The cozy bed and linens in our suite make it impossible to want to get out of bed. This morning – or afternoon I should say – started a bit before noon when we finally decided we should get up and explore rather than wasting a precious Dutch day lazing in bed. I hesitantly pulled back the fluffy down duvet, put my feet on the cold floor and dragged myself to the hall cupboard to make espressos. We slowly got up and around, enjoyed our espressos on the patio, showered and started to think about where to go.
Today was a stunningly beautiful day – mid-70s and full sun. Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy and not as warm, so we knew we had to take advantage of the gorgeous day. We decided to make use of the Amsterdam City Walks cards on the bookshelf rather than trying to pinpoint everything on our ginormous, look-at-me-I’m-a-tourist map. I pulled out cards for Vondelpark, the flower market and the Red Light District, and we finally headed out, bound for the Van Gogh Musem – a detour on the way to Vondelpark and ultimately the RLD.
Van Gogh Museum:
I was a bit surprised when we arrived to find that there was no line. At all. We walked right up to the ticket window, purchased our tickets and went right in – through the metal detectors and into the crowded lobby. We passed from the lobby into a large room, open all the way up to the fourth floor with gorgeous, light colored wood floors and an impressive switchback staircase emerging from the far corner of the room. It’s very modern and airy.
We approached the desk and picked up audio guides (only €2 each) and climbed the stairs to the first level exhibits. Despite the fact that there was no line outside, the inside was packed with people, most of whom were pretty rude and pushy.
There is no photography allowed inside the museum, and they do enforce this rule (or at least they did when we were there) by confiscating cameras and making you reclaim them when you leave.
We started at the top of the stairs in front of Bedroom in Arles – a familiar painting I’ve seen many times, but never realized that it was meant to be van Gogh’s bedroom. It was interesting to listen to the audio guide tell about how it offered a rare, inside look into van Gogh’s private life and how it told so much about his standard of living, his perspective on life, and his artistic experience – thoughts I’d never considered just looking at a painting of a bed and mirror.
We followed the hall to the right and wandered through the first and second floors admiring works from peasant life portrayals, to florals, self-portraits and portraits of others who inspired him, a very moving painting of his father’s Bible and an extinguished candle – painted after his father’s death – meant to lament the relationship he’d had with his father, paintings of Paris neighborhoods, of wheat fields and bridges.
I have to admit, I’m not big on art museums, but it was really intriguing to follow the artistic progress and life evolution of van Gogh through the museum. Not only did the audio guide tell the story of the artwork, but it told of the relationship van Gogh had with his brother, Theo, who took care of him most of his life. The final room of the van Gogh collection was very dark and somber. These were paintings that followed his being committed to a hospital for depression, and led up to his death.
I had never heard the story of his death and was shocked to hear that he’d walked out into a field and shot himself in the chest, survived the shot and walked back to the inn where he’d been staying. He didn’t die for two days. What a way to go. I feel like I have a much greater understanding and appreciation of van Gogh’s art after visiting the museum, and I’m really glad we made it.
We followed the stairs up to the third level, where there were no van Gogh paintings – just paintings that inspired him. At this point, I was tired, hungry and not interested, so we dropped off the audio guides and took off, headed in the direction of Vondelpark and looking for somewhere to eat.
We walked back up the Museumplein and wandered up Hobbemstraat until we came upon a quaint little place, Restaurant Canaletto, with two side-by-side awnings – one advertising “Pizzeria” and the other “Argentinian Steak House.” There were several tables out front with couples dining, enjoying cappuccinos and Heinekens, seemingly oblivious to all the commotion on the busy street.
At this point, I was so hungry, all I could think of was a steak, so in we went. We got a nice table by the open windows along the front of the restaurant. The inside was very old school Italian – dark color hardwood floors and tables, worn from many years of patronage, I’m sure. The servers were extremely friendly, and quite Italian – which should have probably swayed me toward pizza, but I was craving meat at this point and pizza just wasn’t going to cut it.
I ordered a steak with bearnaise sauce, and K ordered a pimiento steak. We didn’t wait very long before our steaks came out along with super-sized baked potatoes and salads – a TON of food – and it was all so delicious! I’m not sure if I devoured every single bite because it was so good, or if I was just so hungry that I was happy to not have to gnaw on my arm. I have to say the steak didn’t really stack up to the lamb bernaise we had in Iceland, but it was still really tasty.
