Amsterdam Summary

Four nights: Thursday, July 26 to Monday, July 30

Along with Paris, Amsterdam was one of two cities on this trip that we had visited before. In both cases, I was surprised at the amount of familiarity I felt, especially with Amsterdam since our last visit was in 2009 (Paris, on the other hand, was 2001). Despite the feeling of familiarity, a few things had changed in three years:

  • Currency: The Netherlands are now using the Euro. This wasn’t a big shock – in fact, I preferred it since it was the most common currency we encountered. I suppose that visiting countries that still use an independent currency (Croatia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, UK) adds to the travel ‘adventure’, but I like the idea of a single, common currency. Maybe 100 years from now we’ll even have a common global currency – what do you think?
  • Transit tickets: Instead of buying plain old paper tickets, everything is now RFID-based. The common practice is to buy a long-term card and electronically refill it as needed. THey also offer a cheaper single-use card, which is the option we went with for the one transit ride we took. On a related note, it’s getting very common throughout Europe (especially France and The Netherlands) for people to have chip-based credit cards. Rather than swipe, you insert the card into a reader and type a PIN to complete your transaction. In fact, there were even a few venues that were card-only, no cash!
  • Pot: Sure, there were ‘coffee shops’ and people publicly smoking pot when we visited in 2009. However, it seemed like we were seeing a lot more public tokage than on our last trip. Maybe it was the nicer Summer weather compared to our previous Spring visit? I don’t know. Also, I noticed that many of the additional coffee shops I saw were a little more upscale than the scuzzier red-light district spots I had seen earlier. I wonder if this is what we’ll start seeing at home once pot is decriminalized by Washington and other states?

For this visit, we stayed in the Jordaan neighborhood – specifically, on a houseboat on the Lijnbaansgracht. The houseboat was an interesting and comfortable spot, plus the neighborhood was great. We were able to spent most of our time away from the center of the city and its more touristy / overrun areas. For example, on Friday, we were able to skirt south along Prinsengracht to revisit Vondelpark and a specific Indonesian restaurant we had tried on our last visit. The park was fun (we had a easy lunch there, including bitterballen!) but the Indonesian restaurant no longer existed. No rice table for us, unfortunately.

Oh, I should also mention the bit of excitement we experienced Friday night. An apartment directly across the canal from our houseboat caught on fire from what looked like candles placed too near the curtains. The flames were pretty spectacular, shooting out of the window and licking up the side of the building. Our neighbors called the fire department who showed up pretty quickly and thankfully got things under control. Very dramatic, though I feel bad for the apartment owner and her neighbors.

For the rest of our visit, we ended up checking out some new things. On Saturday morning, the Noordermarkt was taking place literally 50 feet from our houseboat. We strolled around checking out the various stalls and ended up picking out a fine assortment of dinner fixins. That afternoon, we took a ferry across the Ij river to the Amsterdam Noord and checked out the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the Film Institute. The exhibit was great – I learned about some of his early films I wasn’t familiar with plus they had had great sections for every film he made, along with original props. Donna and I have decided we need to do a complete Kubrick film festival one week when we’re back in Seattle.

On Sunday, we did some additional strolling about, including a brief visit to the crowded Dam Square to brows the American Book Company. That afternoon, we walked way over to the northwest part of town and enjoyed snacks and drinks over a game of chess at Brouwerij ‘t IJ.

Overall, Amsterdam may be my favorite large city. It’s got a great vibe (reminds me of Seattle in a lot of ways), it’s amazingly scenic with its canals and it seems to have an authenticity that’s not been overly commercialized. I suspect this will not be our last trip here.