The Beers of Amsterdam

Here are a few beers I sampled on our recent travels in Amsterdam (not counting the six-pack of Grolsch I bought at the Albert Heijn store).

Beer: Hertog Jan Pils
Hertog Jan Brouwerij
** (6.7 of 10)

Comments: A bright gold beer with a must pilsener aroma and a crisp, dry taste.  Foamy lace lines the glass.  A nice, drinkable beer.

Beer: Wieckse Witte
De Ridder Brewery
** (6.3 of 10)

Comments: This is a cloudy, blond beer with a citrusy aroma and a dry, fruity taste.  The head evaporated quickly and did not leave much lacing.  Not my favorite style of beer, but not bad.

Beer: Budels Pils
Budelse Brouwerij B.V.
* (5.8 of 10)

Comments: “Just Beer,” a pilsener with a foamy, flat, golden appearance and a dry, grainy flavor.  The beer retains its carbonation and leaves a light lacing on the glass.  An OK, everyday beer.

Beer: Hertog Jan Springbier
Hertog Jan Brouwerij
*** (7.0 of 10)

Comments: A deep amber beer with a fluffy head.  The scent is musty, like cannabis, or perhaps the scent pervades everything here?  Sweet & malty with fruity highlights.  Sporadic lacing lines the glass and the head disappears quickly.  A decent beer for the season.

Book Review: The Assault by Harry Mulisch

Author: Harry Mulisch
Title: The Assault
Publication Info: New York : Pantheon Books, c1985.
ISBN: 0394542452


On a quiet street in Haarlem a Dutch Nazi collaborator is assassinated by the Resistance.  The Germans retaliate by destroying the house in front of which the body was found and executing all of the inhabitants.  The sole survivor is 12-year old Anton.  Anton manages to lead a seemingly normal life albeit one directed by apathy. The novel follows Anton’s life through various episodes in which he forced to recall that night and learn scraps of the truth behind why his family was killed.  Mulisch writes a thought-provoking novel about the moral gray areas in wartime but not without some hope and humor.

Favorite Passages:

Only later did Anton realize that almost nobody voted rationally, but simply out of self-interest, or because he felt an affinity for the members of a certain party, or because the leading candidate inspired confidence.  It was phsycobiological, in a way. In a subsequent election he voted somewhat more conservatively, for a newly founded party that claimed that the difference between right and left was obsolete.  Still, national politics meant little to him:  about as much as paper airplanes would mean to the survivor of a plane crash.

Recommended books: Stalemate by Icchokas Meras, Netherland by Joseph O’Neill, and The Dream Room by Marcel Möring.
Rating: ****

Amsterdam: There and Back Again

Sunday morning we woke up pretty early.  Peter slept all the way through the night.  I think we finally adjusted to the European time zone.  Must be time to go home again.

After packing up our stuff and straightening the apartment as best we could, there was still an hour until the bike rental shop opened.  I wanted to get out and see Amsterdam one last time and I knew Peter would enjoy another bike ride, so we went out while Susan took a nap.  It was quite a joy to be out in the city when everything was still and quiet.  We also were actually able to ride the bike fast.

So fast we were at Centraal Station within minutes.  Only the sanitation workers were out with street sweepers and hoses and even garbage trucks (the strike must be over).  I decided to pedal off to a more residential area and promptly got lost.  I knew where I was since all the signs said Westerpark but couldn’t figure out how to get back to the Centrum.  Finally I followed a bus heading back to Centraal Station.  Safely back on Prinsengracht, a group of tourists from Italy stopped me for directions to the Begijnhof which was actually quite a distance from where we were.

Peter & I rejoined Susan and we returned our bikes to Mac Bikes and then had breakfast at a neighboring bagel shop.  Then we went back to the apartment and brought all our stuff out on the stoop and flagged down the Stop/Go Bus to Centraal Station.  While I paid the fare, Peter rather hilariously climbed on the bus and found himself a seat in the back row.  He enjoyed the ride too, pointing out sites we passed and singing “Stop and go, stop and go; on to school — take it slow!”

