by Bob Sparrow
It’s raining as we (“we” is wife Linda and me along with long-time friends and traveling companions, Mark & Kathy Johnson) arrive and complete the stringent requirements for passage into the wild and crazy city of Amsterdam, which consists of a stamp on the passport and a pat down to insure you have enough Euros to enjoy all that this ‘Venice of the North’ has to offer. Actually there aren’t enough Euros to enjoy ALL that this city has to offer, but we enjoyed the pat down. The rain doesn’t dampen our spirits, which have been buoyed by a sampling of that famous Amsterdam spirit – Heineken beer. OK, perhaps more than a sampling, but we were just trying to be good guests and help erase that ‘ugly American’ image.
Our train from the airport arrived at busy Central Station, which sits at the north end of town and right next to the busy ‘Red Light District’, but since we’d just come from the ‘Red Eye District’ – our 7½-hour overnight flight from Chicago – we thought we should be a little more rested before we tackle ‘the meat’ of the city, so to speak.
First stop is the Ann Frank House. As instructed, we got there early to avoid the lines to get in that extend around the block. Reading ‘The Diary of Ann Frank’ before going will enhance your experience, but the tour through their living quarters does an excellent job of telling this amazing story. I can’t imagine doing this in the heat of summer, as the rooms are small and the stairways are narrow, so being herded through the house shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of tourists in need of a shower could alter the experience significantly.
It’s a short walk along a canal from the Ann Frank House to the Van Gogh Museum. Van Gogh was many things – hard to understand as an artist, hard to categorize as a post-impressionist painter, hard to understand his relationship with Gauguin and hard of hearing – what with that cutting off of the ear incident and all. The museum is great, but don’t go there expecting to see one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings, Starry Night, as it is owned by the Museum Of Modern Art in New York. You couldn’t even buy a replica of that painting, as all rights are owned by MOMA. I almost got thrown out of the place for even mentioning the painting.
It was another short walk from there to the Heineken Brewery – where the highlight of the tour is at the end – not only is it over, but that’s where you get to drink a few Heineken beers, which we could have done at home. The low-light of the tour was a Disney-like ‘ride’ where you are an imaginary grain of barley or a hop or some yeast or something and they put you through the beer brewing process. We might have been better off and certainly many Euros ahead if we’d just gone to a café next door and ordered a Heineken.
The ‘Red Light District’ made up for it. All this time I thought Las Vegas was the ‘Disneyland for adults’. Goodbye Vegas, hello Amsterdam. Prostitution is not only legal, but also quite uniquely advertised. We walked down the street and there in store window after store window are attractive young ladies dressed rather scantily just standing there ‘selling there wears’. I did feel a journalistic obligation to stop and interview a few of these working girls, but Linda failed to see the literary value in that pursuit. Between shop windows there might be a drug store – no, not the kind of drug store we’re used to, but a place to buy a sampling of various cannabis leaves, without a doctor’s prescription. The reality is that you really don’t have to buy it, just walk down the street and inhale deeply.
I know we did some other things over that three day period, like canal rides, other museum visits, visits to great restaurants and bars, but it’s all a little foggy right now, perhaps I was inhaling too deeply as I wandered through Amsterdam.
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