Last Monday we moved on to Amsterdam, which was terrific. It was much better than I was expecting, and I was expecting, well, Amsterdam. It is a very fun city, with a lot to do, and with many friendly people, most of whom seem to speak English fluently.
The first sign that Amsterdam would be different was when Laura suddenly expressed strong interest in the tour book I brought for Belgium and the Netherlands for the first time ever, and began to read the section in it on Amsterdam avidly at dinner in Bruges.
Once we got to Amsterdam, we dragged our luggage the 3/10 of a mile to our hotel, which was easier said than done since Laura’s suitcase weighed roughly the same as a dead body. Our room at the hotel wasn’t ready, so we stored our luggage there and went off to see the city.
The amazing thing about Amsterdam is just how subtle stores are about the legalization of marijuana there.
A few things struck us in our first few hours in the city:
- Amsterdam is really humid. It was only 77 degrees that day, but it actually felt much warmer. I had hoped we had left that damp feeling behind in Richmond. You will be glad to know that I brought my wicking underwear for just such an eventuality.
- It seems to be a thing with young people in Amsterdam (and other places in Europe) to wear shirts with English writing where the message includes an English curse word. I guess they are going for a kind of a “ha, ha, my shirt has a dirty word and no one knows it!” vibe. Except that virtually everyone in Amsterdam seemed to know English.
- Unlike Paris and Brussels, where touristy places clearly targeted Americans by offering things like “American” breakfasts, in Amsterdam the English were the targets. And that’s just fine because English breakfasts are awesome.
We had lunch in the flower market, which also sells cannabis seeds so as not to miss out on the lucrative “gardeners who enjoy gardening while high” market.
Amsterdam is an amazingly walkable city, maybe even more walkable than Paris. There are lots of shops, lots of museums, lots of restaurants, lots of parks, and lots and lots of cool canals.
There are also lots and lots of bikes.
It’s great that Amsterdam is such an easy city to get around on by bike. Sure, you have to watch for bikers whenever you cross the street and you may never be able to hear a bicycle bell again without suffering post traumatic flashbacks, but it’s awesome that the city is so easy to get around in an environmentally friendly way. The part that is less great is that many tourists see how easy it is to ride around the city and think that riding through town will be easy for them too. Nope. They ride in the wrong lane; they ride against traffic signals; they ride across crowded squares (which is illegal); and they will ride right over you without even a bell tinkling warning. The main reason I did not rent a bike was that I felt it would be easier to see and dodge awful tourist bike riders on foot.
That evening we went on a walking tour that ended at the Anne Frank museum. There are three ways to get into the Anne Frank museum – buy tickets online (by the time I tried this they were sold out through early fall); wait in the 3 hour line; or buy a ticket to a walking tour that ends at the museum. The walking tour we were on was ok – basically, the tour company was scalping Anne Frank museum tickets, couldn’t legally admit they were scalping, and so manufactured the “tour” as a pretext to scalp the tickets.
Nevertheless, we did learn some interesting facts about the houses in the Netherlands. Home taxes are assessed based on ground floor dimensions so many houses are larger on the upper floors, leaning over the street. There are hooks to bring things in the windows because the staircases are so narrow.
The walking tour and museum tour also World War II. Unlike, say, the French, who seem so shamed by the Nazi occupation that they either act like the occupation never happened or focus their anger about the occupation on individuals that collaborated a great deal with the Germans, the Dutch don’t seem to feel as badly about this time in history. Maybe that’s because the Netherlands had no shot against the Germans (while the French, in theory, did), or maybe it’s because resistance (like that of the people who hid Anne Frank’s family) was more widespread.
The Anne Frank Museum was one of the best museums I have ever visited. It’s been decades since I read Anne Frank’s diary, and I had forgotten many of the details. The museum does an outstanding job of combining quotes from the diary, quotes and interviews with the “helpers,” and using the location itself, which was the actual house/office that Anne and her family hid in. The hiding place (the annex) was much bigger than I remembered; the museum took visitors through the annex, telling a different part of the story in each of the rooms. The whole experience was very powerful.
Our next tour was much lighter. We were going on a canal your where dinner was served on the boat. The canal tour in Bruges was ok; I think I could have seen basically the same things without the cruise. Since Amsterdam’s network of canals was much larger than Bruges’, this cruise gave us a better look at the whole city than we would have got on our own.
The canal cruise also showed us that some things cross continents. Laura’s laugh startled the British couple next to us in the same way that it has alarmed countless people in America.
By the time we got off the boat at about 10:30, Amsterdam was really gearing up. The bars were packed, in part because having open containers in certain parts of Amsterdam is punishable with a fine. Having a lit joint, on the other hand, was perfectly legal. Marijuana can be purchased at “Coffee Shops,” and just in case tourists are confused about which places specialize in actual coffee and which specialize in weed, and in case they miss seeing and smelling the clouds of smoke billowing from those establishments, the names of the coffee shops bring clarity to the issue.
The beer in the Amsterdam bars we visited was excellent, and the Dutch bartenders are very laid back and helpful. Although I’m reasonably knowledgable about beer types, Americans and Europeans have inexplicably chosen to use the same names for different beer types. The best beer I had was called a pale ale, but with the bartender’s help I figured out that it was more like what Americans would call a strong ale. In time, hopefully, the international beer drinking community will develop a consensus on beer naming.