Beware of the Bikes

Most people think of Amsterdam as the city of canals and cannabis.

However, it is actually best defined by bikes.

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In Amsterdam, the twinkle of bike bells replaces the blast of car horns.  It sounds innocuous, but that familiar staccato brrring-brrring is not the sound of playful toddlers on trikes but rather aggressive adults on bikes.  I learned quickly that it is best to look both ways before crossing the small alleyways as I was nearly clipped by handlebars more than once.

Finding a free place to lock up your bike can be just as competitive as finding a place to park your car in a major city.  Jeff and I enjoyed an evening cruise along the canals and learned that over 30,000 bikes end up in the canals every year, casualties of parking disputes, careless neglect, and drunken confusion.

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Amsterdam is an easy city to cover on foot without the benefit of pedals.  Jeff and I spent several days meandering along the canals.  We visited Rembrandt’s house and then saw his masterpieces in the Rijksmuseum which is almost fully renovated.  I was grateful that only a few galleries were open, filled with the major masterpieces.  It was like getting the Cliff Notes to War and Peace; we got the highlights without having to wade through all the laborious details.

The Van Gogh exhibit was absolutely amazing.  It was interesting to learn that Van Gogh did not start painting until he was 27 years old and was never formally trained.  He lived the life of a truly tortured artist, famously severing his ear and writing angst-ridden letters to his brother Theo.  Like his life, his frenetically brush-stroked artwork felt somewhat volatile and yet beautiful at the same time.

I ventured to the Anne Frank house.  When I climbed to the secret annex, it was hard to imagine living cooped up with teenage daughters in such a small space for two minutes let alone two years.   When Otto Frank, the lone family survivor, read his daughter’s diary he said, “For me, it was a revelation. There, was revealed a completely different Anne to the child that I had lost.  I had no idea of the depths of her thoughts and feelings.”   This resonated with me as a reminder that all parents are clueless to the inner world of a teenager, even when they live on top of each other.  The wise Otto Frank also said, “To build up the future, you have to know the past.”  How true in all respects.

The most surprising thing about our trip was the quality of the food.  I don’t think of Amsterdam as a gourmet destination.  Yet, without our teenage picky eaters in tow, we indulged in fabulous meals at world-class restaurants.  I recommend the following restaurants to anyone visiting the city:

  • Ron Blaauw (2 Michelin stars)
  • Vinkeles at The Dylan hotel (1 Michelin star)
  • RED

Every place had a memorable dish.  At Blaauw it was the “Snickers” dessert that somehow re-engineered the Snicker bar into a parfait-like concoction that was amazing.  At RED there are only two things ever on the menu: steak or lobster.  Both were outstanding.  At Vinkeles, we were surprised with the chef’s amuse bouche:  a frozen margarita “pearl” that arrived resting on a golden oyster shell.  As our waiter gave a long explanation of the dish, I felt like paraphrasing the famous Jerry Maguire line:  “You had me at margarita“.

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We passed through the Red Light district by day and night.  Shops advertised wifi and weed.  On display were colorful cannabis lollipops, cookies, brownies…pot-laden treats of all varieties.  There were other kinds of treats as well.  I had to laugh at the Shades of Grey inspired line of sex toys.  The marketing slogan invited you to Come Play Like Grey.  There was a full line of so-called pleasure products, nicely packaged in a tidy box that contained handcuffs, something that looked like a feather duster, a small whip, a blindfold that looked like a sleep mask, and silver balls (remember those from the book?!)  I’m not sure I’d qualify anything in that box as a pleasure product.

 

It was pleasurable strolling through the flower market and seeing all the brightly colored tulips that have just begun to bloom in season.  It is like a promise that Spring will actually come soon, though all evidence is to the contrary in London at the dreary moment.  The sky is ominous gray, and it is hailing outside my window as I write!

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I will just have to look for the glimmering pearl in the ugly gray oyster that is London…

  It would be wonderful if it contained a frosty margarita!

 

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