Amsterdam You Make Me Laugh

I collect things that amuse me during my Shirleyfest. I am sure you recall the fill ’em up zip lock ice cube bags from Vienna last year. Amsterdam also provides lots of good amusement this year. First up is this….

Laura and I were eating at Scheepskameel restaurant when we first noticed next to us the table with the dark jacket on the chair and the glass with a little red wine in it. After a while we wondered where was this diner. Then we spied over our shoulder another table with a white jacket on the chair and also a slightly filled red wine glass. That diner didn’t arrive back at their table either. We outdid each other with hilarious guesses as to what was going on…. foul play?….or an instant attraction between 2 diners who had the urge to abandon their table and go somewhere together? We finally settled on our best guess and called the waiter over to see if we were right. Are you still guessing? We were right– this is how the restaurant reserves a table when a person asks for a specific table. The jackets belong to the staff and the wine is leftover from partially finished bottles of other patrons. It is amusing that a RESERVED sign was just too common for this restaurant.

Next….you know how it can be confusing to identify the men’s or ladies’ room in other countries?

At one end of the continuum we have the top two signs seen at a restaurant on the Spui– really hard to tell which is which at a glance I think. Then we have the bottom two seen at Cafe Verward. Interesting use of negative space but not confusing!

Amsterdam’s bike situation just provides a ton of amusement. Night or day, the sheer quantity of bikes is amazing. But it is also interesting what you find in the bike lanes. These are allowed in the bike lanes.

Also allowed in the bike lane are motorized wheelchairs and those tiny smart cars. I didn’t manage to get any pictures of those but can you imagine how “amusing”it is to have all these things passing you as you pedal along. Also given all the variety in the bike lane, I found this amusing,

Cops on bikes may have a hard time catching that fast motorized wheelchair.

Another amusing thing I see in Amsterdam–

No line thru the circle so do you think you should or should not drink alcohol near here? And what is the significance of the percentage sign?

The Dutch are great at so many things, but creatively naming things– not so much. The major churches in Amsterdam are Westerkerk, Noordermarkt, Zuiderkerk, Oude Kerk and Nieuwmarkt Kerk. That’s west church, north church, south church, old church and new church. Amusingly uncreative.

And here I am at the intersection of three streets

Bickers Yard, Little Bickers Street, Great Bickers Street. I’m sure Uber drivers love this.

Would you like some pickles with your pickled eel?

In Rotterdam, this Markthall was completed in 2014 and residents paid a fortune to secure the lovely high rise exclusive apartments above it. Turns out the next year the city allowed this giant ferris wheel to operate 6 months of the year right next to Markthall. So residents have strangers from every country looking into their windows!

This is an art piece made entirely of newspapers. As you walk by on the street you are encouraged to tear off some of the paper to demonstrate the disappearance of newspapers in our world.

I could go on for quite a while as Amsterdam is such an amusing city, but I’ll leave you with this one. I wrote about the Banksy exhibit I went to at Amsterdam’s MOCO. I saw this there.

In 2004, the artist printed 1 million pounds worth of his “Di Faced Tenner”– a play on words as Banksy substituted the Queen’s face with that of Princess Diana. He also included the words Banksy of England. He dropped all,the money into a crowd at the Notting Hill Carnival and created pandamonia.

So that’s funny.

A kaleidoscope of week 3 Amsterdam

Returning from Bruges, I awake to a rainy day in Amsterdam, yet it is somehow strangely inviting. I leave the apartment around 9:30 am with only a vague idea of what I would do and it turns out I’m busy until 11 pm that evening. That is how Shirleyfest goes.

I start with a breakfast at Teds in my neighborhood. It’s a lovely spot to get out of the rain, great servers and delicious eggs.

I put up my umbrella and head to the Amsterdam Museum which has a well done timeline of the development of Amsterdam and from there I go to an Amsterdam icon–Tony Chocolonley’s flagship store.

This is a chocolate company that not only produces delicious chocolate but is at the forefront of battling the horrendous child labor issues in Ghana and the Ivory Coast where 60% of the worlds chocolate is from.

