Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Amsterdam: Where a Coffee Shop isn't for a Cup o' Joe

      We decided to leave early from Bruges so that we would arrive in Amsterdam before noon. As fate, and the unreliable nature of the Belgian/Dutch railways, would have it, we ended up getting to Amsterdam 10 minutes after our goal time. Highlights of our trip are: unloading after being told our train was malfunctioning only to realize we had to reboard meanwhile losing our seats and having to sit in the "purgatory" between train cars, getting off our malfunctioning train and going back and forth between train platforms because the ticket supplement system is stupid, and being confused by the Dutch language. On the actual upside, one member of our party was the first to pull out some Belgian beer which prompted the group of young women headed to Amsterdam with music festival gear to pull wine out of various hidden locations in their luggage. We proceeded to have a small, but intimate Purgatory Party at 10:30 am.
     After finally arriving in Amsterdam, we made our way through the tourist filled streets past shops featuring cannabis leaves filled with glass objects of various shapes and sizes, and coffee shops reeking of musky pine occupied by patrons with sleepy red eyes. We made it to our hotel, which also served as a bicycle rental shop, where our host gave us a map of the city and a brief rundown of popular attractions including some restaurant and coffee shop recommendations.
      Dr Husband and I were staying at the grandmother's house which was nearby. We were not expecting what came after we opened the door. I should take this moment to explain that Dutch architecture is famous for being somewhat tall (4-5 stores) and very narrow. In fact, most buildings feature a hook situated on the top of the home so that furniture can be lifted from the outside and placed directly into the living quarters. So when Dr Husband and I opened the door we were very surprised to see just how narrow the stairs were just to get to the first landing and second, interior door.

       "These are not very friendly for someone in an altered state. Let's hope we don't die here, on these stairs." I said, as Dr Husband rang the bell so that we could get our keys. We were given instructions from the grandmother herself, which was mostly pantomime and pointing as neither of us spoke the other's language. Despite the fact our guide had to be north of 80, she climbed the stairs with an enviable ease as Dr Husband and myself struggled with our luggage and fears of falling to our deaths. It turned out that our room was on the very top floor, which allowed us to really experience just how narrow the stairs in Amsterdam could get. The "stairs" grew steeper and narrower until we reached the topmost floor, where they were a glorified ladder. The room itself was very spacious and comfortable, in stark contrast to the deathcase just outside our door. We didn't stay in our hotel too long as we only had a day and a half to explore all Amsterdam had to offer... and by "all Amsterdam had to offer" I pretty much mean food. The food Amsterdam had to offer.
       Our first meal in Amsterdam was at a Vietnamese restaurant where we were able to get Pho, a favorite of Dr Husband and myself and hard to get in Innsbruck, Austria. It's interesting to note that while Belgian restaurants typically have a large selection of beers available, in Amsterdam the options were pretty much Heineken or Hoegaarden. The next morning, we set out for some of the museums in Amsterdam, the Rijks and Van Gogh. Unfortunately, we had not ordered tickets ahead of time and the dreary weather coupled with the steep (to us) prices of ~18€/adult were enough to dissuade us from exploring either. We did walk around the grounds and the flower market, which is also an attraction of Amsterdam, if a somewhat unexciting one.
     The highlight of our only full day in Amsterdam was definitely going to the Indonesian restaurant (which are not very common), Kantjil. Indonesian food is typically served as a variety of small plates (like tapas) and white rice. On your plate, you should place the white rice in the middle then surround your rice with portions of the small plates. This restaurant was so delicious; I still have dreams about the chicken with the peanut sauce.

 Unfortunately for us, the weather was not very cooperative so we did not get as many pictures as I would have liked, but Amsterdam is a really unique and beautiful city with lots of museums and family friendly attractions. It is worth noting that in Amsterdam one must be very vigilant of one's surroundings as the somewhat narrow sidewalks typically become bicycle parking which results in having to walk in the street. This wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the high number of cars, other people, and bicycles which are also on the street. Walking in high tourist locations (which is a lot of the city) can be especially hazardous as many tourists rent bicycles with the intent to sight-see while on them, coupled with the fact that it seemed like most tourists had never driven a bicycle before, created an especially dangerous walking situation. Despite this somewhat minor annoyance, Amsterdam's high on my list of places to visit again.