Monday, April 23, 2012

Amsterdam

 


















Not only is A for April and Andalucia, it's also for Amsterdam, and its A-mazing tulip festival held every year at this time in Keukenhof.  There's over 7 million flowers in these gardens, and I think I took a picture of about 4.5 million of them.  My flower memory card on my camera, and in my mind, is full...for life.


You might be thinking, oh I must be a real horticulturist-gardener-green thumber to want to go to a festival like this?  Uh, no.  My thumb leans more towards black and most flowers in the nursery wish they had legs when I come near them as they seem to know that they will not have a long life in my care.


Yes, the tulip festival is for anyone who likes pretty things, bright colors, nice smells, and can also deal with thousands of people also enjoying these things.


I'm getting ahead of myself though.  Stephanie and I took the 3 hour 20 minute train from Paris to Amsterdam Friday morning.  We had a lovely day of walking around the canals in the fabulous shopping district of the Nine Streets, which is simply a great collection of cute boutiques, cafes and galleries over...guess how many streets.


We ended up finding a great snack at this well stocked cheese shop with every variety from floor to ceiling, along with samples of each.  It was my own personal heaven, and there was even an angel there asking if we would like to try their pesto cheese.  I can confirm that you should run out and try pesto cheese, and then purchase as much as you can.


After shopping and cheesing, we found a nice spot for a more proper lunch and a glass of wine on one of the many canals.  After these few hours, I was ready to move to Amsterdam.


For dinner we met the other Stephanie for dinner and drinks at the happening Herengracht Bar and Grill


I was excited to see all my old vodka friends in Amsterdam - Grey Goose, Ketel One, Belvedere, so it was with confidence that I ordered a dirty martini, and then was completely confused on how they messed it up.  I looked on the bar and didn't see any signs of the Parisian drink killer Martini and Rossi.  Don't worry, I improved things later in the week-end.













After dinner, we met Parisian late comers Lisette and Melissa for a little wine and a little pie.  I'm sorry.  That's not true. We met for A LOT of wine and A LOT of pie. 


This was no ordinary pie though.  This was the best apple pie...ever.  Yes, I said it, and instead of trying to tell me about your grandmother's recipe, go to Winkel and then we'll talk.

This pie is almost to scale

One happy pie customer

After all the pie and wine, we managed to be up at a reasonable hour the next day to hit the flower fields.  Driving in, and sitting in lots of traffic, we saw what looked like colored stripes on the horizon. 

 


On closer look, it revealed rows and rows of tulips.  It was a crayon box of color with the tulip heads  breaking away from the long, green stems in a variety of different colors.



Once we got onto the grounds, it was flower Disneyland with every formation, color, size and arrangement you could think of, and never even dream of thinking of.

 
 

There were rivers of flowers, and not enough words to express how beautiful everything was.

 

In case there weren't enough flowers everywhere outside, they had indoor pavilions full of them as well, like this one, filled with unbelievable orchids.

 



















Are you getting the idea of how spectacular the colors were?  The absence of color was also beautiful.


I could go on, but since you're already going to Amsterdam for the apple pie, make sure to time your visit when the flowers are blooming because it really is a site to see.


After recovering from flower overload, we were ready for dinner and drinks.  We went to the hip BO5 for both.  Exposed brick lined the lengthy bar area and again, my vodka friends were all assembled, and no mistakes were made this time.















The food had a Moroccan bent and was all well done and delicious.













The next day was not an early start, but it was a good one with a great brunch along the water at Cafe De Jaren.  I was really impressed with all of the restaurants and cafes where we ate.  Each had a really unique individuality and look.  The people were all very nice, and while the language seems next to impossible, nearly everyone spoke English.


We had a good wander Sunday and took a canal cruise to see Amsterdam from the inside out. 


Again, big fan of the city, and would definitely need to get a bike as everyone is on 2 wheels.  If you're not, you need to look alive as people are coming at you from all angles, including the above ground rail that seems to creep up on you when you're not looking.


Since I am talking about Amsterdam, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the Red Light District, which is still alive and well..ish.  We took a daytime wander through and saw many drapes closed on the street level windows, likely indicating that "business" was being conducted.  There were some scantily clad "ladies" standing in some of the windows, but on closer look, these ladies actually had male parts from the waist down.  Not sure if this is a new trend and who the target market is, but it was not something I would be investigating.


And I should also mention Amsterdam's soft stance on some drugs.  It's hard to walk a block without smelling pot.  You could buy it in many forms.  The Dutch drug policy has always left the matter in people's hands believing everyone can make their own decisions.  Euthanasia is also legal for people who are terminally ill.


What I found surprising was what else you could easily buy and was openly promoted in windows.  The law is a little more grey in the mushroom department.  It seems some are legal, some are not, and you're technically not supposed to sell most as of late 2008, but as you can see, not all are following this rule right now.


Amsterdam authorities believe if you make something forbidden, you make it more attractive to some, so the decision should be up to the individual vs the government.  So there you go.

As we wrapped a great week-end, we were fortunate not to be on an earlier train from Amsterdam that experienced a head-on collision, but it did end up delaying us back into Paris.  Luckily we were still happy from a city that I found very welcoming, beautiful, and full of good energy - and the gorgeous flower festival only added to an already fabulous week-end.


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