Since we were too lazy to go to the actual Heineken Museum for the “Heineken Experience” (nap time was non-negotiable), we decided to do our own tour after dinner.
We walked to the Jewish neighborhood and had dinner on a patio out on a bridge over a canal near Rembrandt’s house. Unfortunately, we didn’t actually go to see Rembrandt’s house (even from the outside). However, the restaurant where we ate was called Rembrandt Corner, if that counts.
Now, time for the Heineken tour, a.k.a. bar-hopping and drinking a Heineken at each locale. In the end we only ended up visiting two bars and having two beers. But then again, that’s how many drinks were included in the official Heineken Experience. And at the second bar, the owner gave us some free Heineken coasters. Proost!
We cut short our bar crawl because it was time to visit the Red Light District. It was definitely interesting to see, but the girls just all seemed so bored. Some were just standing in their window smoking or talking on their cell phone. One was even stuffing her face with fries!
Maybe they get more serious at night when there are fewer tourists and more actual customers. I did read that the girls make like 500 euros a day, and I believe there’s even a union.
Even though I was tired and felt like I couldn’t take many more steps, we still had to get home. Perhaps a McDonald’s Stroopwafel McFlurry would help? Not really, but I did try to reassure Frances that we only had a little more to go (we were actually pretty far from the hotel):
Me: we’re almost there, we just have to walk down this street and we’ll hit Rembrandt Square and then we just have to cross a few canals.
Frances: That’s optimistic.
Me: What can I say, I’m an eternal optimist.
Just as I finished saying that, the sidewalk ended and I exclaimed, “Oh f#&$, what now?” So maybe “eternal” wasn’t quite the right word. Either way, we eventually made it back to the hotel.
Monday was more productive. I suppose that tends to happen when you don’t stay out until 5 a.m. We had a lot on the agenda. But first, we had to return the bikes. I would have liked to ride around more, but my ass couldn’t handle it at the moment.
We walked over to Museum Square and stumbled upon the big “I AMsterdam” letters we had been looking for at Central Station the day before. Either there’s more than one installation of those letters or Frances’ iPhone app was off point.
Regardless, we tried to take photos in the letters with as few tourists as possible, which was no easy feat.
Our plan was to visit the Van Gogh Museum. Unfortunately, there was a very long line to get into the museum. I was kind of bummed, because I was interested in seeing the museum and learning more about Van Gogh, but I didn’t want to spend half of our last day in Amsterdam waiting in line. So, like most of Amsterdam’s attractions, we just saw it from the outside.
Next, we went to check out the Albert Cuyp flea market. Frances and I were determined to find some crazy pants (aka gypsy pants aka hammer pants). Frances found some, but unfortunately I didn’t. Oh well. We also stocked up on scarves, as if I don’t have too many already!
We ended up eating lunch at another cute, canal-side restaurant. This one was closer to our hotel, located on a little square along a canal. I ate super (ok, maybe not super) healthy again: a smoked salmon club sandwich, with lettuce, egg salad, tomatoes and cucumber. I did have chips, though.
I feel like it’s so easy to eat healthy in Amsterdam. There are so many fish dishes, healthy sandwiches, bio markets and more. Between that and all the bike riding, no wonder everyone’s so thin and fit!
The next attraction on our checklist was the flower market on Singel Canal, so we walked over there. It was cool to see all the little greenhouses floating on the water, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. I thought the market would be full of live, colorful, blooming flowers, but it was actually just flower (mostly tulip) bulbs for sale. I would have gladly bought some if I had an actual garden to plant them in!
We were physically and mentally exhausted at this point so started walking back to the hotel. Three days of eating, drinking, walking and riding all over Amsterdam is exhausting!
We rolled out of bed and braved the rain to grab some dinner at a tapas restaurant near the hotel – the Pata Negra. It was a cute little spot with a fun, relaxed atmosphere; a little bit of Spain hidden away in Amsterdam. And the tapas were very authentic and yummy.
Patrons carved their names into the walls, Spanish flamenco music was playing and the employees were all Spanish. Plus, a couple of cats wandered in and hung out – including a black cat!
It would be cool to own a little restaurant or cafe and have cats stop by, although I don’t think U.S. health inspectors would appreciate that idea.
Needless to say, after our action-packed Saturday, Sunday was not nearly as productive. We missed the hotel breakfast (technically I woke up in time, but only to groan that, “I don’t think I’m going to make it for brekafast” and fall back asleep), and it was after noon by the time we left the hotel.
We decided to explore Amsterdam by fiet (aka bike). Perhaps that wasn’t the thing I wanted to do most while hungover, but it was a very Amsterdam experience.
