Amsterdam: Part One – Canals, Beer, Dutch sushi, Mannequins and Weed
I am back from Amsterdam! Netherlands or Holland as I like to call it, was amazing. I am going to save you from reading large segments of information by breaking the trip (and by trip, I mean holiday…. well at this stage) up into small chunks.This post will cover Days 1 and 2. Our trip begins at 5am with a pick-up from our Emirates driver. The best part of the hubster’s work, is that he flies business class and as such we are pretty well looked after (even though I flew economy class). At 1:15pm Amsterdam time, we landed at Schiphol Airport, which I was surprised to learn is under sea level at just under four meters. I was surprised at how busy the Airport is, but it appeared clean and brightly with plenty of the usual shops and cafe’s.We were met by our Emirates driver upon our arrival also and driven to our hotel in Apollobuurt, Amsterdam. Throughout our drive, it sprinkled with rain, but I was able to make out the pink and blue Cancer Center, which caught my attention. You can check it out here – it is a very attention-grabbing building!
We were put up in the Best Western Delphi Hotel as it was near the conference which the hubster was speaking at (the Hilton which is where John Lennon and Yoko Ono had their bed-in). We chose this over the Hilton as it didn’t cost a fortune! It is considered a 4-star hotel, but I would say it was more like a 3-star facility. It’s elevator just squeezed the hubster and I in with our bags, and operated by a manual sliding door. We were then required to climb up another few flights of stairs, wheeling our luggage through the narrowest of corridors before we finally got to our room.
The room consisted of two single beds pushed together, two old (very old) cupboards and a bathroom. It was however clean and was located in a very upscale part of Amsterdam. We were definitely away from the hustle and bustle of the city, but close to Vondelpark and Amsterdam’s prestigious Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum (housing The Night Watch by Rembrandt).
The service of the staff exceeded our expectations and to be honest, I was overall happy with our location.
The first afternoon in Amsterdam, we explored our local neighbourhood, witnessed the thousands of people riding their bikes and sampled the beverages on offer at Fidelio Cafe Restaurant on Beethovenstraat Street (the main shopping street in Apollobuurt).
We woke up early on Day 2 and headed downstairs for breakfast. On offer was boiled eggs, cheese, salami, liverwort, cereal, breads, tomatoes, cucumber, coffee tea. This was the selection each day. Fortunately these options mainly fit into my Dukin diet, (which I have now switched to Atkins – but more on that later) so I was set. We then headed to the nearest tram stop (short walk from hotel) and caught tram 24 to Dam Square. While I am taking photos of the hundreds of canals and staring out the window at the scenery, the hubster is tracking us on a map (ah… we compliment each other completely!)We never did learn how to purchase a ticket for the tram, but it seemed that you needed to purchase a card to swipe on and off the tram. As it happened we were not asked to ever show our ticket and travelled on trams numerous times a day. Getting off at Dam Square is ah-mazing! Right in front of you is the Royal Palace which previously served as the City Hall, a national monument to commemorate the casualties of WWII and Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum.
We were in the City by 8:30am and stumbled upon a place called Tours & Tickets. I had heard that for tourists that one of the best cards you can buy is the I Amsterdam card, which offers quite a range of discounts. We were unable to access this card easily, but found plenty of information and Tours & Tickets outlets. So, we bought our tickets, which enabled us not only discounts, but VIP access to the attractions and decided to go straight to Madame Tussaud’s, only to find out that nothing opened until 10am! We therefore strolled down Damrak Street, to Centraal Station, stopping for a coffee along the way, as well as buying a cannabis lollypop only to realise that we were located next to where our booking for a canal was to leave from. We decided that this should be the first thing that we do, and we are glad we did it. The canal trip offers a lot of historical information and gives a very nice view of Amsterdam that is not possible from the roads. I was amazed by the beautiful architecture and learnt all about the history of the houses and canals around the City. The most memorable canal was the Herengracht, with its “Golden Bend” where some of Amsterdam’s richest citizens lived, buying two to three lots to build their mansions and palaces. The Golden Bend is now mainly made up of banks.
After the canal trip (and feeling no high from the lollypop), we decided to visit Madame Tussauds. Now, I have seen heaps of photos of friends on Facebook standing next to wax mannequins and thinking to myself …. Why! But, as soon as I walked in and saw George Clooney (by number 1 hot actor) I couldn’t help but pose for a photo mock kissing my idol. It didn’t stop there though, I have at least 25 photos of me posing next to Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue, Lady Gaga, Nelson Mandela, Justin Timberlake, Bono, Jon Bon Jovi, Marilyn Munroe – the list goes on. Yes, I turned into the person I said I would never be! It didn’t take long…. even the shy hubster had his photo taken next to Elle McPherson!
After all that posing, it was time to visit the Heineken Brewery. Now, I am not a beer drinker and I did this tour mainly for hubster, but it did give me a better appreciation for the golden liquid he consumes regularly! Four levels of information on beer had my head spinning, but the hubster was in his element, particularly with the fact that we had four FREE glasses of beer between us thanks to the Tours and Tickets voucher! On the first level, you get to know all about the brand and the people behind the beer…. all a bit ho-hum for me. There is a mock-bar where you can have your photo taken behind as though you are serving beer which the hubster bounded to like a lost puppy finally finding its master.
After this snap shot, we went to level two which in my opinion was the most interesting, learning about the ingredients in the beer and of course the Heineken secret (still a secret) – the malt or yeast which is kept under lock and key. The other three ingredients are water, barley and hops. On this level are the copper vats where the ingredients are mixed (there are many and they are huge!). You can also taste a product called wort which is a mix or the yeast and water…. I actually liked this… it is quite sweet surprisingly, not like beer at all – which I find very bitter.