We ended the meal with an espresso and a cappuccino (because I can’t do the strong stuff unless I want to be cracked out for the rest of the day) as we chattered about nothing in particular and enjoyed our leisurely afternoon with nowhere to be other than where we wanted to be…no madhouse rushing to finish our meals, no work to stress us, no appointments to keep…just us being content.
After the bill was paid, we lazily made our way toward Vondelpark. Finally.
We entered the park through the decorative stone and marble entrance and wandered down the path toward the large pond that meanders through the length of the park.
The path opened up into a space that reminded me a lot of Central Park. There were people riding bicycles and roller skating, couples playfully romping around and relaxing on their blankets, kids playing ball and frisbee, others venturing to wade into the pond.
It was such an amazing day to be in the park – it made me sort of homesick for NY in a weird way. We stopped and lounged by the pond for a bit, enjoying the beautiful sunshine and the fresh air. A friendly and talkative Dutch girl stopped to take a few photos for us before she wheeled off on her bicycle again.
We had a hell of a time trying to make any sense of the Vondelpark walking card we’d carried with us since everything we had was in English, and all of the signs and maps in the park were labeled in Dutch, so we finally just forgot about the card and wandered around aimlessly. We grabbed a couple of bottles of water from a hotdog stand and headed off on a path.
It was fun wandering around, deciding at each crossroad which way to turn, with no set destination in mind. We strolled around exploring, finding our way across open fields with huge pine trees, over hidden, charming bridges, past gazebos and amphitheaters, around the perimeter and through the middle until we came upon a really amazing tree that I had to stop and photograph and rest on its branches.
The tree was growing at a steep angle out of the ground with its bottom branches resting on the ground and the roots protruding from the ground on the other end. Despite the position of the tree, it was in full bloom, seemingly unphased by its unfortunate circumstances. I took a short break and sat on one of the lower branches for a photo, though I felt a bit disrespectful using the poor tree’s already distressed boughs as a seat.
We walked back to the top of the pond and exited the park the same way we entered, back past the fountain and under the street overpass, back to the cast iron gates of the park. We walked out, from our bubble of serenity back into the city bustle, headed toward the flower market.
Bloemenmarkt Flower Market:
Unfortunately all of our lazing earlier in the day cost us the full flower market experience. As we rounded the corner and stared down the Singel Canal, we were disappointed to find that the majority of the stalls were already closed. Not content to let this opportunity slip by me, I quickly tore down the sidewalk and into the first stall that I found open.
I was amazed by the variety of merchandise – wooden decorative tulips, baskets full of all sorts of bulbs, cacti, oversize planters, colorful pre-arranged bouquets, vases, racks and racks of seeds – including flowers, produce and yes, even cannabis. The canal was lined with dozens of stalls, each bursting at the seams with their colorful displays of flowers. And did I mention this entire thing is floating? All of the stalls are situated on the Single Canal – the world’s only floating flower market. (Or at least they claim it’s the only.) Color me impressed. I’d never say I was a big flower person, but this was really awesome!
After 15 minutes or so, my short attention span caught up to me and I was sidetracked by a massive pair of clogs on the floor inside one of the souvenir shops. I, of course, had to stop and try them out. We quickly browsed the shop, curious to see if we’d find any new penis or boobie paraphernalia here, and then moved along.
Before we ventured too far, I stole one last look at the sun setting over the canal and the flower market. It was so breathtakingly beautiful and so classicly Dutch that I had to stop and take a photo. *sigh* How unexpectedly romantic here in the city of sex, drugs and overindulgence. I really wish I could put this moment in a bottle and take it home with me to take out and savor when I’m feeling stressed.
From the market, we started to meander back toward the Red Light District. We cut through a few open plazas, crossed several bridges, and found ourselves along what I assumed to be the main drag of the RLD – Achterburgwal. This was the first that we had really seen the RLD after dark, so we were easily distracted as we walked by the Vegas-style signs advertising sex and cannabis, multitudes of people flooding the area, dozens of languages flooding our ears, the rows and rows of doors opening into the Barbie doll boxes glowing a seductive red into the streets with girls of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities stuffed provocatively inside, waiting for someone to come knocking – and every so often a box with the curtains already drawn, leaving us to use our imaginations to decide what was going on inside. It was sensory overload. Big time.
