When I told people we would begin our trip with a few days in Amsterdam, I unfailingly got responses that centered on just two facets of the city---pot and prostitutes. They're here, but seem to be more part of a certain sort of tourism other than what we're doing. The vast majority of people I see using the Coffeehauses or smelling like my high school girl's bathroom are not speaking Dutch. I will say however that Amsterdam does seem to attract a rather different sort of ex-pat than say Paris or Rome. *grin*
In any case, it's a small part of Amsterdam. The bicycle culture is more important to the city's daily life. It's a major form of transportation, with bike lanes everywhere. We see people whizzing around wearing suits, heels, children on a seat in front or wooden cart at the back, groceries dangling, a cellphone in one hand. You really need to be careful crossing streets here, and God help you if you unwittingly stand in a bike lane. Across from Centraal station is a three-story bike garage, filled to the brim. Bikes are locked up everywhere. What's also interesting is most of these are not fancy bikes, but real clunkers. I've heard that bike theft is an epidemic, so I suspect people just go with what won't be sorely missed.
We began the day with a walk through the Albert Cypmarkt, the large daily market in the Pijp district. Lots of clothes, housewares, food, a real general market. Well, I don't think the average Amsterdam housewife is buying the chocolate penises. I had read there's a baker here making fresh stroopwafels, but didn't see him. Ah well, save the calories for lunch.
Somewhere or other on the internet I had found a local review of a Indonesian cafe near the market. We found it, and had a delicious lunch in the 12-table little place. The menu was in Dutch, but the waiter spoke English and was able to translate. We had noodles with satay chicken, nasi gooreg (fried rice)with beef, and a lamb roti. Really excellent food, spicing a mixture of Indian and Asian cuisines.
We rented bikes for the afternoon, and armed with a bike trail map, went our way around. A few wrong turms (let's blame Larry,shall we?) but it's a real pleasure using the bike lanes.I hate biking in traffic, so really appreciated the lanes and quiet street. I took a break to visit the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museums while Dan and Larry continued on. The huge Rijksmuseum is undergoing renovation, so the huge collection has been edited down to a "Masterpieces" exhibit in 10 rooms. I really enjoyed this broad tour of art, but some day I'd love to return to see the collections in more depth. The Van Gogh (try saying it with that gutteral G!) was also excellent, and it was interesting to see how little of the shimmer and glow of his later works transmit through reproductions.
We took the tram back to the apartment, and rested a bit before trudging out to dinner. Dan really wanted Italian, so we tried a place nearby that Krista had written about. It's in an old "brown bar", and has been taken over by an Italian couple. The house-made pastas were excellent, Larry's beef more of a Dutch-Italian hybrid than would be found in Italy, but still tasty. Dan headed back to the apartment after dinner, and Larry and I walked around for another hour. People here live close to the street in ways literal and figurative--neighbors drag chairs outside to chat, open up ground-floor windows and doors inches from people passing by, houseboat residents lounge on patios, people meet for drinks in the corner cafes, waving to everyone they know passing by. I think Amsterdam has a lot to teach about city living.
Some reading in our little homage-to-the 60's living room, and then lights out.