3rd Day in Amsterdam: Jan-4-2014

Fries with Mayo in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Today I slept in till after 10:15...what a nice surprise.  After riding through the park to get into town we stopped at the Albert Cuyp Market.  The market wasn't a large one--it had food, cheeses, clothes, etc.  I ordered raw herring served alongside a pickle and chopped onions.  Kim and Oliver were discussing 'authentic' Dutch cuisine and they both said that this was 'very' dutch.  I am not sure it was the best choice for my first meal of the day.  The herring was fresh but tasted very fishy.  It was similar to the herring I eat on the jewish holidays.  The texture of the raw fish was much more tender than I had anticipated for such a small fish.  Kim bought a juice/yogurt smoothy.  At one end of the market was a stand that was selling chips, or fries as we would call them.  Another Dutch tradition is to eat chips with mayonnaise.  The other night I had suggested that Oliver should try to make sweet potato chips and dip them in a sauce of half mayonaise and half white horseradish.  He seemed intrigued...I hope he does try it, it's delicious!

Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Across from the Heineken offices was the "Heineken Experience"--an 18 euro tour that ended with 2 drinks.  I payed for Kim's ticket as she does not even like beer but went for my benefit.  Thanks Kim!  The experience was just that, an 'experience'.  Unlike all other beer tours I've been on--and I've been on no less than 8--this tour was extremely 'simple'.  It covered the brewing process at such an elemantary level that it could have been 'copied and pasted' and used for ANY other brewery's tour.  Even the giant 'Guiness" brand had a much more detailed tour at their location in Dublin.  The samples at the end were only of Heineken.  Throughout the entire tour there was not one mention of any other beer besides Heineken--despite the fact that Heineken owns hundreds of beer brands.  I went into this tour with high hopes--during the capstone strategy class I took while enrolled in Memphis' MBA program I had written a 100 page strategic business case for Heineken.

At the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

I knew that Heineken has continued to grow by buying up local brewing companies around the world--though unlike many of its competitors Heineken does not centralize its marketing efforts.  It only does that for its international brands (i.e. Heineken).  When Heineken buys a small Colombian brewery they keep the marketing local, and thus more personal and unique to that market.  There was no mention of this on the tour.  There was also complete omission about why Heineken decided to use green bottles and why they still do.  They did not discuss the volume they produce and/or compare that to their competition.  I believe Heineken is the 3rd largest beer company and that they own other large franchised beer brands, however the tour failed to mention any of this.

The tour had us walking through stations that showed all the medals that the Heineken family had been awarded.  Actually, one unexpected part of the tour was when we walked into this semi-enclosed area where there were half a dozen horses.  These were same type of horses that the knights had used in battle during the midevel ages--you know, the ones with those very furry white legs.  These horses were used to transport the freshly bottled beer.

The 'Heineken Experience' took DTC marketing to the next level.  DTC stands for 'direct-to-consumer' and is a type of marketing strategy most used by consumer product companies.  Everything about the tour was marketing...well maybe 3% was educational, probably less.  Most of the tour consisted of walking through different rooms with the Heineken logo and color scheme.  One room was layed out like a disco--plush benches wrapping the perimeter of the room--with floor to ceiling video screens.  The screens were displaying different Heineken commercials from around the world.  The ceiling was construced of Heineken bottles.  Kim and I sat here for 15 minutes and talked.  We were both waiting for something to happen but we realized there was nothing coming after the video feed had repeated itself for the 3rd time.

There were rooms with virtual reality games, others with music, some with light shows, and so many other types...there were maybe 10 rooms rooms.  Perhaps more?  The games all started by requiring your facebook information and progressed to gleen various precious key targeted demographic marketing information from us.  Heineken should have payed us to take the experience as the entire 'experience' felt more like a paid marketing study than anything else.  We came to one room with two bars shaped like the red star on the label--the bartender stood in the center pouring small samples to us.  I really like this bar, it was so practical.  The star with a person serving in the center was such an economical use of floorspace.

