Goody Two Shoes in Amsterdam

Most people know Amsterdam for two primary reasons: legalized soft drugs like marijuana and mushrooms as well as legalized prostitution.  However, drugs like marijuana are now legal in many places around the world, including in Colorado where I live, and Amsterdam’s soft drug culture is not as mutually exclusive as it once was. Amsterdam also has perhaps the most famous red light district in the world. But what if this sort of thing isn’t for you? Why would anyone come to this city if you aren’t into what it is most famous for?  Well, there is so much more to this city than red lights and cafe’s (where you go to smoke).  I had a great time in Amsterdam and skipped all of the things most people visit this unique city for.  So here are just a few recommendations I have for someone who wants an atypical A’dam experience:

See the Tulips

I visited Amsterdam in the spring with my father with one of his bucket list items being to see the world famous tulips of Holland. Keukenhof Gardens and the bulb fields in and around the town of Lisse were the best place to see them and both places were accessible by tour bus or public transport. Both of these flowery destinations were amazing in their own right with my father preferring Kuekenhof Gardens while I liked the fields of flowers just a little more.  The two vastly different was of seeing the flowers were both incredibly beautiful with the carefully sculpted gardens displaying more varieties of tulips and colors than I ever could imagine.  The carpeted fields around Lisse offered a glimpse into the farming side of the business with field after field of long brilliantly colored textures, one farm after another.  One uniquely Dutch way to see the fields is to rent a bike after finishing up at Keukenhof and see the fields at a slower pace than you would in a car or tour bus.  To see the tulips in full bloom, you can go from about mid-March to mid-May.  We went smack dab in the middle of that and chose mid-April to make sure we didn’t miss it, since the peak season can vary from year to year.

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Kuekenhof Gardens
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Bulb Fields, Lisse

Bicycle

I work in bicycling crazy Boulder Colorado, at least I thought it was crazy until coming to Amsterdam.  Boulder is a college town so there are always students zipping around campus and the outlying areas.  The city is also big on alternative energy and transportation, adding to the college cycling mindset. I have even seen people biking to work when temperatures are below zero, Fahrenheit.  Portland Oregon also has a similar mindset and cyclists there go out in some of the rainiest conditions in America. Amsterdam cyclists are on a whole other level.  Cold, they bike. Need to get across town, they bike. Dressed for work in fancy clothes, they bike.  They don’t bike to be seen. They aren’t rude or arrogant like many cyclists I’ve seen.  It is a place that has an amazing bike culture, unrivaled anywhere in the world that I have been.  At any given intersection, bikes can outnumber cars by a ratio of four to one.  One of the most fun days I had in Amsterdam was cycling through the city on a rented cruiser bike and I wish that I had done it more.

 

Drink Some Dutch Beer

The beer in Amsterdam is famous primarily for one large brewery, Heineken.  A popular tourist stop is the Heineken Experience, which is a tour of the old Heineken factory in Amsterdam, similar to the Guinness tour in Dublin.  It was well worth the price of admission (~€20) and the tour was fun and very European.  The only problem for me was that I really don’t like their beer and I prefer the smaller breweries like I’m used to at home.  The beer that I did really like was from Brouwerij ‘t IJ, which is located close to Centraal Station and was founded in 1985.  I had the IJWIT and loved it, along with an atmosphere that was both comfortable and welcoming with a mixture of locals and tourists. Bonus: there’s a windmill just outside.

 

Explore the Canals

Amsterdam is not a unique place in and because of its canals.  Venice is more famous of course, and Bruges’ canals were cozy but Amsterdam’s canals are just plain iconic.  The city is ringed by a lengthy canal system that is a mode of transportation as well as a great way for a traveler to get up close and personal with Amsterdam.  One thing you will not see, however, is people ice skating to work in winter.  Not sure where that rumor got started but locals assured me that it wasn’t true.

