Amsterdam, like so many of the places I’ve traveled to, is slow to wake up on a Saturday morning. I’ve never understood the allure of sleeping in – especially while on holiday – but given the party scene we witnessed last night in the Red Light District it’s really no surprise the streets are so quiet just now.
On second thought, it is surprising that it’s this quiet. Every city, town even, I’ve ever been in has had the low frequency growl of internal combustion engines perpetually piercing the air, even in the pre-dawn hours of a Saturday morning. But not here in Amsterdam, at least not where I happen to be. Aside from the occasional rattle of a rickety cruiser the only sounds I hear are the birds and the breeze. It’s a refreshing yet strangely disconcerting sensation, like I’m about to find out the reason the world’s so quiet is because aliens have abducted most of the human population, leaving behind only those intelligent and strong enough to remake global society for the better. Such a burden to bare, but I shall do my best.
Turns out there was no alien abduction and eventually Amsterdam – and the wife – wakes up. Usually this is the part of the story where I reveal some humorous exchange between Steph and I and then begin recounting the day’s (mis)adventures in a quasi-chronological fashion, selectively seasoning the tale with wry quips and curmudgeonly commentary based on our experiences as compared to our expectations. It’s a good enough formula, I suppose, for most places, for most of our trips abroad or local to home adventures, but not for Amsterdam. Everywhere claims to be different, unique and special, but Amsterdam actually delivers. I need to rethink the formula.
As I mentioned in the previous post we’ve met up with friends from the States today and hang with them for the rest of the trip. It’s nice to change the usual just Steph and I dynamic and explore new places with friends, especially ones who are equally as laid back and willing to roll with whatever comes our way. We spend the next couple of days walking the line between goofy tourists (but never, ever, loud, arrogant American/British tourons) and serious world travellers (minus the pretentiousness, mostly). Before moving away from my usual blog formula here’s a laundry list of some of the things we saw and did. In quasi-chronological order. Spiced up with some wry commentary and curmudgeonly commentary. Damn, I suck at this being different thing.
1.) The Heineken Experience: I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to my booze. I typically shun the big beer brands like a long tailed cat avoids a room full of rocking chairs. But I’ve always liked Heineken, and not just because of the epically epic adverts they put out. For me it’s a good, smooth and tasty beer. Having said that, I really wasn’t expecting much coming into the Heineken Experience. Actually, I expected it to be a crass, over the top, hyper commercialised and utterly soulless “experience.” I expected it to suck.
So I, uh, was maybe, like, uh, wrong, or something, uh.
Don’t get me wrong, this place is overtly commercial and treads right up to edge of over the top crassness, but it somehow never falls into the abyss of suck like so many other big ticket tourist attractions. It’s just so damn well done. So Dutch! Even Steph, who doesn’t drink beer (more for me!), found the place immensely enjoyable.
2.) Foam: Actually we visited Foam (it’s a photography museum/gallery) yesterday (see, quasi-chronological order) but I didn’t really know what to say about the place while writing the first Amsterdam blog post. I went specifically to see Infidel, an exhibition of war images by the late the Tim Hetherington. It is an incredibly powerful and moving collection of photographs and video clips and I’m well pleased I was able to experience the exhibition in Foam’s beautiful halls. As for the rest of the exhibitions showing, well, let’s just say I’m not a fan of most “fine art” photography, and nothing on display has done anything to change my mind. Fortunately, Foam rotates it’s exhibitions quite frequently and one can always check the website to see what’s showing and if it’s worth a visit.
3.) Mike’s Bike Tours: Chaos, crashes, cheese and weed, oh my! Okay, so we didn’t actually blaze any blunts on our bikes, but the conversation I witnessed between our ace guide Ashley and a mortified Mormon regarding the merits of marijuana made this the best guided tour ever.
Setting out from the bustling centre of the city our little rag-tag peloton meandered our way to the outskirts of Amsterdam, stopping occasionally to regroup and listen to Ashley’s stories about the area. The bike handling skills of most in our group left a lot to be desired and I felt a pang of sympathy for Ashley, especially after one of the grannies (there were a few) went and pedalled herself right into a bollard and crashed. You read that right, I felt sorry for Ashley, not the little old lady sprawled out on the pavement. Bitch done cut me off and nearly wrecked me twice now! Anyway, she wasn’t hurt and continued on with the tour.
Don’t judge me, you weren’t there.
We stopped for lunch and got a behind the scenes tour of a working cheese and clog making farm, complete with demonstrations, yummy free samples (of cheese, not clogs you numpty) and product available for purchase. It was towards the end of our feast, when everyone was packing up and hitting the toilets before setting off on the bikes again, that I witnessed the aforementioned conversation between our Rastaman guide Ashley and the mortified Mormon.
Now, in the interest of fair reporting here I should say that I do not know for certain that the “mortified Mormon” is actually Mormon, that’s just my speculation based on the clues at hand; he’s from Utah (we all did intros at the start of the tour); he wears his khaki trousers up around his diaphragm; he has the same monotone voice and robotic mannerisms as Mitt Romney; and then he said this.