I take a trip way out near the Olympic Stadium ( Amsterdam hosted the olympics in 1928) because I have heard that the cheese shop L’AMUSE supplies all the best restaurants in Amsterdam with their cheese. I have a wonderful chat with Karin and I sample ( then buy) lots of different cheeses. That of course leads to me inviting people over that night for a cheese tasting- which leads to wine to have with the cheese– which leads to ordering pizza…..”If you give a mouse a cookie…”

Another day, I bike over to Jacob Hooy in the old city which was established in 1743 and is still owned by the same family. They sell medical potions and spices and are known for the best licorice in town. I actually don’t like licorice but I buy an assortment for Laura who is coming next week.

Afterwards I stop for a cappuccino. I don’t know how this coffee shop does this but the coffee art lasts all the way to the end of the drink! I am sitting outside with my coffee and three lovely ladies are chatting together. One is so knowlegable about the happenings in Amsterdam that I blurt out– ” I wish you had a blog”. “I do”, Shoshanna says. “It’s called Awesome Amsterdam.” I’m invited to join them and they are really fun. Shoshanna tells me she has dozens of books on Amsterdam and Dutch art and she wants me to have them. When I get home later that day she has delivered them to my apartment!

I’m biking home to get ready to meet a friend for dinner when I pass the floating flower market and it looks so pretty today that I stop and take this picture.

My dinner with my friend is at Scheepskameel. A really terrific restaurant and a hard reservation to get. My friend, Laura, manages to get us in and we have such a great meal. I have to say the madelines at the end are my favorite part!

I managed to go to a lot of museums and art galleries this week because of the rain. I was passing the Museum of Purses and Bags and while it wasn’t on my list of must sees, I was right there so I went in. There was an interactive display where you answer questions and it designs the perfect bag for you with a message. Ha ha ha see below.

I am invited to the season opening of art galleries and I really enjoy going to many galleries and meeting the artists. One artist designs sculptures out of truck mirrors and then puts a neon backing in the installation. When you take a picture you get this shadow affect. That is the artist in the picture.

The opening night is fun and lots of people come– some with their dogs.

Another day I take the train to Rotterdam. Rotterdam was utterly destroyed during WWII and when they rebuilt they did so in a modern striking manner. These cube houses are lived in and are above shops. It was harbor day so I took a walking tour around the city and the harbor.

I ended up at a cool bar called Cafe Veward ( Translated Cafe Confused). I am not. I order a beer and enjoy talking to the locals.

Afterwards I have amazing octopus at a restaurant recommended to me called Ayla.

The next day I have not such a healthy eating day. You be the judge.

I also want to check out the main branch of the library. It is right on the water and there are great views from the top floor. Also on the top floor is a food bonanza like I’ve never seen in a library. I mean what student wouldn’t hit the books if they could choose from all these delicious things while studying.

I end week 3 with a fun evening with my friend Paul. After a ride on the canals we hit the Sky Lounge overlooking the city. Crazy bartender and fun way to end the week!

In Bruges

The movie In Bruges came out in 2008. It portrays Bruges as a fairy tale city used by two assassins ( Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) as a hide out after a botched hit. While I have a few things I remember about the movie after 10 years ( a body count of epic proportions and a record breaking frequency of use of the f-word) what I remember most is that the city of Bruges was gorgeous. Ever since then I’ve wanted to go see this magical city. On Sunday and Monday I did just that. I decided to take the fast Thayls train to Antwerp and change trains there because I read that the Antwerp train station is one of the prettiest in Europe. It is.

It is only a short train ride from there to Bruges and as I walk out of the train station the local bus to the city center is right there so I jump on. I somehow hit the jackpot in this two day trip as everything went perfectly– including two uncrowded blue skies days. A little research a few days before led me to the Grand Hotel Casselbergh, a beautiful hotel right on the canal. When I made the reservation, I also registered for their loyalty program and because of that I got a super duper upgrade to a great room in the historic wing.

I start with a boat ride along the canals and I fall in love immediately with this town. All along the canal are colorful medieval buildings and I feel I’ve been thrown back into the Middle Ages. The city is like one big breathtakingly beautiful postcard. It is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage City.

Leaving the boat, I do a walk about town with its amazing squares and markets. Right outside the Stadhuis, I see, and more importantly hear, this.

