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Amsterdam. Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sandwich.

November 8, 2010

Having been in Amsterdam for three days now, two of them conscious and coherent (from jet-lag, not from partying…), I’m pretty much an expert on the city, and on the Netherlands in general, so I’ll be telling you everything you need to know about the region.

Amsterdam was recently colonized by Apple, as evidenced by the ubiquitous Iamsterdam signs found near all the tourist offices.  Since the invasion of Apple, the town has been overrun by hipsters, to the extent that even this giant Iamsterdam sign has been taken over by them.

The youth are taking over the museum district.

Since they don’t have a Thanksgiving, the Dutch have no way of knowing when the Christmas season begins.  In the US, stores break out their Christmas wares right after Thanksgiving.  Canadian Thanksgiving, that is, or Columbus Day, as it’s also known.  I was a little surprised to see the streets lit so festively, as it hardly feels like Christmas here because there’s no snow and no one’s fighting.  But don’t tell anyone here, because everyone looks pretty adorable all bundled up and rosy-cheeked.  As you can see, the shopping districts are festooned in lights in anticipation of the impending arrival later this month of Santa Claus and his six-to-eight black men.

The streets are lit up at sunset. The stores close at 6pm. How did the Dutch earn renown as traders?

As far as I can tell, the Dutch love only two things more than being strikingly tall and effortlessly attractive: sandwiches and bicycles.   They are extremely inventive with both.  I thought I knew a thing or two about sandwiches, but I’ve been put to shame.  Sandwiches, as it turns out, can be on any carbohydrous substrate from a small multigrain roll to a large croissant to slender baguettes of varying lengths.  They can contain as little as one ingredient (presumably a meat or cheese), or so many that they must be eaten with a knife and fork.  But the single most important thing for you to learn about sandwiches, and I’m quite certain this will be news to many of the two of you who will ever read this blog, is this: the grilled brie and honey sandwich exists.  Somewhat commonly.  That this is a state secret of some sort is the only explanation I have for the failure of this magnificent creation to have made it across the pond.  I plan to smuggle the recipe over the border, but in case they catch me, I tell you this: take two pretty nice pieces of bread.  Put brie and a little bit of honey in between them.  Grill it up.  Eat and repeat as necessary.  You’re welcome.

For some reason, the vast number of sandwiches and cheese-stuffed pastries I’ve eaten over the past 72 hours is not upsetting my stomach much, despite the self-diagnosed wheat allergy I was just certain I had.  Perhaps it helps that each sandwich is itself sandwiched by 2-4 hours of walking before and after it, so the allergens don’t have time to adhere to my mucosa (This is not a real medical thing;  don’t try it with a peanut allergy or anything).  I have been sneezing like mad, but I blame that on the leaves that haven’t gotten the hint and dropped from the trees yet.  Don’t they know it’s almost Christmas?  Can’t they see the festive lights?  I hope Santa’s six-to-eight black men shake the leaves right off their branches for their insolence.

Now a word about the bicycles.  Bikes are extremely popular here.  It’s not at all uncommon to see masses of dozens upon dozens of bikes piled up along the street, and not necessarily just outside of a chop-shop either.  People just really ride them a lot.  Sometimes, when a normal bike is not quite big enough to suit your needs, you might want one of these contraptions, which is undoubtedly the result of years of selective breeding between bicycles and wheelbarrows:

Bikes of all kinds abound in Amsterdam.

You can put any combination of children, dogs, and groceries in there that you want!

Even on a regular bike, though, there are lots of things to do to keep you entertained while you cruise through the city.  Distracted driving is not just for American suburbanites in SUVs anymore!  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Carry an umbrella
  • Walk your dog
  • Raise two or more children
  • Smoke a cigarette
  • Talk on the phone
  • Transport an 8′ long 2″x10″ board
  • Cuddle (the other person doesn’t even need to be on your bike!)
  • Recycle
  • Yield to traffic.  Or don’t!  You have a bike!
  • Go on a patisserie crawl *

* I haven’t actually witnessed anyone else do this, but I came really close to pulling off a comprehensive walking tour of the city’s patisseries today, and I think with a bike I could really make it happen.

The other important thing I learned today is that one of my favorite book covers from one of my favorite authors is actually by one of my favorite painters.  I feel a bit like a jackass for not previously having known that the cover to David Sedaris’ “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” is actually a VanGogh, specifically Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette. If you inquire after its likeness in the VanGogh museum gift shop, please refer to it by its own name, and not by the name of the collection of satirical essays bearing its likeness.

So that’s about it for today’s tales.  I actually have a lot to say about my visit to the Anne Frankhuis, but none of it’s lighthearted in the least, so it’ll need its own entry, I suppose.

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