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Eat Some (or a lot of) Poffertjes

Amsterdam, and Holland in general, are not yet famous for their food but I found something there that was so good that I ate it every day – poffertjes.  Poffertjes are basically mini Dutch pancakes usually served with powdered sugar and was by far my favorite food in the whole of the Netherlands.  I usually found them being sold by street vendors all over the city.  They taste great for breakfast! They taste good for lunch! They taste good as a snack!  They just taste good, everyday!

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Explore Dutch History : Windmills

No journey to Amsterdam or the Netherlands can be considered complete without seeing some windmills, and they are hard to miss. These quintessentially Dutch landmarks can be seen in the city proper (including at the aforementioned Brouwerij ‘t IJ) or in many of the surrounding towns and countryside.  Just outside of the city in Zaandam, and accessible via public transport, are the windmills of Zaanse Schans (eight in all).  This place is very touristy but I was, after all, a tourist and didn’t mind being one. This was a fun place to get up close and personal with real windmills, with a few of them actually working, both inside and out.

Windmills at Zaanse Schans

Ride Public Transport

When I travel to cities (I do however prefer the countryside to cities), I love to use public transport whenever possible. Most cities have a tourist pass that can be paid for either by the day or for multiple days, at a discounted rate. This is usually significantly cheaper than renting a car considering that you have a rental fee, gas, and parking, not to mention the difficulty navigating and city driving.  This is definitely not a good place to have a car.  Amsterdam is the first place I’ve ever taken a vacation without having a rental car and it was definitely the right choice. I was able to purchase the Amsterdam and Region Travel Ticket at the iamsterdam office at Schiphol Airport, for three days for only €36.50. The pass was easy to use and took me to all of the major areas I intended to visit during my stay.

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Honorable mentions:

A’dam Tower – Great view of the city and a unique restaurant at the top.  Take the elevator up for another uniquely Euro Dutch experience.

Museums – Although I didn’t get to visit a single museum while in Amsterdam the city is famous for them.  You’ll find the Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank House, The Van Gogh Museum, and the Rembrandt House, just to name a few.  Next time…

Ajax Football Club – Another one for next time but Ajax football fans are said to be some of the most passionate in all of Europe, so try attending a game at the Johan Cruyff Stadium if they’re in town while you are.

If you want to enjoy a great city without those other things, Amsterdam is a wonderful place to spend a vacation.  I can’t wait to get back!

 

 

Victoria: Biking, Beer and British Columbia

I didn’t know what to expect when I boarded the ferry in Port Angeles, Washington for the 90 minute ride through the strait of Juan de Fuca heading for Victoria, British Columbia. My wife and I were planning a day of bike riding through British Columbia’s capital city but we were going at this without much of a plan. Normally, I like to plan things to a meticulous degree but this time the plans were essentially out the door.

I had read a little bit about Victoria online and I wasn’t really sure if there was enough to do there to make a full day trip out of it. My parents had gone here before and said they wouldn’t go back and actually declined our invitation to join us.  At a minimum, we thought maybe the bike ride would be nice as there seemed to be several decent bike paths throughout the city. So we decided to give it a try, booked the ferry fare, grabbed the bikes and went across the strait to see what happens.

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Bike racks on the ferry

As a starting point, Port Angles is not the most scenic way to begin the journey but it felt safe and there were lots of families around getting ready for the ferry.  The trip across took about 90 minutes and wasn’t particularly interesting until the final approach to the inner harbor of Victoria. As you approach the city, there is a lot to see, all at once. There are really cool (tiny) water taxis taking people from one part of the harbor to another, seaplanes are taking off and landing in the middle of the bustling harbor center, kayaks and paddle boards are all over the place, and all of this could be seen before the ferry even docked. Reasons to be encouraged? Yes!

