Adrienne Smith, the Constant Traveler: Aboard in Amsterdam Print

Written by Adrienne Smith

Oct. 29, 2014: April might be the cruelest month, but it was also the time that a cursory search of vrbo.com, the worldwide home rental website, set in motion a series of actions that led to a delicious stay on an Amsterdam houseboat. 

In 2013, I had made the mistake of renting a charming Parisian apartment for three weeks that July, failing to take into account the combination of a lack of air conditioning and 90-plus degree weather. That error resulted in multiple restless nights lying buck naked (do your best not to summon up a picture thereof), covered with a damp bath towel, in an attempt to enter a somnolent state.

This time, I decided to move northerly and to September. Amsterdam sounded like a good bet, and I assumed that I would find a pleasant, centrally located flat to rest my heavily traveled head. 

But, as often happens to best-laid plans, a ridiculous picture of a houseboat, with giraffes appearing to loom over it, stole my heart. (You can see the image by going to http://www.vrbo.com/344981.)  This optical illusion was created by taking a picture from across the canal on which the boat was docked and within the confines of the Amsterdam Zoo.

Within a matter of days, the houseboat was mine, and in mid-September I alighted at the Amsterdam train station to begin my two-week stay. My taxi seemed to drive far from the center in a worrisome combination of twists and turns before arriving at a rather plain-looking blue boat in what appeared to be a somewhat desolate area.

Exiting timorously from the cab, and claiming my ridiculous amount of luggage, I turned to find my cheerful landlady emerging from the bowels of the boat to greet me effusively.  She led me through the hatch and down a steep ladder to my living quarters, consisting of a charming bedroom with porthole windows, living, dining, and kitchen area, and full bath. My space had everything I could possibly need--a washer/dryer, dishwasher, wireless Internet, and TV. Not bad.

After sharing a Dutch beer with my host, I was left to my own devices. Outside, swans and ducks floated by in a constant parade. Boats of all sizes passed, filled with passengers varying from tourists to middle-aged female crewers. And across the way--the zoo, although the giraffes were spending their time in other quarters. The zoo was, however, ever present in my thoughts, since I would awaken occasionally in the night to the howls of unknown beasts across the canal.

Best of all, the TV had very few English-language channels, so, after watching some ridiculous, brain-destroying shows, including one where competing chefs had to make a supersized cake in the shape of a cheeseburger, I was forced to mellow out and start reading. And read I did, polishing off almost a book a day.

When I first emerged from my womblike world, I found myself in a converted warehouse district, automobile-free for the most part, with wide, brick-lined sidewalks. My neighbors, who lived in loft-style apartments, would bring picnic tables and chairs out their doors and enjoy long, wine-filled dinners in the still-warm late summer evenings, while their blond and hopelessly beautiful children would cavort nearby.  What a lifestyle!

A ten-minute walk and a six-stop tram ride would take me to the Museum Quarter, where I could take in the newly reopened Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. Another tram would deposit me in the far less appealing center of Amsterdam, where a combination of redevelopment and urban blight made me happy to be staying in my more remote part of the city.

I spent the first week exploring all Amsterdam had to offer, returning happily to my little piece of paradise. I spent the second on day trips to The Hague, to see the goldfinch painting made famous by Donna Tartt's current bestseller, and to a charming museum, the Kröller-Mϋller, in the hinterlands, and, finally, and most memorably, an overnight to Bruges.

When the time came for my departure, I felt quite a pang. But I was off to Venice and new adventures.

Pictured here: The houseboat on which the author stayed.

Photo by Adrienne Smith