I spent a lot of time in Europe last year so there is still more to tell but next time we will hit another continent for some variety but, first, more adventures in Amsterdam…
I am not sure if it’s me or the Dutch – or the chemistry between us – but I have never had so much fun in any other city. I have lovely memories from New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Prague, Sydney, Bucharest, Ljubljana and the list goes on… But Amsterdam is this mix of friendly locals, outrageous tourists and a general spirit of embracing pretty much everything the Tea Party hates. It’s full of history yet easily embraces the future.
The day started with a bang. Staying out until 5 or 6am every night is not a great idea when you have to catch a flight. The hotel was amazing (K+K Elisabeta). When I didn’t respond to my wake-up call, someone came and knocked on my door until I answered the knock clutching a towel around me and looking sheepish. The early wake-up call meant I had about an hour of sleep but at least I had lots of time to get ready and made it to the airport earlier than really necessary. As an added bonus, I got upgraded to business class! Too bad it was just a short flight but meant I tried not to sleep on the plane so arrived in Amsterdam exhausted.
Luckily, my hotel was easy to find. It was another experiment via internet searching – Art Hotel Dulac. Now that I have done the test run, you can stay there knowing it is excellent. You can walk from Centraal Station. If you are a hipster, you will fit into the neighborhood perfectly. It’s close to the canals and you can easily walk to most tourist attractions. Pre-Bucharest, I went east. This time I was closer to the west within flirting distance of De Jordaan.
After a survival nap, I headed over to Café Ruig. I had discovered it when I was trying to follow the SAIL parade without paying enough attention to the map. I missed a second chance to catch the parade but had far more fun by succumbing to fatigue. By that point I had been walking for six hours or more so sitting down and drinking a beer seemed like a great idea. The bar caught my attention because it advertised craft brews rather than the ubiquitous Heineken.
It was really quiet so I got lots of attention from the bartenders and had them suggest local beer for me to try. It was yet another fascinating conversation with locals. Ruben had studied set design and was a budding entrepreneur so we started talking business. Then I discovered he had recently made his first trip to the USA. The American media is everywhere and people think they know what the country is like but then they arrive and are frequently confused. It’s a fascinating place full of contradictions. As I try to explain, there is no such thing as a typical American. The propaganda says otherwise but the actual citizens agree on almost nothing except that they are proud to be American – but what they think that means varies so widely foreigners just leave perplexed.
I have to thank the Americans, though, for being the catalyst that made us bond. He even got some take-out and we ate dinner together on the outdoor patio. There is also a DJ and dancing as the evening progresses. I ended up staying so late that I had to take a taxi back to the hotel because the metro was closed for the night. I met other people and even met an Iranian Canadian who was the object of affection of a lovely Dutch woman with whom I discussed relationships.
On my second visit Ruben wasn’t working but I did meet Rick who had played ice hockey in Canada so spoke English with a Canadian accent. Eventually other ice hockey players showed up to hang out with him and I went looking for new adventures. I wandered down the canal in the direction of the hotel and spotted some bright lights and plenty of patrons so I got a beer and figured I would just stand around for a little while absorbing the local culture and admiring Dutch guys 😉 No one was speaking English. I was obviously in a “real” place not frequented by tourists.
Then one of the Dutch guys talked to me – first in Dutch. He seemed impressed that I had found this place as a tourist. It turned out that he was at a bachelor party for his friend Rutger. It was the night of surprise accents. Rutger worked in London a lot so, in English, he was Roger with an English accent. It was a second marriage so an older crowd and most departed quite early (by Amsterdam standards at least 😉 but Hans and Rutger weren’t ready yet for the night to end so they invited me to come with them to De Twee Zwaantjies (The Two Swans).
Hans enjoyed giving me a hard time so told me I had to pretend to be Dutch to get in. It is definitely a Dutch experience. Lots of loud singing of traditional songs in Dutch. There was even a conga line. So different to the bars around Leidseplein catering to tourists. Eventually their driver arrived so I made my way back to the hotel. Good thing I had the nap 😉
My final day in Amsterdam was a Sunday so chilled out a bit but did do a couple of things I would recommend. The first was a visit to FOAM on the Keizergracht. I have been there before and there are
generally really interesting photo exhibits. It is also on a really romantic canal so make sure you walk to it.
The other discovery was a random accident when I was trying to get away from Dam Square. It’s called De Drie Fleschjes and is at Gravenstraat 18. It has been a tasting room since 1650 and has an excellent selection of Genever if you are a fan like me. For the uninitiated, Genever was a precursor to gin and is a spectacular way to have a local experience in the Netherlands.
Writing about Amsterdam makes me yearn to be there. This is the first year since 2010 I haven’t passed through Amsterdam for at least a couple of days. My KLM points will expire in 2017 unless I fly one of the partners so what better reason to book a flight 🙂 Hans thought I should move to Amsterdam. If only I knew how to finance that… for now, I’ll just play tourist – and share my discoveries and enthusiasm for all things Dutch 😉