At this point, after wandering most of the day, we had to use the bathroom pretty badly, so we ducked into a dive bar for a couple of Heinekens and a “free” toilet. They were playing good music (classic rock) and had a variety of sports games on the TVs. We had a couple of drinks and moved along.
NOTE: If you are my mother, grandmother, a closed-minded individual or a judgmental prude, the post ends here. No need to scroll any further.
We could see our next stop from where we stood outside the bar – a gigantic, electric, neon-pink elephant advertising Theatre Casa Rosso – beckoning us to cross the canal and come inside. We decided while we’re here, we have to go see a live sex show – for the novelty and because…well, it’s our honeymoon. So we crossed the canal.
Theatre Casa Rosso:
We stood in line, not really sure what to expect at all. It cost €35 per person, which included four beers each inside and a penis-shaped lollipop for me. (Yay?) The bouncers collected our money and went about their business as we stood and waited. And waited. And waited some more. After a bit, people came out and we were allowed in. They funneled us in the door and straight up a staircase to the balcony. We were getting pushed and shoved and couldn’t figure out why we weren’t moving until we finally made it up the stairs to find that the small balcony was packed out. And they wouldn’t let us downstairs because it was packed full as well. We pushed our way through the sea of dirty, pervy, European men to the bar, grabbed a handful of beers and were lucky to find two seats near the back of the balcony. Still unsure of just what to expect, I sat down and took my first look at what was going on down on the stage…
First up – a chick smoking a cigar with her vag. She would walk around, shake her ass a little, then lay back down on her puffy, round, rotating, Hugh Heffner-esque bed and stick the cigar back up her hoohoo and blow out puffs of smoke. Slightly disturbing, yet sickeningly intriguing. We stayed for about about an hour and a half, downing beers and watching acts that ranged from a rather obese woman dressed as a dominatrix who smacked a bachelor in the face with a dildo after she’d used it (Some lucky girl is going to be kissing that face soon!)…to a girl-on-girl scene…to a girl writing on another bachelor with the marker in her vag (Pretty good penmanship, I must say!)…to the typical guy-on-girl scenes.
Each scene was very cheesy and perfectly timed with the music. It was so strangely fascinating and humorous, and not at all erotic like I’d thought it might be. The more beers we tossed back, the more we laughed. After a while, the acts started to repeat themselves, and as much fun as we were having, we decided it was time to blow this joint and let another dirty perv have a seat.
We left around 9:00 and the night was still far too young to head home yet, so we decided to drink our way back home.
Cafe Old Sailor:
Cafe Old Sailor was the first bar we came to that had Amstel instead of Heineken. (It seems that they only serve one or the other in every bar around here – kind of like a Pepsi or Coke type of thing.) It was a really packed out dive, but they had cheap beer, an open table in the back and, most importantly, (extremely tiny) free bathrooms. The service wasn’t great, the music was loud and the crowd was rowdy. My favorite part of this bar was the giant paintings of Popeye and Olive Oil on the bathroom doors. Sure makes it difficult to get drunk and use the wrong restroom. Not that I’ve ever done that before…
We had a couple of beers here before we decided enough was enough and moved along. We walked for a bit, taking in the sights and sounds, trying not to gawk and managing to snap a few horribly underexposed photos of the RLD before we ducked into the next bar. No idea what it was called. But it had a bathroom. Which was becoming more and more critical the more we drank. We had a couple more Heineys and then stumbled back across Dam Square to the tram stop.
At this point, I was really hungry, so we decided to head back to Elsa’s near home for some late night Dutch food. Bad idea. By the time we got there, they weren’t serving food. So we sat outside under the awning and the heaters drinking more Amstel and chatting about the day, what to do tomorrow and a whole lot of other stuff.
After I’d decided I was sufficiently full from beer – or at least full enough to not miss dinner – we headed home and – against our better judgment, seeing as how we were already starving – headed up to the rooftop terrace. We took some ridiculous photos that I’m sure will make us cackle in the morning and prayed for our lives before heading back down the steep ladder to the balcony. It was a perfect night to sit out there. It’s a bit chilly, but I like the brisk air, and the quiet tranquility of the neighborhood is very peaceful and soothing. I’m very happy we chose to stay here rather than a hotel in the city center.
K is now asleep on the floor in front of the TV and I’m sitting here wishing like hell that I had a chocolate cake, 25 cheeseburgers, or even a packet of ketchup! I guess it’s time for bed so that I can stop thinking about food. Ah, sweet Amsterdam…