Posts Tagged With: Amsterdam

Dutch Dining

My last trip to Amsterdam, ten years ago, had been predicated on the whims of my travel buddy, Tom; it was his trip, I just invited myself to tag along. It was my first time in a non-English speaking country, and I was more than happy to let him take the lead.

But when I went again last October I tried to do a little more planning, have a more in-depth experience.

Well, sort of.

I mean, I guided my friend to the same exact restaurant Tom and I had stumbled upon near the Anne Frank House, the Pancake Bakery. But that’s because I remember that meal vividly a decade later. Though, it turns out I remember it wrong; I had this vision of a giant plate-sized stack of pancakes, slathered in ice cream and chocolate sauce (because I was twenty, and a grown up, so I could eat whatever I dang well pleased for dinner.) But actually, Dutch pancakes are flat, like a crepe, and the size of a small pizza. My possibly maturing taste buds led me to the savory Hungarian pancake, piled with chorizo, salami, tomato, cheese, paprika, onion.

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Then we went to a street fair in Dam square, gorged and waddling, and had tiny profitjes, bite-sized pancakes slathered in whip cream and chocolate sauce. The best of all worlds, pancakes for dinner, pancakes for dessert.

Okay, sure all you see is whipped cream. But there are delicious tiny puffy pancakes under there.

Okay, sure all you see is whipped cream. But there are delicious tiny puffy pancakes under there.

But seriously, I wanted to broaden our horizons and steer clear of endless meals of carb-laden comfort foods. I had bulked up a bit on Dutch history, and learned that the Netherlands had colonized Indonesia in the seventeenth century ergo (direct link, right? We can skip the four hundred years in between) there are a lot of Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam.

We were up for trying this untested cuisine, so I asked our walking tour guide for suggestions about a good Indonesian restaurant. Terry was an Irishman, married to an Australian, whose kids spoke better Dutch than he did. But after eight years in country, I figured he would have some good local insider tips.

As he mulled my query, he mentioned that he could point us in the direction of the Hard Rock Café.

My friend and I were offended. Obviously our request meant we were trying to get off the beaten path, to eat like the Dutch. We weren’t your typical tourists.

Anyway, we’d eaten at the Hard Rock two nights before.

After that suggestion, we began to worry Terry wasn’t as familiar with life beyond the tourism industry as we had hoped. He couldn’t remember the name of the Indonesian restaurant he’d eaten at recently with his wife, but he knew it was just off the Leidseplein, in the direction of that shiny neon landmark, the Hard Rock, and it was up a set of stairs.

Later that evening, my friend and I wandered the cobbled pedestrian alleys around the Leidseplein, following my hastily scrawled directions from Terry. Our frustration mounted as we crisscrossed streets with nary a glimpse of anything Indonesian. A name would have been really helpful. Thanks, Terry.

We stood at an intersection, peeking to the left, which is what Terry had told us, and then to the right, because Terry clearly had no idea what he was talking about. Back to the left, a green neon sign suddenly stood out in relief against the mass of culinary advertising.

It simply read “Indonesian Restaurant.”

We approached it, and yes indeed, it was upstairs.

We found this pretty funny.

After all that, we decided not to eat there. Upon inspecting their menu, we realized Indonesian cuisine is far spicier than either of us cares for.

We meandered some more until we stumbled upon a restaurant offering traditional Dutch cuisine called De Blauwe Hollander. We each got a “hotchpotch,” a comforting meal of potatoes, veg, and meat, all smushed together and drowned in sauces. My friend ordered a bacon/endive/meatball/mashed concoction that you could well crawl into and hibernate for the winter. And then we had traditional Dutch apple pie for dessert. So much for avoiding carbs.

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I don't know if it's actually traditional. It seemed a little fancy to me.

I don’t know if it’s actually traditional. It seemed a little fancy to me.

Moral of the story: Terry knew exactly what he was talking about even when he didn’t know what he was talking about, and if you’re ever in Amsterdam, I highly recommend you book a walking tour with him. (And the Hard Rock has really good nachos, so lay off.)