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The Inner Harbour

Once we landed, bagpipes could be heard along the waterfront while totem poles and stately buildings could be seen on all sides. Although the area was busy, it definitely had a relaxed vibe that you don’t get in some of the larger cities and I felt comfortable here straight away. After a quick stop at the Visitor Information Center to get our bearings straight, we headed across the bridge to the Galloping Goose Trail and followed it for a couple of hours before turning back to the city. The trail system here is well maintained and there were many offshoot trails that could be taken in most any direction. Tempting yes, but we only had a short stay and had the city center to explore still.

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The Fairmont Empress Hotel

Next up for us, and it’s this way when I travel anywhere, is to sample a local brewery or two. First up and very near to the bike trail was the Canoe Brewery and Restaurant which had a great patio that overlooked the water and was a perfect spot to have a drink after being out on the trail (I had the Helles). While siting on the patio, seaplanes fly overhead, making this one of the more unique places to sit and have a beer that I’ve been to. After that was a short half mile pedal to Vancouver Island Brewing which is a little off of the main tourist route (but not by much) and was worth the extra time and effort. The brewery sits just outside of Chinatown which is the oldest Chinatown in Canada and was also worth the visit.  There was a greater selection of beers here and a flight was only $5, which made trying four different styles the way to go. I recommend the Twisted Stalk Blackberry Helles but all four of the beers we tried were very good.

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Great beer and a great logo!

Short on time, we made a quick detour into Chinatown to have a look at Victoria’s Chinatown and the world famous Fan Tan Alley.  I love strolling through city alleys (at least the safe ones) and this was one of the best ones I’ve seen. It was impossibly narrow and barely fit the bike down the narrow lane.  Even still, biking was definitely the way to get around the city.

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Fan Tan Alley, Chinatown

 

After Chinatown, it was back to the ferry for our late afternoon departure and we were regretting our decision to not spend more time here and we didn’t even visit the number one attraction in bike pathsVictoria, Butchart Gardens.  I am not in a position to say how much time you need to explore this beautiful city but I can tell you that one afternoon was definitely not enough. At least a couple of days next time!

What makes Portland, Portland?

So what does make Portland uniquely Portland?  Oregon’s largest city is known for being different, weird if you will. It has a green fetish that’s hard to ignore, trendy restaurants, a great mass transit system, and an affinity for two types of beverages: coffee and beer.

This is my second time visiting Portland.  A couple of years ago I was there with my parents for a few hours but really wasn’t there long enough to pick up what kind of vibe this place was laying down.  We managed to hit only one brewery, Deschutes, and a couple of blocks away, Powell’s City of Books and that was pretty much it.  On my second and most recent visit, this time with my wife, we had four days in which to try to get to know this city a little bit better.

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So back to the question of what makes Portland unique.  First, Portland is a very green city, and in more ways than one.  So has anyone ever told you that it rains in Portland? It’s true, very true!  All that rain maks the city very green!  Most of the grass was still green, like Irish green (keeping in mind that we visited in December) and there were evergreen trees all over and around the city.  In most places, rain normally forces people back into their homes but if you let the rain stop you here, you would never see the light of day (notice I didn’t say “you would never see the sun”?). Portlanders seem to accept a rainy day as just part of life and they just get on with it. They dress for it and then get out there on their bikes or walk and get to work.

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Marquam Nature Park

The ‘other’ green is their environmental consciousness. The mass transit system here is very good and that helps to cut down on air pollution and traffic.  They even have a bridge across the Willamette River, Tilikum Crossing, that is closed to automobile traffic.  There were many cyclists, pedestrians, light rail trains and buses using the bridge but even with all of that, the bridge never seemed crowded. I can’t help but see just a touch of irony here though.  Portland was once nicknamed ‘Stumptown’ due to it having more tree stumps than actual living trees.  Also, if you take Highway 26 west out of the city towards Cannon Beach, you’ll share the road with countless large logging trucks, trucks that are bringing timber from the forests that lie between Portland and the Pacific Ocean. You’ll see evidence of numerous clear cut areas as you continue west and it is just a bit depressing, especially when you see just how slow the replanted areas are growing.  But I get it, it is a renewable resource, it’s just a shame to see how much we use and the devastating affect it has on the environment. And lastly on the green piece (pun intended), the soccer team that represents the city, the Timbers, have a logo that is primarily made up of an axe. That logo isn’t only symbolic of its past, but also of it’s present.  Not the greenest symbol around, especially for a city famously known for it’s progressive green thinking.

