Amsterdam: Part VI

I’m going to Brussels to talk in a few hours, and this will be the last of my Amsterdam posts. Photos will be sparser for a few days as I’ll be working, but I have two days in Ghent, which is supposed to be a lovely town, and I’m scheduled to drink good Belgium ales (see below for one of them) on Wednesday.

The weather improved markedly on Friday, and a good thing, too, for reader Derek offered us a cruise along the Amsterdam canals in his boat. Derek is an expat American who’s lived in Amsterdam for many years and works as an IT guy.  He and his wife Abbie gassed up the boat, loaded it with snacks, and we had a two-hour canal’s eye view of Amsterdam. It was lovely.

Here’s Cap’n Derek at the helm:

The very rich people in Amsterdam live in the fancy houses along the canals, which are worth several million Euros, or they move slightly outside the city and live in big free-standing houses like these:

They even have fancy multi-level houseboats parked in the canals and rivers. These, like all live-in houseboats, have water and sewage connected to the main city system. These ones are much fancier than the ones parked in the central canal area:

The birds and young folk were all out enjoying the first real warm weather of the year. We saw several kinds of geese, ducks, and other waterfowl. Here’s a goose, but I don’t know the species (or breed):

Swans were looking for a handout:

Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus) were pairing up and doing their famous  mating displays (it was hard to get sharp photos as the boat was moving):

We passed this “organic” boat bedecked with ivy and foliage. The three dudes on it were drinking beers, waved to us several times, and were clearly having a fine day:

I didn’t realize that some of the bridges over the canals are drawbridges, which apparently get opened remotely by a man with a cellphone. Most of the bridge, however, aren’t capable of being opened, and some are so low that only very low boats can go under them.

If our vision weren’t occluded by boats in front of us, we could have seen the famous “seven bridges” view. Four are visible here.

Amsterdam has museums for everything: besides paintings, there are museums for cat curios (see yesterday), cheese, tulips, the Dutch Resistance, the city itself, the canals, and, of course, this Museum of Bags and Purses. It reportedly contains over 5000 handbags dating from the 17th century—the world’s largest collection. You can read a lot more about it at the link above.

The sun began to set as we headed back towards Derek and Abbie’s place.

Here’s Abbie, who works as a painting restorer and curator at the famous Maritshuis art museum in the Hague. I haven’t been there but would love to go: the collection, rich in Dutch work of the “Golden Age,” includes Vermeers (especially The Girl with a Pearl Earring; a painting on which Abbie worked), Rembrandts (e.g., The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp), and the now-famous The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabritius, featured in Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel.

Here’s Abbie with one of their three cats, Pomme.

This longhair, named “Ninja”, had just recovered from a bout of giardia. You can imagine what that did to his fur.

Ninja has his own Ikea-style bed in which he sleeps:

And their third cat, Shitten. (It may be a Dutch word; I’m just the messenger here.)

As a special treat, we were served a very rare ale from the the Trappist Abbey of Saint Sixtus in Vleteren, Belgium: Westvleteren 12. It has a reputation as being the best beer in the world, and of course I was excited to try it. As Wikipedia notes:

The brewery’s three beers have acquired an international reputation for taste and quality, Westvleteren 12 being considered by some to be the best beer in the world. The beers are not brewed to normal commercial demands but are sold in small quantities weekly from the doors of the monastery itself to individual buyers on an advance-order basis.

. . .Buyers were originally limited to ten 24-bottle crates of the beer per car, but as the beer increased in popularity, this was first reduced to five, then to three and now to two or one crates. For the Westvleteren 12 in 2009, it was limited to one case. When making an order now, the type and quantity of beer available for sale are revealed. Sales are limited to one order every 60 days per person per license plate and phone number. Also, the beer must be reserved on their “beerphone” beforehand. The monks do not sell beer to individuals who drive up to the abbey hoping to purchase beer. The reason for this is to eliminate commercial reselling, and hence give all visitors a chance to purchase the product.

The current production is 475 kilolitres (60,000 cases) per year, and has remained the same since 1946.

There are no labels on the bottle: all the relevant information, including the 10.2% alcohol content of Westvleteren 12, is on the bottle cap:

It’s a strong, dark, and slightly sweet beer, as monastery ales tend to be. Derek gets it as lagnaippe when he lends friends his car to drive to Belgium to pick up their beer from the monastery. Here it is, served in a proper glass in the proper setting.

The beer had a fantastic nose: almost like a sweet sherry, with notes of vanilla, raisins, and toffee. The flavor was incomparably rich and satisfying. Wikipedia gives more information:

In June 2005, when Westvleteren 12 was again highlighted as “Best Beer in the World”, news organizations followed this up and articles appeared in the international press, highlighting the beer ranking and the unusual business policies. In 2014 it was rated best beer in the world by Ratebeer.com

Following these events, interest in Westvleteren’s output increased and stories appeared of the abbey’s stock being low, forcing the monks to reduce the amount of beer sold to each customer. In an interview, monk Mark Bode explained that the abbey had no intention of increasing its production, despite demand: “We make the beer to live but we do not live for beer.”