Vondelpark To play it safe on our first destination, we headed to Vondelpark. There were definitely a lot of people in the park, including a small group of middle-aged men and women dancing in a field while listening to their iPods. I was coordinated enough to take out my Kodak Zi8 and film us riding through the park. Not that it was the safest idea. And I accidentally ran out of space the first time around so this is actually a re-enactment of my original video:
At this point we desperately needed coffee (even though we had just started our bike ride), so after a frantic attempt at locking up the bikes, we finally sat down at a cafe in Vondelpark for a quick break.
Singel Canal Cruise
After the park, we rode across town to Singel Canal, by the flower market, which was ridiculously packed with people and bikers. Our goal destination was the Poezenboot – a cat boat! It’s literally a boat on the canal that is a shelter with cats for adoption.
Despite a stressful ride through the flower market area, once we got onto the road along Singel, it was smooth sailing. A very relaxing ride down a quiet street along a calm canal. We were like true Amsterdamians. Unfortunately, the cat boat was closed and there were no cats hanging out outside.
Our next destination was Central Station, where Frances wanted to find a big “I AMsterdam” sign her iPhone app was promoting. So, for some un-Godly reason, we started riding our bikes towards Central Station/Dam Square. It was ridiculously packed with people and bikes and Frantic Frances was out in full effect. Finally, we found a place to lock up our bikes (it was harder than it sounds) and just walked to Central Station. Unfortunately, it was a failed mission because we couldn’t find the big letters (iPhone fail).
But we did see a big bike parking garage.
However, at this point we were both feeling a little cranky, exhausted, hungry and frustrated. So we abandoned the bikes for awhile, and walked back towards the cat boat (away from the crowds) to find a quiet place to eat along the canal.
Man & Suitcase As we were strolling down this quiet street, we hear a commotion coming up from behind us. Some guy was riding a bike and dragging along a little suitcase on wheels besides him. It was a very skilled manuever, until he lost his coordination for a minute and the suitcase started flying all over the place. As he attempted to get it back smoothly on its wheels, of course he lost his balance on the bike, swerving all over the place. It looked like he was for sure going to fall or ride into something. But after a couple minutes of struggling, he got his shit together. Me and Frances almost peed our pants.
Lunchtime at Greenwoods Cafe – no, not what you think
Luckily, we found an awesome little cafe for lunch. It seemed to be run by a group of English folks and they could totally be characters right out of a book:
The Waiter: a super polite but somewhat flamboyant guy in black & white checkered pants. He seemed mild-mannered, but you could also imagine him getting off work and clubbing it up.
The Waitress: a tall, skinny, cute girl.
The Busboy: a young, impressionable boy (late teens, early 20s?) who you could imagine being the protagonist of this story, with the other characters looking after him. Or he looked like he could also be a jock – a rugby player maybe.
The Cook: a somewhat Willy Wonka-looking character with a mop of curly, reddish-brown hair, with thin, black-wired-frame glasses sitting on top of it. Very skinny and lanky in his food-stained chefs outfit. Or as Frances described him, “it looked like he had make-up left on his face that he had tried to wash off from being a clown the night before.”
Aside from the characters, the food was very yummy and quite healthy. My sandwich was literally called the Healthy Sandwich, and was soda bread (not sure what that is exactly, but it seemed wheaty) with lettuce, mushrooms, peppers and cottage cheese on top. After our relaxing meal at that adorable cafe, it was time to head back to the bikes.
Biking Tour…cont’d We biked away from the crowds of people as fast as humanly possible, biking along the northern coast, towards a windmill we found on our bike trail map. It was interesting to see the city outside the immediate tourist center – we rode past all the beautiful canals and little neighborhoods to reach more regular-looking (and drab) suburban settlements.
We rode back towards the hotel, biking past the zoo (where we got a sneak peek at a bunch of flamingos – the last thing you’d expect to see on an overcast day in Amsterdam) and the Jewish neighborhood. Then we rode along Amstel Canal, which was also calm and beautiful.
We locked up our bikes by our hotel and knocked out. It’s pretty cool that for 10 Euros you get the bike for literally 24 hours.
Amsterdam sure does get creative with its souvenir options. And sure enough, I bought perhaps my most ridiculous souvenir ever: a pair of tulip-covered dutch-shoe-shaped slippers.
I also debated long and hard about buying an Amsterdam napkin holder. Yes, there’s nothing inherently Dutch about a napkin holder, but it looked really cute! Alas, I restrained myself (and now I regret it!).
