An Official Resident of Amsterdam
It's official. I am now a resident of Amsterdam -- I bought my first bike and I have the bruises to prove it. I am a first time biker but after a few terrifying days and nights, I was cruising and loving it. In true Netherlands fashion, my bike here is a one speed, with back-pedal breaks. It’s the most fun, convenient, and fast transportation possible. “Cycling” is so ingrained in the culture here that the equivalent of a soccer mom mini van is a sturdy bike, with seats attached in the front and back for the kids, and large bags dangling from each side.
Just recently traveled to Leiden, a town in the South of Holland. I went on Saturday, market day, and the squealing of happy children was just drowned out by the sound of koffie vendors and bargaining shoppers. The homemade stroopwafels smelled heavenly, like sugary crispy goodness, but it was quickly cancelled out as I wandered past fish vendors stinking up their whole section of cobblestone. I could not believe my eyes as I saw small fishes, whole, poking out of hot dog buns. The market reminded me of the Albert Cuyp Market here in Amsterdam. You can find everything from tacky to practical in one place from new boots and scaly fish to lychees and lingerie.
A few weeks ago I was invited to see a string orchestra perform at the Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ – Concert Hall of the 21st Century. We may have been the youngest people there, but it was a wonderful experience. The building itself was worth a visit. The main stage was backlit and made of tiers of layered wood. Absolutely beautiful for all the senses – free wine and coffee too! To top the night off, our new friend, one of the violinists, was staying in a house boat, which he graciously invited us to explore. It was nighttime when I was there, but I'm sure that during the day I could have duck watched from the bedroom. We mostly spent our time chatting and midnight snacking, like it was perfectly normal to be floating in a canal on a Tuesday night.
I've done a bit of partying at local clubs here. The best night I've had yet was when we bought tickets for Hercules and Love Affair, and Aeroplane – both electronic funk DJ acts, the former hailing from Brooklyn. The concert was part of 5 Days Off, Amsterdam's version of SXSW, though mostly electronic music. The show was the closest to a rave I'd like to come, and we didn't stop smiling for one strobing, sweaty, loud bit of it. The atmosphere of the clubs here is an eclectic mix of grungy students, sophisticated late twenty-somethings, and older couples who are still raging. Not that different from New York except you find them all in the same place!
One of my favorite afternoons here was spent at the Amsterdam Flea Market at the Wharf. It was by far the biggest flea market I have ever seen. We took a free ferry to get across the water. Rows and rows of old junk mixed with a bit of treasure, all housed in a giant, otherwise empty, warehouse along the harbor. It had the familiar mustiness of indoor flea markets, but it was mixed with the salty air blowing in, and the distinctive smell of frites with mayo, and poffertjes – tiny, puffed pancakes with powdered sugar. We also made sure to sneak around the corner to watch 5 year olds, without helmets, cruise around an indoor skate park in a neighboring warehouse. This area is called “The Containers,” as it is designed completely within converted storage warehouses.
Every day this week has been absolutely beautiful – sunny and not too cold. I'm hoping its a sign of the warm spring season to come. Eagerly awaiting the tulips, not so much the tourists – or as I see them now, the biking hazards.