After nearly being run down twice by the ubiquitous Amsterdam bicyclists, we understood our cabbie's advice...watch for bicycles. Riders apparently have no restrictions on where or which way they can ride. And they're everywhere all the time. Before we crossed any alley or street we'd carefully look each way. Even then you couldn't be sure.
We found new drinks. Hot chocolate, whipped cream and white rum. Try it. We found ourselves seated at our favorite cafe ordering the hot chocolate drink before noon...yikes!! Then we found Genever. Made by Bols, it is a white liquor similar to gin or vodka, but different. We went to the Bols Distillery and took the tour...which included cocktail tasting. Highly recommended. I think the British developed "Gin" from the Dutch "Genever". Could be, but there is only a slight similarity between the two liquors.
Dutch food falls somewhere between fair and good. Nothing great. The coffee is also only fair. But the cheese!!! Yes, the cheese. Excellent. We ate a lot of cheese.
A word about the Red Light District. Mostly it's the most interesting part of town--restaurants, cafes, bars, coffee houses...and, yes, lonely women dressed in black undies sitting in windows smiling at folks walking past. Made me sad, mostly. Certainly not tempting.
Amsterdam has some strange customs. You can smoke pot most everywhere, but cigarette smoking is restricted. Pam and Tom went into a coffee house to sit and get warm and drink some coffee. The waiter told them that they'd have to buy some pot before he could serve them coffee...there was another coffee house called The Green District (or something like that) where young people sat around giant hookahs in the windows puffing away and watching the sidewalk scene. The smell of pot hung in the air on most streets. No sweat. Very exotic.
New Year's Eve is celebrated in Amsterdam with an unending fireworks show. We noticed sporadic bangs all day. We noticed that the noise level and frequency of bangs increased as the day passed. By midnight the sky was filled with rockets and colored stars. This celebration lasted for at least 2 hours and the air was filled with ash that we thought was snow. A remarkable way to ring out the old year and usher in the new.
Our family trips to Europe have been, in their own ways, remarkable. This trip to Amsterdam was no exception. It was very emotional for me. I'd been to Amsterdam once before in the mid-70's. This time around my health prevented me from engaging in all the walking and sight-seeing. I nearly broke down in the Van Gogh Museum from a sense of pain and sadness looking at all the masterpieces that people ignored or ridiculed during the artist's lifetime.
But there was also a powerful sense of joy and love. We were together during the holidays and Tom's birthday. Pam told us it was her best Christmas ever. Tom said it was his best birthday. I'm hardly ever sure whether my plans make sense. Most times I'm moving on hunches and hopes. But this visit to Amsterdam will lay in my heart forever.