Amsterdam is known many things, but when people know you have been there, they ask if you went to the red light district, or if you went to a coffee-house. If we had more time, we would have visited the red light district, but time was too limited. (That ends up being just one of the many reasons that I have to return to Amsterdam soon!) We did however, make it to the coffee shop.
For the sake of this article, my traveling companion, who you have already met, will be called John Doe. After John Doe and I left the Anne Frank Huis and Westerkerk, we hopped onto the tram. We were headed toward the Taschenmuseum, although I had not told John Doe this. I told him we were going for lunch.
Trams are a common way of getting around in Amsterdam, by both townies and tourists. They run around the center of town, and spoke outward, at regularly scheduled intervals. We had purchased the Iamsterdam card before our visit, and it includes unlimited free tram rides for the period the card is valid. The time periods for Iamsterdam cards commence at first use, and not time of purchase or specific calendar date, which is a really great feature. When boarding a tram or bus, you simply tap the card on a scanner, and you are good to go. That also starts the card clock, on the first ride. When you pick up the card, they give you a brightly colored tourist map that has all the tram routes lined in bold red. We had already ridden twice, so we sort of had the hang of it.
Of course, after about three stops later when I realized we were going in the wrong direction. There are a couple very important things to know about the trams in Amsterdam. Once you get away from the center of town, there are no cross tracks. There is one car going out to an end where a turn-around is done, and the same car returns on the same track. Also, all of the doors are on one side . So, if there is a southbound stop at a particular corner, the northbound stop might be a block or two away, on the other side. If you get off and walk to the stop to go the other way, you will be waiting for exactly the same tram to pick you up on the return. I decided two things. First, we were better off staying in, and riding to the end, and second, I was not going to tell John Doe.
But a few blocks later the surroundings began to look rather suburban, very “not-Amsterdamy.” I knew it was coming when John Doe asked, “Are you sure we are going the right way?”
“I am sure we are on the right tram,” I answered.
“Great. Just great.” John Doe said. “We are on the right tram, but obviously going the wrong way. I don’t even know how that happens.”
“You know I grew up by a river,” I said. The river ran from north to south in my home town, and we were taught to orient ourselves based upon our position in relationship to the river. Obviously in Amsterdam, where the canals ring the city, orienting to the water does not work. I know John Doe has no idea what I am talking about. “We didn’t have any definitive plans anyway,” I offered, and explained why we should stay on the tram.
He was shaking his head. “So John, what did you do in Amsterdam, they ask. Well, we rode around in the tram all afternoon. It was like a city tour,” he spouts.
Finally we came to the end of the route, made the 300 degree loop, then came to a stop. The driver hopped off and lit a cigarette. I hopped off as well, and she immediately asked where we were trying to go. I told her the Taschenmuseum. Another woman walked up, and the two women discussed the situation in Dutch. The driver then told me she would get us to the Taschenmuseum, so stay put.
Soon we were on our way again, John Doe and I still annoyed at each other, and quiet. About three-quarters of the way back to our starting point, John Doe finally asks, “So where is it we are going anyway? You told the driver something strange.”
“I told her we were gong to the Taschenmuseum.”
“So what’s a Taschenwhatever?”
I turned my head to face the window. “It’s a purse museum,” I said.
“Why do you do that, you know how much that bugs me when you look the other way when you’re talking,” John Doe said. “So did you say a purse museum? So we’re going to a purse museum? We get lost and ride all over town because you want to go to a purse museum.”
By this time I was fed up with John Doe. Everything was true, but we were on vacation, my vacation for that matter. “Well, that’s where I am going. I don’t really care where you go. You have the card. Go where you want.”
There was no more talking until we came to a stop and the driver stood up, and called back to us Taschenmuseum. She then explained specifically how to get there, as we had two blocks to walk. As a generality, we found public transportation drivers in Amsterdam to be extremely polite and informative.
As it turned out, John Doe enjoyed the Taschenmuseum. There were a couple of times when he called me over to see a particularly ornate or designer bag. He especially liked fancy bead-work, and bags that had once belonged to famous public figures. After our museum tour, which took about 75 minutes, he helped me to select a souvenir handbag from the gift shop. The gift shop features some exclusive designers, and a variety of lower cost items. I bought a Paul’s Boutique bag, and two jeweled purse key-chains for my best friends. Because my purchase was just over 100 Euros, the curator gave me a free coffee table book, featuring beautiful glossy photos of their collection.
The Taschenmuseum is house in a 1666 can house in the Unesco Heritage area of the canal ring, so the house is worth seeing on its own. Entrance is 12.50 Euros for adults, but it is FREE with the Iamsterdam card. As noted, there is a gift shop, and an in-house restaurant. The museum collection begins with small leather coin purses once worn beneath the skirt, and progresses to modern bags by Gucci, Channel and other well-known designers. In their own words:
The Museum of Bags and Purses is a unique museum showing the history of the (hand)bag in Western culture from the late Middle Ages to the present day, including the work of contemporary designers. The collection reflects the cultural history of the (hand)bag over a period of 500 years. The museum is the only museum of handbags in Europe and the largest of its kind in the world, with a collection of more than 5.000 bags, pouches, suitcases, purses and other matching accessories such as compacts, shoes and hats.
