AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS — Morning in Amsterdam is a lot like a frat boy’s interpretation of a Dali painting: odd pieces of clothes hanging in trees, long-faced Brits Zombie-walking home, horse-drawn carriages with no riders — all set against the backdrop of an otherwise sparkling city.
At 10am we find ourselves outside of the Bulldog on the other end of the spectrum — stone cold sober — and aim to remedy that situation post haste.
By noon, we have met up with Chris, who is in town with law school friends on a summer romp through the continent and have set out on a tour of the Wallen. Even in the early afternoon, the tourist district is quiet, with most revelers, barkeeps and prostitutes safely back in bed. However, we manage to drum up some cool Heinekens and fresh doener kebabs and munch happily on the wall of a canal while long boats and hissing swans pass underneath.
In the afternoon, we visit that great monument to Dutch creativity — the Heineken Experience.
With our joint American-German beer knowledge, Mike, Molly and I manage to win not one, not two, but three tall frothy glasses of the golden liquid and then decide to do what any good, drunk Hollander would and rent bicycles to cruise about town.
When you say you’re going for a bicycle ride in the States, you think of leisurely pedalling along wide, empty paths, casually waving to friends that pass. In Amsterdam, bike riding is an all-out battle. This city may be marked by its canals, but it is the bike lane that is the true artery of the city. It seems every Amsterdammer is on a bike, whizzing in and out of traffic, sometimes four bikes wide along the street. It’s overwhelming to say the least, but after testing out our heavy, one-gear cruisers on some back streets, we all take a deep breath and dive into the flow of a main road, instantly getting swept along with the frenzied current.
As hectic as riding here is, it’s really the best and only way to get around — and somehow the city seems even more beautiful as it streaks by at high speed. We manage to make our way through the city and to the Vondelpark — a huge, Victorian era green space ala New York’s Central Park. It’s as if the winding paths and quiet lakes are meant for stoned bikers and it’s a joy to just ride through the fresh cool air, stretch our legs and claim what little elbow room is available in this crazy, hazy city.
In the evening, we plan to meet Mike’s friend, Nick, who’s been living as an expat in Amsterdam for the past five years. He promises to give us a local’s tour of the city from the best vantage point of all — his canal-bound boat. After meeting up and gathering supplies, wine and food, we make our way over to his slot on a side canal.
Only problem is, there is another person’s boat in his spot. His boat is still there, mind you, its bow poking up sadly from the murky depths as it lies at the bottom of the canal. Sunk — much like our dreams of a romantic canal cruise.
The next day, we’re back on the bikes, this time with a despondent Nick in tow, as we set off for plan B: the promise of food and drinks outside of the hustle of the city. Nick leads us through a winding path of back alleys, side streets and canal causeways to the docks on the north side of town. We board a free ferry with our bikes and set off across the river. Getting our boat tour afterall, we soak up the sea air and watch as frieghters, ferries and even a WWII-era submarine slide past. The Frat boy surrealists are at it again.
Our destination is a little spit of industrial land just north of town. Rusty cranes, boat yards and old shipping-containers-cum-student-housing add to the surreal feel. We make our way to the Northern Lights, a little Bohemian cafe on a peninsula overlooking the city below.
Part bar, part modern art installation, part backyard BBQ, this little gem is obviously a secret love of locals, as dozens of chill Amsterdammers lay out in the grass or inside the hanger-like cafe, smoking, drinking, discussing. It’s the perfect end to a long, hectic ride and we lay back to watch the sun set, sample Dutch croquets and re-sample Mr. Heineken’s favorite suds.
We take the long way home and arrive at the ferry opposite the Centraal Station just in time for rush hour, Amsterdam style. We are once again lost in the flow of people and pedals as we fly through the streets, trying to keep up with the expert Dam-Rider, Nick.
We finish our haphazard tour of the city by watching the sun set over various canal bridges before kicking back for a few more beers and to watching the Dutch national soccer team dismantle the lowly Faroe Islands 10-nil.
Nick bids us goodnight and we make our way back to our new hostel, the Flying Pig, safely tucked away in the green and quiet of the Vondelpark neighborhood.
It’s another long day and drowsy night, sampling more of the local delicacies before we all pack up and head back — us to Munich, Mike back to the States — in the morning. In retrospect, this visit to the Dam is not as hazy in the same way as my first trip here was, although Amsterdam on bike can be quite a blur of its own. The truth of the matter is that it’s always one hell of a good time experiencing the bizarre mix of booze, beauty, chemicals and head-scratching weirdness that can only exist in the same way one place in the world.
As the train pulls out of the station the next morning, our heads foggy, but the day bright, I can’t help but think, “Damn, it will be good to come back to the Dam again.”