We arrived at about 2pm, without incident after training it up. And not without incident – a few small happenings. Craig stepped out of the train to take a quick picture of himself in Brussels, so he could add Belgium to his list of countries visited. Wee technicalities.
Katie was nearly concussed when someone’s improperly stowed backpack crashed down on her head. Oops. And we got asked for our tickets no less than two times on this three hour train ride… as opposed to the whopping not once in the Paris metro, Munich u-bahn, or the ride to and from Salzburg.
After the nice 50+ degree days in Paris, Amsterdam was a return to the chill of Munich, only exacerbated by a biting wind off the North Sea which shaved another 10F off. Took us longer to find our way from Centraal Station to Westerdok than I anticipated… those computer maps from space made it look so close. Was a good 10 minute walk to Westerdok, then almost another 10 minutes up the Westerdok before we finally got to our final lodging… The Ms Luctor.
Not a hotel, but rather a Boat Bed & Breakfast. The family docked the 100 year old cargo ship, converted the front 2/3 to their living space, and the wheelhouse and back 1/3rd or so to a B&B. Had low ceilings in 2 of the 3 rooms – Craig had to tilt his head, but had the most square footage and was easily the coolest place we’ve stayed at yet.
Less than 20 minutes after we arrived (missing our host as he had business pop up and left us our key with a note of all the cool stuff we could use – bicycles, canoes) we saw some young folk tromping around our dock. A short exchanged later, turned out they were a rock band, Prague Conspiracy, from the Czech Republic and wanted to film a video on “our” dock. The neighbor on the other side gave them perms and filming commenced. They posed for a pic with us and gave me a copy of their 2012 promo. Fun tunes and a surreal way to start a visit to a weird city.
Video is now up. And here on YouTube!
By the time we moseyed towards town in desperate need of food. We eventually found a nice brown café. Unfortunately not all restaurants sell food in the middle of the day, so we had to make due with bitterballs. Not sure of spelling. Breaded meaty balls dipped in Dijon. The bartender suggested a couple local biers which were also thoroughly enjoyed. Was worried about only having Heineken – meh, Amstel – ugh, Grolsch – shrug, or Oranjeboom – aw hell no. I was wrong. They have a ton of their own craft breweries. Texels being our fave, though I tried anything I’d never heard of nor seen at Bevmo/Total Wine. Was glad for it.
We then wandered into Amsterdam proper, enjoying the views of the bridges, the canals, the old, skinny houses and the leaning old skinny houses (so many “coffee shops” that even houses were stoned and couldn’t stand upright) and wanting to get our bearings around the city.
Popped into another bar on Prinsengracht, sampled another beer and tried my hand at Jenever. Had seen it on “Three Sheets”, figured what the hey, I’ll try the gin-like drink. I asked the bartender if he could recommend old or new Jenever, to which he replied “I cannot recommend Jenever.” The fill it up to the brim to the point the drink forms a liquid bubble higher than the top of the glass… you have to lean down to the bar and drink straight without raising it. Downed it. Was less fun than my Grappa experience in Roma three years prior. Not my thing. Told the bartender he was right not to recommend it. We laughed.
Katie and I then ventured into Damrak (the primary drag from Centraal into the heart of the city) and on to Dam Square. Was crowded, lots of tourists, carnival attractions and rides were also set up, further condensing the real estate of the area. Posed to take pics in the giant clog.
We later moseyed back towards the canals, but the Sun was dipping and the temperature dropping. It got cold. Mighty cold. It was already freezing out (literally 32), but the wind was kicking up. Katie went full ninja mode with the earflap hat and scarf. We stumbled in to a restaurant to grab some food and get a temporary respite. Had a surprisingly good Thai dish and Katie enjoyed her noms as well. Braved the cold and made it back on board our floating home.
The next morning our host, Flip, brought over the breakfast in Ben & Breakfast… oh wow. A huge picanic basket (think Yogi Bear) filled to bursting with all sorts of goodies. Croissants, half a loaf of dark bread, hard boiled eggs (in ram and sheep yarn cozy), yogurt, granola, jam, marmalade, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Factor in our own nescafe coffee maker and we were well fed and ready to hit the town.
This time we doubled up our bundle in preparation for a day with a 35 degree high. Katie triple layered herself to the point she was like the kid in a Christmas Story… “I can’t move my arms! I can’t move my arms!” We tromped off across town headed to the Hermitage, the temporary home to some of the exhibits in the “closed for repairs/remodel” Van Gogh museum as well as a special Peter the Great exhibit. On the way there we stumbled across Rembrandtplatz, with a statue of the revered artist on a pedestal. Added to the square since are more statues representing and arrayed like in his piece the Night Watch.
The Hermitage had some long lines – even for those with e-tickets. (Due to miscommunication, ended up waiting 15-20 minutes in the cold even though we should have been admitted immediately.) Katie inquired and got us in before we had to wait much longer.
Enjoyed the Van Gogh exhibit. Was arranged partially chronologically, but also with newer pieces near older ones to showcase how his style changed over the years. The Peter the Great exhibit was interesting as well, showing lots of various uniforms, weapons, invention associated with his remarkable life.
After taking in the exhibits, we headed back towards the Jordaan – the neighborhood between the canals and our floating home. A chill and far less “Amateur” part of town that finds better food and cheaper prices for said food and beer. Once again we faced the dread mid-afternoon famine.
Fortunately we found a nice little place, Café de Tuin which served sammiches all day. Not wussy little ones either, but big enough for the burliest of appetites. Tossed back a few more local beers and had a great time.
