Our 2008 Grand Tour - Amsterdam

September 13, 2008

This day, the day I was wary of, was nothing but a smashing success. We got up on time, caught the train “a Paris”, fought our way through the metro to the Gare du Nord, jumped on the Thalys to Amsterdam and dead reckoned our way to our apartment in the hipster Jordaan section of this amazing city. Take a peek at our digs…


We arrived mid-afternoon. The sun was shining and the temperature was about 65 degrees. Perfect. I was ready to get out and explore. Tom? Well, he was very cranky and beyond tired. He was down right hostile. I said, “I got to go!” And without waiting for his response I was down the stairs and on the street looking for the nearest market. I found the Dutch version of a Saturday farmers market. (landbouwers markt) It was wondrous. I got cheeses, bread, cream, vegetables, fruits, meat and vino. Oh, and some fresh chocolat for Tomas. I heard street musicians playing traditional Dutch tunes. I walked the streets for hours, my jaw dropping lower each corner I turned. Like Venice, I do believe this is a city everyone must visit in her lifetime, it is that unique. We’ve got seven more days here so I’m sure we’ll find some trouble our way…

The view


My Bike


September 14, 2008

Not much time to write - we’re in Amsterdam, after all. After a day of walking and touring the canals on boat, we are in the apartment for a quick break (vino for me, coffee for Tom) before we go out for dinner and, perhaps, a visit to a coffeehouse?

Amsterdam by Boat


Later that same day…Tonight we ventured forth to dinner at around 6:00p.m. The architecture of this place is all about verticality and narrowness. The houses lean forward and each has a beam that juts out from the roof on which hooks and pulleys can be seen. These hooks and pulleys are used to ferry furniture up the outside of the buildings and into the windows and they are tilted forward so the furniture and other cargo does not crash into the front. Everyone rides a bicycle. There are cars to be sure, but the sheer lack of space, let alone parking space, is such a disincentive to driving that the city (at least where we are) is far more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. The persistent, but one must say polite, ringing of little bicycle bells is as bad as it gets to keep pedestrian and cyclist from winding up in piles in the middle of the narrow streets. It’s quite charming and endearing, really. Ring!! ring!! ring!! Anyway, tonight we ventured quite aimlessly in search of a restaurant and found any number of them. Ours was an embarrassment of choices. After dinner we wandered down the canals and came to a moored boat along the bank of one of the canals. The captain was cinching the rope closer to the shore when Tom hailed him and started asking questions about life on a boat in the middle of such a big, eccentric city. No sooner had we started chatting than he invited us on board. It was enchanting, comfortable and magical. We were inside this rather spacious, long room smelling of new paint. The portholes looked out nearly at water level, so you realized that everything from one’s waist down was actually below water level. The kind Friesian (north Holland) told us he lived there with his wife and 4 month old baby. Everything was very tidy. It had to be living on board ship. He owns the boat outright and pays the city the equivalent of 900 euros per year as “rent.” Not a bad gig in a town where space is at a huge premium. Then we were off to the Café Belgique, a charming Belgian beer and ale pub with the lovely scent of pot wafting on the very cool night breeze. Dion and the Belmonts were belting out Donna the Prima Donna on the juke. It was like sitting somewhere up the tower of Babel. The bartendress was French, the patrons from all over Europe. I had a piquant impertinent Belgian ale. Tom had a sparkling water. The walk home was under a full moon in a clear autumnal evening. The Amsterdammers were promenading in an unhurried desultory kind of way. It is a very relaxed place here. One that it would be easy to be seduced by. So much to see, such fine people to see it with.

September 15, 2008

Today we walked to the Rijksmuseum and did the art museum thing. The fun was in the walk, but seeing a couple of Van Meer’s and a few Rembrandt’s was really marvelous as well. Two words - Night Watch. Ok?  The day was partly overcast and there was a fall breeze in the air. We took the long way home while I shopped at all the trendy up scale fashion emporia. We finally made it to the Dam, which is the only real square we have seen in Amsterdam. It seems that there were several of these squares in, for instance, Vienna and Prague and Budapest. Perhaps because room is so scarce, there is only the one. Or maybe we’ve yet to discover the others? We stopped at the Vleeschhouwerij Slager (butcher) for some homemade sausage, farmhouse gouda and cream and went home to start cooking dinner. After dinner (10:00pm) we went for a stroll, wandering aimlessly up and down the lovely, lit canals in the Jordaan neighborhood.