Despite the popularity, the monks of St Sixtus have continued to decline almost all interview and visit requests, and have not enjoyed all of the attention they have received. Non-monastic visitors to the abbey are usually turned away, instead being directed to the visitor’s centre opposite where there is information about the abbey and brewery. They have stated their desire to only produce as much beer as needed to finance the community.

I have to say that I’ve had many beers in my life, but I don’t remember any as complex and tasty as this one. Pity the supply is limited, but then with this quality it has to be. I’m looking forward to sampling other great Belgium beers with friends on Wednesday evening.

A bit of the “seamy” side of Amsterdam. We walked through the red-light district, which has shrunk considerably since I was here ten years ago. They’ve recently banned walking tours through the district, as I’m sure the working girls don’t want to be ogled by groups. Out of respect for that, I avoided photographing any of them, but this is where you find them: standing semi-clad (often gyrating) in windows that have red lights above them.

There are several hundred “coffee houses” in Amsterdam, which are places where you can buy and smoke marijuana (but not tobacco) and have coffee and snacks. The “dope menu” is extensive. If a place says “coffee house”, it sells weed; if you just want coffee, you go to a “cafe”. Here are two of the many coffee houses in Amsterdam. (They exist throughout the Netherlands, but outside Amsterdam many prohibit foreigners.)

You can buy loose marijuana or already-rolled joints with inserts that allow you to smoke it all. Here’s an example of a joint: these are sold in packs of four for anywhere between 12 and 25 Euros a pack, depending on which of the many varieties you want. Once you buy a pack, you are allowed to go back to the coffeeshop to smoke their own product, without ordering any food or drink.

Apparently each coffee shop has its own proprietary product: marijuana is technically illegal to sell in the Netherlands, so there are no central growers as there are in the U.S. It’s odd that these coffee shops are operating in the gray area of the law.

Often positioned next to coffee houses, “seed shops” sell marijuana seeds and mushrooms. Seeds are expensive, but of course if you grow your own you can propagate the plants clonally or through fertilization. Here is a “seed menu” from one such shop; packets of five seeds sell from 16 to 40 Euros.

And so, as the sun sets over the canals and the Rijksmuseum, we headed off for dinner at a South Indian restaurant and said a sad farewell to this lovely city:

 

39 Comments

  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Beautiful photos here!

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Those houseboats along the canal look like just the place for Mossad agents to exact their retribution against a comely Dutch assassin in Spielberg’s film Munich.

    • Posted April 1, 2019 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      And many other films. They seem to often get used as a place where a character lives “under the radar”. In real life, perhaps it is the first place the authorities look.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 1, 2019 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        Yeah, next time Interpol’s on my ass, think I’ll go on the lam elsewhere.

    • BJ
      Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      You know, I really likes that film, but it has a lot of pacing problems in the first two acts. Still, there’s so much brilliance.

      That Dutch assassin looks just like the woman who played Chloe in In Bruges. I had to look it up to make sure it wasn’t her.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:54 am | Permalink

        Funny, I think she looks even more like Thekla Reuten, the Dutch actress who played the In Bruges pregnant innkeeper:

        • BJ
          Posted April 1, 2019 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

          One of my absolute favorite films by one of my favorite writer/directors and starring two of my favorite actors (three, if you count Ralph Fiennes as being in a starring role).

  3. dvandivere
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I have to admit that Shitten is exactly what she sounds like – a shit kitten. We named her that after she’d chewed through four pair of headphone wires in a day. It’s lucky she’s so darn cute.

    I do have a few friends who refuse to call her that, although my mother in law has grown to really like the name.

    • Claudia Baker
      Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Best name ever for a naughty kitty.

      • dvandivere
        Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        She also likes to watch me while I shower. She is an odd one.

        • Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:52 am | Permalink

          One of my cats does this too and sometimes meows. I am not sure what he wants. I think it is fairly common cat behavior but I haven’t seen a reasonable explanation of why they do it. Cats notoriously avoid water so perhaps it is just an abundance of concern for the person who is clearly at risk of drowning.

      • boggy
        Posted April 1, 2019 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        Until it died recently I had a cat I called ‘Chaton Maudit’ a name derived from the French film ‘Gazon Maudit’, officially ‘cursed cat’.
        The film is hilarious- see it.

  4. Serendipitydawg
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    That goose looks distinctly like a Greylag crossed with a domestic goose.

  5. dvandivere
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    One tip: if you’re in the red light district, DO NOT take photos of the sex workers. It’s rude, and it’s sometimes dangerous – their ‘managers’ used to be famous for coming after people they suspected of photography.

    Also, a small correction: it’s coffee shops where weed is sold. Someplace advertising itself as a ‘koffiehuis’ would most likely actually sell coffee.

  6. Claudia Baker
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    What a lovely visit to Amsterdam! I can’t wait to go back, especially to see the “Resistance Museum”.

  7. yazikus
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Such fantastic photos! I got to visit Amsterdam twice as a teen – I did Model UN and went to the big Hague conference. We even got to drop in on a Milosavljević hearing. I think it might have even been in the spring as well. We got to visit the red-light district and even a Museum of Sex. Good times!

