[I sure don’t have time for this kind of sheer-joy-of-it writing right now, but this was 95% whipped together two months ago and I wanted to get it off my damned list.]
Some of the best and worst things about Amsterdam, based on a few days worth of insomnia-addled observations while on vacation there in May:
- The Dutch are incredibly civilized and urbane. (For instance, Dutch signage and advertising is incredibly understated and classy.)
- The Dutch also speak English better than most Canadians, and certainly more clearly than the English.
- Bicycles dominate the inner city. Lots of streets are car-free or nearly so. Even where there are a lot of cars, there are still huge bike lanes, and drivers clearly defer to the cyclists.
- Our hotel. We lucked out with Hotel de Munck, which we chose after a painstaking process of eliminating every other hotel in Amsterdam because they had no availability. HdM was it, man. If they hadn’t had a room, we would have been cancelling the trip. Under these circumstances, we were a wee bit concerned about what we were going to get. Fortunately, it turned out to a be a sweet little place next to one of Amsterdam’s handful of parks: quite quiet and lovely, despite the odd 50s Americana decor theme.
- The Red Light district is a phenomenal phenomenon. Exploring that was definitely a memorable experience. Never in my life before have I looked at women like they were in a zoo. Naturally this will be coming up again in the “worst” list as well …
- The architecture, the architecture, the architecture: hundreds of square kilometres of quirky, fascinating buildings. Are there two doors alike in all of Amsterdam? I doubt it!
- Book stores! I tried to find a book for my dad while I was there. I failed, but the looking was fun. At one point, a bookshop owner — an actual person who owned a book shop, just like we used to have here — had a good time helping me out. He showed me a map of the city crammed with dots marking book stores. Dozens of ‘em. Dozens! We have what, maybe ten indie bookstores left in all of Vancouver? And here’s the punchline: that map? That was the antiquarian shops only. Crazy.
- Dutch men seem totally classy. Very tall, very European. Looks like an awesome place to be gay.
- The pubs! Unlike Canadian pubs, which are really bars, Dutch pubs (probably like most European pubs) are actually nice places to hang out.
And the worst…
- The Dutch are so civilized and urbane that it makes you want to punch them. Not really. But you know what I mean.
- The boats and houseboats of Amsterdam are tragically shabby — a bizarre contrast with how put together and classy everything else is. It’s like it never occurred to any Dutch person, ever, to do any maintenance on a boat, beyond keeping it from leaking, and not always that.
- Not really all that bad a thing, but the bicycles are also seriously shabby. Most look like what we’d call a vintage bike here — a vintage bike in rather poor condition. Yet everyone locks them up like they’re precious …
- The Red Light district is not actually a healthy place for the Dutch to be proud of. In fact, it’s a total disaster: nearly every prostitute has a pimp, and most are the victims of human trafficking. Enjoying the Red Light District is like celebrating slavery. Total insanity.
- It’s Europe — the coffee should be good, no? Well, it ain’t. I lucked out and ended up staying right next to a good coffee shop (Two For Joy), where I drank the best lattés I’ve ever hand. I mentioned this to a barista there and he said, “Yes, but there’s not much good coffee in Amsterdam. Vancouver is much better.” I concur. Coffee shops (actual coffee shops, not the marijuana bars, which call themselves “coffee shops”) are few and far between and most just did not seem to “get” coffee.
- Old paintings of flowers. Just cannot work up a care.
- Dutch women, hm … I’m not so sure about them. I’m not going to say more than that, because there are really just so many ways for me to get in trouble with this line of thought …