On level three – you – yes you – can actually be brewed and bottled! This is a very funny interactive ride where you are heated, tumbled and bottled, before being consumed. I loved this little sideline in the brewery – it is definitely a must for the big-kids! Then, after this magical ride, you get a free-taste of the beer (well…. after a little lecture!). In a little shot glass, we got asked to explain what we were looking at. After a few nervous laughs, a few of us explained the colour – gold or amber. Apparently we should never call beer (particularly Heineken Beer) yellow. We then were taught about the froth or the head of the beer and how it keeps the oxygen out of the beer. The head is formed by carbon dioxide and underneath this is tiny amounts of bubbles. Finally, after this little educational tour of our shot of beer, we were taught how to properly drink a beer. Those that don’t like beer apparently drink it wrong!! (I took note here). Usually it is because we drink it like a lady – taking small sips, which means we are actually getting a lot of the froth and not much of the beer. Apparently, to enjoy beer we need to drink it like a man. Tilt the head back and take a good long gulp. I of course had to give it a go…….. The verdict? I don’t like beer. Period.
The fourth level is basically an in-built pub. This is where you can go and consume all the beer you wish. I made a few friends by giving them two of our four free beers and sparing myself (as well as the hubster) from a drunken afternoon for one. There is also an interactive test to see how you would go pouring the perfect beer. As an ex-barmaid and an Aussie, I of course scored perfectly!!
Thankfully, the hubster was willing to concede to my desires to explore more of Amsterdam and we headed out to lunch. The food on offer in the Netherlands is very vast and we were spoilt for choice. One of the traditional foods is herring with onions, kind of like a Dutch sushi. Very interesting and strong in taste. Not a huge fan of this. Lunch was a bit more conservative, with the hubster decided on a hamburger while I indulged on a Dukin omelette. We finished this off by a coffee. Now, coffee is a bit of a hit and miss in Amsterdam. I tend to trust cafe’s with an Illy sign, but was a bit disappointed with its bitter taste and the fact that the cup was only half full (I am used to a cappuccino frothing over the cup!)
Talking of cafes and coffees however, a trip to Amsterdam would not be justified without a tour of the coffeeshops. We joined a lot of other hee-hee ha-ha snicker-snicker innocent others for a tour of the cannabis cafe’s in Amsterdam. Let me tell you – they are everywhere!!! Not just in the red light district, they are located in nearly every street, on every block. I was completely unaware of this until our tour. I naively thought that a coffeeshop was just that; a cafe. Little did I know that these cafes offered a lot more than just a coffee or tea with a biscuit. These biscuits have a little bit more in them than the usual sugar and flour.
So our guide explained the legalities of cannabis in Amsterdam – it’s illegal but the police turn a blind eye to it….. at the moment anyway. From January 2013, only residents of the Netherlands will be able to purchase cannabis from these coffeeshops and all those in the red light district, along with the ladies of the night, will be banished (supposedly, though this has been a threat for a while!) The Mayor is taking a stand. Those that are pro-cannabis are up in arms, stating that it will just see the trade go underground and will also have a negative result on the tourism trade. Walking through the red light district, you really notice that the streets are dirtier, there is more graffiti and litter on the streets, men (mainly men) are walking around either drunk or in a hazey daze and because it was during the Euro Cup, there were many brawls and typical drunken manly behaviour. I was surprised to see how crass the area can be when it comes to sex, with live Sex Shows on offer – advertised as f@*king and heaps of sex shops with wares of all types on public display. We are not just talking about male-female sex either, the area caters for GBLT (gays, bisexuals, lesbians and transgender). There was also magic mushroom truffles on sale in many stores along with the very distinct smell of cannabis in the area.
Our tour took us to The Grasshopper which I naively photographed as it is my father’s favourite cocktail! The Green House, Hill Street Blues (named because it is located right next to a police station) The Bulldog (which is supposedly the first coffeeshop opened in Amsterdam), Abraxas (which has won many an award for its weed) were also on the list and we got to visit the Cannabis College – an educational institute about cannabis and hemp as well as their uses (think clothes, food and even a hemp wall along with medicinal and cosmetic uses). It piqued my curiosity – that is for sure. Our tour ended at the Grey Area which currently has a reputation as having some great Amnesia Haze at the moment. Walking in, however reminded me of my high-school days (excuse the pun I wasn’t high during my school days), filled mainly with guys, stoned watching TV. It wasn’t for us, but apparently we were in the trilogy of Amsterdam’s best produce. Next to Grey Area is Reypenaer Cheese – offering a tasting room of
Dutch’s finest cheeses AND opposite that was Puccini Chocolates. If that wasn’t enough, right opposite Grey Area is Sukabumi Indonesian Restaurant offering the famous rijsttafel or Indonesian rice table which is basically a whole heap of side dishes accompanied by rice (think 12 to 20 and up to 40 small dishes!)So for the true Amsterdam experience, I suspect you could stay the whole day in this location, start with a cheese tasting, then a stint in the Grey Area, followed by a visit to Puccini Chocolates before heading to Sukabumi and then doing the whole experience all over again!!! 🙂
I wanted to partake – I wanted to party – the Cannabis Tour and Red Light District had really got me in the mood for a great night out, but sanity took over. We were both buggered from a very long day, walking around this amazing city and taking it all in. We stopped at a local bar for dinner and a drink before catching the tram back to our hotel. The partying was to take place tomorrow – visit Part Two (soon) for a very interesting day out (though very chilled compared to Days 1 and 2!!!)
P.S. This is a typical rijstaffel: