Chris & Allyson vs. Europe (2013)
Amsterdam Day Two: Vondelpark. A canal cruise. Brown cafes. Central Amsterdam. The Sea Palace. The Melkweg.
Your first day in Amsterdam was about getting acclimated. Now it's time to explore the city and have some truly authentic experiences.
Enjoying lunch in a "brown cafe."
A view of Anne Frank House, from across a canal.
A self-portrait from inside the Tulip Museum.
Smelling the metaphorical roses at the Tulip Museum.
An escape artists performing in Dam Square.
Dam Square is a thriving hub of tourism and all-around traffic.
Having a great time at the torture museum.
The world-famous Sea Palace, for Chinese food in the Netherlands.
Inside the Sea Palace.
Early morning: Vondelpark
Jogging is a great way to experience any city. While exercising, a visitor can learn the lay of the land, and get a sense of whether the locals can tolerate an overweight person in form-fitting athletic clothes. Start your second day in Amsterdam with a high-speed tour of the Vondelpark, one of the city's great green spaces. Bordering the Museumplein -- another popular tourist destination -- Vondelpark features pubic sculpture, a small lake, and bike paths where pedestrians can dance provocatively with death. Biking is a way of life in Amsterdam. Almost every pole or railing is adorned with a chained-up bike, and people will transport their children in open bike baskets shaped like a wheelbarrow. It's a progressive and superior culture.
Morning: Canal Cruise
A trip to Amsterdam isn't complete until you experience the city from the water, as visitors have for hundreds of years. Numerous tour companies offer cruises in large canal boats which constantly motor around the urban waterways. With a little advance planning, people wanting a more personalized cruise can rent a small boat and explore the canals at their leisure. Take a few hours and enjoy a new perspective!
Lunch: Brown Cafes
When it's time for your mid-day meal, seek out one of Amsterdam's famed "brown cafes." Named for their wooden interiors, these little restaurants have been a focal point of the Dutch cultural experience for centuries. Drunks and unemployed people frequently gather in these quaint venues to read the newspaper for five hours. Where else in the world can you get that? Be sure to try an "old cheese" sandwich. It's not entirely clear if "old" refers to the sandwich or the cheese, but it's one of the few things your vegetarian wife can eat. So just get it already.
Afternoon: The Tulip Museum
The tulip trade is a famous part of Dutch history and global economic history -- "tulip mania" is a textbook example of an economic bubble. Given its vast cultural significance, the people of Amsterdam have dedicated an entire basement to it. The basement is even larger than the one that holds the Cheese Museum. But it's still underneath a gift shop, naturally. It's part of the "I Amsterdam" package, so don't miss it. A few years down the road, the only thing you'll remember is that tulips came from Turkey, but if you have the card it's basically free. That's exactly the right price.
Afternoon: Central Amsterdam
Big churches, vibrant urban plazas … central Amsterdam has everything you're looking for if you enjoy big churches and vibrant urban plazas.
Amsterdam churches. The oldest building in Amsterdam is the Oude Kerk, an 800-year-old church. You don't have time to go see that right now, so why not check out the Nieuwe Kerk? It's only 600 years old, and it no longer functions as a regular church, but you can definitely tour it. The Nieuwe Kerk is used for all of the major royal weddings and coronations of The Netherlands -- remember, the Netherlands is still ruled by a sinister royal cabal that grants people the illusion of democracy.
Visiting the Nieuwe Kerk also puts you at Dam square, an important location in central Amsterdam. The big square at the middle of every European town is important. Historically speaking, such squares are the locations where throngs of people were crushed by the soldiers of evil royal cabals. The wide streets and open spaces give elite military forces the room they need to brutally stomp on insurgents. Take a moment to enjoy the views and watch one of Dam Square's many street performers, then take in a few of the tourist-friendly museums that are conveniently nearby.
Van Gogh 3D. Amsterdam's rich artistic heritage includes artists known throughout numerous centuries. Perhaps the best-known Dutch artist is Vincent Van Gogh, the troubled impressionist. Many visitors flock to the Van Gogh Museum located in the Museumplein, but savvy travelers seek out "Van Gogh: The Ultimate Collection." Convenient to central Amsterdam, this exhibit offers laser-printed reproductions of Van Gogh's work, as well as several AV installations presenting the most famous pieces as they were intended to be seen: in animated 3-D. It is in no way meant to target ignorant (and possibly high) tourists who just happen to be walking past. Only the most discriminating people visit Van Gogh 3-D, and they should not feel at all embarrassed for having spent a good bit of money to do so.
