a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘the dutch’

the happiest place on earth?

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.

amsterdam on a sunny day!

amsterdam on a sunny day!

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 😉

much more romantic than gracht sounds ;)

much more romantic than gracht sounds 😉

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

moving photos - literally!

moving photos – literally!

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 😉




giving the mona lisa a run for her money ;)

I really need to quit travelling so much as I have so many half-written posts now, spanning three continents… and I am travelling again, knocking off country #48…  have decided the best strategy is to just start in the past and knock them off country by country… so my current travel destination will be revealed in future… some of the post were written in the moment so we’ll stay there, even if the moment was in 2013 🙂

With the preamble out of the way, let’s go to Amsterdam!  First with a post from last autumn…

I booked this trip so my KLM points wouldn’t expire.  But I also wanted to check out the renovations of the Rijksmuseum.  It has been going on for years and finally completed in April 2013.


the grande dame restored

the grande dame restored

They promised me a brand new museum last night and I think they were not mistaken.  It’s been a long time since my first visit to the Rijksmuseum but the 21st century version is definitely impressive.  And crowded!

I followed Dutch history chronologically from 1100 through 1050 but I would recommend you head for the Rembrandt gallery as soon as the museum opens!

It wasn’t quite the Louvre in July, when I made my mom and niece line up half an hour before opening – and then dash to all the really famous sites within the first hour before the Louvre turns into an iphone launch scenario, but I bet Rembrandt wishes he’d been able to brand himself and put the Nightwatch on t-shirts in his day 😉

the rembrandt masterpiece

the rembrandt masterpiece

My first viewing of the Nightwatch was a transformative experience.  I was on my first European tour and learning art history by visiting many of the world’s greatest museums.  By the time I encountered Rembrandt I knew a little about art – and could recognize his extraordinary rendering of light.

I was certainly impressed by my first viewing of Nightwatch but this time I understood much better the extraordinary talent it took to capture not just the light – but all the movements of the various players in the portrait.  As I learned today, guild portraits normally had a bunch of stationary posed figures like a high school graduation photo.  Rembrandt’s lively composition was an evolution in Dutch art.

The evolution of Dutch art – and the Netherlands – is celebrated in grand style in the new/old Rijksmuseum.  I am still evolving in my understanding of Dutch – and European – history.  But there is definitely much that can be learned from the Dutch.  According to the Rijksmuseum, for a few centuries this tiny country was the most prosperous in the entire world – and even then there was a push toward a fairer distribution of wealth.

If the crowds snapping photos in the Rembrandt Gallery today are any indication, I am not the only one fascinated by the Dutch 😉  Like the Dutch, its beauty and power are subtle and you really need to see it in person.  No doubt you will become a fan – not just of Rembrandt, but of the Dutch who bred him 🙂

I’m pretty sure Syria is hell on earth but is Amsterdam heaven? ;)

I still have things I wanted to say about some of my other travels this year but I’ve just landed in Amsterdam so must continue my europhile dialogue 🙂  As usual I have written bits and pieces as the trip progressed but you will be hearing about it as I record my memories because too much was happening to be able to write it all down in the moment.  Someday I may have a boring trip but not yet 😉

This isn’t “my” city the way London, New York and Paris are but it’s familiar.  So I am trying to challenge myself on this trip.

I am staying in the funky new Sir Albert Hotel.  Definitely worth checking out.  The imaginary St Albert thinks the Pijp is the cool place to reside in Amsterdam so I’m seeing if I agree with him 🙂


my digs in the pijp

my digs in the pijp

I have now used the trams a little bit but I can’t quite remember the drill but do know you can take a train from Shiphol to Centraal Station in minutes and save some cash.

It took me a couple of tries to get on the right platform but as long as you get on the right train it is really easy and gave me a chance to gaze out the window and note the sky.  It’s the moody sky you see in all the famous Dutch and Flemish paintings.  I thought it was fake until I started spending time in Amsterdam.

I cheated and took a taxi from Centraal Station as the Pijp may be cool but it’s a long walk – and dragging all my luggage into and off the tram seemed not terribly fun.  It might be a little harder to get to but staying in the Pijp is definitely adding to my experience of Amsterdam.

