Back in the Netherlands, we decided that Amsterdam didn’t get enough love the first time around, so we set out to see more of the city this time, bike-tour-style. First, though, we walked from Amsterdam Centraal to the Anne Frank house where we met up with Tami, one of Heather’s old friends who is now living and working in Amsterdam. Tami took us to a little coffee shop called Screaming Beans where we had the best appleflap (pronounced “AH-pple flop”) in the city, along with some pretty adorable coffee. I also made fast friends with the shop cat.
After delicious beverages and conversation, Tami headed to work and Heather and I made our way toward the Museumplein. It started to rain while we walked, and we wondered how fun it would be to take a bike tour in the pouring rain. Rather, we wondered how fun it would be to have soaking wet jeans in our luggage (we were flying home the next day and Ivo does not own a dryer). The rain was coming down hard by the time we reached the Rijksmuseum. We made a restroom stop and agreed that, if it was still coming down hard when we were finished, we would skip the tour. Almost as if God had accepted the dare, the skies were clear when we stepped back outside. A few hundred meters away, we spotted Allison from Joy Ride Bike Tours standing alone next to her bright orange bicycle. Would we be the only ones taking the tour? “You must be Heather and Mike!” she said with a wave. “Glad you guys could make it! My other reservations bailed because of the rain.” So, yes, we would be taking a private bike tour of Amsterdam. Sweet.
Heather’s Flickr set tells most of the story but, in short, Allison took us around and showed us why Amsterdam is worth knowing for more than its prostitutes and legal drugs. She told us all about the history of the city and lead us past several examples of beautiful architecture. We learned that a forward-leaning house is good—better to hoist things in through the window and avoid getting your chamber pot contents on your doorstep—but a side-leaning house will probably need some expensive foundation repair. Heather ate some fish she didn’t hate (nieuwe haring, a Dutch specialty), and we tried a native Dutch liquor, jenever (which is served in an overfilled tulip-shaped glass and must be sipped while bending over at the bar before it can be picked up) at Wynand Focking (say it phonetically for a giggle). Also, while Amsterdam IS more than its hookers and weed, no trip to the city is complete without a jaunt to the famous Red Light District.
We parked our bikes under an unlit neon sign that read “Sexy Land” and Allison gave us a task. “Walk this way and keep an eye out for two things: diversity and a kindergarten.” The former was pretty easy to observe. The district was generally divided into noticeable sections based on client tastes. At one end were Barbie-doll-looking Caucasian ladies—trim, pneumatic, and covered in makeup. Then, the Asian district. Next, full-figured black ladies. Then, full-figured black mature ladies. And so on. “Kindergarten” was harder to spot, but we found it. Allison pointed out a preschool in the heart of the area and told an anecdote about a friend who had grown up nearby and went to school there. Citing the difference in cultural attitudes, she said that her friend never knew—or really cared—what went on in the houses by his school. All he knew was that kind, pleasant-smelling, pretty ladies would often give him candy on his way to school. In total, our tour lasted nearly three hours, and by the end we felt like we had made a new friend. We dropped our bikes off with Allison near the Hard Rock Café, thanked her, and headed back toward Amsterdam Centraal where we would meet Ivo before going to dinner.
It started to rain again, and by the time we reached the station it was pouring to a point of near unpleasantness. Luckily, dinner was nearby, so the last leg of our walk in the rain would be short. The restaurant Ivo chose was a delightful French bistro. I had escargot and a succulent pork tenderloin, which were both exceptional. Heather had an uncannily light white asparagus soup with truffle oil and a substantial salad. Ivo’s enormous artichoke was proclaimed delightful, and we all enjoyed the rich molten chocolate cakes with raspberry coulis for dessert. After dinner, at Tami’s insistence, we stopped by her apartment for quick after-dinner drinks before catching our 23:30 train. The ride back to Utrecht was pleasant, full of good conversation and the memory of a delicious dinner. Our flight back to the United States wasn’t until 13:00 the next day, so the three of us allowed ourselves to stay up late and chat on our last night of vacation.
New York City welcomed us home with warm rain showers and a ride in a clattering cab with broken seats and no air-conditioning. Heather and I held hands and exchanged half-hearted smiles, happy to be going home to our own beds and cats, but already missing the beauty and hospitality of Europe. As we rattled through Jamaica, Queens—past housing projects, road detritus, and dilapidated strip malls—I closed my eyes and tried to recall hillside vineyards, mountain vistas, and the taste of smokebeer. “Well, I’m back,” I thought. “When can I leave?”