by Jacob Aldridge

Amsterdam offers many different ways to alter your perception on the world.

We’re sticking with the completely legal ones: impressionist art, and dutch beer. Mostly.

Amsterdam canals in the summer

Amsterdam: Like Venice, only pleasant

Today’s Experience

The Netherlands (aka Holland) may be a tiny country, but it leaves a large footprint across world history. Whether you’re schooled in art, corporations law, or maritime warfare, you’ll bump into this lowland super power. Fellow everydaydreamer Luke has offered to be our local guide today, and he’s offered to give us all a ‘Taste’ of the culture.

Our schooling begins at the Rijksmuseum, Holland’s national museum. Would you like to pose in front of the 8 foot high “i amsterdam” sign nearby?

i amsterdam / i am amsterdam sign near the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam the Netherlands

i amsterdam. Get it? Get it?!

How are you feeling about all these museums? We could load ourselves up and try to fit every piece into some kind of artistic school or historical context. For a far more pleasurable experience, how about we wander through and decide to only inspect those that catch our eye?

Like this one …

Queen Beatrix portrait by Andy Warhol, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands will abdicate next month; here she is in a portrait by Andy Warhol!

or this one?

The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, by Johannes Vermeer.

The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, by Johannes Vermeer.

Isn’t it interesting how many of the eye-catching paintings come from artists we’ve heard of? Perhaps that means we’ve acquired several centuries of artistic taste!

Of course, many of the best pictures, like this one, are bound to be eye-catching because they take up an entire room! What I love about ‘The Night Watch’ by local boy Rembrandt is that next to it is a copy made by a student … which reveals that two sides of the painting have been cut off at some point since then!!

Rembrandt's 'The Night Watch' (actual title, 'The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out').

Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ (actual title, ‘The Company of captain Frans Banning Cocq and lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch preparing to march out’).

House of the Smiling e

After Guinness in Dublin last week, we can proudly declare that it’s never too early to explore the Heineken Experience. Walking along the canals – WATCH THE BIKE! – we’re beginning to wonder if a brewery tour is worth the time? Luke can sense it:

“When I moved to the city, I never wanted to come here. Some friends were in town one day last year and made me come – it was so much better than I thought. Now I take everyone here.”

Historical Heineken poster ad, with a creepy guy smiling.

Not all Heineken ads are green … but most are amusing.

And he’s right. The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam is not like any other brewery tour we’ve done. Groovy green chill out rooms, a fine history piece to rival even the Guinness Storehouse … even the obligatory explanation about how beer is made has been jazzed up with a 4D ride!

We could stand up here enjoying our free Heinekens for ages … but there’s a free canal cruise included in the tour!

View of a Heineken beer from below.

Bottoms up? Amen to that!

Amsterdam Canals

Heineken has taken the ‘Exit via the Gift Shop’ mentality to the extreme. To get to their gift shop, closer to the centre of town, they give you a free canal ride. You can even buy Heinekens on board!

Onboard the free Heineken canal cruise in Amsterdam

We could say ‘buy beers on board’, but what other brand do you think they would sell!

The miles of canals that make Amsterdam famous are almost all man-made, necessary irrigation channels for a nation largely below sea-level. They have also enabled a wealth of trade – note the hooks high up on the multi-storey houses used to load goods (and, more recently, couches and bulky refrigerators) off of and onto boats.

Let’s duck up to the gift shop for the free gift – Heineken aviators! – then explore the streets. It’s a flat, easy walk as Luke points out some buildings of interest. You can see why so many locals eschew the new fangled motor car in favour of bicycles.

What’s the Matter Mary Jane?

  • If you want to try some of the other mind-altering substances Amsterdam is famous for (and I’m explicitly talking about marijuana and hash here) Luke recommends Abraxas – for their range of products whether you want to smoke marijuana or eat a hash brownie or cookie, plus their friendliness and good English for beginners.
  • HOWEVER, be aware that new ID laws have now come into effect – even in Amsterdam – in an attempt to restrict pot smoking to Dutch residents only.
Abraxas Coffee shop in Amsterdam, sells marijuana and hash cookies hash brownies and earl grey tea

Not in ANY way related to the Harry Potter books or films. In case you were wondering.

Van Gogh

We will certainly return to Amsterdam next time we swing through Europe, to take in more of the museums, but Luke wants to ensure we see his favourite: Van Gogh!

Vincent van Gogh’s life of woe is reasonably well-known – he cut off his own ear due to mental illness, a difficult life that made him famous in death. He only sold 1 work during his life – a waste of talent that, thankfully, kept so many of his works within his extended family who were later able to create the comprehensive museum we’re now visiting.

Luke’s secret is to hang near the staircase in the centre of the rooms. Impressionist art – where Van Gogh is most frequently defined – is designed to be seen from afar. Too many art tourists get up close, better to see each brush stroke while missing the overall effect.

The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh (1885)

The Potato Eaters (1885) is probably Van Gogh’s first ‘masterpiece’. It hints more at the dark and moody Dutch style than his later impressionist work, though the broad brush strokes are already evident.

You can see van Gogh in all the famous museums of London, Paris and New York. But nowhere else will you be able to walk through so many of his works, organised chronologically so you can see his experiments and the evolution of his style.

There is also the piece he was working on when he died – maybe. Of the many museums in Amsterdam, Luke has picked two great ones for today.

What Field with Crows (1890).  NOT Vincent Van Gogh's last painting.

Wheat Field with Crows (1890). Thought for many years to be his last painting, this is now discredited. I personally believe it’s a self-portrait, but that’s probably Abraxas talking.

Red Light Nights

After an easy pizza dinner at La Perla, Luke takes us towards Amsterdam’s oldest cathedral … in the heart of the Red Light District!

We know we’ve arrived when we find our thoughts interrupted by banging glass – it’s the ladies of the night, behind protective screens, trying to gain our attention (and our custom).

An Amsterdam prostitute or lady of the night in the red light district Amsterdam

Knock knock, who’s there? The world’s oldest profession. Photo by Vin Crosbie, CC License

You can readily paint a two-dimensional picture of The Netherlands’ approach to issues like drug decriminalisation and prostitution. You can argue it’s an approach that encourages our base temptations, or that it brings to light (and safety) choices that will happen regardless of the law.

Imagine being the town bike in Amsterdam?

Amsterdam: It’s all Bikes and Canals

Reality probably sits somewhere in between. There’s much to be said for not hiding this…by midnight, however, when the inexperienced drug takers and those who’ve just had too much dutch beer head into this district, it becomes clear why Dutch officials are adding restrictions to their laws.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • Luke has us using the Holland Pass to save money. Loads of cities have these, and they’re often a rip off because they include sights you don’t want to see and not the ones you do want to visit! The Holland Pass seems pretty good – we even have some tickets left for our day trip to The Hague tomorrow.
  • Despite appearing to be old v new, the automobile and the bicycle were actually invented close together in the mid-19th Century.
  • Water is not allowed into the Van Gogh museum. Which sucks when you’ve been walking all day!

Do you have any great perception-altering experiences of Amsterdam? Share them in the comments below or with the followers on our Facebook page.