Monday, August 19, 2013

Amsterdam, Netherlands




“Once you’ve seen one canal, you’ve seen them all.” Is not something I would say about Amsterdam.

I’ve called many places I’ve visited beautiful. A rather overused, undescriptive cliché for which I apologize.

I would never describe Amsterdam beautiful or any synonymous adjective for that matter. The city is much more than that. It’s interesting, unique and has a fascinating history that is revealed with every bridge, statue, and museum.

*     *     *     *     *

Friday

After more than 5 hours in the car, 4 wrong turns and not enough coffee, Dan and I were ready for Amsterdam. Creeping on hour 6, road trip hysteria set in as we took turns shouting, “WINDMILL!” as we drove through the Netherlands spotting them.

We parked in the city center and headed to Dam Square where our walking tour began. I spotted the red “Sandeman’s New Europe” Tour Guide shirt of a woman with 15 people crowded around her.

“That’s it!” I said as Dan and I joined the group.

We immediately left the Square and headed east towards the canals and into the Red Light District. Stopping on a bridge, the tour guide shouted to the group, “And now we’re on the widest bridge in Amsterdam, and as I told you earlier….”

Wait… Earlier? I thought.

“What time did this tour start?” I asked the woman standing behind me.

“11:15”

I turned to Dan, “Our tour starts at 1:15, this is halfway through the earlier one.”

We ran back to Dam Square to see another tour guide and a crowd of people. We joined the group.

“Do NOT take pictures here and put them on Facebook because no one cares! Pushing a button online does not make someone your fucking friend. You’re not really traveling and experiencing a new place when you’re constantly updating your status. So for fucks sake when you’re out with your friends here, Put. Your. Phone. Away.” The short Irish guide lectured.

His tone became infinitely friendlier when he looked at Dan and I and said “Hey guys. We’re halfway through this tour. The 1:15 starts over there.” And pointed across Dam Square to the National Monument.

Oh vey. We turned and ran to the National Monument. We found another red shirted tour guide and confirmed that this was indeed the 1:15 tour.

Our guides’ name was Kendra. Originally from Alaska, she had been living in Amsterdam now for 9 years. She was 5’5 with short scattered dirty blonde hair that she constantly pushed back over her head. Along with her New Europe logoed tee, she wore dark blue skinny jeans that were a couple sizes too small and a (probably regrettable) light blue dolphin design tattoo that circled her right bicep.

She was an expert on Amsterdam’s history, design, and architecture. She made the 4-hour tour educational and interesting with the perfectly timed jokes.

It was a GREAT way to start our trip, as it enabled us to get acclimated to the city.  With it being a walking tour, it was concentrated around the city center near the tourist attractions and monuments.

Having heard about Brouwerij t’IJ, Dan and I headed to the less crowded east side of town to check out Amsterdam’s most famous brewery, which happened to be right below a windmill.

Windmill Brewery
“WINDMILL!” we both shouted as we arrived.

IJ as the locals call it was much like a brewery in Colorado. Overcrowded with young people, cheap drinks and great microbrews. We found a bench table outside and drank our way through the tap list. We were about to order our 4th round when they closed.

Bikes parked outside the brewery.
He loves it here! 
The beer here comes with Dutch cheese and salami!
With Amsterdam being nearly below sea level, we were only slightly tipsy but very hungry. We went to the Leidseplein district to eat at the famed Burger Bar then ended the night bar hopping with hundreds of tourists, locals and students.

*     *     *     *     *

Standing in the M of the Amsterdam sign because my name is Melissa. Get it...get it?!
Saturday

“We all four need helmets.” A tiny 40 something curly headed New Yorker said to our bike tour guide, Yuri as she pointed to herself, her also tiny husband and 2 teenage children.

“Ok Sure.” He hesitated, looking rather surprised. He added, “Amsterdam is very safe to bike in, just so you know, plus this a country tour, so we won’t even be in the city much.”

“But!” The owner of Joy Ride Tours, Sean interrupted as he was adjusting seat heights for the rest of us. “Wear one if it makes you comfortable.”

After 14 bike seats were adjusted and four helmets were snapped snuggly, Yuri introduced himself.

