Amsterdam Journal Day 6: Queens and Canal Tours

Last day! Unreal how quickly time passes when you’re enjoying yourself. And when jet lag keeps you awake night after night.

Nick’s work was done today so once more I had companionship for my jaunt through the city. The plan was to see the Catherine the Great exhibit at Amsterdam’s annex of the Hermitage and so we opted for a fairly quick breakfast at Bagels and Beans.

I went there the day I visited the Rembrandt museum; it’s situated right across from a flea market that’s been there in some form or another, for hundreds of years. Its current incarnation is basically a shabby collection of cheaply made hippie clothing and tourist tschotchkes with the occasional spread of garage sale junk.

In case you forgot your stoner clothes.

Despite its unpoetic name (and strong sulfur smell – what is it that makes places in Amsterdam smell like farts?) I liked Bagels and Beans. Casual, friendly service, affordable bagel sandwiches. We fortified with bagels and lox, then continued on to The Hermitage. The building isn’t exactly as impressive as the one in St. Petersburg. The museum was established inside a former home for indigent old women and looks fairly institutional.

One cool aspect of it leftover from its days as a home was its kitchen. Dating from 1725, its main feature is a row of huge brick cauldrons they used for cooking mass amounts of something stewy. They things are so tall, they were three-step wooden step stools next to them so the kitchen staff could get high enough to stir their contents.

When you gotta make enough gruel to feed an army.

The Catherine the Great exhibit was a good one, despite its centerpiece being only a copy of her diamond-encrusted crown.

I suppose security for the real thing would have to be insane, but it’s always cooler to see the actual artifact. Like Cleopatra, Catherine wasn’t exactly a great beauty; oval face, thin lips, biggish nose – a stop on the audio tour even had a quote by her saying people often told her she was ugly. Also like Cleopatra, she didn’t let her looks hold her back and used her charisma and intelligence to hold her own with the other monarchs of the world and to rule an entire nation.

Not every girl is besties with Voltaire.

Having little use for her weakling tsar husband, she seized power and began working her way through a series of lovers. She had two sons by men decidedly not her husband, but no one gave her any grief about it, and she routinely gifted her paramours with things like jewels and palaces. It’s incredible that within such a macho culture, a woman was able to do all she did, but then and now, she’s a hero to the Russian people.

Along with the Catherine exhibit, The Hermitage had an exhibit of Japanese outsider art that was both disturbing and phenomenal.

The power of outsider art is in my view, two-fold: its obsessiveness and its lack of self-consciousness. The two make for some really creative expressions.

By mid-afternoon our dogs were barking, so we mixed things up with a canal tour. We hopped an Uber to the boat dock which confirmed that driving in Amsterdam is nuts. The driver clearly didn’t want to take us exactly where we wanted to go, since he encouraged us to hop out blocks away from our destination. We should have listened to him, because TripAdvisor steered us to the middle of the Red Light district where there was nary a boat in sight. (Maybe auto-correct thought we’d asked for an “anal” as opposed to a “canal” tour?)

Anyway, we walked all the way back to the main docking area and caught an hour-long tour on a small open boat. The skipper was an Amsterdam native with a wry sense of humor. (Upon asking if English was OK for him to speak to everyone there, he quipped that we being from California, probably spoke Spanish.) The weather was cool, breezy and overcast, and the ride took us through the old city and among the three newer canals that date to the 17th century.

My favorite part of the tour was seeing all the houseboats along the canals. I could totally see living like that. There are some really beautiful little places, all equipped with cute little tugboats to travel around the city in.

Space age houseboat.

My second favorite part was coming across this boat full of people in their 60′s who were tooling around the Amstel in big, lazy circles singing at the top of their lungs. Clearly they were having a ball. At the sight of them the driver said, “And here I bring you to the part of Amsterdam where the idiots come.”

Other cool boat-related sights: a group of people having a picnic in a small boat with their dog watching the passing boat traffic; a guy steering his small craft with one hand and sipping a glass of wine with the other; a group of college kids jammed into a tiny boat sunk so low in the water, their shoulders hovered mere inches above it. Remarkable? Nope, just another day in Amsterdam.

It was after three when we got done with the boat tour and despite our flagging energy, we were determined to make it to a craft brewery called Brouwerij’t ij. The place was 3 km away and so we tried (and failed) to find an Uber. We then tried hiring a bike taxi but the guy wanted 25 euros. We ended up walking and it turned out to be a classic Nick “it’s not really that far” kind of walk. Meaning at the end you basically want to fall on your face and never get up.

The trek did let us see a different side of Amsterdam; a more real side. It took us through regular neighborhoods – perhaps a little on the low-rent side – that were much quieter than the center of town. Streets where you don’t risk death by bicyclist at every turn. Finally in the distance, we saw it: the windmill! That’s the main reason we wanted to visit this brewery, that it was set within a windmill. As it turned out, the tasting room was more to the side of rather than inside the windmill. Oh well, it was still cool.

We were starving by then, and partook of some brewery snacks: sausages, raw beef sausages and cheese along with our beer. Once again, the beer was really too mild in taste for us. What they call an IPA I’d call a mild ale. Their higher ABV offerings were better, but still anemic by US standards. Even so, it’s cool to see the American craft beer scene taking over the world.

Soft cheese, raw beef sausage (don't hate) and incredible grilled sausage.

Though we managed to stay awake long enough to sample the beer and sausages, by 4:30 we were beat. We grabbed an Uber back to the hotel (another good experience. Overall, barring one grouchy dude in a Mercedes, the Uber drivers were nice people and the average fare was around 5 euros) and slept until 8.

We very nearly blew off our last night in Amsterdam, being so utterly wiped out, but we forced ourselves to get up for one last long walk. We headed to a fish n chips place called The Chippy, again in a non-tourist part of town. Cool joint, blah food. Nick fared OK with a chicken curry meat pie, but their chef was apparently allergic to salt, and my fish n chips’ main flavor was a slight tinge of grease. Around 10 we walked slowly back to the hotel, absorbing everything we could in architecture and atmosphere along the way.

Call a cop. Someone stole the back half of this car.

Is this really a sight anyone needs to see?

Amsterdam, you definitely make an impression. Quirky, diverse, raunchy and historic, you’re one of Europe’s most interesting cities. Wish we’d gotten to know each other sooner.

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

XHTML– Allowed tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>