There is a pretty good reason why I always seem to land up in Amsterdam, however as it turned out the only time I visited a coffeeshop this time was to see if they actually sold coffee. The answer was a short, and rather sharp, no and if I really wanted a coffee there was a Starbucks down the road. The thing is that since I’m in Amsterdam the last place that I wanted to visit to have a coffee was Starbucks – it’s sort of like living in Melbourne and drinking only Hudson’s coffee. In fact, a barrista that I know even went as far to suggest that if the only option that he had for coffee was a Starbucks, Hudsons, or McDonalds, then he would go for the McDonalds (I actually did that once, though not for coffee, rather tea because pretty much half the places in Adelaide that sold tea appeared to use tap water).
Anyway, since I had visited Amsterdam (and Frankfurt) the last couple of times I was in Europe I thought that it would be fitting to visit it once again. However, when I went to book our hotel I suddenly discovered that the prices were absolutely horrendous. I didn’t bother asking why the prices were outrageous, I just thought that Amsterdam, like London, and I assume Paris, were expensive cities and the hotels were priced accordingly. However, as it turned out, there was another reason why Amsterdam was so expensive – this weekend was going to be a very, very popular weekend with a certain group of people – the LGBT community. Yep, within a hour of arriving I realised that I had walked into the tail end of gay-pride week, which coincided with a parade around the canals, and a massive street party on Saturday night. As it turn out it was a really good thing that we had booked early, however the cheapest hotel happened to be way out in the suburbs. Mind you, after reading Bill Bryson’s book on his travels around Europe, I realised that maybe the better place to have stayed would have been in a nearby town – oh well, maybe next time – at least I had the opportunity to catch the Amsterdam Metro, for what it is worth.
More than Just Coffeeshops
A friend of mine at work (actually he was my team leader) told me how a friend of his went to Amsterdam for a week and never got around to seeing any of the sites namely because he spent all of his time in coffeeshops. Well, with my brother tagging along somewhat motivated me the first time to actually look at the city beyond the coffeeshop that was across the road from the hotel, or even down in the red light district. The second time was a completely different story, but then again I was only there for one night, and I was there by myself. However, what was interesting was that those first couple of times I didn’t actually go beyond the section of the city that are bounded by the canals.
Actually, considering the canals, since Amsterdam is located on the delta that eventually becomes the Rhine, the entire city is surrounded by waterways, it is just that the canals are artificial. It has also been built on a swamp, which means that the city rests upon pylons that have been sunk down to rest upon the bedrock below – much in the way Venice rests in the middle of a lake (or a lagoon, as the name implies). Actually, that was something that surprised me a little because until I actually got there I never realised that Amsterdam was a city of canals. Actually, I didn’t, it’s that with all of the talk of legalised marijuana that the thought that there might be other reasons that people visit the city, such as the canals, and the museums, and the Katten Kabinet, never actually crossed my mind.
However, as I have suggested, there are quite a few interesting places to explore in Amsterdam, even if that place happens to be the Heiniken Experience, which is the old Heineiken Brewery that has been turned into a museum. Okay, there is also the red light district, but to be blunt, the coffeeshops and the Red Light District barely rate a mention on the cruises that seem to plough the canals – though the cruises aren’t necessarily the same. Mind you, the first cruise I went on took us past the Anne Frank House, to which a lady asked whether it was a cafe (I got the impression that she actually meant cafe as opposed to a coffeeshop) to which the captain tersely replied “no, it is not a coffeeshop” (I got the impression that that particular question gets asked a lot).
I have to make a confession that despite the three times that I have visited Amsterdam, not once have I been to the Anne Frank House. Maybe it had something to do with the lines that stretched down the road, or maybe it was because I was distracted by the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and of course the Kattenkabinet. However, the captain of that first cruise did point out the oldest cafe in Amsterdam, which upon finishing the cruise I made a beeline straight towards it to simply have a beer.
One Wild Street Party
Noticing that time wasn’t on my side, the initial plan was to drop our bags off at the locker room at the station, visit the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, and then head to the hotel to check in. However, when we arrived, it turned out that the station was packed. It was so packed that there was absolutely no lockers available. So, since there was really no place to leave our bags, and since I didn’t want to take them to the Museums, we instead jumped on the metro, went to the end of the line, and then walked 15 minutes to where our hotel was located. After booking in we asked about getting a cab, to which we were informed that there was going to be quite a long wait, so we instead returned to the metro-station and caught the train back into Amsterdam.
As it turned out the Rijksmuseum isn’t something that you do in about an hour, or even two hours. When I eventually visited it we were there for something like four hours, but then again I was spending a decent amount of time admiring the pictures. Fortunately for us the Van Gogh museum was open until late, so we pre-purchased our Rijksmuseum tickets, and then paid a visit to Van Gogh. The annoying thing about the Van Gogh museum is that you aren’t allowed to take photos inside, but they claim that it is for the convenience of everybody – the thing with the museum is that it is incredibly popular – the lines just to get a ticket are ridiculous, and when you enter the museum that request that you remove sunglasses and hats so they can photograph you. As for photographing the paintings the security have eyes like hawks – as soon as a camera comes out they are at your shoulder politely reminding you that no photography is allowed.