We took the train to Schiphol Airport, flew to Keflavik Airport in Iceland, and after a delay onwards to home.

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Last Day in Amsterdam

A sunny Saturday in Amsterdam – our last full day in the city – and Amsterdam teems with humanity.  There are tourist by the bus, train, and bike load but there are also a great number of rowdy stag parties roaming the streets.  There are hen parties too although they seem more likely to hire a boat and sail along the canals playing dance music.  I did see a boat full of women and a boat full of men pass in front of our apartment.  When they met they all hooted and hollered at one another.  Then the men’s boat turned around and chased the women’s boat.  A few minutes later I saw the men’s boat sail by again on their orginal course.

Since we enjoyed bicycling so much on Thursday (especially Peter) we hired bikes again.  It was much busier at Mac Bikes today but since we knew how to manage the bike locks already we were out of there pretty quickly.  Today we rode to the east side of the city.  Along the Amstel River, Susan spotted a canalside cafe and so we stopped for a mid-morning snack at Cafe de Jaren.  We enjoyed the views and coffee and Peter covered himself in honey.

We pedaled on past the Hortus Botanicus (Botanical Garden) and Susan suggested we go in which was another brilliant idea.  Much of our botanical sightseeing was lead by a peripatetic toddler.  Peter insisted on wearing his bike helmet and enjoyed playing in the stream in the greenhouse and picking up gravel from the paths in the gardens.  We saw many cool things including the world’s oldest potted plant and colorful butterflies.

A visit to Amsterdam must include seeing an old windmill, so we rode on to De Gooyer Windmill.  It dates to 1725 and is the closest windmill to the Amsterdam city center.  It’s also adjacent to a brewpub I wanted to have lunch at, but sadly the brewpub was closed.  There was a nice cafe beneath the windmill where we ate lunch instead.  We rode back to the apartment for nap time passing old wharves of the Dutch East India Company that have been converted to residences.  Peter also requested another playground stop.

While Peter and Susan napped, I paid a visit to Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic).  This is a 17th-century canal house with the top three floors converted into a Catholic church used from the 1660’s to 1880’s when Catholicism was officially illegal in Amsterdam.  The lower floors are an interesting look into the life of an Amsterdam merchant family.  The church itself is undergoing restoration but the history geek in me enjoys seeing floorboards lifted up and layers of paint peeled away.  While in the area I walked around the Oude Kerk dating to 1306 and Sint Nicolaaskerk which replaced Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder in the 1880’s when Catholic worship was legal again. I also saw “Little Venice” which is the only place in Amsterdam where the water goes right up to the houses like in Venice.

Rejoining Susan & Peter we went for a lazy bike ride and stopped at two different playgrounds for Peter to play on.  Then we ate dinner at a charming little pizzeria called Il Boccalino.  Back home, Susan cleaned up while Peter and I sat on the bench watching boats and passersby.  A pleasant way to end our last day.

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A Tragic Artist and the Artists’ Quarter

Friday got off to a slow start after a rough night’s sleep.  By Peter’s request we visited his favorite playground so he could ride the teeter-totter and play in the sandbox.  Then we went to the Van Gogh Museum.  Apparently everyone else in the Netherlands and some surrounding countries decided to visit as well.  It was hard to see much of the art as people stood six deep at the popular works.  It got all to overwhelming for Peter so he and Susan went to the museum cafe and I continued on my own.  My tall genes helped me peer over to see Vincent’s great works.

Susan had her turn with the art and I took Peter out to the Museumplein where he asked to walk barefoot in the grass (such an artiste).  On the way home we watched some more baby coots.  Peter watched a video while I made sandwiches and then Susan came home and we all took a long nap.

Post-nap we took a stroll through De Pijp.  This neighborhood was built in the late 1800’s an was originally a red light district but today is Amsterdam’s Latin Quarter, home to students, artists, and immigrants from places like Suriname, Morocco, and Syria. De Pijp means “the Pipe” possibly because of the long narrow streets.  The tour started by the former Heineken Brewery.  The building is still there for administrative offices and a tourist attraction called The Heineken Experience.  For 15 euros we took a pass.  Heineken is a bad beer and I’ve been to St. James Gate which is much more interesting.

