Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Netherlands: Amsterdam and the Keukenhof

[The last of my trip notes.]

April 26, 2011: the Keukenhof

"I'm on a boat!"
After another great breakfast up in our wheelhouse, watching the world go by (on bicycle, mostly), we head to the train station; it's deserted compared to yesterday, and we quickly purchase return tickets to Leiden. Once there, we get our coach tickets for the Keukenhof at the Travelex. [We thought there was no difference between going there via Leiden or Schiphol -- the distances are comparable -- but it turns out that you can get the latter as a single fare, and therefore save money; this isn't clear in any of the documentation.]

This is surely the Disney World of gardens! From the moment I hear, and then lay eyes on, the beautiful street organ near the entrance, I'm grinning from ear to ear. They call the park the most beautiful spring garden in the world, and it isn't hard to see why. Tea (and Kae) are over the moon: "best gardens, hands down," is out of her mouth half an hour in. And while I agree, the Lost Gardens of Heligan still hold a special place in my heart. I think it's the trees; somethin's changed with me since I've come over: I can't get enough of the different trees they have over here, and the cascading blooming you'll see from month to month. Don't get me wrong, though: this park is stunning.

I think the Japanese Garden is my favourite bit. It's so beautifully laid out, with many cherry blossoms, of course. While Tea and Kae really seem to be enjoying the orchid display, I know for Tea, it's all about the tulips -- of which there are many; go figure.

Gotta love the street art
Once back in Amsterdam, we decide to check out the Mexican restaurant, Guadalupe, that Tea spied on our first evening out. The owner is a real kidder, and before we've sat down, he and Kae strike up some Spanish banter. I don't pretend to follow it all, but I think he poked a bit of fun at one point when she used 'gran' to say that she learned some Spanish (or Portuguese?) from her grandfather. I heard something along the lines of, "Do you have a small father too? Oh, pity," around that cheese-eating grin of his. [If I've got this right, you could literally translate what Kae said as "big father," where they would typically say "abuelo"... maybe.] The food was really good too, breaking a long drought for Tea and me. [The Brits do not understand what Mexican is supposed to taste like, as far as I can tell.]

April 27, 2011: Our last day in Amsterdam

One of our many great suppers 'aboard'
A lazy morning. Anne Frank is growing up before my eyes (again). I forgot how heart-wrenching it is, to read about her wishes for the future. I certainly have a lot more context this time, having now walked the view she looked at with such longing.

The Van Gogh Museum is on the agenda this morning, so we buy tram day passes again -- it's well away from the city centre. Long queues seem to be the norm in Amsterdam, but, thanks to Kae, we can bypass the one outside this museum: she points out an English sign in the middle of the sidewalk, claiming that fast passes are available at the Diamond Museum. The funny thing is, you can see the Diamond Museum from the line, just down the road. We are there and back in five minutes -- you don't need to buy any extra admissions; it's just another till -- and then straight in.

Dessert at De Balie
I'm surprised by how much I'm enjoying myself. The layout is great: a good mix of his works and influences at various stages of his life. I'm not familiar with a lot of it. My favourites (on display) include: Crab on its Back, Pink Orchard, and the Sheep Shearer; the latter, a striking example of his influences.

From there, lunch at De Balie. Our waiter is another kidder.
Kae: "I had a teacher..."
Waiter, whip quick: "You did?"

The menu is in Dutch. For every second thing Tea points at:
Waiter: "I can't tell you that."

Handing him our near-sparkling cleaned plates:
Tea: "Oh, that was terrible. Can we see a dessert menu?"
Waiter, hand on chest: "No. You've been rude. On your bike and go."
And, again, the food is amazing; pesto to die for. They have lots of interesting beer on tap too. Enjoying my two glasses of Wieckse (pronounced 'vicks').

* * *

"In de Wildeman"
I'm sitting "In de Wildeman" now. Probably the best pub in Amsterdam. The ladies are shopping. Tasting notes so far:
  • Blanche de Namur: tasty, with ginger notes.
  • t'Volen Zeebonck: fruity and sweet, full body. (The bartender translates this as "sailor", puffing up his chest; love the way he serves me at the table.)
  • De Prael De Melkman: a milk stout; very tasty, and just a touch sour. According to Beer Advocate, it was brewed for the 25th anniversary of In de Wildeman. Cool! Got that T-shirt too; it's awesome.

If you only have time to visit one bar in Amsterdam, this has to be it. The ladies are back now. We're heading to the last one on my list: 't Arendsnest (or "Eagle's Nest"). It's a lovely little spot. Another friendly barman; runs a tab without my even asking. I have:
  • Texelse Skuumkoppe: I've had their Wit as an imported selection with the (now defunct *sad face*) CAMRA Beer Club; this one has more body. Very nice. Followed by;
  • De Prael Koude AndrĂ©: the same brewery as the milk stout, and just as impressive.

Cinema Paradiso
Italian is the consensus this evening. After striking out a few times, we find ourselves at Cinema Paradiso. As the name suggests, it's a old converted cinema with a lot of charm. The food is very good, and the real mint teas -- lots of mint leaves and hot water; that's it -- are a perfect end to one heck of a good trip.

Check out our Keukenhof and Amsterdam albums for more pictures from the last two days of our trip.

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