Medieval Torture Museum. Amsterdam has been around for a long time, so it stands to reason that someone was probably tortured there at some point. It is important that we remember and honor torture, for without torture there would be no Western civilization. The Medieval Torture Museum features a variety of torture devices and helpful signs indicating which sex organs they were designed to mutilate. This museum is in no way meant to target ignorant (and possibly high) tourists who just happen to be walking past. Only the most discriminating people visit the Medieval Torture Museum, and they should not feel at all embarrassed for having spent a good bit of money to do so.
Evening: Hit the Town
Your full day of touring should leave you thoroughly hungry. For you second day in Amsterdam, why not satisfy that hunger at a local landmark? Since 1984, the Sea Palace has provided tourists and locals alike with an authentic Dutch experience: Chinese food in a giant pagoda-like structure floating in the IJ. Enjoy some alcoholic beverages garnished with tiny umbrellas as you contemplate the rich tapestry of Northern European history, surrounded by large tour groups from Eastern Europe.
The rest of the evening is yours. Take in some of Amsterdam's famous nightlife, or relax in your hotel. It's up to you -- there's lots more exciting vacation ahead!
MY STORY: BOAT PEOPLE
Ready to set sail!
Opening up the engine en route to the canal system.
A canal view of the Houseboat Museum.
Cruising one of the "ring" canals.
A very small boat, or a very big shoe.
The Scheepvaartmuseum as seen from the water.
My wife and I were visiting Amsterdam around the time of her birthday, and I thought I could surprise her with a canal cruise. She's very hard to shop for, but she likes adventures that involve unusual modes of transit, or rodent-like animals. A few weeks in advance, I booked a morning rental with a company located about a mile from the Hotel Pulitzer, where we were staying. We got a little turned around on the walk, but we made it to the boat rental place just before the owner, Ron, closed up shop. We were the only rental on the books!
Ron gave us a great rundown on the layout of the canals, told us the "rules of the road" and showed us how to work the boat. The rentals have very small outboard motors, so there's not a lot of power. But how fast do you need to go for a sightseeing cruise? After just five minutes of training and no checks on our ability to swim or operate motor vehicles, we were on our way! We took our time on some of the side canals, and after a little bit of practice my wife wasn't entirely comfortable steering -- she's not really a nautical person. I took over, and we were on our way.
It was a ton of fun! We got to see so many of the houseboats, where a few lucky people get to live. We also ducked under a bunch of Amsterdam's famous low bridges and checked out the famous canal houses. It was really a fun day up to point of the crash.
Ron warned us that the big touring canal boats act like road hogs, and that they don't respect any other ships on the canals. When most of them wanted to get past, we tried to pull over and let them go. But at one point, we pulled up to an "intersection." While sitting under a bridge, we waited for one large tour boat to clear the intersection. Another one was approaching from the other direction, but it seemed to be a long way off. Once the first boat was clear, I decided to "gun it" so we could be on our way.
As we learned the hard way, you can't really gun it with a low-horsepower engine over choppy waters. You can't even BB-gun it. Our boat did the maritime equivalent of a peel-out, and the approaching tour boat didn't stop. In slow motion, we experienced our first boating accident as a married couple. The prow of the tour boat hit us square in the middle.
It could have been worse. The speed was so low that we didn't overturn. Our boat was pushed to the side, and the only damage on the tour boat was a scuff on the paint. This didn't stop the tour boat captain from yelling at us, repeatedly calling me a f***ing idiot and promising to make me pay. The many Asian tourists on his boat took our picture, making sure that we were a memorable part of hundreds of vacations.
It was important to sit there and take it for a while, because that's what you do when you might be 60 percent responsible for a nautical disaster. But once the captain noted our rental company and questioned my intelligence for the 15th time, it was time to move on. We explored the canals, going around Amsterdam's zoo and past some of the major waterways before returning to the rental place.