Along the walk we saw the former homes of artists and cabaret stars, houses built a acute angles called “slices of cake,” and returned to the Albert Cuyp street market which was rather noisily being cleaned up for the day. The tour ended and the lovely patch of green called Sepharti Park.  Peter discovered two playgrounds along the walk – one on a street corner and one in the park.  The park was also home to a wide range of birds splashing about in the man-made stream.

We returned home and Susan made a lovely supper and then to bed for a much-needed rest.

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Amsterdam by Fiets

Thursday was Ascension Day, a public holiday in Amsterdam.  Susan went out to get croissants for breakfast only to find all the patisseries closed.  Susan wept.  The bagel shop was open but their bagel oven was out of order.  So we had yogurt and coffee for breakfast.

We decided to travel around the city like true Amsterdammers and rented bikes from the Mac Bikes outlet near the Leidseplein.  The staff were really friendly and Peter was super excited to be riding on a little seat behind Daddy.  We toured through Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest park where we found not one but two playgrounds.  Peter played in both of them, enjoying the type of playground equipment that seems to be no longer allowed in the United States.  The second playground was adjacent to a cafe called the Groot Melkhuis where we were able to acquire the desired pastries.

We ventured out of the park for a longer ride around the west of Amsterdam where we saw apartment blocks and schools and other aspects of the day-to-day Amsterdam not geared to tourists.  The city is very flat but the bridges can be very steep, especially on a big 3-speed bike.  Peter was very encouraging: “You can do it Daddy!”  He also kept an eye out for Susan making sure she didn’t fall too far behind.

We returned to Vondelpark for lunch at the Kinderkookkafe, a restaurant where children can cook for themselves.  Peter made himself a funny cupcake and then a mini-pizza.  Apparently older kids can actually work in the kitchen on projects together.  We had a long wait while the pizza was in the oven so we played on yet another playground out back.   Too bad we are not entrepreneurs because we think a place like this would be a big hit in Jamaica Plain.

For nap time, we pedaled back to Prinsengracht.  When we went back to our bikes we found that all the bike seats in our area had rain covers with an advertisement on them.  This is the Amsterdam equivalent of sticking a flyer under the windshield wipers.  We took a another nice ride down the narrow lanes of the Jordaan.  By serendipity we passed St. Andrew’s Hof, a hidden garden surrounded by small residences.  We took turns walking around while the other one watched the bikes.  Peter spoke with hushed awe at the beauty of the little garden.

Peter loved the bikes so much he was sad when we had to turn them in at the end of the day. For dinner we had pancakes again (we can’t help ourselves) at the Pancake Corner by Leidseplein.  In the evening, Susan took Peter to bed while I went to visit the Anne Frank House.  I figured it would be best to go without Peter since his jovial and energetic demeanor would not be appropriate for a cramped and somber place.  The house was indeed crowded, with tourists.  It’s hard to get a sense of the hidden annex with so many people, plus the transitions from the modern museum space to the actual house were somewhat awkward.  Still, it was a very moving site and worth visiting to appreciate the horrors of war and the Holocaust.

I left the Anne Frank House at 9 pm to discover that it was sunny out.  It had been overcast all day so it actually felt brighter this late at night than it did during the day time.  Because we’d been going to bed early because of Peter I hadn’t realized how late the sun was staying out.  I walked around to enjoy the sunshine, and then when it finally got dark, I got peckish and looked for the perfect falafel and vlaamse frites.  I found them.  Yum!

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Rain and Rembrandt

The day started out cold and wet (and remained cold and wet) so it was as good a day as any to visit the Rijksmuseum and see the Dutch masterpieces of the Golden Age.  En route we saw a pair of coots building a nest with sticks and litter on a tree branch in the canal.  Along another canal we saw a flock of baby coots and Mama Coot came up to tell us not to get any closer.

