Monday, November 30, 2009

Saturday in Amsterdam

The old Jacques Brel song keeps going through my mind as I dress to go out. "In the port of Amsterdam," he sings in the chorus, "There's a sailor who sings, Of the dreams that he brings, From the wide open sea." It's become an ear-worm, a little snippet that replays itself now and then as I wander around this great city.

Last night I finished up with the blog and managing my growing photo collection at about 1 am. I decided to go out for a late supper but didn't really think I'd find anything still open. Wrong--! Big city, Friday night, the neighborhood was rockin. Crowds jammed the narrow streets in a little nightlife neighborhood about a half-mile north of here. Music was spilling out into the night from every bar. Absolutely crazy. I went into one, ordered a beer and sat listening and watching the dancers for a while. The music was intense with a strong beat, the drums were especially loud and crisp--an excellent sound system I must say. Later I found a felafel bar and ordered a plate of felafel with hummus. A perfect dinner. I headed back to the Euphemia to turn in.

Today, Saturday, it's raining again as I get suited up. I'm wearing my lightweight polypro longjohns under polyester pants, my Ibex wool turtleneck, the threadbare Mountain Hardware windblocker jacket that I seem always to be wearing, and a rain jacket stowed in the daypack. I have a warm hat and gloves but haven't needed the gloves yet. Of course, I remind myself, if I were at home on Diamond Ridge looking out at the falling rain and gray skies, there's no way I could be persuaded to get on the bike and go for a ride. Here, I say no problem. As my good friend Alisa used to say, "There's no such thing as bad weather. There's only bad gear and a bad attitude."

I wanted to check out the Van Gogh Museum but a long line waiting to enter persuaded me to bike to a couple of the parks first to get a little exercise, so I headed to Vondelpark. Discovered some clay tennis courts there - they were almost underwater after days of rain showers. Headed next to a small park nearby, the Sarphatipark, checked out the De Rokerij coffeeshop where I finally finished the joint I bought so long ago and had a pretty good latte. After lunch I went back to the Van Gogh and waited for about 30 minutes to get in. I realized too late that the line I was in was for people who needed to buy tickets. Because I had purchased a museum pass on my visit to the Rijkmuseum I essentially had a ticket --I could have walked right in. Ah, next time. Great museum, loaded with memorable works by the master. My boss had a good quality art print of Von Gogh's Sunflowers on his dining room wall. That was the first Van Gogh I had ever seen. But here I was now, 40 odd years later, actually seeing the real thing, in glorious color. On how many walls have you seen this one?

After I got back I decided to take the tram in to Amsterdam Centraal as a sort of dry run for my departure in a couple of days. Bought my train ticket to the airport. Helpful fellow at the station told me trains run to Schipol every fifteen minutes and the trip takes 15 minutes. I contented myself with the knowledge that I will have no problem making my 9:30 flight to Spain on Wednesday. Then I headed off to explore the downtown area.

I wanted to see the famous Red Light District. Along with the liberal dope laws Amsterdam has legalized prostitution. The Amsterdam Red Light District covers a large area of the oldest part of the city. The buildings are tall and crowded together and overlook tree lined canals. The area is pretty cool and the later it gets, the busier it gets. And the darker it gets, the more obvious the glow of the fluorescent red lights above the many windows in the area becomes. I didn't take pictures of the girls because it's frowned upon and I didn't want to offend, or lose my camera. Here is a slide show I found on the Internet that is an accurate depiction of what I saw: Red Light District Slideshow. I did take what I thought was a pretty nice night photo of the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. I posted a copy of this one on Facebook the other day.

 I wandered through the maze of narrow streets looking on my right, then looking left, looking at girls of course. Young ones, old ones, black, white, coffee colored girls, some incredibly beautiful and some not so beautiful. They look out at you and try to make eye contact. And if you respond at all they invite you in to join them. It was a fairly strange feeling I must say. I have zero experience with prostitutes and I guess it's destined for me to remain that way.

Finally I ended up at the Cafe Gollem, on Raamsteeg, a place I'd read about and marked as a place to visit because it stocks over 200 different beers.  It was packed but I stuck my head in to check it out. It seemed friendly enough (notice the bartenders expressions) so I edged inside and after a few minutes actually got a seat at the bar. The menu advertised something called Brigand IPA on tap. I ordered a glass. I developed quite a taste for these strong, hoppy beers last summer. We're lucky because the Grog Shop in Homer has a great selection of excellent IPAs available. The ones I especially like are from Oregon, and I've been missing them. I tried my beer. It was perfect! With a nice bite, and nice flavour. Brigand is a very fine IPA indeed and to date, the best beer I've drunk in Europe. Here's the Cafe Gollem's beer list.

I started a conversation with a friendly sounding couple on my left. He is a Scot, Stuart, recently married to beautiful Colleen who, strange as it may seem, was born and raised in Amsterdam. They met in Scotland, got married last spring, and decided to live in Amsterdam. They were lovely folks--we shared several more beers, exchanged stories about travel, Alaska of course, and email addresses. You never know, I told Stu, I might be back. And if you ever decide to come to Alaska, well look me up....

I walked back to my hotel to turn in but not before a) I stopped off at Mellow Yellow for a "coffee", and took a little walk afterward to clear my head. Damn coffee!  I completed a short walk around nearby Wetering Circuit in the rain. I was dressed for it but still, it was coming down pretty fast. Of course, as always, there were bikers out despite the fact that it's now about 1 am and pouring down rain. You just cannot keep these Dutch bikers indoors on a bad day. More about biking in my next entry.