- I ate a pancake in the smallest restaurant in Europe. (Just like the Beastie Boys.)
- A pigeon hit me in the head as I walked through Dam square. This was odd for a couple reasons: The Dutch are as tall as me therefore the bird should have had plenty of practice around guys my size, I was standing still so it wasn’t even close to my fault. The only explanation is that the bird was stoned like the rest of the kids under 30 at Dam Square.
- If you legalize pot in your state (Washington, where I live is one of the US states where you can buy left-handed cigarettes) Amsterdam’s casual drug use isn’t shocking at all. Now the prostitution…that’s another deal.
- You can rent a booth in the red light district and go into business…I think. There were lots of “Rent me” signs in empty booths in the red light district. This surprises me because I thought the sex workers had lots of regulations to follow. So, if you are looking for a way to make a little extra spending money on your vacation…
- The Van Gogh museum has online tickets…do not stand in line like an idiot.
- The Rijksmuseum has tickets online, but there wasn’t any line at all.
- The Anne Frank museum is not over-rated. You must go, but get your tickets about 60 days in advance or you’ll be waiting in line with the rest of the rubes. I think the website opens each months reservations on the first day of the month. For example, I bought my tickets for July 7th on May 1st.
- Those auto-massage chairs in the airport are worth the 2 Euros.
- Running up an escalator to pass time in an airport at my advanced age was funny for the first 30 seconds, but when I went crashing to the ground the two old ladies who were watching me were pretty scared. They said, “Are you okay?” How did they know to speak to me in English? Hmmm…probably because any European would know better than to do something that stupid.
- No matter where I go I end up sitting in front of someone who is messing with my chair. They guy on our flight from Amsterdam to Munich grabbed my seatback three times to pull himself up to standing. The flight took an hour, nobody needs to get up that many times. It was like he was trying to launch me over a castle wall.
- Get the strawberries and cream pancake.
- Eat a strupwaffle. Actually eat five of them.
- Dutch is the funniest of languages.
- Amsterdam needs better man-hole covers.
- The liquids on planes thing is more strict in Europe, but you can take your pet rock with you.
- Canal tours with The Damn Boat Guys is really great, and not just because I got some free beer.
- The Dutch mix their housing. Wealthy people live alongside people who have subsidized housing. “Isn’t that how it should be?” our boat guide asked. Yep, that is how it should be.
- If you find yourself in a Turkish restaurant where no one speaks your language, do not try the yogurt drink. Sometimes trying new things has a cost.
- Old paintings and statues of musicians often portray them as drunks…things haven’t changed too much in 500 years.
If you survive the first five minutes of walking on the streets of Amsterdam you will probably be fine the rest of your stay, but if you hear a the ding-ding of a bicycle bell coming from an unexpected direction then brace yourself for an impact. You probably won’t be hit by the bicyclist, unless he is a drunk Englishman in Amsterdam for his bachelor’s party, but be assured–it is your fault. The Dutch will not hit you with a bike, they are too good at riding for that. Before I traveled to Amsterdam I read about the number of bicycles on streets, I read about being aware while you walk the streets, I read a lot, but nothing can really prepare you for playing a real life game of Frogger on the sidewalks and pavement of the city. (If you don’t know the video game Frogger then here is a quick description: Try to cross a street without getting squished.) Each time my wife and I approached street crossings like we were members of Seal Team 6: look left, right, up, down, behind, forward, left again, right again…announce, “After the guy in the white shirt,” and then run like hell across the street.
I did not see a single accident while I was in Amsterdam and there is a single reason for that, Dutch patience. The Dutch are tolerant: Legal soft drugs, legal prostitution, and most impressively, not shouting or running over tourists who are operating on the false premise that a crosswalk means something in Amsterdam. The Dutch attitude about life seems to be, “I don’t mind waiting.”
My first encounter with this attitude was when my wife and I hopped onboard a trolley to get to our hotel. I didn’t know how much a train ticket costs, because I’m an idiot. I didn’t have my money ready, because I’m an idiot. I barely knew where I was going, because I’m an idiot. The trolley was packed to the brim, and the driver closed the door behind us and said, “Put the money here when you are ready.” Then he started driving the trolley. It was as if he wasn’t aware that he should be stressed out. Which is probably why the Dutch live longer than people in the US do even though they smoke like they are all on an episode of Mad Men.
Because I am American and have a built in drive to be first this country is confusing. It is the most chaotic and organized place ever. If Mogidishou and the German rail system had a baby it would be Amsterdam. Several times during our time in Amsterdam we accidentally cut in line. The first time was when we were at a fast food place near our hotel and I wanted to get a deep fried Dutch treat. We came in, saw a guy standing near the ordering place assumed he had already ordered and then began an awkward attempt at ordering food because we speak no Dutch at all. (We ended up with two plates of fries, two deep fried things filled with mashed potatoes and ham or sausage. It was very good whatever it was.) Only after we finished did we realize we had cut in front of the guy standing there. We apologized, he said, “No, problem,” and I believe he was telling the truth. To him it really was no problem. I, on the other hand, am taking pictures of everyone cutting in line in front of me while I’m traveling so I can have a post titled: People who cut in front of me, when my trip is done. Another example was when our boat tour was delayed, the guy in charge, Vincent, said, “I’m sorry this is our screw up, go into the bar and order a beer and I’ll pay for it.” Really? Okay, if you say so. If Vincent was German I don’t think we would have waited in a bar drinking free beer.
How the Dutch became so tolerant of others is simple, “It’s bad for business.” I heard this from a couple people therefore it must be true. The Dutch are no longer running all over the world like they did during the Golden Age, but for a country no bigger than the average American state, they do pretty well.
What this attitude does for the traveler is makes Amsterdam a very easy place to visit. It is safe. Almost everyone speaks English. It is not a particularly expensive European city and you are free to screw up without much pressure, but if you hear a little ding-ding from behind don’t try to figure it out, get out of the way, that bell tolls for you.