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Just back from Netherlands and Iceland

Just returned from 5 nights in Amsterdam and 2 in Rykjavik. Both were great and would have warranted longer stays.
Flew Icelandair out of our home-town airport (BWI), and we had a 90-minute stop-over in Iceland. Long enough to stretch our legs, sample more than our share of some free smoked salmon, and drink some coffee while looking out onto the stark landscape around the airport and the snow-covered mountains in the background.

On to Amsterdam. Very nice airport, easy connection to the city. Stayed at the Hotel Toren, a 17th canal house century mansion that's now a 3-star hotel. Nice place. Superior room (good size, overlooking the Kaisersgracht) was $150/night for two, breakfast included. Only downside: They have a construction barge parked in the canal out front for workers doing a rehab on a neighboring house, and it detracted from the otherwise beautiful view.
The Dutch people are very nice, humorous friendly, relaxed... I could go on, but you get the message.
Weather was excellent until we had some light some rain starting the afternoon of our last full day.
We saw the Kuckenhauf (sp?) Gardens and Haarlem on one day trip. Both very nice. The tulips in full bloom.
Took an all-day bike trip with a very capable one-man tour company - Let's Go Tours (I'll provide his website address if you e-mail me). Took the train to an outer suburb, got good new bikes from a shop, and set out on an easy 25(?) km trip with many stops along the way. Almost all of the trip was on bike paths.
Great museums in the city, good and varied restaurants, totally charming walks along the many canals, and a very active and vibrant nightlife.
All the bad things you've been seeing on this site and on about Amsterdam may have a little truth to them, but to my mind are greatly exagerated. Pickpockets and other crime? - never had any problem; never noticed any attempted pickpocketing; never felt unsafe walking through the streets at any hour (though we admittedly didn't stay out past midnight). "Dirty"? - On the contrary; we were there right after Queen's Day, which is a HUGE street party all over the city and the world's largest rummage sale (thousands of people set up stands on the sidewalks and often leave behind what they can't sell). The street cleaners were already making good progress by noon the next day, and the city looked very tidy in a couple days. Drugs? We never saw anyone smoking grass in public (although the worst that would have happened would be a disapproving glare). Sure there were some grungy young people, but there were a lot of clean-cut kids (by today's standards) who were polite, helpful if we needed directions, and joyous dancers on a couple nights when the city set up a stage in a public square and offered music by live bands or high-energy DJs.

On to Iceland. The drive from the airport to the city is rather stark lava fields, and the city of Reykjavik is pleasant, but not particularly special. But a trip to the country east of the city is fantastic. We rented a car ($80/ day from Hertz - everything is rather expensive) and very much enjoyed our site seeing. The coutry roads are practically empty at this time of year and are very well posted, so it's difficult to get lost. Lakes, snow, mountains, waterfalls, geysers, old farmhouses, meadows. It's like being in the high country of the American Rockies, but more exotic. The people were very nice, but Americans should note that not everyone speak English (though most do... BTW, nearly all Dutch speak excellent English.
That's all for now. Jet lag is catching up. Let me know if you ant more info.

- Bill

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