MM: The sticker on your bike says I love coffee shops.
Ashley: Yeah man.
MM: Now, we were in the Haarlem yesterday and learned that a coffee shop is a place where people smoke marijuana.
Ashley: Uh, yeah.
MM: But your sticker says you love coffee shops?
Ashley: Yeah, a man has to have some pleasure in life, some joy. We’re not going to let some politicians tell us we can’t smoke. This is Amsterdam!
Oh the look that came over this guy’s face, like someone had atomic wedgied his magic underwear right over his head, is something I won’t soon forget. Worth the price of the tour right there.
4.) Amsterdam Museum: I recall reading somewhere that the Amsterdam Museum is a great place to get away from the crowds that sometimes choke the more popular attractions, as they do in any tourist destination. Being a cynical bastard I figured the reason the museum is uncrowded is cause it’s lame, but being a grumpy bastard who hates crowds I figured we should go anyway. Turns out I was half right.
The Amsterdam Museum was indeed uncrowded during our visit but it was anything but lame. Perhaps part of the reason it tends to be uncrowded is because IT’S SO FRICKIN BIG! The place is a maze of awesomeness and features interesting art, historic objects, and some of the best interactive instillations I’ve ever experienced. For all I know there were 10,000 other people in the museum with us, but the place is so big and so well laid out we never had any tourons bashing into us or looking over our shoulders while we studied a display. The Dutch have done it again!
5.) Anne Frank House Museum: I think it’s safe to say that the Anne Frank House Museum – which attracts more than a million visitors a year – is one of Amsterdam’s most popular tourist attractions. Given it’s popularity and the powerful nature of the story the museum helps preserve we all had pretty (unreasonably?) high expectations going in. Unfair as those expectations may have been, the bottom line is we all felt a twinge of disappointment following our visit – although the museum itself isn’t entirely to blame here.
All started well enough as we strolled, pre-purchased tickets in hand, past the growing line of people waiting to get in. Our experience officially began with a brilliant 45 minute interpretive presentation detailing the story of Nazi occupied Amsterdam, and of course Anne Frank. After the presentation we were turned loose – along with another group of people who hadn’t booked into the presentation – to walk the prescribed route through the house.
Too many humans with too few manners in too small a space.
As I said, it’s not the museums fault that many of the people in our group apparently were raised in barns (with a few actually smelling like they just came from a pigsty) and lacked and sense of human courtesy, but with the number of folk they let through at a time the conditions are ripe for a less than nice experience.
Told you I was grumpy about crowds.
6.) Rijksmuseum: Featuring an awe inspiring collection of art and historic pieces, all housed in a recently renovated, massive castle-like building, the Rijksmuseum is undoubtedly one of the world’s elite museums to experience. Maybe next time I’ll go inside and see for myself.
With only so much time available in any given day and on any given trip compromises inevitably must be made. Steph – my stunningly beautiful and impressively intelligent wife and eternal travel companion – isn’t the world’s foremost lover of art. Also, Amsterdam is the last stop on a grand European tour for our friends from the States, so they’ve already had their fill of staring at paintings and sculptures. It’s cool. Like I said, I’ll go myself next time I’m in town.
So why have I listed a place we didn’t even go into?
By pure wandering chance we did happen upon the Rijksmuseum one evening while, uh, wandering, and decided to have a look around. Turns out there was a bangin three stage music festival going on behind the museum. And it was free! We also had a play on and took the requisite photos of the IAmsterdam giant-letters-sculpture-thingy. Somehow, being a tourist never felt so cool.
7.) Open Bare Bibliotheek Amsterdam: This ain’t your grandparents uptight, boring library. Unless your grandparents happen to live in Amsterdam, in which case this is their library. It’s just not uptight or boring.
From the outside the building itself is large and impressive enough to warrant a visit, but inside, well, things get interesting. It’s a grand, cavernous space, all decked out with quirky, modern design features and loads of art. And speaking of large and impressive, the first piece of art that greets you right at the entrance of the main lobby is a giant wooden sculpture of a man, complete with huge feet, huge hands and a huge cock. For some reason though his head is really tiny. A lesser man might be offended!
The top floor balcony provides us with incredible views over the city, the first real aerial perspective we’ve had of these pancake flat lowlands. What a great (free of charge!) place to decompress from the hustle and bustle below. Man what a city this is.
And that my friends sums up the rest of our time in Amsterdam. And yet, it doesn’t. Somehow the whole of the experience is greater than the coefficient of the exponential divisor of the reciprocal of the individual parts…..or however the hell you say that. Lets just put it this way: I generally hate cities. I mean, I loathe nearly every second spent in a city, to the point where I sometimes actually feel ill. I’ve certainly enjoyed traveling to and exploring other cities, but I’ve always been ready to go by the end of the trip. But not here, not in Amsterdam. I actually want to stay!
And that, my friends, sums up Amsterdam.
A few more photos for your enjoyment.