If you are interested in visiting the Taschenmuseum, would like more information on their collection, or want to browse the gift shop, visit their website. http://tassenmuseum.nl/en/
We left the museum and walked another two blocks over to a cafe where we hoped to have lunch. We were disappointed to find that they did not open for two more hours. We could hear music though, so rather than be disappointed, we walked around the corner, and found ourselves at the Rembrandtplein. Rembrandt van Rijn once lived very close to this location, leading a very torrid life, and dying a pauper. There are several sites displaying his works and portraying his history, that can be visited in Amsterdam now, including his home and grave.
A plein is basically a public square, and they are all over Amsterdam. Many of them have some sort of monument or memorial within them, and a large open area. It is quite common for their to be unsolicited performers in the squares panning for Euros. We had already seen this when passing Dam Square and Leidesplein on our way to our hotel. On this day in Rembrandtsplein there was an acoustic band playing, and quite a crowd gathered around. We found seats on the base of some pillars, and sat to watch the show for a while. It was just as much fun to people watch as well as band watch, and we sat for about thirty minutes there.
By that time, John Doe had noticed the coffee house across the street, and said he wanted to go there. Most readers are aware that visiting a coffee shop while traveling in Amsterdam is really not about coffee, but the legal marijuana. Those who know me, know that I have no interest in this. But I realized everyone would ask about it when we got home, and I felt bad about the tram and making John Doe go to the Taschenmuseum (even though he liked it.) So I said okay.
There are coffee houses all over Amsterdam. I had read warnings that some or not quite as reputable as others, and that some can be a little “seedy.” I am not exactly sure what that means when marijuana a prostitution are already legal, and there are outdoor urinals, but I accepted it as truth. In this case, this particular location was in such a busy area, and there were so many people sitting in the outdoor section. I had no idea whether it was reputable, but it was obviously safe for tourists. So, we went in. (I qualify all of that by saying that I absolutely loved Amsterdam, and that there was no where in Amsterdam where I felt unsafe, at any time. I research a lot before international travel, so it is simply something I had read from a couple of sources.)
John Doe and I found a seat at the long wooden communal tables that are common at various types of establishments in that part of Europe. There were menus on the table which we perused, while I observed the crowd. There were definitely more men than women, but they were of all ages, from early twenties to mid fifties. I told John Doe that at least I wasn’t the oldest one there, to which he looked around, and then replied a smart “maybe.” Then a waiter came and I ordered a latte.
John Doe ordered, a BEER.
After a couple of minutes, I could not restrain myself. “Did we really come here so you cold have a beer?” I asked.
“Just be quiet,” John Doe said, “I don’t want to be all obvious.”
I wish I could have seen my own expression at that moment! “Are you serious?” I said. “This is Amsterdam. Marijuana is legal. There are like forty people here, and probably everyone here but me is here for the marijuana. I can see eight people smoking right now.”
“Just be quiet,” he said again.
Finally the waiter returned with our beverages, and I couldn’t take it any more. “Thank you,” I said. “As you probably figured, I am perfectly happy with my coffee here, but John Doe here,” (gesturing,) ” obviously came to smoke. How does he do that?”
The waiter did not laugh. He politely explained that you cannot order marijuana from the table. There was a counter at the end of the liquor bar, which was more or less, the weed bar, and purchases were made there. I thanked him for the information. “I can’t believe you just did that,” John Doe said.
“Just go buy your weed,” I replied.
A few hours later, when John Doe was no longer angry (in fact he was quite happy,) he explained that it was set up rather like a liquor bar, with various jars containing the product, all labeled with their funny names, such as Purple Haze. The shelves were in order from lowest quality and price at the bottom, to highest quality and price.
Once a selection was made, the weedtender poured some contents from the jar, weighed out the appropriate amount, and packaged it up. There was also various papers and tobacco to purchase, if needed. John Doe had bought a some regular quality, and a small amount of top shelf. He would also later tell me that the top shelf version, was really top shelf, very, high quality.
But when he got back to our table, he was still angry. He sat down and rolled a small quantity into a cigarette with tobacco, in European style. Two younger boys had sat down at the end of our table. They were whispering and giggling while they smoked, like young people do. I sipped my coffee. Four really old guys came in, maybe in their mid seventies. Three took a seat and one went to the counter. In a way, I thought it was really cool. John Doe smoked a little of his laced cigarette, and said, “now you are not the oldest one in here,” and seemed quite amused with himself.
Then some crazy techno-reggae version of a Hakuna Matata video came on the televisions. It was probably the worst music I have ever heard. John Doe and I stared at it. Then one of the waiters yelled, ” What the hell is this? Disco Hakuna Matata, are you kidding me?”
John Doe looked over at me and said, “Wwooww.”
I am sure I gave him some kind of look. We both laughed as we picked up our stuff and returned to the daylight on the street.