A Kiwi living in Amsterdam for the past 4 years was going to take us on a 5-hour bike tour through the Dutch countryside, stopping at all the charming sites. This included windmills and a clog and cheese farm. Hence the name of our tour: Country Bike Tour: Cheese, Clogs and Windmills.

Yuri is in his 30’s. He’s tall and rail thin, his logoed tee shirt and dia de la meurtos board shorts hanging off him. He has a nearly unrecognizable New Zealand accent, a floppy brown mess of hair, piercing brown eyes and bushy eyebrows. At times he looked as handsome as Ian Somerhalder (sub brown eyes) and other times as goofy as Eugene Levy (sans glasses.)

He self admittedly liked to talk and was very funny without trying to be, most of the time muttering the inappropriate punch lines under his breath. To his credit, he did have a mixed audience. Along with Dan and I, there was one other young couple, the conservative NY family, two “Frenchies” (as Yuri affectionately referred to them), and 4 girls from Singapore would kept referring to themselves as “The Asians”. They couldn’t speak English or ride bikes.

He was educated on all things Amsterdam. The tour was 80% riding and 20% listening to him ramble about history. Most of which we learned the day before at the walking our. Every now and then, he would encourage audience participation and see if we could finish his history lesson with a correct answer. I shouted out the majority of the answers and he kept rewarding me with an arbitrary 10 points.

 

The Cheese and Clog Farm tour was great. Outside Amsterdam in a town called Amstelveen, we rode in on our bikes and were greeted by a 10-day-old calf and a dozen other cows. The fanatical farmer explained they take the milk directly from the cows, walk 70 meters to the cheese room and make it. Very Fresh. He detailed the rest of the cheese making process but with his heavy Dutch accent and the distraction of cheese samples, it was all lost on me.

We then moved into the clog making room. He showed us that you could make 1 clog in 3 minutes. Then described how the red ones are for discothèque, yellow for gardening, blue and white for church, and plain engraved ones for weddings.


I found them to be quite hideous looking and rather impractical. I always thought they were more of a novelty than a fashion choice.

Cuckoo Farmer 
From there we rode through the countryside, down billionaire row, along the Amstel River, past a windmill and through the well-manicured forest.

The saying does however hold true for "once you've seen one windmill, you've seen them all"
After we returned our bikes, we rushed over to Reypenaer to attend our scheduled cheese and wine tasting class. Yum. An hour later, we were stuffed with too much cheese and not enough wine, which we promptly remedied at the local Irish Pub. Sub beer for wine.

Cheese Tasting
*     *     *     *     *

Sunday

Another early morning and we headed to the De Pijp neighborhood for a canal cruise. After much research we decided to rent our own boat and go cruising on our agenda. For the price, it’s very much worth it.

Two years ago, I came to Amsterdam having done zero research. I did the traditional tourist large boat canal cruise. It was so awful, I fell asleep.

I fell asleep on a boat in an Amsterdam canal in the middle of the day!

This was by far my favorite thing we did! We spent 3 leisurely hours floating around the canals. It was amazing and gave us a new perspective of the city from the water.



 


We absolutely adored Amsterdam and three days was simply not enough time, so we definitely plan on going back very soon. As you saw in Switzerland, we loved it so much we got touristy souvenirs. While, we had every intention of adding to our coffee mug and flag collection while in Holland, we took a different approach and acquired two of the most random souvenirs yet.


Our first day there, we walked by the coolest antique boutique I’ve seen. We walked in and both of us zeroed in on these old school lead army men. Later that night after many a bars and many a drinks we walked back to our apartment. On the way, there was a mound of trash bags sitting along the sidewalk. Right on top were these 2 boat framed pictures. I stopped and said aloud how much liked them. Dan picked them up and then unnecessarily yelled, “Run! Run! Run!” and so we did, until we were on the next block.

“It’s trash, we didn’t need to run.” I said to him.
“Exactly! We were running from the embarrassment of going through someone’s garbage” he responded.
“Ahhhh. Good point.” 

Oh Amsterdam you bike filled bitch.
The Route: K-town to Amsterdam

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