Archive

Archive for September, 2016

The Netherlands

September 28, 2016 Leave a comment

This autumn, I went to the Netherlands. I went with some friends, and we spent the first week in Amsterdam. Then, my friends returned to the states and I spent a week touring the Netherlands. Its not a very big country.

We flew out of Dulles Airport, outside Washington, DC. We flew on KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines. The flight was ok. The plane was an Airbus, and the seats in economy were pretty cramped, with very little legroom. The cabin attendants were very nice, and beer and wine were free. The food was airline food, but brandy was offered after dinner. The entertainment selections weren’t anything special. For the first half of the flight, the cabin was very warm and stuffy. There weren’t any air vents that could be operated by the passengers. On the second half of the flight, the cabin air was a little cooler and fresher.

We landed in Amsterdam, at Schiphol Airport, one of the busiest in the world. It was about 7 a.m. local time, but midnight for us. We powered through. We had arranged for an AirBnB apartment in Amsterdam, but couldn’t actually get in to it until about 10 a.m. So we hung around the airport and ate some Dutch breakfast. Ham, cheese, croissants, strong, but small cups of coffee.

When we finally headed out to town, we discovered the many attendants who work at the airport. Everywhere you go at Schiphol, there are uniformed people whose job is to help you get where you are going. We went to a taxi stand, said we needed a taxi for five, and suddenly, there was a Mercedes van to take us into town. It cost 50 euros.

Our apartment was centrally located, next door to the Vondelpark, and a short walk from the Museum Quarter. It had two showers, and two tiny toilets, and three bedrooms upstairs. Downstairs, there was a large living room, a dining and kitchen area, and a big outdoor deck. We were on the second floor of the building. There were other apartments above us.

We unloaded our luggage and went out to explore the city, and to look for a “coffee shop.” In Amsterdam, coffee shops sell marijuana and provide a space for smoking. Pot isn’t legal in the Netherlands, but it is tolerated. (Once I was outside of Amsterdam, I only saw one other coffee shop.) Most of the people in the coffee shops are not Dutch. The prices are decent — 12 euros for a gram of pot. Pot can be purchased in a variety of forms — by the gram, already rolled in a joint, or in various kinds of edibles.

We went to a Bulldog coffee shop. Bulldog is a chain of shops, and claims to be one of the first coffee shops in the city. Its popular with tourists. The shop we went to was located on the Leidensplein, a square just inside the canal ring. It was once the place where farmers and merchants would leave their wagons as they came into the city. Now its a big square with lots of pubs, taverns and restaurants. The surrounding streets are also full of restaurants and bars, and coffee shops.

My companions were determined to power through the day and overcome jet lag. I gave up and took a nap. I slept for two hours, then got up and managed to stay awake until midnight, and then slept until 10 the next morning.

Over the course of the week, we explored Amsterdam. We took a canal boat tour, and visited the Ryksmuseum, the Amsterdam City Museum, and some of us went to the Van Gogh Museum. We spent time with some expats who live and work in Amsterdam. They told us a lot about how the city works.

Amsterdam is a crowded city, built on reclaimed land, and ringed with canals that used to carry freight, and now serve as settings for houseboats, and tourist boats. The houses are narrow and tall, and infamous for their steep staircases. Most of the houses feature hoists on the upper floors. At one time, these were used for hauling goods to be stored on the upper floors. Now, they serve to get furniture to the upper floors. On occasion, they are used to bring people down for medical evacuation.

p1000185

The tiny toilets are a regular feature of these houses as well. Surprisingly, the toilets are tiny even in houses built at the beginning of the 20th century. And the Dutch are not small. Many of them are quite tall. Go figure. I’m 6’1” and I barely fit into one of these “closets”. I can’t imagine how someone taller could do it.

My favorite part of visiting Amsterdam was walking the streets of the older parts of the city. Narrow lanes, tall houses, and canals. The Vondelpark was lovely, and I walked there every day. At night, especially on the weekends, its very lively with people socializing and partying through the night.

p1000163

 

Normal weather for the Netherlands in the early autumn is cool, wet, and cloudy. The whole time I was there, it was sunny and warm. The people I met told me the whole summer had been cold and wet and the only good weather they had had was during the weeks I was there.

We did all the usual tourist things — museums, boat rides, coffee shops. The restaurants served a menu that would be pretty familiar to any American. Breakfast was distinctively Dutch. It seems they like a croissant with ham and cheese, and strong coffee. They also like pancakes. Pannekoek are thinner than our pancakes, but not as thin as crepes. You can get them sweet — with fruit and sugar and syrup — or savory, with meats and spices. They are delicious. I had an order of the small pannekoek, called poffertjes. They are a little fluffier than pannekoek, and are served with fruit and syrup and butter. Somehow, my order got overlooked, and when the cook found out, he sent me out an extra large order. We were eating at a pancake house with an outdoor patio, and there was a large open window into the kitchen. The pufferties are made with a machine that drips batter into little shells that are then put over a grill. I later chatted with the cook. He was very pleasant. Actually, all the Dutch people I met were very pleasant.

Categories: Uncategorized