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Tilikum Crossing

For the foodie, the locavore movement here is strong with it’s ‘think globally, source locally’ mantra woven into the fabric of the Portland food scene.  Weekend markets are found all over the city and create an almost small-town feel. One trending restaurant theme is the ‘dining hall’ and Portland has a USA Today top five rated one in the Pine Street Market.  This dining hall is in the resurrected historic Baggage and Carriage building and has plenty of character. The market houses a variety of different restaurants including ones featuring ramen noodles, Israeli street food, and even an upscale hot dog vendor (my favorite).  Lastly, no trip to Portland would be complete without stopping by Voodoo Doughnuts for some of the most creative doughnuts anywhere.

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Voodoo

So living in the rainy cities like Portland and Seattle, people need coffee to get going, much more than let’s say sunnier climes like Miami.  This means coffee shops can be found everywhere. Starbucks got its start a couple of hours north and is now a household name around the world.  Stumptown Coffee from Portland is one of the more popular coffee shops and is also a household name, at least in Portland it is.  I love hearing how a small business like Stumptown Coffee is doing so well but was disappointed to hear that it was purchased by the much larger, Luxembourg owned, Peet’s Coffee.

And lastly, Portland is known as Beervana! It does deserve this title and it boasts breweries all over the city.  I think I heard that there are over 70 within the city limits. So we tried a couple of those within the city limits, and even a couple out on the coast.  Within the city, we checked out two in the Pearl District: Deschutes and Rogue.  Both had good beers, but extra props to Deschutes for their food and comfortable, bright atmosphere.  So here’s the thing, Portland has an outstanding microbrew beer scene but there are a lot of places that can claim that they have a great beer scene too.  Like say San Diego, Boulder, Asheville, and countless others.  What does Portland have that the others don’t?  When I think on microbrewed beer and where it came from, I think of Portland! It also just feels like the kind of place where beer ‘should’ come from, certainly not San Diego (no offense intended San Diego).

So what makes Portland, Portland?  I still don’t know!  I think I came here looking for the Portland that you see on ‘Portlandia’ and really didn’t find that (maybe that’s a good thing). Places like Voodoo Doughnuts, a Portland original, don’t even scream “That’s so Portland” to me. I think Boulder Colorado has enough breweries to make Portland not seem as unique as maybe it once was.  There is a slogan in Portland that reads “Keep Portland Weird” and that saying, minus the Portland part, was actually started in Austin Texas as “Keep Austin Weird”.  It’s most famous coffee shop is now owned by a foreign entity.  It has a homeless problem.  It has beautiful parks.  The people are friendly. The people are active.  There actually is a lot of flannel being worn.  There are also beards, lots of them.

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It is a city of contrasts, green but with a dark green past. It is a city, much like any other city.  It has some uniqueness, weirdness if you will, but not as much as I was expecting, hoping for.

I didn’t love Portland, I liked it!

And did I mention that it rains there?

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Beer Trekker – Kona Brewing Company

Let’s get this out of the way right away: Kona Brewing Company (KBC) has a huge advantage just by being located in one of the best places anyone could ever think to have a brewery, the Big Island of Hawaii. But this brewery is more than just a place that brews beer in an idyllic setting: it brews very good beer, has excellent cuisine, and the atmosphere is unrivaled.

It is hard to separate Kona Brewing from Hawaii itself.  Both have so much in common. The ambiance of the brewery mirrors that of its surroundings very well with palm trees, tiki torches, and the relaxed Hawaii island vibe that comes with it.  Breweries generally have a relaxed feel to them anyway but add a tropical twist to it and relaxed gets taken to a whole new level.  If you’re wearing socks, you’re overdressed. If you’re staying south of the airport, this is a great place to get acclimated to island life after the long flight from the mainland.

