I took advantage of a discount flight to Amsterdam last week. If you shop for off-season hotel and airfare bargains you can save a good bit of money on international travel. This autumn has been quite mild in much of the Euro-Zone and in much of the U.S. The weather in Holland was rainy but, surprisingly, quite comfortable for mid-November.
I packed clothing for colder temperatures but found myself too warm at times during my walks.
I decided against chasing photos during this trip. Photography in the rain is a bit of a hassle and I was more interested in just walking and enjoying the sights and the time to think. I had the good fortune to meet up with a friend who lives in Amsterdam and knows his way around the coffeeshop scene.
Amsterdam is a quiet city with a laid-back vibe that is attractive to me. On this trip I did more walking than any other visit in the past. It is a popular city for cyclists, but I lack the confidence to ride a bike there. Trying to read the 5 syllable street names while managing bike and tram and auto traffic is more than I wish to attempt while on holiday. Maybe in a future visit I will rent a bike. Additionally, I would like to tour in one of the canal boats. Touring the city from the canals should give an interesting perspective. It is a pity the small independent boat operators have been pushed out of business by high cost of tour boat license fees and insurance. There used to be a few that ran casual evening tours, but I am told that they are no more. Perhaps it would be possible to become friendly with a local boat owner?
In one of the earliest posts on this blog I wrote about travel to Amsterdam. Amsterdam is a lovely city for tourism that offers a glimpse of the special character the Dutch are known for; their attitude of tolerance.
Sadly the laws are changing in Holland. You can read about it here. For over 40 years Holland has demonstrated that tolerance of cannabis is workable (and profitable) and the city of Amsterdam became a gathering spot for people from around the globe who enjoy the herb. In fact, for 26 years each November, High Times Magazine has hosted an annual cannabis event called the Cannabis Cup.
In 2014 the mayor of Amsterdam shut down much of the festivities. Follow this link to read the details of that debacle. Subsequently, Cannabis Cup will no longer be held in the Dam.
This signals the end of an era in the Netherlands.
However, man’s use of cannabis has a history dating back for five-thousand years and this plant and the people who use it for medicine or recreation will not be repressed. The U.S. has prohibited use of cannabis for about 85 years, but that is changing state-by-state as activists are becoming more vocal and demanding change to the outdated and unjust laws that remain. Public opinion has had a big change of heart as well. Currently, there are 23 states that have passed legislation allowing cannabis use for treatment of a variety of medical ailments. Other states have de-criminalized small amounts for personal use and most recently, the states of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have fully legalized personal use of cannabis for recreation. Additionally, places like Australia, Canada, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Portugal and Spain are reassessing their laws with respect to cannabis.
In any case, I enjoyed speaking with a couple of the coffeeshop owners and workers about these new changes. One place I visited has had restrictions placed on their license due to a new city mandate that no coffeeshop within 250 m. of a school shall be permitted to open before 18:00 and these same shops will not have their licenses renewed next year. When coffeeshops were first opened in Holland, they sold weed, hash, and some had license to sell alcohol too. That changed over a dozen years ago. At one time there were more than 800 coffeeshops in Amsterdam alone. That number has dwindled over the decades down to a little over 200. Some cities near the national borders have put pressure on Holland and thus, the Dutch authorities have begun to restrict sale of weed and hash to foreigners in those cities. I asked about the possibility of that happening in Amsterdam and was told with confidence it won’t happen in the bigger cities like Amsterdam.
All in all, the Dutch system of tolerance works well for their society and can be a model for other countries willing to consider less ridiculous measure for dealing with cannabis. I will quote one bud-tender who shared a valid and sharply candid comment; “The people who wish to control and suppress cannabis have failed their mission.” Indeed, a visit to Amsterdam shows just how widespread the use of cannabis! People from England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, Italy, Israel and other Middle-East countries, Romania, Czech Republic, Russia and other Eastern Euro, the U.S., Canada, Australia, N.Z., Africans, Latin Americans, India, Asia and more, all can be found in various coffeeshops around the city, enjoying the benefits of cannabis. Amsterdam will always be a gathering place for this tribe. Ironically, the U.S., once the great antagonist of the weed culture, has become the new place for industry growth, as individual state laws change. While Holland retreats a bit, tolerance remains the key in cities like Amsterdam. I am assured by the locals that there will always be a place to find and share the herb in Amsterdam.
Whenever I visit the city of Amsterdam, I think of some of the great art that has been produced there, particularly, Rembrandt and the school of artists named after him, and of course, Vincent Van Gogh. In a previous post I shared information about a popular song that spoke to Van Gogh’s tortured life. Recently, I read an article about the connection between his painting style and an element of physics called luminescence. Physics, quite frankly, is a subject over my head. I had trouble really understanding this article but it was interesting reading anyway.
In previous visits I have taken the train to Centraal Station from Schipol and then tram to the Rijksmusuem stop and an easy walk to the hotel. This time I took the number 197 bus directly to the hotel, about 35 minutes door to door. It was a clean and comfortable ride at a fraction of the cost and a good savings in time as well.
The hotel I always stay is under a new name- Max Brown Museum Hotel. Close to the major museums, a half-block walk to the bus stop for bus lines or the tram through old city Amsterdam. Also close to a lovely park surrounding the Van Gogh and stretches across from the Royal Concertgebouw. This is where I do my early morning walks in The Dam. The building is about 300 years old. So, there is a lot of that old world feel to the place. Be careful on the very narrow stairs.
Hotel staff indicated my room was ready and they were kind enough to allow me to check-in and have breakfast, even though I arrived about 5 hours before official check-in time. I had planned only to drop my bags and then hunt for breakfast elsewhere.
I enjoy the hotel breakfast. It offers an array of breads, butter, jams, 2 or 3 types of sliced cheeses and meats, some hard cooked eggs, cereals, yogurt, fruit, juices, coffee or tea. Everything is self-serve. Simple and unpretentious. I especially liked the sweet bread with dried fruits and spice.
That helped me to get the visit started on the right footing! Directly after breakfast, I had a short walk in light rain and returned to my room for a nap. I walked again in the mid-afternoon and then had dinner close to the hotel, just around the corner at an Indonesian Restaurant – Sama Sebo. A traditional Rijstaffel (or rice table). The front desk clerk insisted that the place has enjoyed an excellent reputation for many years and I would not be disappointed. He was correct. The meal offered a good value with a nice selection of flavors and contrasts. Indonesia, of course, was a colony of the Dutch Crown nearly 4 centuries ago. It was the Dutch who returned from these far-away islands in the South Pacific, with spices and herbs unknown to the European culinary palate. Cloves, nutmeg, tamarind, turmeric to name just a few. Western cooking (particularly, holiday baking) would not be the same if not for those traders who long ago introduced the exotic spices of the Orient to their European homeland.
I have yet to experience Holland in winter when the canals are frozen over. I imagine a picturesque scene with skaters whisking by. Nor have I visited Holland during their most popular time for tourism, spring when the tulips are in full bloom….maybe some time in the future I will get to it.
After my return home, I came across this article about a new and fun way to get a quick lift in Amsterdam. Next time I visit I will try this! It is just another one of those things that make Amsterdam uniquely friendly.