A February 2003 trip
to Amsterdam by themymble
Quote: My mother said the Red Light District was not seedy at all and I simply must see the Van Gogh; my laid-back friends handed me beer mats for smoky cafés; my travelling companion Paul V was after nightlife; And for my part, I wanted to see Anne Frank’s house.
* The Floating Flower Market, because you could drop your camera and come out with a good picture.
* A conversation overheard in a dorm between what one of our new friends described as ‘corn-fed Midwest farmboys’:
". . . And there’s the Red Light District."
"What’s the Red Light District?"
"It’s where the hookers are."
"Dude, do you think we’ll get lucky tonight?"
* Discovering Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom for the first time, and seeing his copy of my favourite Japanese painting, Sudden Shower over the Bridge of Atake by Hiroshige; and finding out that he filled albums with pictures torn out of magazines and newspapers, just like I do.
* So enjoying my plate of ribs at La Pampa (see dining entry.) that when I offered one to Paul V, who would normally starve rather than eat something that looks like it has ever been anywhere near an animal, he gobbled it down and sucked the bone clean.
* The unseasonably good weather which found us wandering round outside with no coats on.
* If you are planning to try the herbs for the first time, do it with a trusted friend who knows what to expect.
* Go shopping. It’s a fantastic place for clothes and shoes.
* Gawp at the architecture – there are so many details to admire.
Once you’re there, walk everywhere – you see so much and most places are pretty close together. However, watch out for cyclists, and, please, try not to wander into the cycle lanes!
You can also take the tram – it’s a bit complicated because every line seems to have a different system. Sometimes you have to get on at the front and pay the driver. Sometimes you can buy tickets from a machine on board. And other times you pay a conductor in the middle of the tram.
The first thing I noticed was a raised stage in the front window covered in rugs and cushions and low tables and slumped backpackers. We whiled away many blissful hours there, beer at elbow, watching people coming and going in the street outside -- the perfect panacea for the hungover, footsore and museumed-out.
We were in dorm beds for two nights and a double for two. The rooms were clean and had their own bathrooms. The beds, which are particularly comfortable for a hostel, come with duvets, so there’s no need to bring your own bedding, and towels are available if you need them. We slept in a four and an eight bunk dorm, and our room-mates were all very considerate. The double room was particularly good because it was right at the top of the house -- if you get a room on the third floor, there’s a fantastic view from the first corridor window along from the top of the stairs.
Breakfast is included -- you can grab your coffee or tea, bread, jam, cheese, egg or cereal between 8.30 and 10.30am in the charmingly named Happy Room. This dark little cellar decorated with fairytale scenes is easy on a muzzy brain first thing in the morning, and there always seemed to be an interesting conversation going on.
One thing I really appreciated was the security -- the door opens with a swipecard, and then you herd into a little pen so whoever is on reception can examine your card and your face before you are allowed into the bar. If you stay a couple of days, the staff begin to recognise you. Each dorm bed has a locker, with a padlock and there is a free safe on reception. Despite this, the atmosphere is easy-going and there is no curfew so we never felt hemmed in.
The Flying Pig is slightly more expensive than some other hostels. However it has free internet access; the beer is really cheap; there is a kitchen where you can cook for yourself; it’s very close to the centre of town, so you save on transport; and for couples, there are a few queen-size beds which work out better value than two single beds.
*The Flying Pig
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 29, 2003
The Flying Pig Downtown Hostel
+31 (0)20 420 68 22
Restaurant | "La Pampa"
I chose barbecued ribs and at the time they were the nicest thing I had ever eaten. They were served with generous chips and a small salad. Fantastic. Paul V had an omelette, which he fell upon and demolished in seconds flat. Foolishly, I tried to show off my longest ever chip in the world. He stole and ate it.
The waiter removed the plates slightly nervously as if expecting to have his hands gnawed off at the wrists.
Now that I wasn’t hallucinating with hunger, I took in my surroundings: Dark wood and dim lights, South American bric-a-brac. It looked as if it would seat about 100, but we were sharing it with one other couple. It had the usual Argentine emphasis on steak –- I would be quite happy to eat something more expensive there.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 29, 2003
Restaurant La Pampa
We passed Dim Sum Palace on our way down Rokin to the Flower Market, and he got that gleam in his eye. It doesn’t look like good eating when you walk in. There are melamine tables fastened to the floor with seats attached. You pay before you eat, and service involves being handed a plate and pointed in the direction of the buffet. And you have to get your drinks from a coke machine (it dispenses cans of beer too).
The deal is, all you can eat in one hour for 7.50 euro. Really, who’d complain about a slightly sticky floor and unflattering lighting? The buffet was recharged regularly, and the food was tasty –- that is, each dish tasted different. It was hot, it was nourishing and it didn’t give anyone bellyache. If you’re hungry and poor, come here.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 29, 2003
Dim Sum Palace
We visited the museum on a Sunday in February, and it was almost but not quite uncomfortably crowded -- we had to queue for about ten minutes to get in. While we waited, we discussed the pronunciation of Van Gogh with our American companions. In Britain, we say ‘Goff’; Americans prefer ‘Go’. We’re both wrong -- the Dutch, who ought to know, say it with a soft ch that almost rhymes with the Scottish ‘loch’.