Once we took the sample we went to the other bar where we were 'taught' on how to properly drink beer.  I'm fairly confident that what was said to us was 80% bullshit.  He did say the first thing to do before drinking was to look at the color.  Ok, I agree with that.  He described the color as golden, which if you've ever seen a Heineken and a 'real' beer you would know this is far from the truth.  I would describe the beer as foamy urine from a partially dehydrated person.  If I was feeling extra generous I would go as far as describing its color as 'a translucent yellowish-straw with a 1.5 finger head".  He made some jokes about how the English don't know how to drink beer and that British beers don't have 'bubbles'--he didn't even describe the 'bubbles' as the head.  He said the bubbles were there to keep the carbonation in.  Ok, I see why he is working on a tour...he most certainly failed basic chemistry and physics.  Then he instructed us to smell the beer.  He asked what it was that we smelled and I held back my initial impulse to say, 'urine'.  I raised my hand and said hopps.  He congradulated me and gave me an extra pour of Heineken to sample.

At the end of the marketing blitz we were able to have two glasses of Heineken or one glass of Heineken and serve ourself.  I had one glass, Kim took a Pepsi, and we left with two samples unused.

Just two more comments on the 'experience'.  During the tour we had watched a 15 minute 'augmented reality' demonstration of how beer is made.  The idea was that 'we' were the ingredients and went through the entire process of brew to bottle to distribution.  We stood up and held onto the railing in front of us.  The floor vibrated, jolted, and rocked in sync with the video screen.  There were water sprayers on the ceiling that dripped water droplets on us when we were being mixed with the water.  Heat lamps came on when we, the malt, were being roasted.  Next a bubble machine blew bubbles on us as the beer began to ferment.  We ended our journey by being delivered on a tropical island and quenching the thirsts of attractive vacationers.  Also we were given a free gift for taking the tour but needed to take a ferry to a different location to pick it up.  There was merchandise to be purchased at the end of the tour but they had a much larger multi-floor store at this other location.  We rode our bikes there later and got our free glass...leaving ignoring all the other 'merch'.

We ate lunch at a cute cafe called 'My Auntie's Pie' and I ordered a coffee and a chocolate/rasberry cake which was called 'The Chocolcate Slut'.  The cake was average but I was really digging the environment.  The cakeshop was very simple with a simple display case.  This seemed like a place that would be on the campus of a ver liberal college.

Smoking a join in Amsterdam, Netherlands

This cake break we had taken was our lunch for the day.  Just prior to going in My Auntie's Pie I wanted to try another one of the joints.  I did buy 4 of them.  Also when the couple from last night had left the coffee shop they had not finished the joint they were smoking.  I took the remaining joint...1/3 probably remained.  Kim took a few photos of me as I 'lit up'.  It was refreshing being able to smoke a joint out in the open.  Families walked by...no big deal.  After I had finished the joint Kim had pointed out that I was just beside a police camera--how cool.

Later we rode to the museum district where I saw all the museams, as well as the US consulate building.  We rode underneath the Rykes Museum (Rijksmuseum) again and I attempted to take a video one handed as I managed the bike with the other.  We had 30 minutes or so to kill so we stopped in somewhere for some tea.  I wrote in my blog, which was a day or two behind and Kim helped me by sending me an itemized list of all the areas we had visited.

We met up with Oliver and took a 90 minute boat tour in the the canals.  There were some light installations, but they were not that impressive.  The most impressive parts where viewing the streets and building from the canals.  We took the trip at 6:00pm, but it was not until 8:00pm that we returned.  The boat was enclosed and had ~3 dozen tables, each with two booths and a table with 1 red lit candle.  It was warm and comfy inside.  After 30 minutes or so I walked to the back of the boat and stepped outside.  I wanted to get a view of the city without having windows obstructing my view.  While outside Iit up my last joint.  I met/talked with half a dozen people outside.  2 of them were from another part of Holland and 4 of them were visiting.  The Dutch couple had said they didn't smoke.  Of all the Dutch people I have personally talked to it seems that none of them smoke pot.  The other group of people were smoking.  One guy, Danny, was from Jersey.  He had an American-Italian accent so I jokingly asked if he was from 'South Jersey'.  Everyone laughed and he said that he was from Central Jersey but that the others have been teasing him about that for the last few weeks.  Two girls were living in NYC, one was orignally from Israel.  The last guy was living in Israel and was just traveling with them.  They had just finished their Birthright trip--which seemed unusual since they all looked to be in their mid 30s and the cutoff age is 26.  I told them I had taken the trip almost a decade ago.  What a small world, to find jews on the back of this boat in Amsterdam.  Kim had told me that of the 16 million people living in the country that only 30,000 of them were jews--Oliver being one of them.

