Thursday, March 12, 2009

The best of everything!

Great friends, great places, great food, great beer! Last Thursday, we drove to Amsterdam to meet our Kalamazoo friends John and Maggie for a long weekend of fun. John is a brewer and had business to do near Brussels on Monday but until then we explored and had fun in the Netherlands and Belgium.

We spent our first afternoon exploring Haarlem, a nice little city outside of Amsterdam. We walked by the Corrie Ten Boom house, found some yummy cheeses and had a "picnic" lunch in our hotel room with foods from a brand-new Italian deli in town. We found an interesting private museum of natural history with an impressive collection of fossils and gems. The building itself was historic and beautiful and definitely was part of the experience.

In the evening we took the train into Amsterdam to find dinner. I was aware of the city's reputation as socially liberal but had no real interest to go gawking in the Red Light District. I had assumed that all the prostitution and marijuana-smoking (both of which are legal, or at least tolerated) took place in one neighborhood. Not so. In our meandering to find a restaurant, we caught the unmistakable smell of marijuana smoke coming out of many coffee shops. Because it is tolerated and widespread, it really seems like no big deal there. People sit around with friends, just like they would over a cup of coffe, talking and laughing. A little harder for me to see were the window displays of barely-clad women advertising their business. It was so surprising to see since we didn't seek it out and we were just walking down the street.

The food specialty in Amsterdam is Indonesian cuisine, a holdover from colonial days. We found a nice place and I tried many new dishes whose names I cannot pronounce! It was around midnight by the time we got back to our hotel in Haarlem, a long day since we'd gotten up at 3:45 AM to start our drive.

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