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Pulse Hopping Paris to Amsterdam

We chose to drive to Amsterdam – four of us crammed into a tiny car stocked with munchies and drinks for the (approximate) six hour trek from Paris. The drive is easy and was in both directions quiet uneventful. With no need for a car in the city, we parked it cheaply in a lot outside the city, taking the train to “Amsterdam Centraal” and walking only a few minutes over to the lovely apartments where I’ve stayed before of the Truelove Antiek & Guesthouse off of Haarlemmerstraat.

Amsterdam is simply Amsterdam. I love Amsterdam with a capital A-Plus. It may be the only other city in Europe that gets my pulse hopping besides Paris. The architecture sends me into a natural ‘high’ ogling with awe the tall narrow brick buildings that often lean into themselves and line the calm canals like little people lined up along a barricade getting ready for an oncoming parade. The symmetry is calming, everything so square, so right-angled, so 90 degreed and so…un-French! (The French culture is very circular, round or spiral, n’est-ce pas?)

It’s summer, yet still cool and rainy. The trees are full along the canals shading the brick pathways. The streets are particularly quiet…as is any time of year. The Dutch are so ‘flat’ that you rarely hear any voices over the others, or emotional outbursts. We Americans are, by far, the most animated ‘animals’ on the street. This must be the quietest city in the world with few cars, an occasional bike bell and barely the bark of a dog. The boats on the canals glide silently along. It always intrigues me after becoming accustomed to the sounds of motor bikes and garbage trucks on the streets of Paris or the overwhelming din of Manhattan how Amsterdam maintains its hush-hush atmosphere.

Amsterdam is a city of youth and everyone is TALL. I must add: handsome. The Dutch are truly a handsome lot, although the women tend to be less feminine than their French counterparts, as they are tall and blonde and imposing. Two of my part-Dutch traveling companions fit in like natives, and was sure my shorter, darker countenance wasn’t doing the same. Never mind…we couldn’t take our eyes off the parade of stunning men with
long, thick locks and pale eyes.

One reason lots of people come to Amsterdam is to smoke the forbidden ‘weed’ legal in “Coffee Shops” that now no longer allow tobacco as of this past July first. They outlawed the smoking of tobacco in the very places where everyone is lighting up…any one of hundreds of varieties of marijuana and hashish. Funny turn of events, no? As a result, there is fear the Coffee Shops have seen better days. While one might think that the city is just a swarm of ‘stoned-out hippies,’ it’s far from that. Since making the drug legal, it’s even become “passé.” One owner commented that…”It’s absurd. In other countries they look to see whether you have marijuana in your cigarette, here they’ll look to see if you’ve got cigarette in your marijuana.”

With only two days to explore the city, we put dinner at Sampurna Indonesian Restaurant for “Rijsttafel” (rice table) at the top of the list. It’s our favorite, if not the best, just in front of the Flower Market on the Singel Canal. (Beware of the pungent spicy flavors…they are ‘addictive.’)

It’s not far from the Red Light District, one of Amsterdam’s primary attractions. Prostitution has been legal there since 1830, is highly licensed and enforced. ‘Working girls,’ found displaying their ‘wares’ in their ‘store front’ windows, are treated as entrepreneurs and have to submit an income tax declaration and pay taxes. Just recently, in 2007, a court decided that “the VAT which strip dancers have to add to the bill for their performances should be not as on other services, 19%, but lower, the same as on art and artistic performances, 6%.” Only in Amsterdam!

On a beautifully sunny Saturday afternoon, we just wandered among the narrow little streets of the “Jordaan,” through the open-air markets where bargains are to be had, shopping in the high-quality second-hand shops that Amsterdam has perfected. Shopping is one of my favorite sports in “Venice of the North,” as it is often called…especially for romantic clothing and adult “toys” that are abundantly available in endless shops in even the most bourgeois of neighborhoods. No one need feel uncomfortable perusing the goodies on the shelves. If it doesn’t exist in Amsterdam, it doesn’t exist at all.

Anglophone comedy is alive and well in Amsterdam — at Boom Chicago at the Leidseplein Theater. Started in 1993 by Americans living in Amsterdam, their improvisationalist comedy crosses the cutlural barriers. Don’t miss a show there if you can help it.

Before heading straight back to Paris, we took a detour to the “Krõller-Müller Museum” in the center of the Hoge Veluwe National Park. It is here where Helene Krõller-Müller displays her collection of impressive impressionist art, including 180 drawings and 87 of the finest paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and sculptures of note on 25 hectares of garden, including Jean Dubuffet’s “Jardin d’Email.”

Now that Summer vacation is coming to an end, we have “La Rentrée” to look forward to — when this week residents slowly re-enter the City of Light and everyone gets back to work…for real?

Adrian Leeds A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

(Photo of Adrian by Sheila Fenton)

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P.S. With the Democratic National Convention beginning today in Denver, everyone should prepare to vote from wherever they are! Scroll down to learn how to register your absentee ballot if you’re living abroad.

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