 Canal tour in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Afterwards we had planned on going back to the apartment, grabbing a bite to eat, and then heading out to the red light district.  I had suggested we just stay out becuase I didn't think I would have be in the mood to bike ~20 minutes to get back into the city later in the night--especially after having a long couple of days.  Oliver went back home and Kim and I went out to a cheap 5 euro restaurant.  Unlike most other places they did not have an English menu.  I ordered a pizza that was clearly a "Hawaian" pizza.  It was nothing to write home about, but for 5 euros I was happy.

Red light district in Amsterdam, Netherlands

We walked through the red light district a bit.  We bumped into a couple that I had asked me to take their picture from earlier today--at the Heineken tour.  They had told us they just came from a sex show.  According to them there were a lot of older adults and couples in the audience.  The show consisted of hardcore sex and was quite overdramatized.  They said it was erotic at first but then they just felt uncomfortable.  I had passed the 'Banana Bar', a restaurant that Debby and Vincent had suggested I visit.  Kim asked about the prices and it was expensive.  60 euros for entrance and drinks and quite a bit more for the more 'premium' services that were offered.  The bouncer tried to convince Kim that it was cheaper than having a girlfriend--he was joking but trying to sell her on coming in--we passed.  While walking along the red-lit windows I told Kim that men were not paying prostitutes for sex.  I told her that they were paying them to leave afterwards.  We both laughed.

Red light district in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Many of the prostitutes were very sexy and looked to be from eastern europe.  Kim told me that there was a problem with human trafficking.  Many of these women have had their passport taken from them and have had their families threatened if the girls try to go to the police.  The women charge a flat rate, I am not sure what that is, but it's for 15 minutes.  There were groups and groups of people, mostly men/young men in their 20s who would point and giggle.  There were families with children eating at restaurants immediately next to some of the girls.  I was shocked by the number of couples walking the streets holding hands.  The entire atmosphere was a shock to me.  People weren't stumbling around shouting nasty things, harassing the women, or causing any chaos.  There was complete order.  Couples would point as they walked down the narrow alleys.  It seemed that many of the ladies were also turned on...but this doesn't surprise me.  Groups of guys would huddle together while they rolled their spliff and would toke up while others just walked right past them.  No one seemed to care.  I saw a couple of men come out of the the prostitutes doors.  One time a guy came out and his friends were there waiting with a big pat on the back.  They took him aside and I'm sure they wanted to hear all the details.

There are police cameras everywhere but not a single policeman walking about.  I suspect a stronger police presence could discourage many tourists.  The vast majority of the problems accociated with drugs and prostitution is the crime that comes along with it, but this occurs as a byproduct--not becuase of it.  What I mean is that when drugs and prostitutes are being sold on the street crime is likely to follow.  It's much easier to mug a person on a street holding drugs/money that it is to rob an official store.  Also, there are certain barriers that come into play when one needs to pay for rent, licenses, utilities, etc..  A prostitute making these payments and working a regular hours is much more likely to get tested routinely and to practice safe sex 100% of the time.  If prostitution was allowed in the streets there would be all types of women--many who are impoverished--hooking.

