How You Get There

Transportation here is different.

When we emerge from the airport, loaded down with our backpacks, we don’t see a car park. Rather, we see a bicycle park. Fietsflat (bicycle flat), as it is called, is at Amsterdam Centraal Station. “A guarded, three-story bicycle parking facility,” DutchAmsterdam cites it as, “provid[ing] 2500 free parking spaces.”

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Faith and Hannah- Safely Arrived in Holland

After navigating our way through Amsterdam’s streets with our friend Kelly, I understand the need for Fietsflat. Bicycles are everywhere. We quickly learn that bicycles have the absolute right of way. Cars have to make way for cyclists…and so do pedestrians. Bicycle bells are not for show here. The Dutch ring them vehemently if a tourist doesn’t happen to know proper bicycle etiquette.

Holland.com states, “Every Dutch person owns a bike and there are twice as many bikes as there are cars.”

Bikes of all materials, shapes, and sizes are here. Parents tote their children around on “bakfiets” (cargo bikes). If you are into comfort, old school pedal-back brakes, and wicker baskets, you might like to ride an “omafiets”- or “granny style” bike. Kelly has an omafiets. It is perfect for riding while wearing a skirt. Practicality and comfort make a wonderful match.

It makes complete sense. Houses aren’t the only thing that was built narrow here, so are the streets. Bicycle travel is efficient and feasible here, with the flat terrain and cycle-friendly infrastructure. There is even a bicycle underpass that goes through the Rijksmuseum.

But there is a problem with so many bicycles. Abandoned bikes have actually become a type of pollution in Amsterdam.

While cycling our way around Amsterdam, we came across this interesting Eurasian (bald) coot nest in a canal.

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Eurasian (bald) Coots’ Nests- Amsterdam Style

At least someone found a use for those wheels.

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Not Drowning

Realistically, this city shouldn’t even exist.

As our plane descends, Amsterdam appears out of the clouds, laced by water like veins. It is a field divided by water fences.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport sits four meters below sea level, according to Holland.com. Feats of engineering have kept Holland, also known as the Netherlands, safe from the ocean for years, setting the standard for other ocean-bordered cities to follow.

Rather than fight the water, the Dutch have used it to their advantage. The iconic mills, both wind and water, are linked to the water. The canals are streets in and of themselves. Boats line them like cars parked on a busy street. It is a parallel water transportation network.

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One of Amsterdam’s many canals- They look bewilderingly alike to me.

With all that water, it’s no wonder Amsterdam has over 1200 bridges. We crossed quite a few.

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Laughing Sisters in the Sun- Too bad we missed that boat.

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Coming Home

Who knew that a person could feel like they were home, when they’d only just arrived in a place they’d never been?

That’s how I felt in Galway.

Galway is where my father’s parents were born and raised. The Joyces are one of the 14 Tribes whose flags hang in the square. Hannah and I were touring Joyce Country. So I guess we actually had come home, in a sense.

When I was three years old, Grandpa and Grandma Joyce came to live down the street from us in Missouri. They still had their Irish brogues, even after living more than thirty years in the Bronx. When I was five, Grandpa passed away. I still remember the sadness I felt. Grandma Joyce remained in her little yellow house with the lilac bushes out front, and I would see her nearly every day. She wasn’t a stereotypical grandma. She didn’t really bake anything but Irish Soda Cake, and her food specialties included eggs, fish, meat, and potatoes. You could always count on her to have a “hot cup of something,” though. When I was younger, it was Ovaltine; when I got older, it was tea. Almond windmill cookies, jelly top cookies and shortbread were always on hand to accompany hot drinks. Grandma lived out her days in the house down the street. I was with her there the evening she died. Nothing has ever been the same.

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Grandma’s house

In Galway, Hannah and I came to the place where our grandmother had been born. We saw the streets where she’d roamed and played, the house she grew up in, the church in her neighborhood, and the shops she would have frequented. We saw the views she would have seen across the bay; we crossed bridges she had stood on. Grandma had survived scarlet fever there, head shaved except for a lock in the front to “pull you in the door by.” She had met my grandfather in the church, where he had sung as a choirboy. She courted and married him there. That’s where their first three children were born.

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Blessings over the door

Six years after my grandma died, as I stood on her street looking at the insignia above her door, I was speechless. Eyes swimming with tears, I felt tangibly close to her. Being that close made me miss her that much more.

What makes a home, but the people in it, and their laughter, stories and songs? All of these were there in Ireland, embodied in people who looked like my family; people who exaggerated stories the way my family does; people who welcomed me as if I belonged there. It was familiar, in the way the voice of a loved one sounds over the phone. In the brogues of the Irish, I heard my grandparents. My laughter echoed their own. Our voices blended with theirs in song. And our stories converged once more.

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Galway Cathedral

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The Bay in the Mist

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