I also wanted to buy “crazy pants” but unfortunately couldn’t find a pair I really liked in my size. Crazy pants are loose, cotton, MC-Hammer-style pants with crazy prints on them. Often, the crotch is somewhere between your thighs and your shins, and the cuffs come in close to your ankles thanks to rubber bands. Frances found a pair of slightly subtler Crazy Pants, which we refer to as Gypsy Pants.
Despite the lack of my own pair of Crazy Pants, for some reason, Amsterdam brought out the crazy dresser within me. Yes, I realize that I’m OD-ing on prints…
Our first full day in Amsterdam, we walked around ALL day and saw a lot of the city. We started of strolling along Amstel Canal towards Rembrandt Square.
I just love the tall, narrow houses that line Amsterdam’s canals. They look so clean and neat. Almost every house is painted either white, navy or black, which you might thing eventually gets boring and monotonous, but it really looks elegant and charming. It’s a very different vibe from the rest of (non-nordic) Europe. I gotta admit, it wouldn’t be a bad lifestyle to live in a classy flat along a quiet canal, riding your bike everywhere. However, I do have a feeling that many of my pictures will look the same, since the entire city is literally made up of these canals. Amsterdam is a great city for walking around, though.
We walked to Dam Square, which was overwhelmingly filled with tourists, but not much to see due to renovations on the main buildings there. So we cut down Damstraat Street, and came across a really cute cheese shop. We bought a little wheel of tomato-basil gouda cheese (yea, yea, yea – it’s on my list of “forbidden” foods) and some crackers to eat along a canal. A great Amsterdam experience on a beautiful sunny day!
We headed back towards Dam Square and turned up a random narrow, winding street towards Central Station. Unlike some narrow, winding streets in Europe, this one was neither quiet nor quaint, but rather lined with stores and souvenir shops.
We turned east before Central Station and walked through streets lined with coffee shops (ones that sell coffee and “the other kind of coffee.” Talk about contact high! I must admit, certain areas of Amsterdam straight up stink of weed.
We walked back west to finish up sightseeing. And by sightsee, I mean just walking past Anne Frank’s house and taking a photo of the outside, rather than going in to visit. It took us a minute to find the right house since the entrance and line were going into a super modern building. I deduced that couldn’t be Anne Frank’s house, and after walking two houses down, we saw that the actual house is clearly marked with a sign by the front door.
We crossed Prinsengracht Canal and walked through the quiet and quaint streets of western Amsterdam. Here, you can also find coffee shops, and they’re much more chill than those southeast of Central Station.
After all the walking, we headed back towards the hotel along Singel Canal. Nap time!
By the time we napped, got up and got ready to go out it was midnight. Oops… Regardless, we headed out to grab a snack and check out Leidensplein. This square is definitely rowdier than Rembrandt Square. It’s lined with bars and clubs and patios (and Burger King). We settled into a table at The Hole in the Wall and ordered a bottle of wine. And some beers. And then some more beers. Including Peroni beer, which smelled like weed. Then again, everything smells like weed in Amsterdam.
When Frances was done explaining why she’s “above me,” we ended up striking a conversation with the Irish waiters. Well, Frances initiated a conversation since we all know the extent of my social skills.
Next we went to another bar along the square so Frances could experience her Eurotrash night. After we checked that off the list, we met up our new Irish friends at another hole-in-the-wall bar. At this point it was 4 a.m.
After we closed down the bar, Frances and I were in dire need of some Burger King. We staggered over to BK and ordered Whoppers. And apparently made a ridiculous video on Frances’ iPhone while waiting for our order, which will hopefully never be seen by anyone else!
I don’t think our hotel receptionist appreciated us waking him up at 5 a.m. to get our room key and some water.
After settling into our hotel, Frances and I went for a walk to get some dinner and drinks. We walked to Rembrandt Square, which was one park and two canals away from our hotel.
I love all of Amsterdam’s canals! They are so cute and romantic. And at night, the bridges are lit up with white lights, with boats occasionally cruising by.
My first meal in Amsterdam was…memorable. I ordered the grilled dover sole, thinking it would be a grilled filet. But I got a plate with two totally fish-shaped fish! Bones, head and all. It looked more like something for Othello to eat. But I was a trooper and ate it. Nothing doesn’t taste good with a side of fries and being washed down with a Heineken.
After strolling the canals a bit more, we headed back towards Rembrandt Square for more drinks. Of course we ended up (inadvertently) choosing a gay bar! Luckily, Frances entertained me by busting out her dutch phrasebook and teaching me random words like “pedestrian crossing” – voetgangersoversteekplaats.