  8. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I’d agree with dvandivere, they are known as ‘coffeshops’, and indeed a ‘koffiehuis’ would roast and sell coffee.
    Westvleteren is one of only 4 Trappist beers left, still made by the Trappist monks. All the others are produced under licence and are called ‘Abdijbier’. The other three ‘Trappists’ are Orval, Chimay and Maredsous (if my info is correct). Westvleteren “Abt” (the yellow cap) is indeed an exceptional beer. My favourite used to be Orval though.
    Confusingly, the goldfinch carduelis carduelis is called putter (they were trained to heist water in a miniature bucket) or distelvink (litt thistle finch) in dutch, while the ‘Goudvink’ (litt goldfinch) refers to the bullfinch Phyrrula phyrrula.

  9. rickflick
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Great shots of sun sets over the canals.

    • dvandivere
      Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Having visitors over is a good reminder of how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful street…

  10. Posted April 1, 2019 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Ignoring the white areas of the body, it looks most like a Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), but the white on the body indicates domestic goose, or crossed with a domestic goose. Domestic geese are domesticated Greylag Geese (Anser anser), and some do have the “white-front” above the bill (as the one in the photo does). For a view of the complications of goose hybrids a dn ID, see “Confusing Domestic Geese“.

  11. darrelle
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    I can’t adequately express how envious I am of you over the Westvleteren 12. I’ve got to find a way to get a bottle.

    • Posted April 2, 2019 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      It can be found in some shops in the Mpls./St. Paul area.

      • darrelle
        Posted April 2, 2019 at 11:16 am | Permalink

        There’s hope then?! I might be able to find a place in the US that will ship it to me.

        • Posted April 2, 2019 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

          Yes, have a search online. I can’t point to a shop that has it for sure; but I have bought it locally.

          Try: Bacchus, Surdyk’s, Cellars

        • Posted April 2, 2019 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

          Also:
          The Wine Thief & Ale Jail
          1787 St Clair Ave, St Paul | 651-698-9463

          • darrelle
            Posted April 2, 2019 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for the tips jblilie.

            What did you think of this ale?

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted April 2, 2019 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      I had one or two in a special beer & whisky place in Stockholm in the 90s. Best beer!

      • darrelle
        Posted April 2, 2019 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

        I’m looking forward to trying it.

  12. Etienne Van den Boss
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Amsterdam is not the only city in the world having a poezenboot. Ghent, that you will be visiting next wednesday, has also one…Have a nice stay at Ghent.
    Greetings from Evergem (next to Ghent!

  13. Mark R.
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    For me, boats are by far the most relaxing way to travel. Just lolling in a slow moving boat bathed in sun with beer in hand and beautiful surroundings is one of my favorite activities.

    BTW, what was the temp. of the Westvleteren 12? I imagine it wasn’t chilled in the fridge, but rather the temp. of a fine red wine…cellar temp.

    • dvandivere
      Posted April 2, 2019 at 1:25 am | Permalink

      I took them out of the fridge about an hour before serving.

      • Posted April 2, 2019 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        🙂 🙂 🙂

      • Mark R.
        Posted April 2, 2019 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        Perfection!

  14. Stephen Mynett
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    A friend was once warned she would be asked to leave a Coffee House. She was with others and they had all bought stuff but decided she fancied a normal cigarette with her drink and that as the place was thick with smoke anyway no one would worry.

    Wrong, she was politely asked not to smoke tobacco in there and was quite happy to obey as she found it quite amusing.

  15. P. Puk
    Posted April 1, 2019 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Two tiny points of order:

    The correct term is coffeeshop in Dutch. If you said koffiehuis (coffee house) to any Dutchman, it would be more likely you were referring to a cafe.

    Also, propagation of marijuana seeds you’d buy in Holland would never be done by pollination. First, those seeds are screened so you buy females only as those produce the flowers we smoke. Second, if you were to get a male mixed in with your seeds and did manage to pollinate, most of the varieties are F1 hybrids so the next generation would be inconsistent.

  16. Posted April 2, 2019 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Beautiful and fun photos, Jerry! Thanks!

    Enjoy those Belgian ales! I mostly drink Belgian and UK beers.

    Some of my favorites:
    Hoegaarden Grand Cru (rumor is they’ve stopped making it; their Wit is excellent too, of course. Many years ago, their brewer who revived the Wit, Pierre Celis, moved to Austin TX and opened his eponymous brewery there)
    Scotch Silly
    St. Bernardus Abt 12
    La Chouffe
    McChouffe
    Lindemann’s Kriek and Framboise
    Any of the Abbey/Trappist beers (though I find Orval too dry for my tastes)
    Gouden Carolus
    Saison Dupont

    Drink widely and deeply! 🙂

  17. Posted April 2, 2019 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Wow,I think it was The Bulldog where we bought our space cakes, but I admit my memory of the whole episode is very hazy. 😯

  18. pablo
    Posted April 2, 2019 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    RE Falklands War: Not long ago I was listening to BBC’s Documentary podcast on the Falklands. The narrator-a perky young woman-lamented that the Argentines didn’t win, because it would’ve made the islands more diverse.


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