little early for check-in so I drop the bags and go for a wonder. Along the canal on the far side from Amsterdam Central is the main commercial ‘Straat’ with all your restaurants, shops, café shops and of course coffee shops. Don’t confuse the two! One more block in and you are simply in the neighbor hood. A quiet and mind clearing walk along the canals always does one good.

Eventually stopping at a café and I settle down to an outdoor table on the corner of the ’neighbor hood’. I start off with a cappuccino which takes forever to order because the poor solo worker is Slammed! Everyone in America drives cars, everyone in France rides scooters and everyone in Amsterdam rides bicycles. I started to wonder how many bicycles there must be in the city. Then I decide to count them. I realized I would quickly tire counting every single bike in the city or I would at least run out of time. So I counted bicycles for ten minutes at an intersection and got a count of 164. That is about 1000 per hour through just one intersection in just one neighbor hood!

I noticed another thing: each bike has lights, a bell, a lock and the obvious pairs of wheels, pedals and handlebars. What you won’t see is ONE mirror! Now I don’t know if I’m missing something here, but unless there is some deep rooted cultural aversion or phobia to mirrors on bikes, someone should import one of those magical mirrors and figure out how to attach it to a handlebar. I know the technology probably isn’t there yet, but when it arrives a person could make a killing over here selling the things! Think of how many lives would be saved, how many tragic bicycle accidents would be prevented by simply taking the over the shoulder blind spot out of the equation! Simple 3 speed bikes cost around 500-700 euros, what’s another 15 euros for something which could possibly save you from the pain and suffering of enduring a lifetime 5mm scar you might get scraping your knee in that near fatal bicycle crash! You can also now get a scooter with 2 helmets and a maintenance plan for 1600 euros. If the scooters start selling watch for the mayhem to begin. In that case, invest in band aids, sutures and gauze. The scooters already have mirrors!

Fortunately there are only a few scooters running around. As to the original question as to how many bicycles are in Amsterdam? I have no idea! I’ll take a wild guess at 500,000. If I had a wi-fi hook up at the moment I would try and find out for you, but if you are reading this then you have time to google it yourself. Let me know what you come up with. For now I’m just going to sit back and watch the waitress (cute by the way) take away my coffee cup and ask her to bring a sandwich and a pint to wash it down with as I watch Amsterdam go by…… 1 bicycle, 2 bicycles, 3,4,5 bicycles……