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Categories: Travel Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Souvenirs

I used to collect shot glasses when I traveled. I think it started with my first Hard Rock Café experience in high school, but it expanded beyond generic restaurant chains. Now I probably have…I’d like to know how many I have. I have over 20 from Hard Rocks alone (I know, don’t judge) so I wouldn’t be surprised if I have 75. All that cheap glass, made in China, has sat wrapped up in a box for a decade. I always meant to display them – I even had two racks – but I was never quite that organized in my decorating.  Now they live in my storage unit. If I ever get around to living in my own place in America again, they will get…I don’t know, sold on eBay? Would anyone want a collection of someone else’s travel memories? I replaced shot glasses with magnets, but they are fun and cheap and easy to display. You can’t totally break your addiction to tacky kitsch I’m sorry to say.

These days I am more discerning about what makes an appropriate souvenir, a true and revealing, unique memento of a place. I try to avoid things that are mass-produced in China (magnets notwithstanding). I tend to buy art books (and postcards, which are not cheap anymore, a euro each at most European museums) of collections I like. But I also try to get something locally made that really evokes a culture. My parents often come back from trips with small prints bought from street artists. Since this fits my art geek persona, I dig it. Some sort of rendering of a locale, created by someone who lives and works there – what could be a better way to remember a place?

They aren’t so easy to come by.

I wanted a hand-carved Buddha in Thailand. I didn’t see them anywhere – I ended up with a gold-plated tacky thing that exactly matched all the Buddha statuary I saw there. I purchased it at a temple gift shop, theoretically blessed by a Buddhist monk. Okay. I wanted to get a wall hanging of some sort in South Africa, but didn’t see any real artists creating anywhere we went. There were some nice prints of the townships that were unique and interesting…but I don’t know, that doesn’t seem the sort of thing a white person should have hanging on her wall. I got this instead:

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The man I bought it from said it was hand-carved, and explained the polishing process. I don’t know if it’s true. On the other hand, my local guide-friend explained Africa doesn’t have any infrastructure for mass-production, even though I saw this pensive guy in a lot of places alongside roads. I think there are popular motifs and these Zimbabwean (wait, what?) men hand-make and sell them. I hope so anyway…

On the other hand, when you look at that, do you think: South Africa? Probably not. I love the colors and smoothness, the minimalist play on Rodin’s “Thinker.” Of course, this means I bought a souvenir that is an imitation of a Western European masterpiece.

Oops. Not doing so well with my local quintessential souvenir, am I?

Still, I find it thought-provoking and beautiful, and when I look at it I think of my two weeks on the bottom of the world. At least it’s not cheesy, like a giraffe (because I didn’t see any giraffes there and it would be all LIES!)

I went to Amsterdam in October and was once again determined to buy art. I love that city, its quaint and lovely architecture. I was hoping to get a local artistic rendering of the city itself.

This is what I ended up with:

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So, yeah.  Doesn’t look much like Amsterdam, huh? I didn’t have time to check out every corner of the city for local art markets, so my options were limited. I stumbled into one small patch of artists’ tents, and none of the artists had painted their hometown. I bought a few postcards from a man who did prints of his Amsterdam etchings, but they were black and white, not really what I wanted.  This artist (Rebecca) did abstract impressionistic landscapes with gloppy paint, like a much latter day Van Gogh. This is her home, and her vision. Why should I dictate what she chooses to paint to suit my touristy needs?

But no one’s going to know I bought that in Amsterdam.

So despite my good intentions, I guess I’m not buying hand-crafted, ideal souvenirs that capture the spirit and identity of a place. Nothing show-offy that immediately tells people where I’ve been. I’ll keep trying. I guess it’s good that I’m conscious of how my purchasing power effects the places I visit. I’m putting my money toward those who create locally. I think.

Should you worry about supporting local artists and artisans? What are your favorite souvenirs? Talk to me, dear reader.

Categories: Travel Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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