I realize I need to eat early because I booked a night tour of Bruges. The hotel recommends a place and makes me a reservation, but I go there and it is dark inside and a band is erratically tuning up for a show later. I politely tell the waiter, “I don’t think this is for me for tonight.” He nods knowingly. Off I go, when I remember I spied a place on the canal from my boat ride. I find my way there– Pergola is the name and here is the view from my table. Now this is more to my liking.

Here is my view AFTER I order! Even better.

The place is filed with locals and people talking about the Bruges Triennial 2018 that is in town. Fifteen contemporary artists have been invited to put up outdoor installations. The theme this year is Imagining the Liquid City. In the 14th century Bruges was known as the liquid city of Northern Europe, dependent on the seas and its economy driven by the tides. After dinner, I see about half the installations before it is time for my night tour.

My student led night tour goes outside the tourists area and I learn a lot about Bruges’ history. I learn that because of a window tax many of the frugal homeowners bricked their windows while the wealthy showed off by adding windows. Mostly I just drooled over how Bruges got even prettier with the setting of the sun.

The last stop was the beautiful Koeleweimolen windmill on the outskirts of town. It is a functioning grain- grinding mill built in 1760.

I am a bit thirsty when the tour is over around 11:00 pm so I head back to the cozy bar at my hotel. Julien, my bartender, recommends the locally brewed beer Brugse Zot. The name means “the fool of Bruges”. Julian says the name comes from a time in 1488 when after a revolt against their harsh king Maximilian, the people of Bruges made peace with a celebration honoring Maximilian. Afterwards they asked him for permission to build a new mental hospital and he advised them to simply close the gates of Bruges because the town was already filled with fools.

A funny story to end a lovely day.

Monday morning is another beautiful day. After breakfast I take a walk around town as I want to sample the Belgian chocolate and waffles at some point.

Many of you know I am a San Francisco City Guide and I do a tour of the “painted ladies” or “seven sisters”. I think I found Bruges’ equivalent of those beautiful row of houses.

One thing I definitely wanted to see in Bruges was the Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed ( Basilica of the Holy Blood). The beautiful 12th century chapel houses a revered vial containing cloth stained with the blood of Christ. We are told that following the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ and the cloth was preserved. The artifact was kept safe in the Holy Land until the Second Crusades when it was given to The Count of Flanders who took it to Bruges.

Across a bridge is the Begijnhof of Bruges, the most silent spot in Bruges. Founded in 1245 as a place for the religious Order of the sisters of St Benedict, only 8 nuns live there now. It is occupied by widows or single moms who, while not of a religious order, establish a community of women to live together and help their neighbors. A sort of commune-type living.

I walk to Depla the famous family run chocolate shop and sample and buy lots of Belgium chocolate.

Not satisfied with that gluttony, I find a Belgium waffle place that has been recommended and sink my teeth into the classic waffle.

Finally it is time to head back to Amsterdam. A taxi to the train station and a train which connects thru Brussels this time. I am very happy to have spent two days In Bruges. Tomorrow I’ll really have to eat only salads!

Haarlem

This past Saturday, I woke up early and had a nice coffee in my apartment. It’s beautiful and I want to take the short 15 minute train ride to Haarlem. Haarlem gave America’s Harlem it’s name back when NYC was New Amsterdam, a Dutch colony.

I walk towards the tram, noticing this interesting business on my way.

As fate would have it, someone comes up to go inside so I ask, “are you counseling millennials or counseling companies about millennial? And why are you going into work so early on a Saturday?” She tell me she is the boss and this is a booming business advising companies on how to market to millennials. Ok!

Onward to the tram.

As we speed towards Haarlem, I see this out my window. It’s everywhere!

At the station in Haarlem I’m once again impressed with the sheer magnitude of bicyclists in this area.

Now a short walk to the center of town. For 700 years Haarlem has had a wonderful Saturday market. It Is far larger than any of the markets I’ve been to so far in Amsterdam and filled with locals doing their weekly shopping.

Also at the market, I see these 3 cute kids in a bike basket and the little one was just saying over and over “mama? mama? mama?”–not crying–just sort of in a wondering way. No parent was anywhere near. No helicoptering parenting in Holland apparently.

