Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Touristy things

Today felt like "Let's play tourist in Amsterdam". I let Amanda sleep in, which means that we didn't get started until about 11:00. Today was the day for Dutch pancakes, and we opted for The Pancake Bakery at Prinsengracht 191, which took only about 10 minutes on bikes. I tend to be skeptical of places that say "Best in Town" since those places most often are catering to the tourist trade and places that really do the the best whatever in town don't need to proclaim on their signs. But this place came with the recommendation of our waiter at De Pizza Bakkers last night. (Sidenote: who knew that pizza and prosecco went so well together? Our waiter also said that the best pancakes in Amsterdam are the ones he makes at home. But that didn't seem like it was in the cards for us. So we settled for one of other places he mentioned.) 

The Pancake Bakery has much to recommend it. Walking in you would never mistake this for a US greasy spoon. It's in a small narrow room with seats for maybe 35. There was one aisle down the center with tables for four on either side. There are a few steps down to the restaurant and a narrow staircase up to the WC. We waited about 10 minutes for a table. They do have other breakfast items, but by the looks of things everyone was there for the pancakes. Amsterdam pancakes are more like crepes than pancakes as we usually think of them. They are very thin, cover the entire plate, and come with whatever topings you order. I got the apple and cinnamon. Amanda had the banana, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream. The table had a large bowl of syrup, in addition to the two small bottles. I ladled a bit of syrup on mine. With the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and syrup, it was quite the sweet plate. However, quite delicious and I managed to clean my plate.

From the top of the Heineken experience looking southeast
Then it was off to the site of the former Heineken brewery for the "Heineken Experience". Although company headquarters are still located nearby, beer is no longer brewed here. If there was ever any doubt that this is a company that has marketing down to a T, this tourist attraction quickly dispels that. The Lonely Planet Amsterdam guide awarded it a "Top Choice" designation and has a half-page spread on the place in their printed guide.There are a variety of tours to choose from and I undoubtedly would have opted for the least expensive, because I'm, well, Dutch (i.e. frugal). But Hope and Sarah, our two Illinois acquaintances from Monday night, raved about the VIP tour so in a very uncharacteristic move, I spent far more for this than I would have otherwise. sprang for it. The VIP Heineken experience included a guided tour of a group of six tourists that included besides Amanda and me, a couple for Vancouver BC, and two guys from Dubai. The latter were obviously in town for a good time as they asked our tour guide for recommendations of good coffee shops and at one point asked about smoking a joint while we were on the roof looking out at the Amsterdam skyscape. In the picture, you can see the top of the Rijkmuseum in the distance.

Heinekein's H41.
For our VIP price, we did get a private beer tasting with five various Heineken brands, several of which are not available in the US. One of the samples was their "H41", which apparently is available only in Greece and Italy and is still in the test market phase. It may or may not ever appear in the states. According to our guide, it uses the same grains and hops as the signature Heineken brew but is distinguised by a strain of wild yeast from Patagonia. This was my favorite of the ones were served. It had a bit of character that just isn't present in a mass produced beer designed to be shipped around the world.

The tasting also included a cheese course to go with each brew. This raised the value of the experience significantly. (The only thing better than beer and cheese would be my favorite pinot noir and some freshly-baked crusty bread. But this was a pretty darn good stand-in.)

So the question remains, was it worth it? I don't know quite how to answer that question. As someone who has never been to Amsterdam and perhaps not likely to come back soon, taking in a bone fide tourist attraction probably isn't a bad thing. And as tourist attractions go, this was pretty fun. Amanda definitely enjoyed herself and was the life of the party during the tasting. On the whole, I'd say it was a good way to spend the afternoon.

Tomorrow, we're planning an entirely different beer experience with a trip to Amsterdam's only brewery in a windmill. More on that later.

Afterward it was a return trip to the Nine Streets area for Amanda to buy some bluejeans that she spied in a shop yesterday. We dropped into a pastry shop across the street from the clothes store for an afternoon pastry, then back to the apartment and some R&R before we got out for Boom Chicago's political improv show. It seems like it may be really hard to satirize this year's presidential race since the real thing is so surreal. But we'll see how they do.

After show update:  As I suspected it's very hard to satirize this year's presidential race. Trump is a caricature already so trying to create satire around someone who seems to satirize himself at every opportunity is pretty hard. Which is not to say the show wasn't funny and entertaining; it was. But think back to Mitt Romney. Now there was a guy who could be satirized. Trump? He's already a caricature.