After a late night out in Barcelona, we were dragging a bit on the way in to Amsterdam, felt a little overwhelmed in the airport and worried that we couldn’t understand the slightest bit of Dutch, but Amsterdam is really tourist-friendly and we found it was pretty easy to get by in English. We had another apartment share in De Pijp, a quieter neighborhood a few minutes away from the busy center. The stairs up to our apartment were impossibly steep and narrow, which I guess is totally normal for Amsterdam. Our host was super nice and helpful and gave us a dog-eared little map and lots of personal suggestions for fun & interesting places to go and things to do, including the easiest place to rent a bike. They have bright red bikes marked with the rental logo, which initially seemed kind of embarrassing, but actually I realized it is great to ride a bright red bike that screams “tourist!” so the rest of the bike traffic knows to give me a wide berth and watch out for my sunday-driver pace and confused and erratic behavior. I love bikes (and rode all the time in New York), but it took me a while to get used to all the unfamiliar traffic patterns and signals, while navigating through throngs of fast-moving bike traffic, on a strange rented bike. Actually it was completely terrifying, but also pretty cool.
Mike said that he felt like he could happily be at home in Amsterdam. I think he loved the cool, greyish weather. It was so easy to get around on bikes, and the tree-lined canals feel like a generous bit of nature mixed in with the crowded city blocks, calming and tempering the feeling of the city. I think the cultural mix felt familiar too, kind of like New York. Amazing food from all over the world, especially lots of Indonesian food (which I realized is because of the Dutch colonial connection) and middle-eastern food and all kinds of stuff. We loved the Dutch food too, couldn’t get enough of the herring sandwich stands! After trying a few herring sandwiches and a few servings of smoked mackerel at different stands, on our last day I made the innocent mistake of asking this strict fellow for smoked mackerel on a bun with chopped onions and mayonnaise, and he pretended not to understand what I was ordering, then scolded me that this is the way that you’re supposed to eat pickled herring and it is NOT the correct way to eat smoked mackerel, and then gave me some serious stink-eye while he prepared my sandwich and refused my thank-yous as he scornfully handed over the offensive sandwich. I kept thinking he was just pulling my leg, but maybe he was serious and I actually ruined his morning by asking for this sandwich. It tasted really good! Even though it made me feel like a bad tourist.
(I snuck a furtive photo on the way out, after he lectured me on the proper way to eat mackerel.)
We did lots of bike-riding and exploring and took 100,000 pictures of canals and bicycles. Visited the Rembrandt museum, a recreation of his house and workspace as it was during his most prosperous years. The house was really lovely, especially the kitchen and his fabulous collection of natural artifacts and curiosities. Also, we learned that he slept sitting up in a small cabinet, I’m not sure if that was normal in the olden days or if that was just a Rembrandt thing.
We got to meet up for a nice dinner with an old co-worker, Lucas (from my days at Templar Studios) and then rode home the long way, along the Amstel river past a million interesting houseboats, as the sun got low and turned everything golden and glowing.
Mike caught a bit of a cold and stayed home one day while I biked about on my own. I bravely pedaled through a sudden thunderstorm/downpour (good thing I picked up a good raincoat in England), sat under an awning at a cafe and drank a tiny beer til the skies cleared, and then wandered through Jordaans and on to the vintage/thrift-shops in Negen Straatjes, which was really fun. There was lots of expensive stuff but I found a few flowery treasures in a bargain bin of silk and polyester ladies’ scarves.
My favorite places of the day were an amazing vintage shop called Mauve, and this pleasing takeout shop, where I got a cheap and satisfying lunch to eat on a bench by the canal. I cruised through the tourist/entertainment center right in the middle of town, which was kind of awful and made me happy to head back home to De Pijp. I felt like I got to see a lot of the city in one day, because everything is pretty close together, and you can get everywhere on bike!
On our last day in town, we got to see Celine and Paula, two of our friends from Buenos Aires! They just happend to be in Amsterdam visiting family, and we managed to meet up at the Van Gogh museum. I actually enjoyed the Van Gogh museum even though it was expensive and crowded. We wandered off through Vondelpark and round about, eventually back to Jordaans to sit outside this really lovely cafe and linger over afternoon beer and snacks. More Amsterdam photos here.