Having purchased tickets for the Rijksmuseum online we were whisked to the front of the line and went through security.  The security guard smiled and gave me a thumbs up when he saw James the Red Engine among the things taken out of our pockets.

Highlights of the Rijksmuseum:

  • A seated cupid with a mischievous grin who resembles our own mischievous little boy Peter.
  • Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters – Peter enjoyed finding the horses, the dogs, the man who fell on his face, and the little girl running to her daddy’s arms.
  • The Dancing Lesson – children teach a cat to dance.  Followed by Steen’s next masterpiece, “Children bandaging up scratches to the arms and face.”
  • The Threatened Swan – this was Susan’s favorite.
  • And of course Rembrandt, Rembrandt, Rembrandt!  We’d prepared Peter for this trip by getting a child’s book about Rembrandt from the library.  We brought the book along so he could match the paintings to the book and he was very excited to find The Syndics of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild and The Night Watch.  I was showing Peter one of Rembrandt’s self-portraits and Peter surprised me by saying “and there’s his mother reading the bible” which indeed it was.

Despite his precocious interest in Rembrandt, Peter is still a toddler so soon he was most interested in riding the elevator.  Then things got all confused in the museum because “someone took ill” according to the guard and paramedics rushed in.  All very exciting for Peter.  I went to the coat check and Peter lay himself down on the floor besides Susan in the lobby.  A woman asked if he was worn out and Peter said “The Night Watch!”  Peter’s reward for good behavior in the museum was to be able to run around the Museumplein and stomp in puddles.

Next we walked to the charming De Pijp district and found a kebab shop where we got two falafel plates and a pita kaas (cheese pita) for Peter.  Peter enjoyed singing “Peter’s Pita!” as he ate.  He also worked his charm on the man running the kebab shop who gave Peter a lollipop.  After lunch, we strolled through the Albert Cuyp street market, Peter chanting “lollipops for everyone!”  The market tents had a great variety of foods, clothing, shoes, handbags, and tourist junk.  We stocked up on strawberries, broccoli, and Dutch cheese.  Peter enjoyed the very large birds (herons?) who were stalking the fishmonger stands.   After that we returned to Peter’s favorite playground and then went home for a nap.

In the afternoon/evening we took a walk from Dam Square to the Jordaan neighborhood.  A man fed pigeons in Dam Square and brought some close to Peter to check out.  Later we saw the pigeon man throwing seed at unsuspecting tourists so that they ended up getting flocked by pigeons.  In the Magna Shopping Center we sampled some free green cheese (it was good) and Susan and Peter rode up and down the escalators.  A highly-energetic Peter ran circles around us while I tried to read the descriptions from the tour book.  At the Homomonument, a marble triangle dedicated to the persecuted homosexual people, Peter walked around the triangle singing and dancing.  We finished up in the quiet Jordaan where we dined out at a charming restaurant called Restaurant Vliegande Schotel that specializes in vegetarian cuisine.  Susan tried to order in Dutch but the woman told her “Oh no, you must speak English!”  Nevertheless the food was delicious.

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On The Canal Where You Live

On Tuesday afternoon while Peter took his nap, I took a little stroll along the Prinsengracht.  This is one of the major canals in the canal belt or Grachtengordel and the longest canal in Amsterdam.  We’re staying in a little studio apartment in the basement of a 17th-century house facing the canal.  There’s a lot of charm and scenery just between the two nearest bridges, so the slideshow below is a little photo tour of our neighborhood.

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Amsterdam Ups and Downs

Our second day in Amsterdam started off rough as Peter felt cranky and didn’t want to leave “our little compartment” as he calls our studio rental apartment.  We went for a walk over the Amstel River on the famed Magere Brug or “Skinny Bridge” to the Waterlooplein.  Here is located TunFun, a children’s play park located in a former highway underpass.  Peter had been longing to go to the “underground playground” since he first heard about it a few weeks ago and asked about it all day on Monday.  Unfortunately, he was still subdued and a bit overwhelmed so while he played with little cows and pigs and did a little bit of climbing he was not his usual active self.

