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Lessons from an Amsterdam houseboat

photo 1This summer, on our annual trek to visit family and friends in the Netherlands, we decided to stay in the heart of Amsterdam, in one of the many houseboats that line the canals. It’s tiny and it’s cramped and it’s noisy, but honestly, our little boat couldn’t be more perfect. The grocery store is around the corner, the bikes are at the front door, and the entire city is at our feet.

Here are a few things we’ve learned in the past week or so ::

  1. Geese are bullies. They will swim right up to your open window, stretch their beak wide, and honk, loudly and often. None of them will give me any indication of what they want. A bit of conversation? A giant hunk of bread? For us to get out of their canal? I don’t know. All I do know is that as water fowl go, they’re the ones most deserving of their place, stuffed and roasted, on a Christmas platter.
  2. A plaque on the living room wall kindly requests we not feed the canal birds — not even the adorable (and quiet) little mother ducks who swim by, a row of fuzzy babies trailing behind — in order to keep the canals free of rats. Um, say what? There are rats in our canal? That makes me almost feel sorry for the geese.
  3. When the sun is out, as it has been most of our time here so far, the people of Amsterdam take to the terraces, the streets, the canals. Some of the boats that putter by our houseboat are so old and rusty, so loaded down with passengers and crates of Heineken, it’s a minor miracle they’re still afloat. None of the riders seem to mind that it’s 50 degrees and windy or that their feet are standing in a few inches of water — though they probably wouldn’t look so happy if they knew about the rats.
  4. Fphotoolks in Amsterdam ride their bikes faster than me. Faster than the rest of the citizens of the Netherlands. Like, way faster. I’ll be pedaling and puffing down the Prinsengracht, working up a light sweat and zoom! A woman flies by, her bike loaded down with a couple of kids, giant grocery bags dangling from each handlebar, a folded-up stroller tucked under one arm, leaving me coughing in her dust. Seriously? I work out. I bust my butt at spinning. Still, I see a lot more FlyWheel in my future.
  5. Sound carries, and I mean carries, over water. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say I know a lot more about our neighbors than their taste in music… and likely they about us.

Check out for more on this fabulous city.

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