Monday, June 25, 2018

Why One Shouldn't Rent a Pedal Boat in Amsterdam

I slept relatively well last night: over eight hours. However, I did take a sleeping pill when I woke up at 12:40 am, after which I slept another 6 and a half hours.  Shayna was rather tired this morning; Matt’s snoring woke her up and she had a lot of trouble falling back asleep. 

After breakfast, we headed out to the Amsterdam Free Food Tour.  It’s not really free; you don’t pay anything in advance, but the guides work for tips. Our guide, Marius, was a lot of fun, and was very patient and helpful in answering all our questions.  We started out with a chocolate shop where we tried poffertjes, which are usually called dutch minipancakes, but sort of resemble madeleines.  They have a “pancakey” taste.  We also got to try some raw chocolate beans, which are very, very bitter (I passed).  Finally, we were offered some of their homemade ice cream: mandarin orange and mango.  The orange had a delicate, floral taste, while the mango was refreshing.

Our next stop was a short distance away: a store specializing in tradition and non-traditional Dutch cheese. After seeing the process by which gouda is made we were offered a variety of samples, including young gouda (very tasty), very aged gouda (dry, crumbly, and more intense), and numerous flavored goudas, including chili pepper (sort of a pepper jack taste), fenugreek (nutty), lavender (the only blue – colored – cheese I’ve ever liked), and the guide’s favorite: asparagus.  It did have an asparagus smell and grassy taste, but I think I liked the plain gouda best.

We visited a very old gin distillery, but didn’t get any samples.  Afterwards, we walked to a seventeenth-century Catholic church, which was hidden in an attic. The Dutch Republic was one of the first governments to grant freedom of conscience, but that did not include the right to public worship.  Catholics were not arrested, but if they wished to pray, they could only meet in private.

Since we had one ten-year old and one infant, he couldn’t bring us into the Bulldog, the oldest pot coffee shop in Amsterdam, but we learned about its history.  I couldn’t help but notice how many locations they had on this block, so I asked him if they owned the whole street.  “They might,” he replied; “it certainly seems like it.”  Pot is a $1 billion+ a year business in Amsterdam, and the Bulldog has made a significant portion of it.  “I once saw a man with dreadlocks,” he told me, “walking a dog on a golden chain.”  “Was he the owner of the coffee shop?” I asked.  “I think so,” he answered.

At a store specializing in pot products, we learned which ones work (the brownies), and which ones are just for show (the lollypops). After that was one of the highlights of the tour:  the young herring.  In other parts of the Netherlands, they eat it whole, but in Amsterdam, they cut it up and serve with pickles and chopped onions. At first Shayna wasn’t interested, but she was convinced after I told her that it was really Dutch sushi.

I asked the guide where we could get nordzeetong (aka Dover sole).  He pointed at the rather art nouveau restaurant behind the herring stand:  the Seafood Bar.  I had seen it recommended online.  I checked and they did have sole.  We also stopped for stroopwaffel, while learning about their history.  Oddly enough, the ten-year old was the only one who refused to try any.

After passing by one of the most popular chips stands in Amsterdam (all of which is topped with mayonnaise sauce <>), we ended our two-plus hours’ tour at a pool hall where the served “bitterballen.” These are balls of dough that have beef and beef broth mixed with flour, coated with breadcrumbs and fried.  They were tasty, but I found the soggy interior off putting.  After tipping the guide, we hurried back to the hotel to meet dad.

We decided to get our lunch by the museum, so we took the tram and again got off at the Concert-Gebouw.  “Why don’t we try the museum café?” I suggested.  We did.  Dad again skipped having anything solid, preferring to have a large orange juice and water.  Matt and I both ordered the smoked salmon sandwich, while Shayna had the goat cheese salad with quinoa, walnuts, beets, and watercress.

Yesterday afternoon was cool and breezy; today was warm and sunny.  We started our tour of the Rijksmuseum on the second floor with the Dutch masters wing, culminating in Rembrandt’s The Nightwatch.  While everyone enjoyed the paintings, dad was a little disappointed not to see Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson, but that turns out to be in a museum in The Hague.  It was pretty clear to me that I had a lot more energy than anyone else in our group for touring the museum. 

