“What are you doing?”
“Uh, having breakfast.”
“Did you just put chocolate sprinkles in your coffee?”
“Yep. And on this round toast thing, with butter. When in Amsterdam baby!”
It’s our first morning (Friday) in Amsterdam and Steph isn’t feeling the breakfast at the Hotel van Onna. I’ve been up for a few hours, out wandering the streets to get my bearings and scout for photo ops, so I’m happy enough with anything edible. Steph drinks her pot of tea and eats two slices of brown bread with butter and jam, leaving me to eat two more slices of brown bread, four slices of white bread, two round toasted bread thingies (all of it with butter and chocolate sprinkles), two hard-boiled eggs and two slices each of ham and cheese. I leave seven sprinkles in the little bowl, so as not to look like a pig.
We arrive in Amsterdam on a Thursday afternoon by direct flight from Aberdeen, Scotland. It takes all of one hour and ten minutes in the air to get here and yet, sadly, this will be our first visit – not counting of course the twelve plus times we’ve each been through the airport on our way elsewhere. From the airport we take the train to Amsterdam’s Central Station and emerge into a whole new world, one which immediately feels infinitely different from anywhere else I’ve ever been.
“Jesus, it’s true. Look at them.”
Bikes by the thousands are parked on a multi-level, purpose-built parking garage. And along the streets, the sidewalks, the canals, just everywhere we look. It’s a thing of beauty.
“Whoa, shit! Did you see that?”
“Yeah. That was close.”
It’s a twenty minute walk from the station to the hotel and we must witness at least a dozen near bike-on-bike collisions at intersections. And yet, nobody seems fazed. No shouts, no hand gestures, no death stares; everyone just keeps on peddling. Everything else on the streets – cars, vans, trucks, motorcycles and pedestrians – yields to the movement of the bicycles. That seems to be the only rule of the road, and it’s fucking awesome.
The bikes themselves aren’t what I expected; burly, utilitarian steel framed beasts – cruisers, commuters and cargos – and almost universally in need of a lube job and some bolt tightening, most aren’t what one would describe as pretty. More ruggedly sexy, with the occasional flair of artistic embellishment or posh refinement.
The riders of those rattling bikes, however, tend to be impossibly embellished and refined.
“How the hell is she doing that?”
We’ve dumped our bags in our room and head out to explore and find some food. Steph likes to people watch and contemplate as much as I do, but I have never, ever, seen her gawk in amazement the way she is now. Just across the small canal bridge which we are on a lady has rolled up onto the sidewalk and dismounts her bike. Her dirty blonde hair is pulled up into a perfectly purposeful mess atop her un-helmeted head and she is wearing high heels and an elegant black dress. The dress has a deeply plunging V neckline and is open at the back, swooping all the way down to the top of her bottom – and then some. No bra, no panties, no car, no problems.
The gents, too, all look like they’ve just come from a GQ cover shoot, with their brogues, worn but not too worn jeans, sport coats and tan, chiseled features. I’m slightly dismayed by my uncontrollable gawking at the lads, but equally relieved that Steph (seemingly) isn’t paying them any attention.
“Steph, are you wearing your contact lenses?”
“Did you bring glasses?”
“Oh, nothing. Just wondering.”
Haha, yes! If she can’t see all these pretty men peddling by I might just be in with a shot at keeping her.
Back to Friday now and Steph has plans of the touristy (but most definitely cool) variety for us today. We slowly make our way across town to the Verzetsmuseum (aka the Dutch Resistance Museum), soaking in the Amsterdam ambiance as we go. Art, just like the bicycles, is everywhere you look; from world class museums and quirky architecture to hole-in-the-wall galleries and street graffiti, Amsterdam clearly (still) loves it’s art. It’s certainly a refreshing change from the dour grey streets – and attitude – of Aberdeen.