Later in the day we went to Anne Frank House… fortunately we were smart enough to book a time online and skip a 45+ minute wait in a loooooooooong line. Was a tough experience. On one hand the humanity was uplifting, on the other hand, well, knowing the outcome and how the camp was a month away from being liberated when she died is absolutely crushing. Let the record show there must have been quite a bit of dust in the air there.
We returned to the Jordaan for some pizza from Perla. Napoli style, had won some nice awards, and you could taste it in the pie. Good stuff. Reminded us of our prior trip to Italy. Still partially full from our late and large lunch, we both took half a pizza home.
Katie stayed in for the evening, while Craig returned to the city to meet up with an internet “pen pal”, Marcel at In De Wildeman. Talked Dutch oddities (tallest people in the world, tiny cars), music, beer, food. Closed the bar. Ended up having 9 rounds… in about 4 hours. Wowzers. Also had an awesome Chimay cheese plate… never knew the purveyors of awesome beer also made cheese. Also gave us a hand and saved us problems by guiding Craig through the ticket buying process… was nice to get the Centraal -> Schipol tix well in advance.
The last day of a trip abroad always has that “Sunday afternoon” feeling, only multiplied. After another hearty breakfast (same as before, only Flip scored Pan aux Chocolate rather than croissants for us), we made our way in to town.
We had an appointment at noon, and arrived too close to that to do the canal cruise, so Katie suggested checking out the Red Light District, which was on the opposite side of Damrak from us. This is important, as Craig knew the layout of the town and knew to expect scantily clad ladies dancing in windows when we reached that part of town… So Craig was caught off balance – literally (cobblestone street with a larger than normal drop between steps) and figuratively when Katie said something and he glanced up to see a scantily clad woman dancing suggestively in a store window pretty much right next to him… causing him to nearly fall on his ass. The dancer got a nice laugh at my near trainwreck.
Amusingly the Red Light District had nothing going on (ok it was 11am, but hell, 11am wasn’t too early for stoned yobs to be shoving each other in front of oncoming Dutch peoples just bicycling their way around the city)… at least nothing compared to Craig’s close encounter with the Pro kind.
We headed back to the canals for our date. With Cheese! In lieu of lunch we scheduled a cheese tasting with Reypanaer. Had ourselves a share of their goat cheese and awesome old tymee Gouda. How old tymee? They are the only cheese maker in Holland to still manually flip their cheeses -once to twice a week, 17,000 goudas (wheels) of Gouda. We were able to pair the cheeses with some wine and port. Was some awesome cheese. The saying goes, opposites attract. Katie and I sampled six different cheeses of varying ages and differed wildly on personal favorites. Ended up buying a lot of cheese to bring home as a thanks to those who helped babysit our dogs and cats while gone. You’re good to us, we’re gouda to you! Har har.
After a delightful wine and cheese lunch we finally took that canal cruise. It was a balmy 41 out, but the freaking boat was approaching Arizona temps on the inside. Craig stripped off the pea coat and sweater and might have been the only person in Amsterdam cruising in a short sleeve shirt at that point. After a little while even Katie wanted to duck out to the back of the boat for the nice, enjoyable 40 degree weather. Rest of the ride we enjoyed the Venice of the North, snapping absurd amounts of pictures just because the canals, slanting emaciated houses and bridges were so, well, picturesque.
We returned to our boat, with the “warm” weather, and unleashed the bikes. Well, we rode up and down Westerdok. For a very short time. Until our (Craig’s) confidence was obliterated… his bike was a tad (two inches) taller than his legs/waist, making dismounting/control an issue. And when peddling and prepping to circle to swing by Katie for a picture, ended up signaling incorrectly and cut right in front of a poor woman trying to pedal on home… inability to dismount nearly caused a catastrophic accident. (Hey, at least I was sober, not stoned, and the near accident was, well, entirely accidental… unlike the yobs from earlier.) We decided to cut the cycling trip short, unfamiliar with the Dutch legal system and the possible complications and litigation from bicycle-mounted manslaughter.
Flip popped by to pay us a visit, and even after I informed him we’d be leaving by 5 am as we had a 45 minute train ride to the airport and still give us two hours for customs, junk scanning, and whatever nonsense we had to go through.
We had a (for us) large amount of euros as Dutch atms HATED us and would not dispense cash. When we finally found one that worked we both pulled out a bunch. With a little cash to spare, we opted to visit a Michelin-recognized (if not starred) restaurant overlooking two canals, De Belhamel. Had a really fancy pants feast, but I think if I learned one thing about myself this trip, as much as I enjoy trying various foods, I am still very much my Grandpa Lowden’s grandson. Straight up meat and potatoes makes me happiest.
We made our sad, quiet, cold way “home” to the Ms. Luctor, having thoroughly enjoyed each stop on our vacation. I enjoyed my last two Jopens as we packed up.
We woke far too early the next morning to find Flip had dropped off yet another monster breakfast at some point in the night, like some magic elf, which was quickly scarfed down before we rolled out into the dark, cold for the long haul to Centraal.
Many hours later we arrived in Houston. The flight’s on demand library of hundreds of tv shows and movies made it the shortest 11 hour flight ever. Reality set in after we ate some food at Cat Cora’s Houston airport restaurant. Katie mentioned wanting to top off the meal with something sweet, I mumbled “well, there has to be a patiserrie around here somewhere. Oh. Wait. Alas. Woe is us.”