On to the food, which was excellent.  The menu has a number of different starters that you might consider to be standard pub fare but some items had a uniquely Hawaiian twist such as sliders on Taro rolls or nachos with Kalua pork. We chose wisely with the pretzel bites, which are made with spent grain dough and Wailua Wheat Ale as well as cheese sauce made with Fire Rock Pale Ale. It was excellent.  For entrees, most of the menu was pizza and sandwiches but again, there were uniquely Hawaiian takes on most of the offerings. At our table, pizza and flatbreads were the most popular choices while I opted for an Imu pork sandwich which has Kalua pork, cabbage, cheese, and a house made Black Sand Porter BBQ sauce.  All of the food items were outstanding!

And last but certainly not least, the beer.  I tried a few different ones but really settled on two favorites: the Wailua Wheat which is a light wheat ale with a slight fruit flavor and hints of passion fruit (known locally as lilliko’i) and the Hula Hef which is a traditional hefeweizen with banana undertones (and I don’t even like bananas!). Both beers were extremely good!  Other popular choices include Pipeline Porter which is made with local Kona coffee  (my wife’s top pick), Longboard Island Lager which is a very ‘island’ kind of beer (my daughters favorite), and Lemongrass Lu’au which is a light blond ale with notes of lemongrass and ginger. All in all, a wide variety of beers with local influences in most, if not all of them.

KBC is also very involved in helping to protect the environment by partnering with organizations such as the Surfrider Foundation, Malama Maunalua, and the Blue Planet Foundation. They are also pioneering energy conservationists, they go to great lengths to minimize waste, they use solar energy to help power their brewery, source locally whenever possible and are very involved with the local community.

All in all, if you’re looking for some great beer, great food, and a super chill vibe, this is the place to go when your visiting the Big Island or you can buy their beers in many places on the mainland and at least get a taste of island life.  Either way…you won’t be disappointed.

Aloha

 

Beer Trekker – Santa Fe Brewing Company – Santa Fe, New Mexico

* Note – I have been intending on starting the Beer Trekker portion of the blog for some time now and this is the first in what I hope is a long series about the craft breweries that I am lucky enough to check out. Check back on Tuesdays for more beer related articles.  Cheers!!!

The brewery closed at 9:00 and I arrived there at 8:30 to try one beer, get a feel for the place, and then get back to town.  The brewery is not in the touristy area of the Plaza or the hip Railyard district (not that there is anything wrong with these areas). Santa Fe Brewing Company (SFBC)  is located just a stones throw away from the interstate in a light industrial part of town. I heard a rumor that they even have a couple of foosball tables so I was hoping I could get a game or two in before heading home.

As I walked from the parking lot, there were several people outside having a good time, locals I could only assume.  I walked past them and into the tasting room where I presumed there were locals firmly seated at the bar.  Some places I’ve been, locals don’t always commingle with tourists, and I wasn’t sure if I gave off the tourist vibe or not. As I’ve mentioned before, I typically try not to behave like a tourist but more like that of a seasoned traveler and was dressed in simple khaki shorts and a tee shirt.

I ordered a hefeweizen from the bartender and sipped on it for a while and was very pleased with my choice.  SFBC’s version of a hefeweizen was crisp with hints of banana and cloves, having only a slight bitterness to it.  While I was still milking the first beer (only one since I had to drive), a couple of locals next to me started chatting me up, and I immediately felt like this was going to be a comfortable place to spend an hour or so.  Then another friend of theirs joined in on the conversation and it went on for some time. One of the ‘boys’ bought me my second  hefeweizen and a round of Java Stout shots for everyone at the bar.  I couldn’t have walked into a better crowd of locals that were so welcoming to me being the ‘outsider’ on unknown turf!

