This Joint is Fantastic

Trip Start Aug 11, 2009
Trip End Oct 08, 2009

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Flag of Netherlands  , Noord-Holland,
Monday, August 17, 2009

Bad pun-- fun visit.

Wow.  Four days is the least anyone should spend here.  I'd been here before almost 20 years ago, but I didn't get to spend much time here. We were up for about 28 hours before crashing hard at around 6 pm the first day we arrived.  We woke back up around 4 am and then slept more until 10 am.  Bingo-- we were on Euro time.  The flight was long and cold-- we had the very last seats in the Lufthansa jet just in front of the galley (thank god the toilets were way up by the front of the other economy flyers)and it was way chilly. I had enough time to watch the new Star Trek, Aliens v Monsters and I Love You, Man on the way as well as use the Nintendo.  Marisa watched two movies, too, and tried to keep her body from going completely stiff with cold.  We both agreed that the male flight attendant was maybe one of the most beautiful human being we'd ever seen—exquisite German craftsmanship at work. We had a brief layover in Frankfurt and that airport sucks -- it's dated and falling-apart-ugly, security is super tight and overly annoying, the information desk does the bare minimum and people just act stoically German in general.  It was uglier than the Dallas airport and the two hour layover couldn't end soon enough.

One hour later we were at Schipol, grabbing our luggage and heading to the train into town.  Technically we'd been in Europe for several hours, but when we stepped out of Centraal Station in Amsterdam-- wham! Now THAT is Europe.  A swarm of bikes, scooters, cars, busses, trams, the buildings, the canal immediately in front and a beautiful blue sky peppered with white puffy coastal clouds.  Being sleep deprived it took a little trial and error to find our hotel, but it was only three blocks from Centraal.

Airplane food is still airplane food even on a better airline like Lufthansa (pasta/orzo/wine/Tillamook cheese, etc.).  It will always provide a certain level of bloat and salty dehydration.  We shook it off with a quick sandwich at an outdoor cafe across from our hotel that was fantastic.

Friday was our first day out and we walked a ridiculous amount while hitting multiple neighborhoods and just generally getting a lay of the land.  It wasn't enough, apparently.  We'd found a quaint, happening little neighborhood to the SW of where we were staying and we wanted to go back for dinner.  I won't go into to details, but let’s just say we had our first tech glitch that led us to a different neighborhood nowhere near that one and we finally made our way back to a great Thai joint not far from our hotel (from now on referred to as "home").

[A note on our home: the Marriott was half a block off the touristy alley strip, but we couldn’t hear/see it.  We were a half block from the Red Light District and could see the red lights in the rooms down the alley from our room window.  A small store was blocks away for in-room items like water.  We were 30 yards from one of the canals and we were surrounded with "coffee shops". Surprisingly, the hotel was really quiet (at one point we wondered if maybe we were the loud ones.) I'd highly suggest it for anyone in the future.]

By the time we got done eating it was 11:30 pm and we decided it was time to get properly Amsterdammed.  For those of you not wanting to hear about the recreational use of certain vegetation-- skip to the paragraph after next.  The theme of our first day appeared to be Trial & Error. Finding our hotel, finding our lunch, finding dinner, etc.  The usual crap when you're tired and wandering around a place you don't know well (and being addicted to the American grid system for navigating roads isn't helpful).  Finding a proper place to smoke some legal pot wasn't any different.  We tried a place that appeared to be a cut above some of the others--- well designed (glassed in fish pond in the floor, well furnished), clean and humorous droopy-eyed photos of celebrities like Burt Reynolds, Luke Perry (how old is that one?), the usual pot heads (Snoop, Cyprus Hill, The Game, et al) and-- strangely enough- Fran Drescher (yes, of The Nanny.)  Should have known when I stepped up to the counter it was going to go south.  The proprietor was dealing with guys in front of me like a complete ass.  I bought some Bubble Gum and then realized he had no apparatus-- they only do joints.  So I bought a couple of his pre-made joints, but realized quickly what I'd forgotten about Europe-- they add tobacco.  We call it a spliff, they call it a joint.  They are wrong.

So I was able to trade the "joints' in for another gram of a different strain and we attempted the art and crafts of weed-- joint rolling.  In the summer Amsterdam is a bit humid (I was last here during a May visit, so I hadn't experienced it)-- 50- 65% humidity-- so my hands were sweaty and didn't deal with the super thin paper they use.  Complete disaster.  I gave up and tried to find a pipe for sale someplace close, but the other shops nearby also only did joints. Marisa gave it a valiant try, but the version she created only produced a brief smoke before the density of it stopped all smoke from exiting. I created a Dali version, she created a black hole. On top of it they charged two bucks for a crappy lighter and closed early. We realized then that 1 am was closing times for the coffee shops. It took us 15 minutes to find one that actually had devices to smoke out of instead of just using rolling papers. That left us with 15 minutes. OK. The shop keep was very helpful in his tiny coffee house and he let us have a gram of LA Confidential even though we had little time to smoke it. I say "we", but when we got the device loaded I went after it with a gusto Marisa was seriously surprised by. I was frustrated and aggravated and I REALLY wanted to relax—and get my money’s worth. I am in Amsterdam, dammit—it shouldn’t be this difficult! Marisa was the official designated lead walker to get us back the whole two blocks to our home. I was toast. The shop keep said this particular strain would be a short ride—strong and then, bam you are done. I was up until 5 am because it did the opposite for me—I was WIDE awake. Dutch TV never seemed so interesting. (And unintentionally hilarious—the late night sex ads were in Dutch, which is a really silly, unsexy sounding language. Hearing the breathless whispers of a woman saying "Shmeer nikt nikt shnork shnork" is in no way hot no matter what she looks like.) We were both surprised at the quick shut down on a Friday night in the heart of the city. Most bars closed at 1 am. Not all, but most. A few were open until 4, but not many.

