Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Amsterdam, zonder mijn fiets

My first non-German beer of the trip
Heresy. There's no other way to put it. How can somebody who professes a deep connection to all things bicycle show up in Amsterdam without his own fiets? The City of Canals is really ruled by the bike, and being an outsider in all this was a bit out-of-character for me.
Maastricht's city hall
Lunch with Regine and Angela, somewhere in Maastricht
Now, that's what I call a smoked salmon sandwich!!!!
At the end of our time in Schleiden, Angela and I gratefully accepted Tom and Regine's offer to take us to Maastricht, just across the border from Aachen and for us the most direct way to catch a train to Amsterdam. It was a sunny, hot day, and we were almost glad when we sat—after a few hours of sightseeing—in the air-conditioned train to A'dam. It's only a two-and-a-half hour trip, and riding in First Class was, once again, comfortable, uncrowded, and quiet. From the ornate train station, with its thousands of bikes parked in front of it, we faced another 5-minute walk to our hotel, the Doubletree. Dang, good planning!
Bikes, bikes, bikes—everywhere!
To get the best bang for our money we invested in a 48-hour Amsterdam Card, which for 57 euro provides free entry to pretty much all major museums and attractions, plus free ground transportation. (A ride on the tram or bus costs a whopping 2.80 euro, eclipsing even Berlin's steep 2.60 fares.) Even though the central part of Amsterdam can be explored on foot alone, the occasional transfer on the tram helps those aching legs. City cards are helpful in another way: At least I am more inclined to duck into some odd little museum and spend just half an hour learning about something that I might not have visited had I had to fork over another 10 euro in entry fees—and believe me, those fees add up!
Quite a catchy logo, also adopted by the Amsterdam Card
And so we visited for example the interesting Pipe Museum, as well as one covering the history of the handbag. We had a look at the inside of a typical house boat, and we learned everything we could have ever imagined in the Grachten Museum, which covers the canals in a truly innovative format. This was probably one of the best-designed museums I have ever seen.
The garden of the Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis museum ...
... where we received a personalized tour
Conveyances to cover all the seasons
Clay pipes broke all the time and people bought them by the case
Amsterdam house boat with roof-top garden
In the Diamond Museum, which of course could not be missed for numerous reasons, not the least of which is Angela's love for all things a-glitter, I learned about great diamond heists and coronations while also having a chance to see craftsmen polish gems. The gaudy diamond-studded skull looked a bit out of place.... BTW, Angela did not pull out the credit card.

Go away, Diamond Devil! Angela resisted the temptation—barely
Even diamond-enthralled Angela though that this was way over the top!
On Friday evening we landed a real coup when we went to the Van Gogh museum. I had noticed that it was going to stay open until 10 p.m., and when we got there a little after 8 p.m., there were no lines and we zipped right in. (The next day we saw what tour groups can do to museum entrances!) There was a DJ and later live music in the foyer of this still-modern building. I remember going to the "new" Van Gogh museum for the first time with my long-ago Dutch girlfriend, Dées, back in the mid-'70s. And now a new "new" building is being built next door, with some futuristic architecture. The paintings and exhibits continue to be timeless, and I'm really glad that we spent such a delightful evening immersed in "culture."
One of my favorite Van Gogh paintings

Live music in the foyer of the museum—gentle sounds, beautiful sights
Bulbs at the flower market
Schattig meisje kin de kaaswinkel
Apart from visiting museums we strolled around town for hours. Amsterdam is so attractive! The canals were teeming with boats, small and a bit larger, that slowly patrolled the summer scene. Groups of friends, couples, solitary captains—everybody was enjoying the unusually warm weather (up to 90 F, which for Holland is out of the ordinary). The sidewalk cafés were chock-full of people, and bikes and pedestrians jostled for space.

No need for captions under these canal photos

On our first evening we ate what must be the archetypal food in Amsterdam (apart from stroop waffles and cheese, of course): an Indonesian rijstafel. Ours had sixteen different dishes that took us about an hour and a half to eat, right there on the Rembrandt Square. Ah, what a nice evening. And on the way home we somehow managed to walk straight through the Red Light district, with its prostitutes in the showroom-like cabins and live shows advertising fully nude copulation. The aroma of hemp was with us most of the time. Memories welled up—the Paradiso in 1973....
Throngs of tourists in the Red Light district
Weed everywhere
In the district
Oops, that's Angela after her 10-minute Chinese massage
That's the real thing!
So, in other words, Amsterdam was a real hit. The place is expensive, whether it is accommodations or food. I maximized hotel points and credit card benefits to get us two suite nights in the Doubletree with a freebie thrown in at the Crown Plaza, thanks to a credit card deal. Food is expensive, plain and simple. You can't really expect to pay less than about 20 to 25 euro per person for a meal with just one drink—regardless whether it is something alcoholic or just a club soda. I am glad that the UCI contributes to my my European account....
Craftsman in the Diamond Museum inspecting his polishing job
Tesla recharging along one of the grachten
The ultimate in picnic baskets—perfectly suited to motoring in a Miata
I could see myself spending a portion of a summer in A'dam. There are so many things to see, so many cultural opportunities. We in West Texas have great weather a lot of the time and we can enjoy stuff that few parts of Europe have to offer, if at all. But the reality is, there is this other world out there, and we happened to visit it during the best of conditions. I like the Dutch language and could not believe how much came back to me in just a few days. And I like the people: self-assured yet friendly and open to the world. Not a bad place, at least in the summer, if it is sunny. Believe me, having spent a lot of time in the Netherlands when I had a Dutch girlfriend for four years showed me how miserable this place can be. I mean it: miserable!
Living room of our Doubletree suite
Nighttime grachten rondvaart
Thank goodness—or, que lastima????
Angela, with friets and frietsaus, but without THC
I doubt that it will be too many years before I am back. Amsterdam is way too exciting to be left alone.
Goodnight, Amsterdam


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