I’ve never seen this before. I guess the very practical Dutch like buying only the part of the pineapple they can actually eat.

Another great thing about Haarlem is the Grote Kerk, a 15th century gothic church with Holland’s greatest pipe organ ( Handel and Mozart played it).

My favorite thing though was the Frans Hals museum. On Shirleyfest New York, the Met had a huge exhibition of Frans Hals and I think I went 5 times. He painted everyday people life size with all their warts and glory.

One unusual thing in this museum is they took these paintings and side by side with the paintings they had modern day medical doctors diagnosis what the subjects were likely suffering from based on the details Hals put in the painting. Getting to the museum is a short walk from the market through a residential area that was colorful and neat as a pin.

After lunch in Haarlem I had to get back to Amsterdam as I was meeting my friends for a Bach concert in Den Bosch– an hour train ride in the opposite direction. The concert was really lovely. My friend Ivan got us front row seats as he was responsible for obtaining the soloists for the concerts. It was an hour long and the odd thing was– no clapping- no no no, not until the entire concert was over. Also the audience sang at the end! We had a great dinner nearby and then headed through the town square for the train home

I would have loved to stay in Den Bosch longer but tomorrow at 7am I am taking the train to Bruges, Belgium. I’m very excited! I write up a draft of my post while having a nice glass of wine at home and then bed.

Week 2: Amsterdam Shirleyfest: Food, friends and family

I realized I haven’t told you how the rest of week two Shirleyfest went. I finish off that second Saturday with a bike ride along the canals to the exquisite Hermitage museum where I see Canova’s wonderful marble of The Three Graces, three sisters who were the daughters of Zeus and Venus and represent beauty, joy and elegance. (I have two sisters and I’ll be happy to have them pick first which of the graces represent them and I’ll modestly take whichever one is leftover.)

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During Shirleyfest, I try to find a Catholic Church that does weekly mass in English. This time I bike over to the beautiful Krijtberg church for mass. A pedal through the Jordaan area after with a great meal at Koevoot completes the day as the sky turns quite beautiful as I lock up my bike.

Sunday I have in mind to bike out to the Brouwerij ‘t IJ brewery. Situated along a canal and housed in a windmill, the brewery produces organic beers in a friendly setting.

I have a great conversation with Joran and his friend Martijn who works there. Joran works in television and expertly scripts a shot of me at the bar with his friend in the background.

There was more to Sunday but I want to move on to Monday when my sister MJ arrives! MJ has been to every Shirleyfest except Melbourne and I love it when she comes. On Monday we walk all over Amsterdam and that night eat a great dinner at Belhamel where afterwards Nick and Ivan come by for drinks. A gorgeous walk home ends our first day.

With the weather looking good the next day we take the early train out to Zaanse Schans , a picturesque village, famous for its iconic windmills. As we get off the train we smell the aroma from the chocolate factory that is there.

We walk through and up into the windmills, most of which are still operational. There is another building where wooden shoes are being made right in front of us.

It is such a charming place. We are wise to have gotten there so early– it’s charm attracts many people so when we see the tour buses pull up we head back to the train.

That evening we have one of the best meals I’ve ever had—–Amstel 212. It is a restaurant recently started by two Michelin starred chefs and all the seating is bar seating. There are about 20 guests and the 4 chefs are working right in front of us and the fantastic front of the house man is Kevin.

I had gone over to Amstel 212 a few days before MJ arrived and had a great conversation with Kevin. His attention and that of the chefs made this an extremely personal experience. We had 3 amuse bouches before we even began with what we had ordered. Three delicious courses later we were presented with the opportunity for an amazing cheese course.

Of course we said yes. Don’t we look so very happy?

On MJ’ s last day we take in the Rijksmuseum and FOAM, the photography museum and do some shopping at De 9 Straatjes, the nine little streets that connect the main canals. One last dinner at Klepel where we are delighted with conversations from our fellow diners at the bar. MJ departs the next day and I look at my step counter for the 3 days she was here.

I have already posted about Thursday and Friday of that week so I will pick up my next post with the Saturday Haarlem market and my trip to Bruges, Belgium. Until then, can I leave you with something I saw along the canal near my apartment?

