Monday 24 May 2004

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© 2004 Giles Orr

I thought the stairs in the Singel Hotel were steep, but they pale by comparison to the ones here at the Van Ostade Bicycle Hotel. Here they ascend at a 60 degree angle, and twist 90 degrees at each end. Gah! I told the concierge this morning that I planned on not returning here drunk. He seemed quite amused - maybe he hadn't heard that before ...

I was kind of panicked this morning about moving to a new hotel - mostly because I was finally going to have to use public transit, and without assistance too (I'm sure Marcel would have helped, but I was determined to do it on my own). I talked to the hotel desk guy for a while, partly asking where to buy tickets (Centraal Station was closest) and asking for instruction pronouncing "Jesse Goossens." I tried to pronounce it several times and made him laugh every time. I thought I was close, but apparently not. It's the G sound. And then I told him I was going to De Pijp, and he said "Where?" It's a large and well-known area. I tried a couple more times, saying "De Pipe," which I thought was fairly accurate. Finally he said "Oh, you mean 'De Pipe!'" I said "I think that may be one of those sounds I can't even hear." He said "I know what you mean - 15 years ago my father married a Thai woman, and she tried to teach me some of her language. She taught me 'the snake eats the mouse,'" and he said something short in Thai, "but whenever I said it she'd say 'No, no! Mouse eat snake!'" I told that story to Marcel and it cracked him up too.

So I bought a strippenkaart for €6.40 at Centraal Station, got my bag from the Singel, and walked to Damrak to catch the 25 tram out here. But the tram line was barricaded off and lined by soldiers. I asked someone I thought was a local what was going on, and he said it was the President of Switzerland and the Dutch royal family. They eventually cruised by in a huge motorcade (lots of motorcycles, Volvos, and Audis) after which the local turned to me and said almost apologetically "all done." And he walked off. The barricades led to the Royal Palace, which is never used - except when I'm here. I took a couple pictures of the colour guard and the regular soldiers (who were shockingly bad at marching given that it was an international event - it wasn't blatantly awful, but I would have expected crisper and more precise ...) and then moved on. Marcel says the Dutch army is notoriously laid back - but that easiness leads to more trust and they're pretty good on maneuvers and such like. I managed to detour around the barricades and the people, but apparently the 25 was gone for the day ... I walked to De Pijp. It's only 2 or 3 km, but that's kind of a pain with a 40 pound backpack.

On the way I found myself in the middle of the Albert Cuyp Market, a place I'd wanted to visit anyway. It's a street market and I would have had to try very hard to miss it as it was directly in my path and seems to extend eight or ten blocks. Like the other market I saw, you could buy just about anything. It's less permanent than the other one looked though - I walked a block along Albert Cuyp tonight, and it was just a wide, empty, dirty street in the process of being cleaned ...

I took an instant liking to De Pijp - very lively, multiracial, lots of restaurants, bars, and shops. Just a nice area. The buildings are a little newer and the last canal (the Singelgracht) marks the northern border of the area. But the Amstel does run through it.

I called Marcel once I'd negotiated a higher room price in return for an en suite bathroom, and invited him to join me. Then I settled in front of the shared internet computer to surf some.

After Marcel arrived we walked back through Albert Cuyp (he doesn't like that kind of place, but I love it), south on the Amstel where he pointed out Amsterdam's tallest building (33 storeys I think). After that we took the tram to the Tuschinski where I was sadly denied photos again, even with Jesse's name. They have only one postcard for sale, and it's ugly so I didn't buy it.

We settled into a proper Dutch "brown cafe" right near the Tuschinski. Fairly authentic according to Marcel (most would have been darker) with regulars, and some tourists because of the neighbourhood. I had Bessen, which is Jenever with berry flavouring - in this case it came out tasting like black currant liquer. I had already tried Oude (old) and jong (young) Jenever. They're fine, but don't inspire me as the Islay single malts did. Not enough to carry glass. Jenever ("Yeh-NAY-ver") is by far the cheapest hard liquer here at €2 a shot most places where most mixed drinks and shots are €3.50-5.00. Since they have no good single malts (the bartender at the brown cafe assured me Glenfiddich is very good ... he needs some Lagavulin) I drink Jenever.

The bartender made me happy. He was short and bald, and his English was mediocre by Dutch standards. But he was happy. He flirted with the two pretty American tourist women (at a florid 55 he didn't have a hope and didn't care), he chatted with me, he talked to the regulars, he fed scraps of meat to the small dog on a bar stool and laughed himself silly. I said to Marcel that I wished everyone in the world was that happy. I aspire to be myself.

After that Marcel took me to what my guide and many Amsterdammers (according to Marcel) say is the best kroket in town - Van Dobben. I had it on a bun with mustard, and had to agree with Marcel - it wasn't all that special.

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by giles