I’ve been back from the Netherlands for a full week now. Part of the reason why I’ve hesitated and procrastinated on writing my post on Amsterdam is that I simply cannot decide how I feel about this capital city.
On the one hand, Amsterdam is incredibly cute with its canals and rickety, slanted architecture and has one of the best art museums I’ve been to in Europe. On the other hand, the legalized prostitution blatantly featured in the windows of the red light district and the abundance of coffeeshops (places to smoke marijuana) just made me sad. Let’s start with the positive.
1) Amsterdam is adorable. Canals aplenty, row homes that probably could not have been built to be straight and even if they tried.
We had a pretty sweet room as well in a hostel right smack in the middle of town. These views were pas mal, as the French would say. These shots towards the left of our window were taken at different times of the day.
2) Three museums. The Van Gogh Museum has now tied with the Musee d’Orangerie in Paris as my favorite art museum in Europe. Everyone knows about Van Gogh’s story of how he was an impoverished post-Impressionist painter who only sold one work during his lifetime and eventually cut off part of his own ear during an argument. The lesser known part of the story are that he was Dutch and lived in the Netherlands before moving to France. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has the largest collection of Van Gogh’s paintings/drawings in the world. No pictures were allowed so I cannot share with you the impressiveness of this collection. But what really propelled this museum into an unforgettable experience was the fact that we happened to visit during the “Picasso in Paris” display. Pablo Picasso spent time painting in Paris between 1900 and 1907, the defining period in his career when he became truly famous. The Van Gogh Museum borrowed works from the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Met and the Guggenheim in NYC. Here’s a sample, “The Diners,” from the New York Time’s In Transit blog.
We also visited the Anne Frank Huis. Every student growing up in America has read the Diary of Anne Frank, the memoirs of a Jewish girl who was forced to go into hiding with her family during World War II. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, was the only person of the 8 that went into hiding who survived the Holocaust. After he came back from the war, he preserved that house, in Amsterdam, as a historical monument to remind the world that tolerance is not just an ideal but a necessity. The rooms inhabited by the Franks and the Van Pels have been left empy at the request of Otto Frank, which only added to the somber feeling I got while walking through this place where 8 people lived for years. I snapped this picture of the bookcase that hid the staircase going up to the attic rooms.
Finally, we saw the Rijksmuseum featuring works by Rembrandt and other Dutch artists from the Dutch Golden Age. This museum is reputedly world class but I wasn’t too terribly impressed. However, the building that houses the museum was pretty awesome (see the first picture of this post; the I AMSTERDAM sign is behind the museum).
3) The food.
A- The Dutch colonizing past is evident in the vast amounts of Asian food available. Most notable was the plethora of Surinamese and Indonesian restaurants. It was nice to be in a city with such a diverse set of cuisines available.
B- While looking for a restaurant one day, we ran into the Albert Cuyp Market, near the Sarphati Park. We found this merchant selling “Poffertjes,” aka little pancakes served with powdered sugar, a chunk of butter, and Dutch syrup. I found the syrup to be thicker than the maple syrup from Canada or Vermont that I’m used to. Still though, what would a trip to Amsterdam be without at least 1 pancake? C- A delicious Dutch dinner. I don’t often splurge on meals in Europe, for two main reaons. One, everything tastes so delicious and fresh anyway. Two, I hardly make enough to warrant eating at super pricy restaurants such as those honored with a Michelin star. However, in light of the fact that I had never eaten any “Dutch” food before, I figured that I would turn to the experts. In this case, I turned to the New York Times’ Travel section. As I was doing some research, I stumbled across this little link that spoke of a restaurant that served honest, real Dutch food. So off to Restaurant Greetje we were… and it certainly did not disappoint. We opted for the shared appetizer and dessert platters.
As for the main course, Yi got the “roasted wild boarchop with stewed pear-potato mix and gravy with heather honey” while I got the “Snorrepotsje, braised veal the Frysian way with classic red cabbage, parsnip puree and gravy.” Both were delicious. Thank you, Greetje, for a delicious meal (and for also giving us the best table in the house, the one that overlooks the canal!)
1) The RLD (Red Light District). It’s too much. It’s too touristy; it made me feel weird to see all these people walking around, most of them speaking English or a distinctly non-Dutch language. I don’t know. I’m not a fan; I’m sure there are people who are. I don’t want to know their reasons though.2) The whole city, especially downtown, reeks of marijuana. There’s a coffeeshop (not to be confused with legitimate food or coffee cafe) on every block. I have no problem with it if you go smoke and that’s your thing. you’re welcome to do it. I just don’t like how the smell permeates through so many streets.
Therefore, I’m torn. While I do appreciate the liberalism and the “tolerance” that Amsterdam is reputed for, I just cannot imagine living in this city. Amsterdam is the first European city that I’ve been to that I cannot see myself in for a long period of time. While there is a lot of history and culture and art in Amsterdam, I’m just not a fan of how the marijuana-ism and prostitution are forced to the forefront of the city. Maybe I’m too American in that sense, in that I don’t think “beautiful canals” first when I think of Amsterdam. I am sure there are many people out there who love this city; I’m just not sold. But I don’t see myself giving it another shot.