Cheese, Crime and Cauliflower

In Alkmaar, Netherlands on Fridays in the center of town there is a cheese auction.

The train ride to Alkmaar is about 50 minutes from my home. I arrive in town in time to walk into the ceremony with the singers.

The cheesemakers bring their huge rounds of cheese into town mostly by boats on the canals.

The cheeses are all laid out on pallets.

The wholesalers make a bid of how much per kilo they will pay. If the bid is accepted, the round is weighed on an ancient weighing machine and then run to a wheelbarrow where it is taken off to the buyer’s trucks.

It is a carnival like atmosphere with vendors selling cheese, pickles, herring and chocolates all around the bidding ring. I sample cheeses from almost every vendor there and also try the pickles and herring ( very tasty together).

It is a fun morning and I head back home via train. Little did I know my fun was about to turn tragic. Arriving at the Central Station, it is chaos —-in an act of terrorism, a man has stabbed two Americans minutes before my train pulls in. As we are arriving the police shoot the stabber and we are taken down a back tunnel and out the station. As you read this you have probably seen the details, but trust me when I say it was frightening being in that situation.

Ok time to make new memories. I have a dinner reservation at Ron’s Gastropub. This chef has several restaurants in Amsterdam. My first day here, my friends and I biked out to his Indonesian place. I feel like walking tonight and it is a 45 minute walk through the lovely Oud Zuid neighborhood of Amsterdam.

When I arrive the place is hopping and I decide to sit at the bar. Lindsey, the manager, comes over and we chat. I go with her recommendations. I’m not disappointed. Great salad, short ribs and cauliflower baked in that cheese I saw this morning at Alkmaar. I’m talking to two guys near me who have had several good looking appetizers and finished a bottle of wine. I think they are going to pay and leave when the one says to Lindsey, ” now we want to order the 6 course dinner with the wine pairings.” Perfect— now I feel light eater!

I uber home. My friends Nick and Ivan have suggested I go to Haarlem tomorrow before joining them in Den Bosch for a Bach concert. I want to get to Haarlem for the supposedly great Saturday market.

It’s all in a day’s work

Thursday was a day that typifies my life on Shirleyfest. I woke to a gorgeous fall day and after a starter coffee on my little balcony in my apartment, I head to my coffee place, Coffee Roastery and chat with Quinton and Marika about ideas to enjoy the day. (My sister, MJ, had left that morning after three really fun days together –more on that later).

Every city has that big green space park and Amsterdam was no exception– go to Westerpark was Quinton’s idea. As I pedal around this lovely park with lots of little cafes and restaurant on the border I know this will be a great day. I didn’t stop at any cafe because I needed to pedal farther to meet Paul. He is a friend of a friend’s friend. As is my usual practice I put “lines in the water” before I leave home and a good percentage of those pay off with interesting meetings of local people. Paul is no exception.

I bike to Cafe Van Noordt and we had broodjes, little sandwiches, while discussing his life in Amsterdam working to establish contracts for companies with travel providers. After lunch Paul shows me one of Amsterdam’s hottest development areas where he recently bought a place–the Eastern Docklands area with loads of homes being constructed right on the water.

Back on my bike I head for the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam’s modern and contemporary art museum. There is a special exhibit of Günther Förg there, a German artist who couldn’t decide if he was a photographer or a painter or both and who demanded his installations be done in very unusual ways.

In another room all the photos were hung 12 feet above the floor so your view is looking up but he took the photos from a bird’s eye view. Strangely compelling! I also want to see the permanent collection and I am not disappointed.

I was having a coffee in the Museum cafe when I look out the glass window and see the Concertgebouw, the royal concert hall, considered one of the finest concert halls in the world because of its acoustics. I even see an enormous poster for a concert tonight. A Tribute to Miles Davis. I want to go! A quick check of online tickets says the event is sold out. But I’m right across the street looking at this poster so I run over there and ask and they have a ticket just turned in that I can buy. Score! The concert starts in 90 minutes. I bike home stopping at Fento. Hillary is there and says she can make me a quick healthy salad. I pair that with a nice glass of wine at my apartment and get dressed for the concert.