It feels like a real neighborhood.  I feel really far from the Leidseplein even though it is only a short walk away.  This afternoon I just wandered aimlessly around the neighborhood to get a feel for it – and find some lunch.

my new 'hood

my new ‘hood

Amsterdam is always full of surprises.  I turned the corner from the hotel to amble next to the canal – and found myself wondering the protocol when there are women in their underwear looking at you as they stand in the window and you aren’t in the Red Light District!  (I later learned there are some mini Red Light Districts near the canals).  Amsterdam is not a place to be timid – but you might want to ask the concierge for directions 😉

Amsterdam is a city overrun with tourists so it was cool to feel like I was wandering through an authentic Amsterdam neighborhood but meant I needed to put more effort into finding lunch.  And I was famished as my body clock was totally off.

I finally stumbled upon the Marie Heinekenplein.  The weather had turned on me (welcome to Amsterdam!).  It was unfortunate as sitting in a public square eating lunch is one of my favourite things to do in Europe.

I was definitely not in a tourist ‘hood.  All the menus were in Dutch so choosing which restaurant to try felt like a bit of a gamble.  But – as expected – there was an English menu once I got inside.

before the rains :)

before the rains 🙂

When you’re jet-lagged time moves more slowly so it’s been a splendid day.  It’s nice to revisit places and not have the pressure to “fill every moment with 60 seconds worth of distance run.”  It’s not my forté.  Relaxing is not my strong suit.  But I am at heart a creative person – and have learned to appreciate a lot of creativity comes from down time.

And it makes you more human.  And lowers your blood pressure.  So today has been a great day for my physical – and mental – health.

My wandering gave me a taste for the neighborhood and I decided I should try a restaurant called Braque for dinner.  Some spirit just seemed to be calling to me 🙂

When I hit the front door of the hotel and it was pouring rain, there was a great temptation to just stay in the cocoon of the hotel and eat in the hotel restaurant.  But I am a traveller, not a tourist, and needed to have some small adventure on major jet lag day ONE.

So I grabbed a complimentary umbrella and dodged the bikes and scooters to jaywalk across the street where I was quickly confronted by a uniquely Amsterdam problem.

I don’t normally use a large umbrella so didn’t appreciate its wing span and one of the spokes hit a bicycle.  At first it seemed OK but then it slowly toppled into the street.  It didn’t seem to have a kickstand (maybe why it was so easily toppled) so there I was in the street trying to figure out how to get a stranger’s bike to stand upright while also trying not to lose the borrowed umbrella perched precariously over my head or get hit by a car.  Only in Amsterdam…

But I persevered.  I finally parked the bike against a building and braved the rain until I reached Braque.  It looked really busy but I know as a solo traveller you just have to be polite and smile a lot and someone might find you a seat 🙂


Lucas was busy running food to the brave patrons sitting outside but he said his friend was leaving so I could have his seat at the far end of the bar next to the kitchen.  I was just there for dinner – but, as happens so often, it became an evening about far more than the food.

The food was delicious though!  And I would encourage you to check out the restaurant – and make a reservation.  And a great meal in Amsterdam is not as easy to find as it is in Paris.  But I think the chef might be French 🙂  The menu definitely has a lot of French influence.  I had some of the best bouillabaisse of my life followed by a perfectly cooked steak.  It was more impressive as getting a medium rare steak in a country with an indifferent palate takes a bit of explaining – but Lucas obviously conveyed my request for a bit of blood on my plate 😉

It was my first night in Amsterdam and a perfect way to start the current euro journey.  It’s why I am in love with Amsterdam.  I have now met so many Dutch people like Lucas.  Warm and gracious with a big smile for you.  A great conversationalist with knowledge of all sorts of topics, willing to engage in a conversation that isn’t just small talk.

I also had a brief chat with the guys sitting next to me at the bar while I was waiting for my food.  They were both from another part of the Netherlands but one now lived in Amsterdam.  I suggested that the friend visiting was also kind of a tourist.  That turned into a lively debate as to what constituted a “tourist”.  It’s an interesting question…

Lucas confessed to being tired because he had been up late the night before at a party to celebrate freedom.  The Americans talk about freedom a lot.  But, for the Dutch, it is a reason to throw a party.  How can one not fall in love with them? 😉

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