I then managed to dovetail myself into a tour that was being organized for a group of distributors from out of state. I stayed at the back and chatted it up with the owner about distribution in Colorado and Texas, the current challenges of expansion, and even craft brewing documentaries currently on Netflix. We even tasted beer right off of the canning line.

All in all, I had a great time at The Santa Fe Brewing Company. The staff was friendly, the patrons were so generous and fun to talk to, the atmosphere was upbeat and down to earth, and for me…the Hefeweizen was outstanding. And I didn’t even get to play foosball 😡⚽️!

On a side note, there are craft breweries popping up all across the U.S., and in some very unlikely areas, mainly wharehouse districts and industrial areas. Some of these areas might scare the beer snob away, but these are some of the best new breweries that are up and coming. For example We met up with a family member in Los Angeles, CA at Golden Road Brewing. It felt like we made a wrong turn it was so industrial, but once we found it we thoroughly enjoyed it. Upslope Brewing Company is a smaller craft brewery in the industrial part of east Boulder, CO. One of our favorites, hands down was the Kona Brewing Company. Even though this larger scale brewery with restaurant makes it feel like your sitting outside any normal restaurant with many different beer choices, it as well is a bit off the beaten path to get to in a wharehouse area, but once you’re there you don’t think about it, and you’re in Hawaii of all places. Welcome to the new art of craft breweries, it’s an exciting time to be a beer fan. Don’t blink or you’ll most surely miss one!

What this blog site is about!

 

I decided to start a blog primarily to give myself an outlet for the things in life that I am passionate about. Travel is one of the things that get a hold of you and pulls you along on an adventure where you see new places, people, foods, and cultures. It started when I was kid, pulling the maps out of National Geographic magazines and just staring at them trying to figure out where I wanted to go in my lifetime. I still haven’t been everywhere that I saw on those maps yet but I’ve seen some amazing places so far.  While living in New Jersey as a kid, my parents took us camping all up and down the east coast and that helped develop my love of the outdoors (seriously, even living in New Jersey).  As a teenager in Colorado, we continued to travel around and got to know the state quickly.  I think the Great Sand Dunes ended up being my favorite destination in the state and it still is.

After I got married and had kids, the way we traveled (and how often we did) changed but we still managed some camping trips and the occasional escape without the kids. As the kids started getting older, we had more and more opportunities to get out and now that they are all in college and beyond, we are able to travel quite a bit more.

So what type of a traveler am I? I usually like a trip that has a blend of the outdoors and a little bit of the city. For example, on a recent trip to New Orleans, we stayed near the French Quarter during Mardi Gras which was fun but there gets to be a point where you just need to get away from the hectic life of any big city, but especially New Orleans during Mardi Gras. The perfect antidote to that was a day trip to do a little kayaking in the Bayou and visiting a former sugar plantation along the banks of the Mississippi. On the drive back to New Orleans that night, we had to dodge Mardi Gras parades while trying to get back to our hotel (unsuccessfully I might add). After about an hour and a half of trying to get around the parade, we ultimately ended up at NOLA brewery while waiting for the parade to end.  All’s well that ends well!

Speaking of breweries, they are another passion of mine. For one, I like to support local businesses whenever possible and the small micro breweries are almost always locally owned and operated. It can be fun trying local takes on brews, which sometimes use local ingredients to create unique tastes. Additionally and most of the time, I have found the food they serve to be better than many established restaurants would serve. Lastly, the atmosphere at many breweries can be the best part. Recently, I was able to visit Kona Brewing Company on the Big Island of Hawaii and I would say that the beer, food, and tiki torch-palm fringed laid back atmosphere made it the best brewery I have ever visited.

I will say that I am not a natural writer but I hope to make up for it by writing about interesting places with interesting things to do.  The blog topics will be diverse but will stay within a few primary genres: travel, outdoors, beer, and occasionally food. We’ll see what else comes to mind but that’s what I intend to focus on for now. I hope you like it!

Cheers,

Brian