Contradictions of Amsterdam

Friday 31 May 2013

Today we are going take in some of the cultural treasures of Amsterdam!

Super Skunk and Everything on a Stick

Super Skunk and Everything on a Stick

After a lovely sleep in and breakfast, we hit the streets and head off to the museum.  On the way we do a bit of shopping and by about 1:00 pm we reach the art district.  We pass by the newly renovated Rijksmuseaum through the park behind it which has some amazing sculptures and to the Van Gogh Museum.

I am sterdam

I am sterdam

I visited this museum 15 years ago and recall being very impressed at the collection.  Also Howard has a slight Van Gogh obsession.  We even have our very own original fake van Gogh in our dining room at home.

After a hot dog snack and a 15 minute line up we get our tickets, check our bags and start the tour.  Over 3 floors we are treated to the largest collection of Van Gogh’s work.  The man was absolutely brilliant and more than a little mad.  I’m a little disappointed that his starry night series is not on display but there are other selections that makes up for this small gap.

Here are some of my favourites:

Van Gogh 1

Van Gogh 2

Van Gogh 3

A few hours later when we depart, we are parched and peckish.  We wander towards the centre of Amsterdam and before too long we stumble upon a little shop in a little lane called Voetboogstraat, doing a roaring trade in hot chips.  Thats all they sell. Served in a paper cone with a selection of sauces. They are seriously good and soon disappear.

The best chips in town

The best chips in town

A bit more shopping (including a visit to a sex shop super store), a few drinks and we slowly make our way back to our hood … Harleem for another Iberico jamon sandwich and a few ales.

For dinner tonight we are heading to Long Pura on Rozengracht for some Indonesian.  Indonesia was a Dutch colony and there are many good Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam.  Luckily the hotel made reservations for us because Long Pura is doing a roaring trade.  Mostly locals enjoying their Friday night.

The waiter recommends the banquet called the “rice table”, which provides a selection of pretty much everything on the menu.  As we sip our chardonnay they bring out two long thin metal  boxes containing tea lights.  Fascinated we watch them set up the table and light the tea lights which are then covered with a metal cover.  They are food warmers.  Before too long a dozen or so small dishes are presented at our table.  And we dig in.

Rice Table

Rice Table

Luckily we have only ordered the smallest banquet, we only just manage to finish.  We don’t have any room for desert, which is just as well …. I can only image what horrors a Dutch/Indonesian desert is like!

It is our last night in Amsterdam and I can no longer avoid a tour of the red light district.  Its not hard to find … just follow the groups of men (lots of stag parties by the look of it).  The labyrinth of small lanes of the red light district are pretty much as I remember.  Shop windows with women of every size and shape and description on display like meat in a butcher shop.  Most shops consist of a chair in the window, a door a curtain and a narrow bed at the back.  Men stand in the doorway making their deal.

Happy Birthday Howie

Thursday 30 May 2013

Its Howard’s birthday today. For the last five years we have celebrated his birthday in Europe. He thinks this way he won’t get any older! I have promised that we can do whatever he wants today.  Breakfast is included in our room rate so we start with a hearty European breakfast.  After lacking inspiration we go for a walk around the neighbourhood looking for an ATM.  We discover that just over the canal and around the corner is the very funky Haarlem.  This place is brilliant … heaps of small shops, pubs, cafes (yep – those cafe’s where you can buy things that make you happy and hungry)  etc.  We wander the main street, Haarlemmstraat (love the name) and then head over to Jordaan which is supposed to have great shopping as well.  We wander the narrow streets, along picturesque canals and over cute bridges – we are falling in love with Amsterdam.

Canals and bridges

Canals and bridges

Canals and houseboats

Canals and houseboats

Along the way we pass the huge line of tourists lined up to visit Anne Franke’s house. She lived in the unassuming small building to the left of the big building on the corner.

Anne Franks home

Anne Franks home

Jordaan is nice but Haarlem is better.  Its now lunch time so we stop at a corner pub for a light refreshment and just watch the nerve-wracking procession of cyclists, cars and delivery trucks.  The cyclists have no fear, its as if everyone of them is a teenager and supremely confident they will never die.

Jordaan

Jordaan

A birthday beer

A birthday beer

Fortified after a couple of drinks we are quite happy to continue on our way … we find a salon that does massages and I treat Howard to a birthday massage (no … no happy ending … it wasn’t one of THOSE places).  After the massage we wander back to Haarlem for some birthday dinner snacks and drinks.  We saw this place this morning “Ibericus” it is a Spanish style deli/bar.  We grab a ham roll.  Oh my god! It was so good.  A fresh crusty chewy roll, rubbed with fresh tomato and garlic and stuffed with wafer thin spanish Iberico jamon.  I will never sneer at a ham sammich again.

