Getting Lost In Amsterdam

One of the nicest areas in Amsterdam is the Jordaan, with its web of narrow streets, small stores, and trendy cafes.
One of the nicest areas in Amsterdam is the Jordaan, with its web of narrow streets, small stores, and trendy cafes.
Only a few blocks from the rowdy Red Light District in Amsterdam you will find the beautifully serene world of the old city center.
Only a few blocks from the rowdy Red Light District in Amsterdam you will find the beautifully serene world of the old city center.
Bicycling is such a big part of the Amsterdam lifestyle that not even having to walk a dog gets in the way of riding.
Bicycling is such a big part of the Amsterdam lifestyle that even pets must get into the act.
Sunshine is a rare commodity during the long winter months, so locals take every opportunity to enjoy the warmth from a few rays.
During the long winter months sunshine is at a premium, but locals take every opportunity to enjoy even few minutes of warmth.
The flower and tulip market at Singel Street downtown is one of the major, year-round tourist attractions in Amsterdam.
The flower and tulip market at Singel Street downtown is one of the major, year-round tourist attractions in Amsterdam.
A typical scene in just about every neighborhood in Amsterdam, corner cafes offer great vantage points for people watching.
A typical scene in just about every neighborhood in Amsterdam, corner cafes offer great vantage points for people watching.
One of the must-do activities in Amsterdam is to enjoy a stack of delicious Dutch Pancakes at one of the local markets.
Ever heard of Dutch Pancakes? You can find them at just about every market in town by the stack.
One of the best city views in Amsterdam can be found along the canal walkway bordering the imposing Muziektheater downtown.
One of the best city views in Amsterdam can be found along the canal walkway bordering the imposing Muziektheater downtown.
One of the best ways of seeing Amsterdam and being rewarded by its many hidden sites is to simply get lost within the concentric canal section downtown.
Every turn in the canal zone seems to reward the visitor with incredible views of a world unfamiliar to them.

After a few days in Amsterdam I’m beginning to realize that like Venice in Italy, this is a city that requires a little time to get used to it and discover its hidden treasures.  It is a place of stunning beauty, but also one that doesn’t divulge its true nature easily or perhaps willingly.  As a visitor, it would be too easy to walk through the narrow streets in the Museum District or the Jordaan without ever talking to any local or getting to know what gives a particular neighborhood its character.  The locals, while quite friendly, do seem to expect you to make that first friendship move, but once you take that first step you invariably find how friendly and nonjudgmental everyone seems to be.

Hang around the city’s many neighborhoods and you will be amply rewarded.  From the ethnic diversity of the Pijp in the southern part of the city to the more genteel dwellings around Leidseplein to the west, Amsterdam is a city that begs to be discovered (and even in winter when constant rain and high winds remind you how far north you really are).  Behind the imposing City Hall and the curved Amsterdam Music Theater you will find some of the most interesting shopping experiences in town, which are perhaps better characterized by the seemingly popular Cafe Reefer (the name very aptly describes it).  But the city Flea Market and Rembrandt House are also in the area, thus providing a good balance to the neighborhood.  Continue further west and you will soon be crossing the gorgeous Old Town section and the über-busy Kalverstraat, where you will also find the tiny Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx french fry legend.  They have been making fries at this place since 1957 and topping them with as many as 25 different sauces.  But be prepared to stand in line for a while and to eat out of a paper cone down the street, as the place serves its potato delicacies out of a window.

And then, there is the Jordaan.  Just about every travel publication exhorts you to visit this neighborhood, and I can now see why.  This is indeed Old Europe at its best.  Small stores selling eclectic wares, tiny cafes filled with trendy-looking folks, and narrow, colorful streets almost begging you to turn here, or there, or anywhere.  It is also one of the places where you are most likely to be run over by a bicyclist, as the narrow sidewalks filled with flower pots and bicycles often force you to step onto the cobblestoned streets where all the fast-moving Dutch cyclists aggressively zoom by while ringing warning bells.   But none of that danger really matters, as you will most likely be languishing at a cafe or small restaurant oblivious to the passage of time.  And if Amsterdam has any poets, I think you will most likely encounter them at a cafe in the Jordaan.  Yes, right there next to you, where time and life’s burdens don’t seem to matter much.

From Van Gogh To The Heineken Experience

One of the most visited museums in Amsterdam is the Van Gogh Museum, where a large collection of his paintings are on display.
One of the most visited museums in Amsterdam is the Van Gogh Museum, where a large collection of his paintings are on display.
Characterized by spacious, open spaces, the Van Gogh Museum seemed to attract a surprisingly young audience.
Characterized by spacious, open spaces, the Van Gogh Museum seemed to attract a surprisingly young audience.
The color yellow seemed to be a favorite of the artist and the Museum staff made sure you didn't forget such details.
The color yellow seemed to be a favorite of the artist and the Museum staff made sure you didn’t forget such details.
The so-called Heineken Experience in the company's former production facility should not be missed in Amsterdam.
The so-called Heineken Experience in the company’s former production facility should not be missed in Amsterdam.
While the old production facility is now a tourist attraction, most of the old equipment has been left intact for visitors to experience.
While the old production facility is now a tourist attraction, most of the old equipment has been left intact for visitors to experience.
An incredible informative experience culminates with some serious Heineken beer tasting and a souvenir to take home.
An incredible informative experience culminates with some serious Heineken beer tasting and a souvenir to take home.

Amsterdam is a city of contrasts.  On the one side there is the city of great art and imposing architecture, while on the other there is a somewhat more earthy side, to put it mildly.  What’s even more interesting about the city, though, is the fact that so much of what makes Amsterdam what it is seems to lie inside its somewhat uniform buildings.  Sure, there are the marvelous canals crisscrossed by beautifully undulating bridges packed with bicycles of all kinds, but enter some of those building lining the canals and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find inside.

Such is the case with two of Amsterdam’s most famous attractions: the Van Gogh Museum at Stadhouderskade 55 and the old Heineken factory at Stadhouderskade 78.  From the outside, the buildings housing these two local landmarks are a bit industrial in character, but what lies inside is quite remarkable and more than worth the time you have to spend in line before getting inside (which on a rainy, cold day made the Van Gogh Museum line to get inside a bit of a challenge for the hundreds of people inching their way to the ticket booth).  But once inside, you are treated to some of the most creative art you’ll ever see anywhere.  The four-story museum was divided according to the different stages in Van Gogh’s short creative life (about ten years total), from the days when he was perfecting his style in Paris to his mental asylum days in Arles and Saint-Rémy.  A definitely troubled life, but an incredible creative one.

About a quarter mile from the Museum Quarter park, a somewhat different experience can be found at the old Heineken factory (which moved its production to a new location in 1988).  What is now termed the Heineken Experience will set you back about 18 Euros, but it will be some of the best money spent in Amsterdam.  The old equipment is still there, to include the still-in-use stables with the black Heineken horses.  They even “turn you into beer” in a small theater where the audience is put through the beer-production process as if it were the liquid itself with a vibrating stage that is at various points subjected to heat lamps simulating the fermentation process.  And to top it all off, there is the tasting room followed by an incredibly slick bar where you get the two beers that were included with the admission price (which also include a free canal ride aboard the Heineken boat and a souvenir at their downtown store).  Not too shabby, and quite educational to boot.  This city is definitely growing on me.