Jolted into action by the arrival of a check-in email from British Airways I begin frantically Youtube-ing Amsterdam, scratching notes on the back of a printed map of the city as amateur videos bump and jostle on my screen. Imposing brick buildings, canals, thousands of people milling, eating, pedaling, sightseeing- I’ll admit, I royally dropped the ball on preparing for what was to come.
Despite not having a single clue as to what I had signed up for, my trip was incredible and altogether too short. I was very amused to discover that Amsterdamians- as I can’t help but to call them- seem to sustain themselves on just a few specific items, pleasurable and gluttonous the lot.
The first is weed, obviously, the perfume of which seeps from every street corner and boldly advertised “coffee shop”. The national pastime is so pervasive that it’s acquired an undisputed allure of “coolness”. Even non-smoker tourists take part, sampling space-cakes and sensual labia-shaped lollies with abandon. Don’t forget to take home your very own weed leaf-decorated ashtray, knee socks or necktie; everywhere you look there are shelves upon shelves of souvenirs proclaiming their allegiance to the Motherland of Marijuana, the Capital of Cannabis, the Portcullis of Pot.
Not far behind Mary Jane are Amsterdam’s famous steak cut fries, known locally as “chips”. Traditionally these are smothered in great globs of mayonnaise pumped from gallon containers by, what appeared to me to be, less than thrilled Dutch girls. Spend all day in a closet-sized, fried-food-soaked hell hole and I wouldn’t be the happiest camper either.
The frozen fries are stored in a pile on a stainless steel shelf above bubbling vats of oil. Every new batch of chips calls for another heaping quantity to be shifted from the shelf into the vats below. From dawn to dusk, the Dutch girls lower enormous slotted baskets into the oil, extracting golden yellow nuggets by the hundreds and removing them to a wok-shaped bowl for seasoning. For 5 or 6 euro they’ll roll and fill up a paper cone with chips, topping them with mayo, cheese sauce, garlic, peanut sauté or ketchup. It’s the perfect handheld accompaniment as you stroll through the city- they even give you tiny miniature forks to help skewer your next mouthful without getting mayo all over the place.
Then there are the waffles. At more than half-an-inch-thick and covered with colorful frostings, sprinkles, slices of bananas and dollops of warm nutella, these puppies will have you locked and loaded on a sugar high for a solid six hours. Apparently, they even get better tasting after a few hours at the nearest “coffee shop”. Heh.
A tip: when deciding where to purchase your waffle, let your nose lead the way. Though most bakeries keep these hefty pastries on stock, they’re often stale with age. Instead look for waffle-dedicated shops that limit their menus to warm and baked-to-order indulgences. You’ll smell them, trust me.
Surprisingly, there aren’t many fat people in Amsterdam. I attribute this to the fact that their city is huge and their transportation system was created on the back of a piece of toilet paper by a schizophrenic man on mushrooms. The roads are “shared” by not only cars and pedestrians but also a marvelously haphazard tram system and approximately 1 million bicycles, motor bikes, ATVs, dual seaters and other vehicles that can only be described as pod racers.
When attempting to cross the road, green does not mean it’s safe to walk. It actually means: run as fast as humanly possible after looking in every conceivable direction for oncoming death-mobiles, including up and behind you. And for Christ’s sake, when passing slow walkers on the crosswalk, don’t step into the bike lane.
My advice? Sample the trio of Amsterdamian delights in the safety of a coffee shop. And get the strawberry waffle, it’s delicious.