Amsterdam! The city of water, vice, and bicycles. It’s a place that never fails to bring out a knowing grin when you tell someone that you are going, and suggestions to *wink* try the coffee (to which I reply that I’m not a big “coffee drinker”. The layers of euphemism start to get a little complicated at this point). Amsterdam has a long and storied history, too- it was once the center of the Dutch empire, and hosts treasures like the Anne Frank House. It possesses some incredible collections of art like the Vincent van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum, as well as a remarkably tolerant culture made up of warm, remarkably tolerant people.
The hotel we stayed at was near the Vondelpark and a 15 minute walk from downtown. The night we arrived we checked in quite late, and there wasn’t anything open nearby for dinner. Carol resorted to buying candy bars and chips out of a vending machine to take the edge off, which prompted a passing hotel guest to foolishly snicker, “Didn’t prepare for the munchies, eh?”. I believe that the hotel maintenance crews are still scrubbing the red paste of his remains from the carpet and walls, such was the force of Carol’s hunger-fueled glare.
Dangerously ravenous the next morning, we set off in search of food and adventure (in that order). To our delight we found a weekend farmers market, and subsequently gorged ourselves on crepes and meat pies. Ignoring the shocked looks of the locals, we wiped the crumbs from our faces and then began exploring in earnest.
The oldest parts of Amsterdam are nestled amongst a series of layered canals, navigable by bridge or boat. We made use of both, dodging speeding bikes and threading through large crowds of tourists as we drifted vaguely towards the city center. After taking a ‘water tour’ on a guide-boat (complete with cheesy automatic narration and amazing views), we set to wandering by foot, directionless and happy.
We visited alleyway bars and cheese museums, and walked down narrow streets lit by dim red lights wreathed in marijuana smoke. We passed groups of nervous looking men milling outside of tall glass windows, shopfronts selling a different kind of flesh. The men appeared to be either gathering their courage or gawking as a wide variety of women wearing the smallest amount of clothing possible beckoned invitingly to them.
We drank in the views of the 700-year-old landscape from canal-spanning bridges, and marveled at the improbably vertical architecture (constructed in such a way as to avoid property taxes historically based on the width, not height, of a building). Most structures were leaning in a manner that was both charming and alarming.
Given the wide variety of things to see (beautiful, trashy, old, modern, and all if it in between), Carol and I were in a frenzy to see as much as possible. In our enthusiasm we ran ourselves a little ragged, so the next day we decided to take it slow. And by take it slow I mean we woke up early to beat the crowds of the Van Gogh museum and browse its bright oily treasures. We did dial it down a little bit after that, topping off a stroll through a spring-like Vondelpark with canalside glasses of liquor called Jenever (a member of the gin family). Content, we watched the crowds of people and bicycles stream by until it was time to catch our plane.