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Cruising The Canals In One Of The World's Most Charming Cities

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    On May 24, 2014, my fiancé, Andy, and I got married in New York City. Seven days later, we hopped on a plane with two carry-on suitcases and two one-way tickets to Paris. We had just pressed pause on our careers, sublet our apartment, moved all of our things into storage. The only plan was to have no plans at all — and we ended up traveling for 394 days through 25 countries, stopping in nearly 100 destinations. Over the next few weeks, come along on this crazy journey to learn more about how we did it — packing, plotting, budgeting — and see some of the tens of thousands of photos we took along the way.

    As our Paris chapter concluded, we still didn’t have a solid plan for what we wanted to see in Europe and for how long. We had to start thinking a bit more long-term and began to plot out destinations into a calendar. That framework shifted constantly, but it helped us to start budgeting our time. Sometimes our destination and direction was dictated by the cost of flights. If it was cheaper to backtrack or book a connecting flight, we did it. (That was why we ended up going from New Zealand back to Southeast Asia and finally onto Brazil.) We eventually decided to just start moving northeast, so we booked a high-speed train from Paris to Amsterdam.

    We usually took turns researching the upcoming country and deciding where to go, what to see, and how we’d do it all. Sorting those logistics took up so much time it became our full-time jobs. (Not that I’m complaining, it was a pretty epic day job!) Whenever we weren’t sight-seeing, we were researching, making reservations, and planning transportation. I love the romantic idea of going wherever the wind takes you (and we definitely did that to a degree) but I love having a confirmed bunk with my name on it for a 15-hour overnight train ride from Agra to Varanasi, India even more.

    All of this sounds daunting, but traveling across the globe was honestly so much easier than I ever expected. We’re incredibly fortunate to have had technology on our side. We used Airbnb every chance we could, and Booking.com became our go-to for hotel reservations, because they both have amazing cancellation policies. Kayak and Hipmunk are great for comparing flight prices. We shared Google calendars and spreadsheets with our families that outlined where we were staying in every country. We used our currency converter app daily. We even tried an app that could take a photo of any written text and translate it into English, which only worked 40% of the time but provided endless entertainment. And because we actually turned off our mobile service, and only used our phones when we caught free Wi-Fi, I couldn’t live without the offline map app called Ulmon. (I even liked it better than Google’s offline map.)

    With our Ulmon map guiding the way, we arrived in Amsterdam and made our way to De Pijp, the neighborhood we’d be staying in for the next three days. We met our lovely Airbnb hosts and immediately set out to explore the city.




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  2. Photo: Courtesy of Kate Titus.

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    After two weeks in Paris, leaving the city was kind of surreal. It was the longest I’d stayed in any one place on a trip. We were just getting used to our new life of professional people-watching and picking up baguettes on our way home at the end of the day. Even when we arrived in Amsterdam, we were still in auto pilot saying oui and merci to everyone we interacted with. We found this to be a recurring theme throughout our journey. It’s surprising how quickly you can adapt to new cultures, and when it’s constantly being switched up you find yourself stumbling over what language to speak and what currency you should be using. For the record, our language skills do not exceed "yes," "no," "thank you," and "toilet."

    After 15 minutes out the door, I was already blown away by our new destination. Over a quarter of Amsterdam’s surface is covered in waterways. It has over 60 miles of canals with three main canals that radiate out from the center in concentric rings. Go Google an aerial view of the city now and see what I mean. Pretty impressive. These canals are lined with trees, charming brick houses, and colorful houseboats. It felt like a quaint, friendly village more than a concrete metropolis.

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    The first thing you really notice about the city is the bikes. It seems like they’re covering every inch of it… And they rule the road. Unlike New York, the common jay walker in Amsterdam does not have some invisible force field around them. Boldly walking to the street or bike lane and assuming traffic will move around you is not advised. Bikes trump humans.

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    We quickly joined the crowd and rented bikes for the duration of our stay. If you want to look like a local go with the leisure bike — classic shape, slightly tattered, bell on the big U-shaped handlebars.

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    Right around this time of the year, people from all over the world start gathering together to watch this strange sport where men kick around a ball with their feet. I think they call it "football," but they obviously mean soccer. The 2014 World Cup had begun as we started our trip, and we felt its presence strongly in every country we visited. Although I know the U.S. has its fair share of soccer fans, there’s absolutely no comparing our passionate for this sport to the rest of the world. How did we get so out of the loop? Here, flags for the Holland football team line the downtown streets.

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    I’ve heard that there’s over 2,500 houseboats on the canals of Amsterdam. It was fascinating to see how people set up these floating little worlds. Some looked as if they had multiple stories, and many residents had figured out how to have terraces and gardens on their floating estates.