The best sandwiches in town

The best sandwiches in town

We settle into a bar just across the road and celebrate with a few more beers (red wine for me – I’m beered out).

A few more birthday beers

A few more birthday beers

Tonight we have booked a restaurant called Max that is quite close to the hotel for dinner.  We haven’t had much to eat today so we grab some muchies and a bottle of wine and head back to our room at Sebastian Hotel to relax before dinner.

Max Restaurant was a short walk from our hotel. Good unpretentious food. Great asparagus in season, duck confit, sea bass filet and a bottle of pinot and we are done! Turns out the staff from our hotel were having a function upstairs! Recommended.

Day 2 in Amsterdam complete … already planning on coming and living here!

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam

Wednesday 29 May 2013

It is very cool and overcast as we wake up, so we rug up before we head out for our last wander around Copenhagen before we head off to the airport and Amsterdam.  It is amazing to see the thousands of commuters heading to work and university on their bikes.  There is only 1 car on the road for every 20 bikes and peak hour rush is totally calm.  Bikes have right of way, over cars and pedestrians.

Peak hour rush

Peak hour rush

We grab a croissant and a gilled sandwich for breakfast and head back to the hotel checkout and taxi to the airport.  Once we check into our Scandinavian Airlines flight and go through security we are amazed at the size and sophistication of the Copenhagen airport. There is an amazing choice of shops selling high end fashion and some amazing food, try half a lobster for 40 Euro or half dozen oysters for 20.

We are sitting in the very back row of the plane, originally they didn’t give us seats together and the back row is the only available seats.  Up the front one day … down the back the next.

It is only 1 1/2 hours to Amsterdam so the flight seems to fly.  Amsterdam airport is even busier than Copenhagen.  And guess what my bag is the last to be unloaded.  First one day … last the next.

It still freaks me out a bit with these international airports that have no passport control.  In Australia and in a lot of Asian countries passport control is like sitting a finals exam.  Like if you get a question wrong you will fail the test they won’t let you in.  In Amsterdam they don’t even check your passport you just collect your bag and leave.

Amsterdam houses

Amsterdam houses

Amsterdam canal

Amsterdam canal

I have booked us into Hotel Sebastian at 15 – 17 Keizergracht, on a gorgeous, quiet, leafy canal, just a short stroll to central Amsterdam.  The Hotel is super cool and our room is amazing.  Its on the ground level and looks out onto a little courtyard at the back of the hotel.  It a huge room and a spacious bathroom.  And the bed, oh my god, the bed is so soft and comfy.

Sebastian Hotel

Sebastian Hotel

In-room nescafe

In-room nescafe

We  settle in, but quickly hit the cobblestoned streets to check out the vibe of this amazing city.  Stopping at a food stand Howard scoffs a smoked herring roll, sounds gross huh? But it is actually quite tasty.

Howard gets his herring fix

Howard gets his herring fix

Smoked herring roll

Smoked herring roll

Howard has his radar working and a few steps further on we are walking down a street lined with bars and shops selling that weed that Amsterdam is so famous for.  Not to be distracted I drag him past temptation, but before we go too far is starts to rain.  Damn it, we left our umberalla and raincoats at the hotel.  Typical hun, we dragged the damn things all around Copenhagen but didn’t need them.

We dive into a few shops thinking that it will fizzle out, but a couple of loud thunder rolls tells us this is more than a brief shower.  We buy a cheap parapluie but its poring down, so there is only one thing to do … find a bar and stop resisting temptation.

Wonder Bar One

Wonder Bar One

We select the least seedy looking bar and grab a couple of Heineken.  The bar is a dark, smokers den with a miss-mash of tables, lounges and day beds.  There is a pair of industrious young men, furiously mixing and rolling and chain-smoking like hardened professionals.  They have no conversation, focusing all their attention on getting as wasted as possible.

The rain is eased up, so after a few drinks we make a dash back to our hotel.  By now Howard has the munchies (must be from passive smoking) and demolishes two beers, a packet of nuts and a chocolate bar from the mini bar, and is keen for more junk … hot dogs and chips … seriously?

To avert a food crisis I insist that we wait longer for the rain to stop.  A couple of hours later we head out at 9.00pm and find a small Greek restaurant – De Twee Grieken (The Two Greeks), where we feast on spicy pork, grilled lamb, greek salad and retsina.  Nom nom nom. Great food and good value!