September 16, 2008

Not only is it Diez y Seis, the day of Mexican Independence, it’s my mother’s birthday so - Happy Birthday Mom! Anyway, today was partly cloudy and slightly warmer than it was yesterday, but still nicely cool. There is no question that autumn is in the air. We rented bikes from a kind, helpful fellow and spent the afternoon having an authentically Dutch experience, tooling along the cobbles just like the natives. The bikes are the antitheses of pretentious, more akin to papergirl clunkers or the kind your sisiter would have pedaled back in the 1960’s. So with the pretense gone, there is no need for hotdogging or looking sharp, you just get in the bike groove and coast. Of course Tom being, well, Tom, he had tucked his pants into his socks and started pedaling away. I had to yell, “Um yeah, no!” He pulled the pants out of the socks and we were on our way. Tom’s bike had panniers so we did our daily market stops: butcher, kaas shop for homemade gouda, bakery, vegetable and fruit markets, etc., and put all the groceries with his bike. (It takes half the day to get one’s meal for the evening, but it’s great fun!) No one wears a helmet, but then again, no one crashes of falls down, but it is worrisome to me to see young parents, for instance, with their infants in front-loaded shoulder totes, cruising along the streets, sharing the road with Vespas, cars, trains and other bikes. 



September 18, 2008

Time flies when you’re having such a grand time. I really must spend a few moments writing but we are going non-stop and I can’t find the time to sit down and blog. And why should I? I ask myself. This is Amsterdam.  I amsterdam. I must see and do all I can in seven days. No time to sit around in this lovely 17th century apartment building in the middle of the most vibrant part of the city…I need to be out biking, museum hopping, shopping, photo snapping, or drinking coffee at a sidewalk cafe. Today we went to the van Gogh Museum which houses not only 200 of his paintings, but also the late-19th-century art that influnced him. It’s a cultural high even to those not into art. Afterwards, we biked around town, swerving in and out of traffic, just like locals. As for dinner - we have tried “Oud Dutch” cooking and “Eclectic European”, but tonight it’s “Tapas and Vino” just down the street from our apartment. Tom stated, “I’m not really sure what tapas means.” “Well, I said, let me tell you a little about tapas. Tapas is not a particular type of food. Anything can be tapas - paella, croquettes, ham and cheese on toast, truly anything. As long as it is small and served with your drink. Tapas is not a starter. If you start eating tapas, you finish eating tapas, and you don’t stop until you’re full. In the early days of tapas, a slice of cheese or ham was given with your drink and placed over your drink. There is some debate over why exactly this was done, for instance, to keep the flies out or to hide the smell of bad wine. I prefer the first explanation.” By this time I had lost Tom altogether. He interrupted, “Can we go now?”

Reflections and Tom

September 19, 2008

The Grand Tour has been all about the arts, when it hasn’t been about food (me) or fishing (Tom), and Amsterdam has had its share of great painters. The great artistic movements of the 19th century here in Europe are inextricably intertwined with the tragedy of early death (see, for instance, Oscar Wilde) and with the myth and mystique of drugs, booze, and mental illness (see, for instance, Vincent van Gogh). But the big one, the misunderstood one, the enticingly illegal one, has always been Absinthe. And so today was all about Absinthe (and a few Belgian ales). Some of the photos we post here may show the influence of the Absinthe that made its way to us, but pay the distortions no mind. It’ll wear off by tomorrow. I think. This is our last day in Amsterdam and it was bright and crisp. We walked through the city, which is really like one big carnival/street fair, watching people, and discovering and chatting with the consummate philosopher and international man of mystery “Sylvio” (codename perhaps?)(some say he is from Brazil, but does anyone really know?) about the complex state of the world and other imponderables. Tom said the mysterious and wise “Sylvio” reminded him a little of “X-Swami-X”, a notorious denizen of the Berkeley street scene from the 1970’s. Then off to a street book fair, where all these really smart, really good looking Dutch people (we were told they were so because they drink lots of “day fresh” milk) were poring over tomes on philosophy and art. Then we stumbled into one of those “Praguesque” side streets (like Diagon Alley from Harry Potter) which opened into a one-of-a-kind, enclosed, quiet, leafy square in the center of which is a Scottish Presbyterian Church in which Mozart is being performed tonight by a world renowned violinist and Amsterdamian pianist. We will be in attendance.


Absinthe Minded?


Sylvio, International Man of Mystery


Canals Converge


Handle Bars