Amsterdam – Déjà vu all over again
In February 1972, David, Barb and I pulled in to Amsterdam in our 1962 Morris J2 panel van after a 3-day drive from Switzerland. We parked on a canal in the Red Light District, booked into a hostel and got robbed.
Overnight they broke the side window of the van stole our backpacks, David’s camera, etc. The next entire day was spent in the police station filing a report for our Canadian insurance. Why we had the foresight to get insurance is a mystery. Parents I suspect.
The next two weeks were pretty miserable as I recall. Fixing the broken side window in order to sell the van required a shipwright to make one. Weather was miserable and even doing the Heineken brewery tour four days in a row couldn’t lift our spirits. In the end, we left David with the van and Barb and I went to Austria for more skiing.
Arriving this time from Bordeaux in lovely June weather, we were surprised to see a line-up of Tesla Model S cars as taxis. Just the first sign of what a ‘green’ city this place has become.
We had booked The Park Hotel for its central location. Decent enough place, although there are better and more expensive spots like The Pulitzer. The Park is mere yards from the Rijksmuseum; the Van Gogh Museum only a little farther away.
Our first day, we walked. I started early looking for pharmacies for cough medicine for Ellen, then on to Albert Street Cuypmarket, a street market of food, flowers and shops. Ellen had to get a dose of Stroopwaffles; a very thin wafer sandwich with sweet cane syrup in the middle. The market also had many restaurants, including a Dim Sum place that we marked down for a later visit. It's been weeks since we had Dim Sum and we needed a fix.
Ellen had booked a VIP canal tour in advance. Good idea as there are dozens of canal boats with people packed in like sardines. This one was call Pure Boat and held only 10 people with an ample supply of champagne, white wine, cold craft beer and local cheese. We cruised in the sun for hours as the guide told his tales: Anne Frank house over there, Red Light District over there, etc. On our tour we purposely sought out the Music Boat, a tiny little thing complete with an organ, French horns and a guy who plays everything from rock, to jazz to Puccini. Great fun and a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
Ellen had contacted our old friend and her work mate from Shanghai, Arjan. We agreed to meet at a bar on the canal and he had already arrived on his bike. Bikes. There are 800,000 bikes in Amsterdam, one for every resident and 15,000 are fished out of the canals every year. A bike lane bisects every sidewalk and it is up to you to stay clear. Given the pace they go and the ignorance of the tourists, I was surprised to see no accidents.
Well, I did see one. Ellen fell off Arjan’s bike causing a bit of consternation on a bridge. Dinner at Black and Blue steak house and a stroll home. Great to see Arjan again.
One thing we missed was Anne Frank House. It was fully booked so we went to De 9 Straatjes (9 Streets). A quieter grid of little streets with upscale shops and bars, great for window shopping and buying wonderful cheese to take home. That cheese made it into every hotel mini fridge and Airbnb kitchen fridge for the next six weeks until we forgot it on our last day in Athens. Doh!
To avoid the long queues, we booked a guide to take us through the Van Gogh Museum. We had been to Saint-Paul de Mausole Asylum outside of Saint Remy in Provence where Van Gogh had been committed for a year and created some of his finer works. Still functioning as an asylum, it allows tours of his room and highlights the locations he painted. As moving as Saint-Paul is, this is a wonderful museum with 200 paintings, 400 sketches and 700 letters. Having a guide also enabled us to understand the transitions he made in his art during his brief time on earth. That he only sold one painting when he was alive is rather sad.
We moved on to the enormous Rijksmuseum where we saw more Van Gogh’s and Vermeer’s and Rembrandt's. Both of these museums, and the Stedilijk Museum of modern art are must see events in Amsterdam.
Ellen had read about a restaurant called De Kas, a farm to table eatery in a park that had incredible reviews. We booked and entered the place through their hothouse that provided all their vegetables, basil, etc. Very chic looking place with automatic blinds to filter out the setting sun. We liked the food but I don’t think it was entirely up to the hype.
Our last full day took us to the infamous Red Light district. This is where our hostel was in 1972 and my backpack is likely still in the canal. The area today is the same but different. Much more gentrified with pre-schools butting up against weed and sex shops. The girls still pose behind glass doors under a red light but now a blue light indicates transvestites. The weed shops are everywhere as is the aroma of powerful spliffs as you walk down the street. We visited a famous weed shop and bought some seeds for Malaysia planting. Not cheap! 5 seeds of White Widow for 30 Euros. I have a hard enough time keeping Rosemary alive. We stopped for excellent Thai food and walked the streets the rest of the afternoon.
That night, our last, we sought out a place called De Hallen. This is an old tram repair factory and yard turned into shops, bars and a giant food hall called Foodhallen. Kind of like the Borough Market in London, there are over 20 stalls with every kind of food imaginable to be eaten at communal tables in the middle. It was quiet at 4:00PM on our arrival and then packed at 6:00pm with after work diners. Food and wines and spirits were excellent. Every city should have one of these.
We enjoyed Amsterdam. It is a young town, lots of fun with good food and fantastic museums of some of the most famous art in the world. It is easy to navigate and lovely to wander by the canals in the sunshine. A nice alternative hub to London and we will use it for that again.
Amsterdam - What & Where
Park Hotel - decent enough place and very centrally located. Around the corner is Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat, Amsterdam's most exclusive shopping street.
Pure Boat - classy, electric canal cruiser. Only 10-12 people with an ample supply of champagne, white wine, cold craft beer and local cheese.
Foodhallen - This is an old tram repair factory and yard turned into shops, bars and a giant food hall. Kind of like the Borough Market in London, there are over 20 stalls with every kind of food imaginable to be eaten at communal tables in the middle.
Restaurant de Kas - a farm to table eatery in a park. You enter through their hothouse that provided all their vegetables, basil, etc. Very chic looking place with interesting menu.
Black and Blue - bills itself to have a casual ambiance, hospitable servers, honest prices.
Amsterdam Cheese Company - their Dutch Gold is incredible as are their spreads and mustards. There are several locations in Amsterdam and they will ship too.