As I walked I noticed that there were not as many prostitutes as I would have imagined...or hoped for ;).   This area was a social area for families, couples, children, and tourists alike.  Within the red light district we found a store called the magic mushroom.  We weren't sure if they sold mushrooms here or not.  We walked in and Kim enquired.  They did, in fact, sell shrooms.  They had three varieties, which varied in the amount of psilocybin.  I debated about buying a bag of the weakest stuff, but he said it was enough for 2 trips, or 1 very intense trip.  I knew Kim wouldn't join me and I didn't want to waste half a bag so I passed.  I will have to wait for another time.  Also, It was fairly late in the evening (maybe 10:00) and I knew I wasn't going to be up too much longer.  Also, given that a trip would probably last for ~6 hours and it would take ~1 hour to take effect I opted out.  Mushrooms used to be sold all over the city but there has been a push to limit their sale.  There is an understanding between the gov't and the businesses in Amsterdam.  It has become law that it is illegal to sell marijuana to non Dutch citizens.  When I was at the coffee shop they never asked for my passport--I am wondering if this is their way around that law.  They do not 'know' that I'm not Dutch.  Also, mushrooms are not allowed, but they still have stores called "The Magic Mushroom" which openly sell them for 20 euros.  It was 20 euros for 15 grams.  That's  ~$27 for 1/2.  This was for the weakest of the three, the stronger shrooms were probably more expensive.  In college I recall the going rate was ~$25-$50 for an 1/8 ounce.  An 1/8 ounce , or about 3.5 grams, was a 'typical' dose. 

After walking the streets we went to this brew house which served 3 types of beers.  They had a pilsner, a red ale, and a stout.  I ordered the red and Kim the stout.  She liked her beer, a beverage she's actually grown to dislike very much.  Mine was also very good.  The waiter threw a handfull of shelled peanuts on the  table for us.  Kim really liked the fact that we just threw the shells on the ground when we were done with them.

Before heading home on our 25 minute bike ride I finished the remnants of the joint I had taken from the couple across from us at the coffee shop.  It was very strong but I just took a few light drags and didn't feel much--unlike like the first day when I took one large drag.  The ride home was a bit chilly but the scarf and gloves Kim let me barrow kept me warm enough.  Kim had explained some of the markings on the road to me--the 'shark teeth', or triangles, indicated who has the right-of-way.  If the shark's teeth had its point facing you as your approached the intersection that indicating you did not have the right-of-way.  If you are driving/biking with the point then you have the right-of-way.

The streets are so narrow that when I was walking I often would walk in the dead center of them, not realizing that it was in fact a street.  Also, there are handicap vehicles, which are enclosed cars, that make smart cars look like SUVs.  They are very narrow, only wide enough for one person, and only go ~30kph.  They are only allowed to be sold new to handicapped individuals but anyone can buy them if they buy it used from another person.  Additionally, this car is allowed to drive in the bike lane.  There are two types of scooters--one that is limited to ~30kmph and another type that goes much faster.  The scooter with the 30kph limit is also able to travel in the bike lane and no helmet is required.  The faster scooter must drive in the car lane and a helmet is required by law.

Bike lanes are sometimes along the main roads, but through much of the city there are seperate bike lanes.  Cars must always yield to bikers.  Kim was telling me that even if the biker is at fault the car driver is always held responsible.  Getting into the city took us 15 minutes over flat terrain--actually a very nice ride.  She said if she were to take her car it could take 3 to 4 times as long.  Taxis are a bit quicker since they are allowed to drive on the trolly tracks, but a taxi into the city would cost ~20 euros each way.

After having spent a few days in Amsterdam I can say, with certainty, that it is truly a unique and magical city.  Despite their policies the Dutch live life in moderation and seem genuinely happy.  This is one of the few cities I've been to that I can say I would not be completely unhappy if I had to live there for some time.

Day 2 (Saturday)

- Cycled through the Vondelpark

- Went to the Albert Cuyp market in the south part of Amsterdam

- Did the Heineken Experience - you smokend pot in the street (next to a police camera ;-)

- Had lunch with pie, you had the chocolate slut cake at a place called De taart van m'n tante (or: my aunties cake)

- Cycled to the museum square and sas the Concert building, the contemporary art museum (which is called Stedelijk Museum in Dutch), the Van Gogh museum and the Rijksmuseum

- Cycled to the Rembrandtplein (or Rembrandt square) again to pick up our free Heineken glass at the Heineken store

- Had tea at the Rembrandtplein (where you wrote your blog and I wrote this e-mail)

- Went on a canal tour by boat and saw the Amsterdam Light festival from the water

- Had diner at a 'everything 5 euro' pizza joint

- Visited to red light distric by night to really get to experience it

It wasn't akward, staying with Kim, like I thought it may have been.  After half a decade I felt just as comfortable with her as I did the day I said goodbye in SE Asia.  It was such a great way to end a month-long trip and I hope to see her (and Oliver) again.