Back at the concert I am impressed with how beautiful the hall is and the amazing acoustic. The Miles Davis Tribute is lovely. I am also impressed with how polite the patrons are. I sit next to a retired lawyer who knows a lot about jazz( I don’t) and he makes the concert so enjoyable. At intermission he says–now we get our drinks. The way he says it I know it must be different than I am used to. Sure enough as we leave the hall, waiters with trays of wine, champagne, beer, water, juice are there and you just take what you want . How civilized is that! “It’s included in the ticket,”he says. You can also have anything you want when you arrive at the concert hall before the show. Sweet!

After the concert I take the tram home. Got to get to sleep as tomorrow early I’m heading to Haarlem for the Friday cheese auction. That’s up next posting.

Amsterdam: photographs and memories- a week goes by quickly

I finished my first week in my cozy Amsterdam apartment with a visit to the Saturday market.

As I loaded my bike with flowers, the clouds opened up and the flowers and I got a lovely shower as I pedaled home. I managed to avoid a near collision with a motor scooter ( they go on the bike paths!) and went home to arrange my flowers. Somehow the weeks go so fast on Shirleyfest.

It all started last Tuesday. I was pedaling along the canals when I noticed a home with the smallest frontage I’d seen yet. (The red house in the picture). I knew the houses are taxed based on the length of their frontage so clearly this place belonged to a clever person. I parked my bike because next door was a shop selling the famous stroopwafels And next to that was a good looking cheese shop.

Turns out they had a cheese and wine pairing course starting in 10 minutes so I joined in and 6 cheeses and quite a lot of wine later I left very happy.

A stop at my neighborhood coffee roastery got me back in action. Every Shirleyfest I find My Coffeehouse where they know me each morning and this is a great one. I headed for the Rijksmuseum, home to an incomparable collection of Rembrandt’s, Veemeer’s, Hal’s and Steen’s. None so famous at Rembrandt’s The Night Watch. It was crazy because absolutely no one but me was in the room with this famous painting.

Time to turn to something more modern now and happily right next door was the modern art museum–MOCO. Right now the entire museum houses the work of the graffiti artist Banksy. He is one of my favorites so I head in. Many people know I’m a donut fanatic so I was pleased to see this piece of his in the museum.

Enough art, I head home and later go out with three ladies who are ex-pats working here– one for EBay ( thanks Alex for the introduction). They are a hoot– after a fun evening I got an uber back while they jumped on their bikes to ride home.

Wednesday was a visit to The Hague– an easy 50 minutes train ride away. I had actually been there before when we sold Transamerica to Aegon but all I had seen then was conference rooms. This time I saw The Girl with the Pearl earring. I wish I had planned ahead and not worn gold hoops!

Later that night, back inAmsterdam, I checked out the Foodhallen where dozens of indoor food trucks sell tasty food. On my way back home I saw the prep kitchen Fento a block from my apartment. I went in and this lovely gal made me a delicious salad and we chatted about her country of Scotland.

Thursday was more walking and biking with a visit to a special place. One’ Lieve heer op Solder. Our Lord In The Attic. In 1578 in a coup known as the Alteration the Catholics were deposed in favor of the Protestants. Catholics could no longer worship publicly so home churches popped up. In the attic of a well preserved traditional Dutch home is this lovely church.

Later that night I meet Nick and Ivan for dinner in an adorable restaurant on the canal near their house. Belhamel. It is a beautiful evening as we leave the restaurant even tho I got drenched walking from the tram to the restaurant earlier.

So now it is Friday and my plans change numerous times. I was going to go to Alkmaar to see the cheese markets and then I thought about the Van Gogh Museum. In the end it was a beautiful day and Nick didn’t have to work until the afternoon so we rode our bikes north along the water to adorable fishing villages and marinas and gorgeous countryside. We stopped for lunch at an old schoolhouse turned restaurant in the town of Holysloot.

With a quick stop on my way home to the Van Gogh Museum ( not a museum I would recommend– poor lighting and boring layout) I headed home. That night I was starving from all that bike riding and right near my apartment is a place called De Reiger where I headed for Dutch mussels and fries.

And that was the first week of Shirleyfest.

