Amsterdam with a Curious Mum (part 3) – Dutch cycling and Indonesian Ricetable

Amsterdam with a Curious Mum (part 3) – Dutch cycling and Indonesian Ricetable

As life on the road goes, not everything is just rosy. I also had to squeeze in an emergency visit to a Dutch dentist, as my crown couldn’t wait to fall out until we got back from our holidays. The experience is like any other dental visit – marred by angst. I’ll spare you the details, but the most notable difference was that the dentists there shake your hand, introducing themselves only as “Magriet” or “Anneloes” – no fancy titles there, just a lady fixing your teeth.

Indonesian Ricetable (Rijsttafel)

I have been obsessed with a quasi-Dutch cuisine called Indonesian Ricetable (rijsttafel) since I read about it in a fancy travel magazine many years ago and decided to make this the theme for my 21st birthday party. Needless to say, after trying the real thing in Amsterdam, I can vouch that what I served at my 21st birthday party was not what the Dutch, nor the Indonesians, had in mind, but nevertheless, my friends would never know until they experience it first hand too.

Mum and I dined at a well-known Dutch-Indonesian restaurant, with only a handful of tables, after a kindly call from our landlords to the restaurant. This cuisine stems from the time when Indonesia was a Dutch colony (1800-1949). The idea is to have a central pot of steamed white rice on the table, surrounded to the brim by tiny, yet extremely flavourful dishes. Between 8 and 40 tiny dishes can be ordered and the spread includes vegetarian and various meaty dishes. It is a culinary treasure hunt and best enjoyed by two or more people, who can point each other in the right direction regarding the spiciness and eccentricity of a dish. A word of advise: Take your time. There is no point in rushing through this exploration. You might only experience it once in your life and it’s so very special. The meal was concluded with a digestif of Dutch gin (jenever) in a local pub. Strong stuff, watch where you’re walking, but enjoy the gawking.

Dutch cycling:

A final tip of mine would be to watch your step carefully in Amsterdam, especially when walking the busy streets. There is a myriad of things to see, and what you see is often so authentically quaint, that you can’t help but be momentarily mesmerized by the sight. Yet, and this is a big yet: Should you cross the road without looking specifically for bicycles, the Dutch cyclists will mow you down without a doubt. If they miss, they will make it a memorable experience by shouting at the top of their lungs at you, in Dutch – and if this isn’t enough, all the other cyclists around you will then start ringing their bells to show solidarity with the shouter. This is the stuff nightmares are made of. They do not slow down, partly because they are in the right, and partly because the sturdy Dutch bicycles do not have gears, so once they get going with the wind from behind, there’s little point in braking, even for tourists – how else will they learn? With great relief, I can assure you that neither mum nor I had to learn this lesson the hard way, due to frequent but frantic reminders to each other.

Visit Amsterdam as soon as you can, it’s a special city that makes for gorgeous photos and splendid memories. And if your mum is anything like mine, take her with. It should help you crawl out of your shell and exterminate your embarrassment bug.

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Amsterdam with a Curious Mum (part 2) – Keukenhof gardens

Amsterdam with a Curious Mum (part 2) – Keukenhof gardens

Following on from our Red Light District Visit…

Once back to the safety of normal Amsterdam streets, where groups of drunken men aren’t leering and being excessively loud with bravado, Mum and I discovered a whole different peepshow of our own – gawking unashamedly into people’s houses. It’s not our fault, really – the Dutch don’t draw their curtains! What better way to satisfy my interior design cravings than to stare into the most beautifully lit and decorated homes at night.

It’s all so very European: Think clean lines of Ikea meet quirky Dutch design. What’s more, every house exhibits extravagant floral arrangements, because let me tell you, flowers are cheap as chips. The source is a mere 20 kilometres away, acre upon acre of tulip fields and greenhouses.

Which brings me to my highlight of our trip: A daytrip to Keukenhof, a tulip park just outside Amsterdam. This stunningly designed flower park spans 32 hectares and is open for only 2 months of the year during spring. With hard work and meticulous planning, the creators put forth the most impressive displays of floral colour and design, as well as hosting orchid shows, showcasting gardening ideas and presenting other forms of entertainment. Mum and I love all forms of gardens and we make it a point to visit open gardens and botanical institutions wherever we travel. Hence my question to said Dutch friend: “Did you visit Keukenhof every year as a kid, you lucky duck?” To which he answered with a look of utter dismay on his face: “Are you kidding me? What child wants to visit a flower park?” My bubble was thoroughly burst.