Ron's son was waiting for us. They got a call from the tour boat company, and apparently a few other complaints that we had banged into houseboats here and there while motoring about. According to Ron's son, they get only three phone calls a year, but we had already inspired at least that many. Even though it was a weekday morning, he wanted to see if we were drunk or high. Once he determined that I was merely a horrible pilot, he was totally cool about it. Apparently the tour boat captains are known as the a-holes of the canal system. They kept our security deposit, but we were free to go on our way. Despite committing heinous offenses on the high seas.
The views were great, and every vacation needs an incident where you feel profoundly humiliated for putting your wife in danger. To this day, I feel like less of a man for being involved in that crash, and I still feel mildly nauseated from the memory every time I set foot on a boat of any kind. Plus, we eventually got our security deposit back, despite being the worst renters in the history of Amsterdam. Where people regularly rent boats under the influence of hallucinogens.
Chris White (Washington DC)
MY STORY: THE MELKWEG
One of Amsterdam's most well-known entertainment venues.
Come on, sing the damn song.
My wife and I work in the comedy industry, so when we made our plans to visit Amsterdam we hoped to see a comedy show. Stand-up is biggest in countries where English is the primary language, but Amsterdam has a long tradition of stand-up comedy, because many performers from elsewhere have serious drug problems and enjoy going there. We heard about an open mic night at a comedy club near the Leidseplein. We walked there and located the club it, but it turned out that the show would only be in Dutch. Apparently some people are clinging to the antiquated notion that languages other than English might matter. We fought a few wars to square this away, but sometimes people refuse to learn.
We didn't have other plans, so we walked around the Leidseplein in search of another activity. Within a few minutes, we found ourselves at the Melkweg (Dutch for "Milky Way), a famous mid-sized performance venue. It hosts a lot of great music, and the occasional comedy show too. We were surprised to see that the band playing that evening was Dexys! They used to be called Dexys Midnight Runners, and they had a huge hit with "Come On Eileen" in 1982. They apparently shortened their name to confuse their fans. They probably were having problems with rioting enthusiastic crowds when they traveled as Dexys Midnight Runners, and wanted to end some of violence. Big of them, really.
By the time we reached the box office, the show had started and tickets were no longer on sale. But upon seeing our disappointment, the nice lady at the window slid us two tickets free of charge and said we could head in. This was an unbelievably generous gesture -- you can only imagine the street value of Dexys Midnight Runners tickets, especially after their popularity from their 1982 smash hit had two decades to grow. We didn't know any Dexys songs other than "Come On Eileen," but a few Melkweg employees assured us that they hadn't played it yet.
It was quite the scene! The Melkweg looks a lot like the 9:30 club in our hometown of Washington, D.C. Even though "Come On Eileen" is a crossover hit that speaks to all races and creeds, the crowd was mostly middle-aged, white and reluctant to stand up. The place wasn't packed -- people were probably scared off by a potential death-by-trampling once "Come On Eileen" started -- so we found a spot near the back of the room and settled in to listen.
Dexys apparently consists of 23 different people, and they are all solidly middle-age. They mostly dress like people in John Hughes movies from the 1980s. They are reasonably good musicians, and we sat through a bunch of songs that we did not recognize because they were not "Come On Eileen." As the concert entered its second hour, the crowd started tingling with anticipation for "Come On Eileen." By the end of the second hour many people were clearly foaming at the mouth for "Come On Eileen," and were in fact ready to go home once they heard it. Dexys broke into what might have been a medley -- it was hard to tell since we didn't recognize any of the songs -- and they teased one of the melodic lines from "Come On Eileen."
This was it! Everyone was ready to be blown away by one of the biggest hits of 1982, that has lived on at wedding receptions and sorority functions for a generation! Finally, we were going to hear the one reason to go see Dexys!
And then the concert ended. Figuring that they saved "Come On Eileen" for an encore, we cheered a bit. But they did not play "Come On Eileen." The show just ended. The crowd was so stunned and disoriented that no one even thought to set something on fire or smash the nearest plate-glass window. We stood there, unable to look in each other's eyes, ashamed of the collective violation we had just experienced. No words were spoken, but it was collectively decided that we all shuffle home and never see each other ever again. Allyson and I hadn't even PAID for tickets and we felt cheated.
We still feel twinges of sadness or regret when "Come On Eileen" is played at a party, wedding reception, or a VH1 one-hit wonders countdown. We have no friends named Eileen and I'm not sure we could make any at this point. Dexys, you ruined our lives.
But other than that, it was a very pleasant night on the town.
Chris White (Washington DC)