Netherlands: Amsterdam

In another extended layover (best thing ever), we spent 5 nights in Amsterdam before leaving the comforts of Europe for our next stop—Africa.  At La Mariposa Spanish School in Nicaragua, we met Irene from the Netherlands.  She didn’t know that when we said we were coming to Amsterdam that we were really COMING to Amsterdam.  She offered us her entire apartment for our stay (way too generous).  She also offered to have her dad, Anne, pick us up from the train station where we picked up on a distinct smell that never faded.  The sun was shining, people were eating on the sidewalks, bikes were flying by and flowers were blooming everywhere.  The city seemed so cheerful.  We crossed a series of canals before arriving at Irene’s apartment to a full set of maps and guides and instructions to be home for dinner.

We used the perfect weather to take a canal tour that provided both the history of the area as well as a grasp of the city’s layout.  During our ride, the tour operator mentioned that we had come at a great time…it was the annual Gay Parade in Amsterdam, ranked top 5 in the world.  Having lived through many outrageous festivals in San Francisco, I wasn’t sure if it would compare.  After being woo’d by some amazing truffle cheese at the so-called “cheese museum,” we picked out some accompaniments and a 6 pack of Belgian beer for the festivities.  Joshua is still in shock that you can buy a Chimay at the supermarket for just over a dollar here, while paying $10 at many restaurants in the States.  Although we’ve never been Belgian beer drinkers, opting for high hops IPAs and pale ales instead, we decided that this was the perfect opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.  The only thing that you have to watch out for is the alcohol percentage…more than half the beers carried are over 10%!

In preparation for the Gay Pride Parade, Joshua and I set out to the Nordmarket for some breakfast.  We ended up with bags of cashews and peanuts, some fried fish, and these amazing little pancakes called pannenkoeken.

This is what happens when we are hungry and surrounded by food.  After gorging, we hurried back to the apartment to grab our 6 pack and head on down to the central canal.  The Gay Parade in Amsterdam is like homecoming with all the music and floats (but these are on boats), but more” unce unce” music, pink boas and sailors in speedos (my actual favorite was the GayLM (KLM) flight attendants).  Everyone was drinking and every possible vantage point was taken.  We found a way to sneak on a house boat.  One of our best ideas yet.

To top off our day, Irene’s parents invited us for dinner on their 75 foot sailing boat.  Anne retired, sold his business and built a boat that can literally be sailed by one person.  Rather than take family vacations, they decided to take their kids on a round the world sailing trip.  Not bad!

We visited another couple we met in Nicaragua (more than doubling our total number of friends in Netherlands) in a small town outside of Amsterdam called Utrecht.  With Nicolette and Roy we made a picnic along the canal for the afternoon.  It could have been the number of beers we consumed or the great company, but we didn’t move despite pounding rain and booming thunder, figuring it would stop eventually, right?!  When the bowl we had been using for salad filled with water, we called it off and ran for cover.  Soaked, yes!  Forgettable, no!  Thank you REI for quick-dry everything.

Back in Amsterdam, we went full throttle tourist, checking out the Dam Square, the flower market and the Heineken Experience all in one day.  The Heineken Experience was just that—an experience including a 4D movie, interactive photos, videos and games and a bar serving Heineken where we got to mingle with…wait for it, other drunk tourists!  The most notable lesson learned was the reason Europeans drink foam on top of the beer is to protect the bubbles from escaping and debris from entering (kind of like eyelashes for your eyes).  I have a greater appreciation for Henieken now and the fact it is served in EVERY country we seem to travel to.

Irene is currently working on a timely documentary (we got to see the trailer).   Due to her interest in films, she made it a point to take us to the most beautiful theater in Amsterdam, the Tuschinski Theater to see, Batman.  It wasn’t the artsy film that may have been perfect for the environment, but the theater and the popping Grolsch growlers made it a uniquely Dutch experience.

When you start a day eating Dutch Apple Pie for breakfast, you know it’s going to be a good one.

I don’t really even like cooked fruit, so pie is never my first choice, but for Dutch Apple Pie I would make an exception.  So much buttery crust, whole pieces of apple and more fresh whipped cream than could fit on the plate, I almost ordered a second piece.  We used our dessert for breakfast morning to catalyze more off-color behavior.  We visited a “coffee shop” before the Van Gogh Museum.

I think Joshua and I really “get” Van Gogh and his influences now.

And on the way home, we passed through Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District which was less cool than I thought it was going to be, but probably more fun than Joshua imagined.  The girls in the windows seemed so normal–fixing their makeup, brushing their hair and talking on the phone, but where else do you get to see half naked women from the street on the way home from dinner?!  Rounding out our trip, though, it was the only way to end a visit to Amsterdam.  Amsterdam’s nickname isn’t XXX for nothing (actually has no relation to the illicit activities).

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