A Trip to Amsterdam – VII

As always with a vacation, there’s a bunch of miscellaneous items of interest that can’t really be collected into a specific “theme”. The places are widely scattered geographically, they’re small enough so that detailed posts aren’t called for, etc. Then there are all the general observations about the city and local customs.

This final post on Amsterdam will cover all of that, since you’re probably as tired of reading about it as I am of writing it.

The Tulip Museum packs a surprising amount of information in what is essentially the basement and back room of a store. A very cool series of displays shows how the tulip got from its natural origins in the “Stan” countries to Persia to Constantinople to the Netherlands to modern gardens.

The Torture Museum isn’t really that great. They did have a nice collection of devices used for everything from shaming people who talked too much to causing intense pain until the suspect spilled the beans, but I was honestly expecting to see some information on where and when those objects came from. I suspect, in retrospect, that all the devices were reconstructions and replicas and not original objects. I suppose that the intent of the exhibit is to either “scare” people (when you visit the place with a bunch of friends, you can creep each other out by talking about what it must have been like to have one of those devices used on you, or you can tease each other with threats of using them) or get people thinking about the use of torture and the “third degree” in the modern world.

One place that actually is worth at least a half day visit is the Amsterdam Museum, the museum of the city and its history. They do indeed cover a good deal of the city’s past, but they realize that history doesn’t stop once you get into “living memory”. When I visited, one large exhibit was on The Paradiso, a famous nightclub that’s celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year.

And tucked away in a little room on the top floor is an exhibit on Bet van Beeren, the legendary proprietor of the Café t’Mandje. I don’t know of any other place that’s honored a barkeeper with a room in their history museum! I wish I found out about it in time to pay the actual café a visit. Maybe next time….

Also worth a visit – during the few hours that they are open – is the Cat Boat. That’s a houseboat converted to a shelter for stray (and adoptable!) cats. Cat lovers have given it a high rating on all the tourist info sites like Trip Advisor.

Speaking of houseboats, you’d probably like to live on one in this city of canals, right? Turns out that Amsterdam restricts their number. And although you might own the boat, you rent the water. And the “rent” in terms of fees and taxes is very high. And all the available spaces are taken. You’ll have to wait until someone dies or a boat sinks (which does happen) for a space to open up.

I also note that while the city is very “walkable”, it can be tough on your feet. Many of the sidewalks and alleys are paved with bricks or paving stones, making the surface rather uneven and lumpy. Even with cushioned insoles in my shoes, my feet and knees were killing me after two days. Pay attention when crossing streets, too! There are often separate lanes for bikes and trams, and sometimes they even cross each other with their own signals.

In my research prior to my trip, I read that tipping isn’t as “required” as it is here in the US. But pretty much every little coffee or snack shop had a tip jar, and every restaurant had space to include a tip on the bill. It was confusing. I hope I didn’t embarrass myself. And speaking of paying at a store or restaurant, many places are going with the “No Cash Accepted” trend. Look for modest signs at the entrance with the circle and diagonal line over a representation of bills and coins.

In addition to the “sex work” that’s available in the Red Light District (heck, even the “Welcome to the Netherlands” magazine in my hotel room had advertisements for “escort services”), another legal vice in the country is marijuana. There seems to be a head shop, “coffee shop”, or “seed bank” on every block. I don’t think you’ll need to visit one; you might get a contact high just from the second-hand smoke as you walk by.

And it seems that every one of these places has a snack shop of some sort right next door – which allows me to discuss Dutch cuisine.

I don’t think there really is something that you could call “Dutch cuisine”. True, they do know their cheese (when it’s Gouda or Edam), their bar snacks – vlaamse frites and bitterballen – are great, and they can do amazing things with pancakes. But as far as a national cooking style, I didn’t notice anything special. Waffles, chocolate, and vlaamse frites, for that matter, all look like they were “borrowed” from Belgium

Though given the histories of the two countries, I suspect it went more like this:

BELGIUM: Hey, Netherlands, we’re looking to come up with our own national culture. Got any spare food items we can use in our national cuisine?

NETHERLANDS: Well, we’ve got these fried potato stick things and cocoa powder we’re not doing much with….

BELGIUM: Great! What about waffles? Can we have them, too?

NETHERLANDS: Well…..OK. But we keep pancakes.

BELGIUM: That works! Thanks!

I suppose that the country is too small geographically to have the sort of diverse agricultural base that allows for the development of a national cuisine. And their overseas colonial empire was more about business and trade rather than owning territory, so they were more interested in importing and reselling goods than bringing in immigrants (or slaves, for that matter) and their associated culture that actually used those goods as ingredients.

Considering their close relationship with the sea, one would think they’d be doing amazing things with fish. They actually do have this one thing called “haring”. You know how every culture seems to have this one food item that no one outside that culture eats or even understands? The Scots have haggis, Norwegians have lutefisk, Sardinians have casa marzu, the United States has White Castle hamburgers… Well, here’s the deal with “haring”. Take a whole herring, and prepare it for consumption. I don’t know exactly what that preparation involves, but the important step is to cut the head off and then pull the bones and guts out. The key is in the way you eat it. Grab it by the tail, tilt your head back, and lower it into your mouth, eating it as you go…. I’m thinking that this is not actually something the Dutch eat regularly (a haggis equivalent), but something they came up with to prank the tourists. “Here, try this! It’s traditional! We eat it all the time! (snicker) You’ll love it! (giggle)” Just like Canada and poutine….

Perhaps I just didn’t go to the areas of the city that had the really good restaurants. But jeez….

I couldn’t turn around without seeing a “kebab house”, “pizza and steak” place (two kinds of food that should NOT come from the same restaurant), or “Argentinian steakhouse” that reminded me of a cheap Chinese takeout place – you know, the ones with the pictures of the menu items…. None of them looked at all appetizing. Or healthy. I even went to what was supposed to be a famous steak house. The steak was properly cooked and definitely came from a cow, but I could not tell what cut it was supposed to be. The thing was actually curled up like someone tried to do origami with it! And the Caesar’s salad? I’ve never seen one served with some slices of hard-boiled egg before. And while I have had many a chicken Caesar salad, those came with slices of grilled chicken breast. Not amorphous lumps of vaguely recognizable “chicken” that looked like they came from one of those cheap Chinese takeout places that have pictures of the menu items…..

Well, the Dutch did give us gin.

We’re good.

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