They call Amsterdam, Holland (or The Netherlands) the wildest city in the world, for good reason. They say you can buy or sell anything here. After visiting here, I believe it. Let me tell you a little about this interesting and fun filled city. It only has about 750,000 residents, but 600,000 bicycles. But it is the home of such well known companies as Philips, Shell, and ING. It is also known for its Red Light District, and its cannabis coffee shops. The city also is full of nice parks, and active city squares, where shopping and nightlife are big attractions. It is a town that doesn’t sleep, like New York, but much more manageable.
I arrived via a very foggy, and long and boring ferry ride from England late in the day. I checked into a student hostel, and grabbed a lower bunk in a room with about 8 bunk beds. When I awakened the next morning, a bunch of us introduced ourselves, and formed an immediate bond. There was Jeff from New York, and Gene from Colorado, and me. We headed out to see a world we never imagined.
The first stop was the famous Heineken Brewery tour. We had to wait in line outside until the place opened at 10am. We found some Australian kids playing hearts, so we joined in. It turns out they were traveling Europe in a minivan and asked us to join in. Finally, the doors opened to the brewery.
This massive building houses Heineken production and bottling. We got to see it all from start to finish, and it took way too long. Then the fun began. We entered a huge beer hall, and pitchers and pitchers of beer were served to us. We drank faster than it arrived, and munched on some pretzels and nuts provided by Heineken. It was 11 in the morning, and we were all drunk!!! They asked us if anyone was having a birthday, so one of the Australian girls raised her hand. She walked up front, and they gave her a small, pewter Heineken beer mug.
Back out onto the street, the bright sun was too much to bear. So we headed back to the hostel, and slept off our drunken stupor. One of my goals in Amsterdam was to visit the famous museums, and the new Vincent van Gogh museum nearby. The Rijksmuseum housed Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch. The van Gogh was in temporary locations until the permanent one was built some years later. I could have stayed at the van Gogh all day, but I was afraid I would miss out on the fun that Jeff and Gene were planning. But I went back several times on my own.
Some of the foreign masters at the Rijksmuseum include: Peter Paul Rubens, Jacob Jordaens, Anthony van Dyck, Lorenzo Monaco, Piero di Cosimo, Carlo Crivelli, Jacopo Tintoretto and Francisco de Goya. The early Dutch masters include: Hendrick Avercamp specialised in winter landscapes, Pieter Claesz in still lifes, Frans Hals in portraits, and Esaias van de Velde and Jan van Goyen in depictions of the Dutch landscape. Pieter Saenredam excelled in church interiors, and Pieter de Hooch and Johannes Vermeer owe their fame to their renderings of domestic interiors. The 19th century masters include: Barend Cornelis Koekkoek and Andreas Schelfhout), the Hague and Amsterdam Schools (represented by artists including Jacob and Matthijs Maris, Anton Mauve, Isaac Israëls and George Breitner). It would be easy to spend a week here, and I know nothing about art.
Rijsttafel consists of rice accompanied by between twelve and thirty, often spicy, side dishes served in small portions. Popular side dishes include egg rolls, sambals, satay, fish, fruit, vegetables, pickles, and nuts.
It is a Dutch colonial adaptation of the Indonesian dinner, and popular only in the Netherlands. However, a growing number of restaurants and hotels in the tourist areas in Indonesia serve rice table.
After a famous rijsttafel (17 small plates of Indonesian food)dinner, we headed over to Amsterdam’s famous or infamous Red Light District. The streets are full of tourists and sailors, and lined with porno shops, strip joints, and ladies of negotiable virtue. Perhaps what few really notice is that the Rossebuurt (Dutch for ‘pink’ or ‘red’ neighborhood) is in fact one of the oldest and most beautiful parts of the city with its long winding narrow, cobbled streets and utterly charming 14th century architecture, The ladies sit in a big bay window, with seductive lighting, usually with knee high or hip high white boots, mini skirts, and a halter top. If they are busy, the curtain over the bay window is drawn. The street lamp on each door was really red.
The guys dared me to speak to one of these women. So I walked over and asked her if she offered any type of discount. She laughed, and saw that my friends had put me up to this little prank. But I won my bet, and my dinner the next night was on them. Everyone said we should see a “sex” show, so we went into one that night. It was a nurse, female patient, and male doctor. The props were only a exam table and stethoscope. You can guess the rest, but it was not X rated, just a little risqué and more like vaudeville. We thought we paid too much for this little night club act.
We got serious after this. We were now headed to the famous Kasbahs of Amsterdam, and the kasbah of kasbahs, called the Milky Way. It is still there, according to all the guide books. The street leading up to the entrance is lined with guys selling pipes, hashish, and other assorted paraphernalia. Once inside, after paying the cover charge, it is a scene out of some old Arabian movie. One room has a sitar player, with a floor covered with giant pillows. Another room has a lousy guitarist, trying to imitate Bob Dylan. Another room has some serious smokers. This did not seem like the type of place I wanted to spend the entire evening.
So, we headed back to the hostel, and bought some food along the way. We got back to the hotel in a rather silly mood, needless to say. We placed a trash can in the middle of the room, jumped on the top bunks, and shot grape seeds into the trash can with our mouth. I am sure we missed far more than we hit. But it was fun, though you probably had to be there with us.
The hostel had a cute little breakfast area and bar in the basement. We got to know the Dutch kid working there quite well. He would see us coming, and immediately pour three Orangeboom beers for us. He was the one who guided us to the kasbahs. He also suggested a few more fun things like the canal boats, and bicycle rentals through the countryside.
Besides the famous museums, I wanted to see the Anne Frank House, which is actually a complex of buildings near the city center. It is hard for me to imagine what she and her family went through. This city now seems so tolerant of everyone and everything. Even back in the 70’s, it was full of gays, transvestites, and cross dressers of all races, shapes, and sizes. Rather than go into details here, I would suggest going to an Anne Frank website, as it is a compelling story.
I have always wanted to go back to Amsterdam. I wanted to see a more mature side of the city. I want to spend more time in the museums. I wanted to shop in the street markets and fancy boutiques that seem to lead the fashion trends of Europe. But I still want to walk past all of the things I saw the first time.