We walked back by way of Rembrandtplein where Peter climbed up a jagged rock.  For lunch we went to a pancake restaurant called De Carousel.  The pancakes were yummy and Peter enjoyed climbing on the carousel horses with another American boy named Owen.  It’s pretty evident that Peter misses his friends from child care.  Nearby the carousel was a free, outdoor playground which proved to be much more enjoyable than TunFun.  There were little red tricycles, a teeter-totter, a trampoline, and all sorts of things to climb on.  We’ve made a mental note to return here every day.

After nap we rented a canal bike – what they call pedal boats here – and pedaled through the picturesque canals of Amsterdam.  Steering proved hard, although I eventually got the hang of it, but it seemed at any moment the canal bike would veer off toward a houseboat or a bridge.  We pedaled around for about an hour singing “Two fools and a toddler on a pedal boat down a canal.”  We docked by the Westerkerk and then stopped in a brown cafe (aka pub) for beers for the grownups and a hot chocolate for Peter.  I believe it was his first hot chocolate and he loved as much as siting on the big bar stools.  Then we strolled back down the Prinsengracht to our apartment for dinner and bed.

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Amsterdam By Foot

After a tiring day of travel we enjoyed our first full day in Amsterdam today by going a long walk through the city center.

Highlights of the day:

  • We started the day by stocking up on food from the Albert Heijn grocery store where they seem to specialize in various forms of yogurt.  It’s fun to shop in a different language.
  • We took a tram to Centraal Station and began a walk down the Damrak, the historic central canal now lined with cheezy tourist shops.
  • Peter’s hands were cold so we stopped to buy mittens.  Peter chased a kitten around the souvenir shop.
  • We discovered how the clean the windows on those tall skinny buildings.  With a very long pole.
  • Peter was impressed by the ponies (large draft horses, really) pulling a Heineken wagon around the city and wanted to see more.
  • At Dam Square we had a coffee break.  The barista wisely prevented me from accidentally buying a hot chocolate with coffee for Peter and got him plain hot chocolate.  Later, when Peter knocked over my cappucinno, she helped us clean up and gave me a free refill.
  • Peter enjoyed chasing pigeons on the Dam Square but then was terrified by “performance artists” wearing spooky masks.  We talked about the silly people in costumes for a long time afterwards.
  • In the courtyard by the Amsterdam History Museum, Peter likes exploring the archways and discovers a little garden of tulips.
  • We walked through the Civic Guard Gallery, a collection of stylized group portraits from the Dutch Golden Age.  Peter surprises us by enjoying the paintings and saying “It’s Rembrandt!”  (It wasn’t Rembrandt but close enough).
  • The Begijnoff is a lovely collection of house around an enclosed courtyard originally a built as a community of lay women dedicated to religious life and service.  It also contains the small English Church where the Pilgrims worshipped while in Amsterdam prior to going to Massachusetts.  A friendly woman showed Peter where her children liked to play, in the Burgomasters’ Pew.
  • We ate lunch at an Indonesian restaurant called Kantjil & de Tijger.  I enjoyed a yummy Paksoi Tofu and green beans.  Susan had a pumpkin soup.  A sleepy Peter fell asleep in his high chair.
  • On the way back to our apartment for a nap, I discover ducklings swimming in a canal and the house where John Adams lived when he was ambassador to the Netherlands.
  • Resuming our walk post-nap, we walk along the Bloemenmarkt admiring all the beautiful flowers for sale.
  • At Metz and Co, Amsterdam’s classic department store, we take the elevator to the top floor cafe and enjoy rooftop views of the city and some yummy cake.
  • Amused by a store that specializes in food from the U.S. – including Marshmallow Fluff, Pop Tarts, Fruit Loops, Concord grape jelly and all sorts of other processed junk.
  • Peter discovers that the circle on the ground in the middle of the Leidseplein is a fun place to run and spin until you get dizzy.
  • We run around in part of Vondelpark until our little boy got tired and cranky.
  • Back to the apartment for supper and early to bed for all.

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