The Verzetsmuseum tells the story of The Netherlands during World War 2 from four distinct perspectives: those who joined the Nazis, those who didn’t support the Nazis but tried to get on with their lives as best they could, those who actively resisted the Nazi occupation, and the Jews. Though nowhere near the size of the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, I find the Verzetsmuseum to be on par both intellectually and emotionally. It’s also delightfully uncrowded during our visit, allowing us to really look at the displays, read the captions and contemplate what we’re seeing. Steph and I agree, the Verzetsmuseum is absolutely brilliant and a must see.
After leaving the Verzetsmuseum we walk a short distance to see De Gooyer windmill. Cause, you know, you can’t come to The Netherlands and not see at least one old school windmill. Information is a little mixed but it would seem the windmill currently serves as a private residence and is not open to the public. We do the requisite tourist thing and pop a few pics before getting lunch at the Langendijk eetcafe which sits at the base of the windmill. Unfortunately (for me anyway) it’s a bit early for Brouwerij ‘t IJ, the organic brewery which also resides beneath the windmill, to be open. Ah well, something to look forward to on my next trip to Amsterdam.
“Lay down under me. It will make for a way cooler photo.”
“Yeah. Wait til my legs are spread and try to get all the chains in.”
No, no, this (unfortunately, for me anyway) isn’t the part of the trip where we visit Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District. We’ll get there, worry not. Instead, we’ve stumbled upon the most sweet-ass swing set I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of, uh, swinging on. TALL FRAME + LONG CHAINS + SMOOTH & SILENT GLIDE = AWESOME SWING. It’s, like, physics and stuff dude.
Next on the agenda is a private canal cruise on a luxury boat, complete with soothing classical music, wine, champagne, and a three course gourmet meal. Wait, that was the agenda of some other couple, the ones in the boat which just passed by us. We’re happy enough to pedal our way through Amsterdam on a canal bike, thank you very much. I mean, who wants to drop all that coin just to see the same stuff we’re seeing now?
Wait, I think I smell scallops on their boat. Damn.
After a brief stop in our room to freshen up we’re back on the streets and looking for the finest authentic Dutch cuisine in all of Amsterdam, nay, in all The Netherlands. Last night we found a fantastic little Mexican restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed the tacos, margaritas and Pacificos, but tonight we’ll be immersing ourselves in the local gastronomic culture, eating and experiencing life as the locals do. Tonight, my friends, we eat pancakes.
Right, well, I guess I should clarify that maybe this isn’t a typical Dutch dinner. It seems unlikely given the generally svelte proportions of the populace. Sure, folk here cycle – a lot – but it’s usually at a pretty casual, ambling pace, and without the calorie crushing effect of hills. Ah, whatever, these pancakes are bloody delicious!
“We should walk a bit, try to burn off some of that.”
“Okay. Where to? And why do you have that stupid grin on your face?”
“Show me on the map. Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
Look, brothers and sisters, De Oude Kerk (The Old Church) is Amsterdam’s oldest building, and thus a legitimate thing for two curious visitors to want to see. Yes, it sits right in the middle of the Red Light District, but really, I just want to go to church.
We don’t spend too long around the Royal Palace and Dam Square, figuring we’ll be back through and have a better look during daylight hours. Walking onwards, we suddenly cross an invisible yet palpable threshold. The streets are choked with people and an odd mixture of cannabis smoke, booze and cheap body spray hangs in the air. Finally, we pass by our first bank of red lit windows and I cautiously glance at the lingerie clad women inside.
Neither one of us being particularly fond of crowds – especially when they consist primarily of loud, obnoxious, drunken British lads – we quickly make our way to the church. It’s certainly an impressive, medieval looking building, but lets be honest: the draw here isn’t the church itself, but rather that it’s exterior walls are so close to the windows of working girls selling their wares that they glow red. Oh god, oh god, indeed!
As I said at the start, Amsterdam feels infinitely different to anywhere else I’ve ever been, and after tonight’s stroll through the Red Light District that sentiment is ringing truer than ever. We’ve plenty more to do and see here over the next few days, and with friends from the US of A joining us tomorrow I’ve no doubt that the good times are gonna keep on rollin.
Coy reference to smoking some weed? Cycling perhaps? How about cheese wheels? You’ll have to tune in to episode two and find out!