The permanent collection is just two large rooms, but because it was Van Gogh it was worth the entry price in itself. There is a naturalness to the light in the high, bright rooms that suits these paintings well. The colours seem to leap out in that special impressionist way, although the audio tour explained that some of the pigments were disappearing already.
In a side gallery some of the artist’s possessions were on show -- vases that appeared in the pictures, a cabinet in which his letters were kept, a few of his books. At the top of the building is the study area, where his collection of pictures torn out of magazines is kept –- some have pinholes where he stuck them to the wall. The thought of him collecting and swapping these magzine clippings and using him to cheer up his home is rather sweet.
The special exhibition downstairs was all about Van Gogh and his influences. When you think of his work, you recall bright, intense, impressionist canvases. But his earlier pictures are completely different. One dismal painting of a ruined church particularly sticks in my mind, and a dour portrait of family life, The Potato Eaters. He also copied pictures -- for example Millais’ The Sower, and these pairs are displayed together. It is fascinating to play spot the differences: what has he done to change the atmosphere? Is it the colour? Or the curve of the horizon?
Annoyingly, in this part of the museum, the pictures were badly lit so the crowd had to do an awkward sort of dance to avoid the glare.
* There is a lot to chew over, so take much time as you can afford.
Van Gogh Museum
Paulus Potterstraat 7
Amsterdam, Netherlands 1071 CX
+31 (20) 570 52 00
Attraction | "Anne Frank House"
"Is Anne about?"
"No. She’s gone away."
The door opens and so you can see that everything moveable has gone. Nothing is left but scraps and dust and echoes.
I found the house -- the museum -- very crowded. We inched along, queuing in silence round the edges of the rooms, everyone minutely examining the walls as if they expected to find, in tiny, un-noticed letters, some note explaining why Anne’s life ended as it did.
The exhibition is stark –- there are a very few artefacts: ration books, identity cards, the odd photo. Traces of the families remain on the walls –- Anne’s pictures, the children’s heights pencilled near the door, a map marking the allies’ progress.
In the last room, there were also about forty editions of the book in all different languages -– I was intrigued by all the different ways Anne Frank is portrayed. Some cover designers use a photo, one made her look like a very little girl clutching a doll, while others have her as a grave young lady.
Seeing the diaries themselves seemed almost an afterthought. The tartan book was rather smaller than I imagined, a bit more faded, but while I looked, it suddenly seemed to me that it would be a long time before I saw anything more precious.
This museum is harrowing, particularly if you are a fan of the books. Don’t try to cram it into an afternoon. Go first thing, take your time, and spend the rest of the day doing something quiet and easy.
The Anne Frank House and Museum
Amsterdam, Netherlands 1016 GV
+31 20 556 71 00
We bought tickets from a captainly-looking cove with an admirable white beard. He seemed rather amused: had we misunderstood and been sold passage on a slave ship bound for Istanbul or bought ourselves seven years before the mast on a Dutch whaling ship?
It was all right though, the boat just chugged gently round the canals, with a recorded multilingual commentary pointing out unusual houses, sites and views (including one of seven bridges all in a row). I prefer a real live guide, because they often have more amusing and irreverent stories.
There were one or two scenes that I recognised from the Van Gogh pictures. I pointed these out smugly to Paul V, but he was lying back in his seat, eyes closed. The weather was incredible for the first days of March -- the air was golden with sunlight, absolutely still, but cool enough to feel clean. Just breathing seemed to be repairing the ravages of the night before.
Prins Hendrikkade t/o 25-27
Attraction | "Bloemenmarkt"
We saw boards of magnets shaped like the tall town houses that are so Amsterdam. This image graces the front of the Rough Guide, and judging by the signs asking people not to take pictures, it must be a too popular photograph. On the non-floating side of the street are plenty of touristy tat shops, selling bright cheap clothes and jewellery for strange parts of the body. There are also a couple of shops for those looking to expand their minds, selling accessories for growing, smoking, and grinding, as well as mushrooms and various legal highs.
Bloemenmarkt/Amsterdam Flower Market
Singel Between Muntplein and Koningsplein
Amsterdam, Netherlands 1017 AZ
Amsterdam chips are particularly good -- hot, fresh, fat and crispy with plenty of salt –- this is applied liberally before they are packed into cones. There are plenty of chippies in the side streets to the right and left off Nieuwendijk (try the one on St Jacobsst or the one on the corner of Damrak and Karnemelkst) –- rather disturbingly, they are advertised by a child-sized fibreglass cone of chips that is eating itself. If you can get past this horror, you’ll get a good stodge for a few euro (sauce is often a little extra).
There are several places along Damrak that do pizza slices -– again, quick and easy and you can see exactly what you’re getting.
In a last ditch attempt at cultural assimilation, we had hotdogs from a stand on the Dam. The frankfurter sausages in white buns were lovely, and the choice of sauces (mustard, ketchup, chopped gherkin, mayonnaise (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it)) made our dogs look very . . . artistic.
A couple of times for afters, we tried some cakes, but they weren’t very successful. They looked lovely, but there was something about their croissanty, creamy, fruit covered nature that made me long for a nice English eccles cake or a Bath bun.
Tunbridge Wells, United Kingdom