Amsterdam Arrival: Bikes, boats and bakeries

I left my wonderful friends in the Dolomites (who I met on last year’s Shirleyfest Vienna) and flew to Amsterdam on Saturday. Much to my surprise, my friends Nick and Ivan ( who I met on Shirleyfest Berlin) met me at the airport with flowers and T-shirt’s they had made for Shirleyfest month. We quickly arrived at my apartment and as is typical of traditional Dutch homes there was a steep set of stairs that led to my beautiful apartment. Anna and Robert, the owners, met me warmly and I was delighted with what I found. Not only was the apartment in a great neighborhood, they had stocked the fridge, left flowers everywhere and a bottle of wine was a chilling on the table.

My friends left me to unpack, but promised to be back at 6pm with a surprise. And what a great surprise! Amsterdam is a city of canals and the waterways are something to be seen. I was picked up by Nick who led me to the canal near my apartment where I found a gang of fun loving people to help launch Shirleyfest with champagne, local cheeses, fabulous homemade quiches and the finest from Amsterdam’s bakeries. And off we went under bridges, around corners and absolutely all over Amsterdam.

It was magical as we cruised by homes, the opera house, museums, and the hundreds of bicyclists who rode along both sides of the canal. Finally I decided I needed a turn at driving…. maybe I have a new calling.

And that was the first day!

The next morning I had to get my bike. I always have a bike on my Shirleyfest but here it was essential. Amsterdam is built on a swamp so it is quite flat. Everybody bikes. I really think bikes are the religion of Amsterdam. The bikes have priority over people and cars. If there is an accident the bicyclist is never at fault. It is truly one of those if you can’t beat them join them and I felt much safer on my bike than walking. So off I went to Frederic’ s bike shop where Arthur fixed me up with a bike, saddle bags and a heavy duty lock. Locking up your bike is essential as bike theft is a problem. I heard that if someone cries out, ” Hey, that’s my bike”, 6 people jump off their bikes and run.

Having gotten my bike, there is nothing to do but go for a long bike ride with friends past the outskirts of town and pass 2 windmills and then bike some more until we got to a small village and home to a wonderful restaurant that has the best Indonesian Rijsttafel ( rice table) in Amsterdam.

Twelve different dishes and two kinds of rice and two kinds of desserts, all incredibly flavorful. We sat outside along the Amstel river as it flows east of Amsterdam and it was a perfect day. Of course then we had a long bike ride home but it was totally worth the ride.

The next morning. I did a walking tour of Amsterdam which was good to learn a bit more of the history and to get my bearings. I saw the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company founded in 1602. As a corporate lawyer of course it was fascinating to me as this was the beginning of stock companies in the world.

Also got to pass many many “coffeehouse.” No not our kind of coffee houses– those are called cafes here. Coffeehouse are where you sit down and get a menu of weed and other concoctions that don’t require cream or sugar.

That afternoon I spent at the playground—no not a playground in my enhanced mind, a real playground. My Shirleyfest Montréal friends introduced me to a documentary film editor and she was taking her 2 year old to the park so we met there. Interestingly at this park there were lots of toys and play cars and scooters but it was all provided by the park– the parents didn’t have to lug it there or listen to their kid scream “mine”as another 2 year old jumped on their fire trucks. Brilliant really.

Tonight I want to check out the food scene in Amsterdam. I had heard of Cafe de Krepel so I headed there first for a glass of wine. Beautiful tiny restaurant and as I’m sitting there I met Vanessa who has a fashion shop nearby. She is also enjoying a French wine and she says she is avoiding her children’s texts to go to the grocery store. I like this lady. She writes down some of her local favorite places for me to try another day and I promise to stop by her shop soon.

I have in mind a Spanish place nearby so off I go and find a seat at the bar. The restaurant is Olivia Pintxos y Vinos The bartender Cleo helps me pick out some delicious tapas.

Again I start talking to my fellow dining patrons and have a great conversation with a couple from Paris. I turn to my right and ask a woman how she liked her tapas and what she is doing in Amsterdam. “I work for Netflix so I’m here in business.” Are you from California. I ask? ” San Francisco”she says–oh where in San Francisco? “Laguna and Broadway”. She lives one block from me! Ok it is time to walk back to my apartment.

Three days in Amsterdam and it already feels like home.

#amsterdam #solotravel #shirleyfest #ArtApartment