We slept until 1 pm so Saturday was fairly mellow. A work compatriot of Marisa's mom (Hi, Judy!) coincidentally had a sister staying at the same hotel for the weekend. We met Katja and her friend Corrina in the hotel bar-- fairly swank for a business hotel, by the way-- and had a drink and a great discussion. We really liked them. Katja has offered to put us up for the couple of days we're in Munich and we're taking her up on it -- locals are always the best to hang with and Katja is very cool.

Ironically, we were unable to find the hidden neighborhood while sober on Friday (and giving ourselves over an hour), but after being a bit stoned on Saturday we found it in under 10 minutes. Go figure. When in Rome....We had an excellent dinner at a tapas bar called Olivia tucked away in a beautiful little neighborhood clearly popular with the locals. Didn't expect tapas this good until Spain, but Amsterdam food has come really long way since I last visited. The breadth and quality of the cafes and restaurants is really impressive. We ditched the idea of hitting a club to instead wander the streets with everyone else. The weather was excellent the entire time -- upper 70s -- and the evening stayed warm with the humidity. It seemed like all of Amsterdam was out and walking around. We kept seeing everyone with ice cream and bought a couple of cones. The Dutch clerk was razzing the Italian couple in front of us: "You invented it, we stole it and make it better." Hard to argue considering the superb quality. Some of the best ice cream we've had in a long time.

Sunday was simply perfect. We grabbed tickets for the Hop-On Hop-Off boat route that does a two hour circuit through the canals. Highly recommended if you visit-- the boat holds no more than 12 people and was never crowded. We hopped off midpoint to have a picnic in Vondelpark-- the biggest park in Amsterdam proper. We earlier purchased cheese, bread, various fruits and wine and ate them in a quiet portion of the park next to a stream populated with ducks, herons and other odd aquatic birds. Sitting on the grass, sipping wine (straight from the bottle because we forgot glasses) and absorbing the afternoon promenade atmosphere was simply priceless. We made the 5 minute walk back to the boat and spent the next hour going through the canals. At one point we had the boat to ourselves with our own tour. Way better than the larger boats with 50 or more people with the tinny, fuzzed out shrill speaker ruining it all.

We finished the day with a dinner at a small sea food restaurant across from the hotel. It seemed really cute and we walked by it for days, so we sat down in the outside area and very quickly struck up conversation with a couple of the locals. Neil is an American who has spent the last 40 years living here (he's 60) and was a storehouse of historical information. Eric was a transplanted New Yorker who had lived here for over a decade and was a professional musician who has traveled everywhere in his years (early on as a lighting guy for the Grateful Dead) and told great stories. The owner, Marco, and Neil (who apparently has been coming to Marco's restaurants so long he's family) wouldn't let us go and plied us with more wine and apparatifs (super strong mint alcohol). We were half a block away from the hotel entrance, so stumbling in was at least fairly easy.

Highlight of local food tried: Mostly cheeses (Amsterdam isn't exactly famous for any particular style of food) -- smoked Gouda with ham bits in it (yum) and Dutch-style pommodoro cheese (super yum, tasted like a whole pizza in a cheese slice, creamy and bright red.) The seafood was OK, but I think we're a bit spoiled in Oregon for fish quality.

A few notes: Amsterdam is indeed a cat city. Due to being a seaport town with the usual rat issues back in the day, I guess that's no surprise, but they really are everywhere and they rule the city.

The Red Light District is smaller than you'd think, cleaner and well managed. We enjoyed walking a long at night and judging the talent. It all seems so common-- some were talking to friends (clearly not clients), some were getting ready or talking to people on the phone. The average age was also higher than you might expect. But I guess if you rent out a prime spot you don't give it up for awhile (like maybe decades?) It always appeared there were more tourists like ourselves than clients.

What appears to be utter chaos in the traffic flow actually has some beauty to it (I'm sure big asian cities have much the same scene, but with the addition of absurdly bad exhaust and trash thrown into the mix the romantic feel ain't the same). You keep expecting a major crash to happen in the swirling crowd of pedestrians, one-handed-cell-phone-using bike riders, scooters, bikes with side saddle riders on the back rack, cats, cars, and more and more bikes. It all just sort of flows like a stream-- things just randomly find their way around each other. It doesn't matter if its the street, sidewalk or bike lane-- none of those designations seems to matter as all vehicles seem to follow the path of least resistance. Pure zen to watch. I already miss it. For Marisa I think it just made her extra jumpy.

Amsterdam is, indeed, Portland on steroids.


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