“Heaven on Earth” and Staircases That are Basically Ladders
by Eli Hodapp
This is the first day since I entered the European Union that I even vaguely had the opportunity to sleep in. After needing to be up, already have eaten breakfast, and be ready to roll by 8:30 AM (or way earlier, for my flight from Marseille to Amsterdam) being able to sleep until 10:00 AM was an incredible luxury. I’ve been pushing hard and heavy on the Ambien this trip, and haven’t really had any negative side effects to speak of, so that’s cool.
My buddy Brian and I met up to get some breakfast at a nearby coffee place late this morning, and it just so happens they also make amazing breakfast there. I had a cafe con leche which was just out of this world, followed by this crazy not-quite-a-breakfast-sandwich sandwich consisting of toast, bacon, cheese, and scrambled eggs. After the whole ketosis siet thing I’ve become an incredible stickler for acceptable scrambled eggs as I’ve gotten to the point of basically cooking them to perfection, and these were no slouch.
Once breakfast was over, we went to go rent bikes which went off without a hitch. 50€ is buying me a bike rental for the duration of my trip, complete with insurance in case it gets stolen. That seems pretty radical given both the prices of taxies and the tram. Having not ridden a bike with any regularity since basically before I could drive it took a little while to gain biking confidence, but after about 15 minutes we were both zooming around Amsterdam. It’s a truly unique experience biking here, since as long as you follow the few vague signs and markings you basically have complete right of way.
It’s really kind of ridiculous, at least from an American perspective, as riding a bike through Amsterdam is basically like parting the Red Sea. Everyone moves, cars stop for you, etc. You just go where you want to go, and as long as you obey the triangles on the sidewalk to yield right of way to other bikes to merge on to main bike paths, you’re good to go. One thing that we’re doing which seems a little silly to me is that in the absence of anything to chain our bikes to, we’re just chaining them together.
Brian insists that no one will steal them, but the way I look at this is that two bikes chain together is more or less just a two-for-one for any thief out there. Although, I suppose for this to work you’d need some sort of pick up truck to throw the bikes into and I’ve yet to see one of those in Amsterdam. So, we might be safe. Either that or bike thieves just want nothing to do with the absolute most touristy grandma bikes on the planet. That’s another possibility- And a strong one at that.
So, with our new whips we headed to Rembrant’s house which actually was pretty fascinating and huge. Apparently here in The Netherlands, property tax is calculated based on the square footage of your land, which is why so many of the houses are so ridiculously narrow and small. In fact, “dutch staircases” are a thing, in that your typical building has a spiral staircase to get upstairs that’s so narrow you’re basically climbing a ladder that vaguely looks like stairs.
It’s hard to really get a perspective on this photo, but the longest wall you can see is maybe six feet long. Meanwhile, the stairs leading down will descend an entire story. It’s crazy, and this stairwell in particular is at our hotel and isn’t even the worst one I’ve come across yet. The stairs to get down to the bathroom at the restaurant we went to for dinner was more or less like changing levels in a submarine.
Anyway, Rembrant’s house was great. Apparently he totally over-extended himself financially, so lucky for historians, there’s a shockingly accurate account of the contents of his house and where it all went thanks to the bankruptcy proceedings. We saw his studio, got a demonstration on how the plate etching and printing process worked, and got to see his collection of natural artifacts which ranged from pieces of ancient greek sculpture to a stuffed armadillo and everything in between.
Following that, we headed off to the Rijksmuseum which is Amsterdam’s collection of paintings from Dutch masters. Inside was all sorts of exhibits ranging from elaborate doll houses to various pieces of porcelain to paintings out the wazoo. This all makes me wish I knew more about art, as it seems like when I go to museums like this I just try to absorb as much as I can and hope I recognize it later. The only thing I really knew of the whole museum was Rembrandt’s The Night Watch which I found to be personally fairly disappointing since that painting is basically as recognizable as the Mona Lisa and other seriously noteworthy pieces of art.
After hitting two different museums it was around lunch time and ended up getting some killer sandwiches (and actual coffee) directly across the street from the not-so-inconspicuously named “Coffeeshop Reefer.” We sat and ate lunch, watching the various boats pass by the canal and different groups of unruly school kids out on the prowl- All of which seemed to enjoy the snow significantly more than we were.
Lunch was followed by hitting up this apparently permanent street market affair that we stumbled across earlier to buy some really cool leather bags. For 10€ I picked up a cool little bag that’s just barely big enough for an iPad mini, a pair of headphones and sunglasses. I think it looks cool, but it is every bit a murse, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.
In the early afternoon I returned to the hotel to clear out my email inbox and do some other work. Time quickly flew by, and it seemed like a few moments later we were out on the town again. Brian and I got invited out to this ultra-fancy Dutch restaurant called Greetlje which apparently is deep down the spectrum of Amsterdam fine dining. to start, we ordered a bunch of small plates ranging from bread served with pig fat, black pudding, goat cheese pearls, venison pastrami, and some sort of crazy foie gras mini sandwich that was basically the bastard child of incredible foie gras and french toast.
When at restaurants like this, I typically just tell the waiter to bring me whatever the best thing they have is since I really don’t consider myself a connoisseur of Dutch food, or really, even able to make an intelligent decision when staring down the barrel of a mega-Dutch menu. This resulted in a suggestion of veal shank being the best thing the restaurant has to offer.
I’m not really crazy about veal on any level, especially American veal which largely is raised and kept completely in stocks. I always avoid eating veal whenever possible because of this, but, I feel like if you’re at a fancy restaurant and the waiter recommends veal, you shut your mouth and eat it. Additionally, apparently, European veal isn’t anywhere near as cruel as American veal. European veal is merely well-handled young cows, versus young cows basically kept in miserable captivity until they’re killed. So, my conscious is… slightly clear?
Brian got pheasant, which seemed especially legit, and exponentially more so when he pulled a tiny pellet of bird shot out of his mouth.
Dinner was followed by a digestif of something called “Heaven on Earth” which is a liqueur that, if the waiter is to believed, is only available in Amsterdam. The best way to describe it was an infinitely more complex version of an almond liqueur like amaretto or something. Except where amaretto takes a turn for the disgustingly sweet, this hinges more on super strong herbal notes. I’d love to find this stuff back home, and I really hope it’s possible, as this is easily as much of a drinking revelation as glögi was in Finland.
A quick walk back to the hotel and I was online and ready to record our podcast, but unfortunately, the hotel WiFi is sucking too badly tonight for Skype to even work for Jared and Brad are regrettably flying solo. If there’s one universal constant in life, it’s that hotel WiFi always sucks. Even if it did work, there was some constant annoying beeping which Brian later discovered to be some people who were allegedly trapped in our elevator that he rescued.
A true American hero.
Regardless of the factual accuracy of this supposed rescue, Amsterdam has been awesome so far and it’s been infinitely more fun to travel with another guy I know who is intimately familiar with the city than going to something like this myself- Even if it involves lots of awkward biking.