While I could go into detail about Van Gogh’s life, and artwork, that is something that I will leave for another day. However, I did end up taking a note book and made notes on the various paintings that I saw – they weren’t all Van Gogh by the way, they also included some of his contemporaries, as well as the artists that he was influenced by. Also, there was an exhibition across the hall that focused much more closely on Van Gogh’s madness and his eventual suicide – it was very sobering. However, on a lighter note, even though I wasn’t able to take photos in this museum, I was able to take them at the D’orsay.
The Pride Parade
Well, when I checked my map I noticed that Google was suggesting that I should find an alternate route as opposed to driving through Amsterdam. Well, thanks Google but everybody who has been to Amsterdam knows that you don’t drive in Amsterdam unless you absolutely have to – and this isn’t the “I don’t drive in the city” type of absolutely have to, this is absolutely have to. The thing is that not only are the streets narrow, and there is always the danger of accidentally falling into a canal (well, they are fenced off, but cars have an annoying habit of flying through fences), but bikes, and pedestrians, have right of way. Actually, the thing with Amsterdam are the bikes – they are insane. It seems that if you happen to live in Amsterdam then owning a bike is obligatory. In fact I have never seen so many bikes parked outside of a railway station in my life – the bike park seemed to be the same size as a small car park, and it was chock full of bikes. I guess you need to make sure you remember where you park your bike when you go to catch a train.
However this wasn’t a general notification, this was a specific one because on Saturday afternoon there was going to be a boat parade along the canals, with all the flare and extravaganza that you would expect from the LGBT community (I’m sure there are more letters, but that escapes my mind). Okay, while I’m not really into the scene, and generally don’t go out of my way to go to these festivals, being in Amsterdam at this time was an experience. Mind you, I only got a glimpse of the parade, namely because I had other things that I wanted to do, such as visiting the Artis Zoo, and Micropia (which happens to be a zoo for micro-organisms), visiting the Rubens House, the Waterlooplein Markets, and of course the Kattenkabinet.
The thing with the Kattenkabinet is that it beats those trendy cat cafes hands down. Basically it is a museum of all things cat related. There are signs, posters, statuettes, curtains, and of course cats. In fact what is the point of having a Kattenkabinet if you don’t have cats. What was great was that there was hardly anybody there, and in fact it was the complete opposite of what was going on outside. It was quiet, peaceful, and had cats. Mind you, my brother, with his incredibly short attention span, decided that he wanted to go shortly after, so we left and visited a couple of other places.
One of those places happened to be a windmill. The thing was that a friend of mine posted on my Facebook page about the lack of windmills in my feeds, despite the fact that I was wandering through the capital of the Netherlands. Well, after we finished off Micropea, we went for a bit of a long walk around to where a windmill was located, and had a beer at the cafe at its base. Then it was time to head back to the hotel, but not before getting my brother some dinner. The thing with my brother is that once he makes his mind up about something it is incredibly hard – no impossible – for him to change it. Such was the situation here when he decided that he wanted to have some Chicken McNuggets from McDonalds. The problem was that there was a street party between where we were standing and the nearest McDonalds. That didn’t phase my brother because he took the initiative and barged right through until he got to where he wanted to go. Mind you, once we got there, and seeing the lines, he then decided he wanted to go somewhere else, but I made sure he got his nuggets – I wasn’t going to go through all of that only to give up on the nuggets at the end.
So I then went to the nearest cafe, sat down, and had a nice, cold, beer.
A Hazy Sunday Morning
I was young and at University once, and I still remember those days after a really big party where we would be sitting out the back, next to the pool, in a complete haze. In a way I miss those days, but in another way I am glad those days are now long gone. It would have been great to have had all of the fun without the side effects and the backlashes, but there is a reason wild parties are wild, and that is because they get out of control, things get broken, and while friendships are made, they fall apart as well. However that was the past, and this is now, and here I was in Amsterdam.
As I sat outside a cafe with my brother on a lover summer Sunday morning, killing time before the church service started, I saw three guys sitting at a table next to me, smoking cigarettes and drinking beers (actually, there were more than just your average cigarette). In a way Amsterdam, that Sunday morning, reminded me of those days back in University when, on a Sunday morning, we would be sitting beside the pool. In a way it was quiet, very quiet, and in some ways that is what can be great about Amsterdam – it isn’t always loud, rauckaus, and full of people – it has its quiet times.
I love the mornings in Amsterdam because they are quiet, I love walking along the canals on the back streets where there aren’t all that many people, watching the boats and the canal cruisers drifting along, minding their own business. In a way, when night falls, that is when Amsterdam comes alive, yet come morning everybody is asleep, leaving only me to enjoy the beauty and peace of the place.
One of those guys actually reminded me of a friend that I once knew, who I would party with, and spend those mornings by the pool talking about this, that, and absolutely nothing. Those long nights and those hazy mornings, something that watching those three men brought back to me. Of course, he wasn’t the same man, because he was much younger than what he would be now. I also remember a young guy, a Brit, walking up to me one morning and asking for a light – at which point he proceeded to pull a huge joint out of his pocket – yes, only in Amsterdam – well, maybe Colorado, and California, but there is just something about Amsterdam that simply makes it unique.
I will be back sometime soon.