Outside Keukenhof, they also offer bicycles for rent. I jumped at the idea, because it has been a dream of mine to cycle through Dutch tulip fields since a very young age. I can’t remember which book put it squarely in my mind, but there you have it, not all children are created equally. That day I soared. On my sturdy Dutch bicycle, along canals, through villages, past tulip fields I cruised. This was hands down one of the best days of my life, because it was even better than I imagined it to be. The clean yet fragrant air, the companionship, because Dutch people cycle in droves and they greet each other wherever they cycle, so you are forever being engaged in your experience. But above all, navigating a 15km round trip with only a crudely drawn A4 map, all on my own.

Be sure to read Part 3…

Amsterdam with a Curious Mum (part 1) – Red Light District Tour

Amsterdam with a Curious Mum (part 1) – Red Light District Tour

Exploring Amsterdam with a disturbingly curious mother is no small feat, especially if you have hang-ups about things of a questionable nature and Mum doesn’t.

Let’s start at the beginning: Amsterdam must be one of the most charming cities in Europe, with kilometres of canals, bicycle paths and tiny bridges wherever you look. Add to this already romantic picture Spring, the houseboats and the famous narrow, yet slightly leaning buildings, and you have enough to feed your imagination for weeks to come. We were told that these buildings lean slightly forward for a very good reason, and the reason is not poor architecture or moving foundations, although these exist. No, when these building went up in the 1600’s, some architects believed in the optical illusion that makes the buildings seem more imposing – they are literally towering over the onlooker.

Huge hooks adorn the top front of most buildings, which are used to help move furniture with ropes, because the staircases are invariably narrow, given the width of the building. A Dutch friend once told me that he used to live on the top floor of an old building, where the staircase simply wasn’t built to the top for lack of space. Instead, the last few steps to the top was achieved by hoisting yourself up a rope. This kind of living arrangement is obviously only suited to strong young men, Mum and I thought, and I sneaked a quick peek at our booking again.

Not to worry, we were boooked into an imposing period home close to Vondelpark, a park well known for cycling, picnicking and summer concerts – including fondling no doubt. The period home was aptly named Prince Henry and we felt like royalty, because the Dutch know a thing or two about interior design and making the most of small spaces. No ropes in our room.

Apart from doing the girly thing of exploring every little tea shop and boutique in Amsterdam – and there are hundreds – Mum eventually acknowledged that she wanted more spice, and not for cooking. This is, after all, the city known for its red light district and medicinal coffee shops. Hence our evening walking tour of the red light district. Although some early signs of spring were visible during the daytime, March evenings are still pretty fresh. Fitted out in chunky jackets, woolen scarves, ear muffles, long socks and winter boots, we set off to meet our tour guide, Sally. Meeting place: A hotel lobby across from Centraal Station.

Unless you ever had to ask: “Are you also here for the red light district walking tour?” with your elderly mother in tow, I can tell you now, I win this one.

Once we were gathered, a good 12 of us – all perfectly normal looking tourists – Sally sets out the rules. Numbers 1-10: “NO photographs of the ladies. Understood? They value their privacy as much as anyone. Absolutely NO photograps.”

Only the highlights follow, as I’m sure you’re as curious as Mum – who, by the way, asked the majority of questions, bless her:

  • There are certain ‘areas’ within the red light district for every fancy that may need tickling – Eastern European ladies, African ladies, Asian ladies etc.
  • There used to be ‘men for hire’, but business was so slow that they’ve discontinued that line of service.
  • Rooms are rented per night, and rent is pretty steep.
  • “Service fees” are charged per 15 minutes. The average “service” lasts 6 minutes.
  • Police patrol the area vigorously and a “safety light system” has been introduced to ensure the ladies’ safety. Each room has a panic button inside, and if this is activated, an alarm light flashes out front and this alerts the police that something untoward is happening.
  • The oldest registered prostitutes are twin sisters aged in their mid-seventies!
  • By the by, Mum did try and sneak in a photograph, and when I called her on it, her casual response was: “The flash isn’t on.” Go on earth, swallow me now.

Keep reading… part 2 (Keukenhof)

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