Amsterdam: The Land of Canals and Cannabis

Trip Start Aug 31, 2009
Trip End Jan 08, 2010

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Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We returned yesterday from a wonderful trip to Holland. The following are some thoughts I compiled on the train home.

First Impressions of Amsterdam:

    I knew I was in Amsterdam when Alex and I got on our last train connecting us to the city center and we sat next to a gentleman blatantly rolling a joint.  After spending our whole lives living in a country where this practice is not only frowned upon and has a stigma attached but is also highly (excuse the pun) illegal, walking through a city where marijuana wafts through the air is very strange.  Aside from that, I continue to be impressed with European architecture, every building is more beautiful than the next and Amsterdam was no exception.  Getting off the train and out of the Central Station literally took my breath away.  All I could see were cathedrals, castles, and canals, and this was at 11 o'clock at night.  The next morning I really got to see Amsterdam in all its glory and it is absolutely beautiful.  The Dutch are huge bike riders, there are more bike lanes than sidewalks and I almost got taken out by several bikers when I was not paying attention.  There are actual parking garages for bicycles even though I never once saw a parking garage for automobiles.  I've also decided that the Dutch language is some sort of combination of German and English...lucky for us everyone spoke English. 

Never leave home without Fodor's:

    Our travel book has yet to steer us in the wrong direction.  Even Fodor's Online offers suggestions on museums, restaurants, and areas of town to see.  Fodor's sent us to several wonderful restaurants this weekend, most notably, Spargo.  Here are some of our culinary highlights: As an appetizer we enjoyed bitterballen at Spargo, a traditional Dutch food that is minced meat mixed with flour and eggs and covered in breadcrumbs (the best way to describe it is to picture deep fried globs of sausage gravy) and pumpkin soup with crème fraiche, which was so good I contemplated licking the bowl. I had mussels for dinner with four types of sauce on the side and Alex had some sort of game bird and veggies, it was phenomenal - all in all, not a bad way to celebrate our ninth year together. :)  We also ate breakfast one morning at a place called Bagels and Beans, where we shared "bagel tapas," which consisted of two bagels chopped up THEN toasted and served with several pots of different toppings: hummus, salmon spread, sun-dried tomatoes,prosciutto, olive tapenade, guacamole, and other deliciousness, it was absolutely fantastic.  Our most memorable breakfast, however, had to be at Barney's, a combination coffee house and restaurant.  At this point it is important to note that "coffee house" in Amsterdam does not necessarily mean the same as it does almost everywhere else in the world - in Amsterdam, a "coffee house" is place to legally purchase and consume marijuana.  Barney's is divided into two separate establishments across the street from one another, the first shop is the actual marijuana store, complete with a "Weed Menu" describing the different types of cannabis and quantities in which you can purchase them.  The other shop is the actual restaurant which was a little less smoky, but not by much.  We had breakfast here, the food was great but obviously our experience here was really the highlight of breakfast.  Every table had an ashtray and a separate bowl full of hookah tobacco to mix with your marijuana to roll into a cigarette.  Alex and I were literally the only people in the restaurant just there for food - every other table had people, young and old, smoking pot while enjoying their breakfast, or in the case of the woman next to us, their red wine before 11 am.  I caught a little contact high just being in the restaurant, which is something I can safely say I've never experienced before.  Talk about culture shock.

Adventures in Amsterdam:

On our first full day in Amsterdam, after our "uplifting" breakfast at Barney's, we decided to check out the Anne Frank house.  There was a bit of a wait to get in (as Fodor's says there always is) but it was definitely worth it.  We were not able to take pictures in the house, although it would not have done it much justice, it's something you have to experience in person.  They have preserved the Secret Annex to the way it was after Anne died and Otto returned from Auschwitz, so none of the original furniture remains.  However posters that Anne hung in her room are still there.  The whole house is set up such that you can examine documents and personal effects from all eight that were in hiding in every room.  Quotes from Anne's diary are all over the walls.  Anne's actual diary is preserved in a glass case.  There is an exhibit that shows the fate of all eight that were living in the Secret Annex after they were captured.  I got a little emotional toward the end of the house where it highlights what it was like for Otto Frank to return from Auschwitz with no family left and to find Anne's diary.  It really made me think about how it must have been for them and every persecuted person living in Europe during WWII and how lucky I am to never have experienced such horrific atrocities. 

    On a lighter note we also went to a brewery with an unpronounceable name, the first microbrewery we've been able to find since we've been here.  It was AWESOME, I'd venture to say it was some of the best beer I've had in Europe.  The brewery is inside a huge windmill and was packed with locals, it was a great experience.

    During our second day we went to the Heineken Brewery (it's made in Amsterdam) but it would have cost us 15 euro each to tour so we decided to skip it.  Instead we walked through the museum district, there were so many things to see: multiple diamond museums, tulip museums, the Van Gogh House, the Rembrandt museum, etc.  We wanted to see them all but due to budget constraints we needed to make an executive decision.  So which museum did we pick?  The House of Bols, of course, which is a museum devoted to Bols liquor.  Bols is a type of liquor called genever which is specific to Holland, in fact the Dutch drink 8 times more genever than vodka and it is exported all over the world.  I think the best way to describe it would be a mild combination of gin and vodka, and of course Bols makes it in about 80 varieties and flavors.  The museum taught us about Bols (he was Rembrandt's neighbor, Rembrandt actually paid his tab to Bols in the form of a painting) and how different flavors are created.  The tour ended with a yummy cocktail of our choosing which was definitely a bonus.

    And I know you're dying to know about our "special brownie" consumption, however we'll have to plead the fifth, but I will tell you that the sale of marijuana in edible form is illegal in Amsterdam ... ;) 
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