Going through the first floor of the museum, my dad pointed out various objects that he really liked, such as some elaborate porcelain and glassware.  Shayna was very excited to find the print by Toulouse-Lautrec that she absolutely loves.  The last room is dedicated to an enormous painting of the Battle of Waterloo.  Shayna announced that she hates Napoleon as he was setting up dictatorships.  “But why root for the tsar and for the Prussians?” I asked her.  After all, Napoleon liberated the Jews of Europe from ghettoes and spread the values of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

It was now 4:30 pm and we’d been in the museum for 1.5 hours.  We still hadn’t seen the post-post-impressionist wing on the 3rd floor, and Shayna, despite being more than a little tired wanted to see their Mondrian.  At that point they announced over the loudspeakers that the museum would be closing in half an hour.  Shayna and I ran up four flights of stairs to see their one Mondrian.  I really enjoyed some of the expressionist works they had up there, as well as, for some reason, an airplane.  After about 15 minutes we went back downstairs to meet Matt and dad, and I picked up my bag while they visited the gift shop. There, I found some napkins in a Delft pattern my mom requested.

Dad was tired, so we took him back to the hotel after which Matt and Shayna and I returned to the museum area to rent pedal boats.  This was probably not the best travel decision I’ve ever made.  I had thought that there would be pedals for all of us, but it turns out only for the two in front.  Furthermore, because it was late in the day (5:40 pm), most of the boats were blocked by other now idle boats, so the only one we could take out turned out to have some water on the floor (about 1-2”).  I got in first, followed by Shayna, and then Matt, who sat in the back.  The rudder was a bar in the middle.  We started pedaling while I also tried to steer.  I didn’t want to get my feet wet, and I thought my nephew could use the exercise, so I suggested he and I trade places.  Matt and Shayna would peddle while I would steer. 

The first problem was that in order to steer, the boat needed to be going faster than the current.  If they paused pedaling, the boat would drift into the main traffic lanes or into moored boats. At the same time, pedaling was pretty strenuous activity, and I could hear Matt and Shayna huffing and puffing.  Even when the boat was moving, though, the rudder was very sluggish and non-responsive. 

This is what it sounded like in the boat.

“I need you to pedal.”
“I NEED you to pedal faster.”
“Pedal faster!”
“Uncle Jeff, we’re going to hit the wall! Steer left”
“I’M TRYING! But unless we’re moving the rudder won’t work.”
<> as we bump into the canal wall.

Did I mention that people in other boats watching us were laughing and filming?

After about ten minutes, I decided we better turn around and head back to the dock.  The final problem was mooring the boat as there was now only one narrow space between the dock and a larger boat and I was worried about hitting boats trying to back it in.  Finally, a worker bee came out and told us we should back in. I refused. Eventually, we went in nose first and he tied us up. How to get out?  He suggested we make our way across the wet, sloping front of the boat, but that didn’t seem like a good idea.  I said “why can’t we just step over into the next boat.” “Ok” he answered.  In less than 30 seconds we were back on dry land.

I was afraid they might hold our deposit after that, but they did return it.  We then went back to the hotel.

At the front desk, I asked the clerk if he would make reservations for us for dinner, but it turns out that they only reserve half their tables.  They suggested walking over there and trying in person.  On the way, I had a “hit and walk” incident.  Trying to avoid a pedestrian, I bumped into a parked bike.  Five seconds later I heard a crash.  I turned around and saw that the bike I bumped and fallen over and taken a second bike with it.  I looked up and a group of twenty tourists were pointing at me and laughing.  I sheepishly walked away.

After all that it turned out that they don’t take walk up reservations and suggested that if I came back at 7:30 pm with everyone, we might have to wait.  I scampered back to the hotel (via a different route) and woke everyone up to come to dinner.

Matt was delighted with the way the white walls and the fish smells reminded him of the restaurant run by the family in Granada with whom he stayed.  They had a very nice display of fish and shellfish, and dad was suitably impressed.  He started with the lobster bisque, which was very nice and rich.  He and I both ordered the dover sole, while Matt and Shayna both had the fritto misto, a selection of fried squid, shrimp, and salmon.  Our sole came sautéed but whole, with bones in place.  This led to a very quiet meal.  Dad enjoyed the sole, but would have preferred fillets. 

Since the meal was relatively light, we headed over for pancakes by the flowermarket.  Most of the shops had closed for the “night” (it is only now, at 10:55 pm, getting dark), but the Old Dutch Pancake House was still open. For some reason, it’s decorated with murals of Venice. Dad got a slice of apple pie, Matt and I each ordered the poffertjes with Nutella sauce, while Shayna had the sugar pancake.  We then watched part of the Iran-Portugal match, and saw Portugal make the first goal of the game.  Dad then argued with Matt and Shayna about who just had to pay a multi-million dollar fine for tax evasion.  Dad said it was Renaldo, while Matt and Shayna insisted on Messi.  I just looked it up:  dad was right.

When Shayna went souvenir shopping, I headed up to the train station to pick up our tickets for tomorrow.  Unfortunately, the international desk closed at 9 pm, just 20 minutes earlier.  I’ll have to get up a little early tomorrow to buy them before breakfast.

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