Tuesday, June 13, 2017

30 years ago, April 20: Amsterdam amid the Heineken.

30 years ago, April 16: The 1987 European crusade begins in Brussels and Brugge.

In a previous epic narrative about my inaugural 1985 European expedition, I tried on occasion to recapture a sense of youthful consciousness.

It should be clear at this juncture that a fascination with history brought me to Europe in 1985. It might have been about bicycling, but I wasn’t quite there yet. It certainly wasn’t about hooking up (too shy) or drunken mayhem (too cautious).

Rather, it was the familiar syllabus of Western Civilization & Culture 101. Copious quantities of classicism were absorbed through daily doses of architecture, art and museum visits. I saw pottery, paintings and panes of stained glass, and remained the wide-eyed student throughout.

Perhaps it isn't a coincidence that by 1987, I'd become a seasoned drinker. For better or worse, it simply was. However, traveling alone in unfamiliar surroundings always gave me pause. I wasn't really afraid of being rolled or robbed, though in 1989 this actually happened ... and when it did, I'd been drinking.

There's nothing quite like learning lessons up close and personal, hence the overarching point about contextual sobriety. In 1987 on the road, it seemed to me both safer and less expensive than pub hopping to buy a couple of beers or a bottle of wine from a shop.

Park benches were many, and public intoxication laws seemingly few. Privately-run hostels seldom had rules against drinking on their premises. After long days walking, two room temperature beers took the edge right off.

Welcome to the inevitable confessional, for as hard as it might be for me to concede this now, there was a time when I knew very little about beer, only that some beers tasted better to me than others, and if enough of them were consumed -- well, an altered state is what I was seeking in the first place, though only when circumstances allowed.

My conclusion? Traveling itself, and drinking less while doing so, probably combined to become an impetus to learn more about beer, and to expand my range of potables. If you plan on drinking less, why not drink better?

Trust me. I made up for it in later years.

In terms of beer, what I knew about Dutch beer on April 20 in the year 1987 might be summarized in just a few names: Heineken, Amstel, Grolsch and Royal Brand. Heineken offered tours, and I accepted. At the time, it was like attending a church service.

The obligatory bottling line photo isn't very good. The deafening clatter of glass and machinery gripped me the first three or four times I toured a brewery. After that, it was just distracting.

Naturally, the primary purpose of any brewery tour is copping the free beers offered at tour's end -- one for sure, maybe two if seating arrangements broke properly. The delightful twist at Heineken was a rooftop garden in which to enjoy them. From the garden is a view of the Rijksmuseum and an Amsterdam vista.

The Heineken fixation continued while walking along the avenue called the Damrak. Delivery vehicles back home simply didn't look like this.

Then a cafe for indulging artsy fartsy photography; note the reflection of the tram.

As countries go, the Netherlands is small, and public transportation comprehensive. On Wednesday (April 22) I took two day trips, first to Haarlem and then Leiden. In the Cathedral of St. Bavo (Grote Kerk) is an organ supposedly played by Mozart.

The wooden ceiling at St. Bavo.

St. Bavo is in the background in this view of the Spaarne, Haarlem's canalized river and the basis for the city's canals and moats.

I had no way of knowing at the time, but Haarlem would become my most visited Dutch city. Truth be told, I like it better than Amsterdam, perhaps because we have friends there. In fact, we'll be returning in September 2017 for the first time in an embarrassing number of years, and I can only hope they remember me.

A great town, Haarlem.

Leiden is home to the oldest university in the Netherlands, as well as being the birthplace of Rembrandt.

It appears the preceding photo was taken from the vantage point of a Leiden windmill, as located at the Molenmuseum "De Valk," which appropriately is devoted to windmills.

However, I have no recollection of this museum. Surely it was interesting at the time.

Back in Amsterdam, you could always find a crowd outside the main train station.

Even residents of Jupiter (the planet) don't need to be informed about Amsterdam's "liberal" reputation since the 1960s as an epicenter of youth (and counter-) culture. Kindly note that to this day, I haven't set foot in any of the city's marijuana vending establishments, legal or otherwise.

In 1987, smoking pot wasn't my gig, though at other junctures in my life I've dabbled.

My impression of Amsterdam this first time through was one of juxtaposition, between the liberal social bent and a seriously determined business-oriented conservative vibe. A measure of dynamic tension, maybe.

The Netherlands traditionally has been a trading and banking nation; it's also mostly below sea level, and sober people keep it that way. The impaired simply aren't good with water levels.

In closing, it should be recorded that my residence while in Amsterdam was a pleasingly priced Christian youth hostel near the red light district. In practice, I believe this meant it was operated as a non-profit company with proceeds going toward charitable works, and while there were religious services, the vibe was mellow.  

For whatever reason, the hostel had a sizable number of African lodgers. The only reason their continental origin even bears mentioning is the experience of seeing some of them at the wash basins cleaning their teeth with pieces of wood. I'm not sure if these were chewing sticks per se, but it wasn't something I'd seen before.

Heineken and tooth brushing. It's funny what you remember.

Next: Lausanne and Switzerland

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