Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Amsterdamned! Beertrip Day 1

Nearly two years ago Sj and I went on a Belgian Beer Tour through  We loved it so much that we decided to return for another shot at Beer Nirvana!  Once again we joined up with Mike Saxton as our guide through the medieval cities, rolling countrysides and farmhouse breweries.  This tour went to Brussels, Ghent and several other cities in Belgium and the Netherlands.  Since the itinerary did not include our favorite city of Bruges we added a short visit there and also to Amsterdam on the front end of the trip.  The tour was a small one with four of our friends making the trek overseas with us, and one other brave traveler from Ithaca, New York.  The smaller size of these tours is part of what drew us to, since it is far easier to get around and fit into smaller pubs and restaurants than in larger tours.

I took copious notes on our travels and lots of pictures to share with you, my readers!  I'll be doling out these nuggets of beer-infused travelogue over the coming weeks, partially as review, partially as a personal journal for my own benefit.  Hopefully you will enjoy the process and perhaps even by swayed to try a trip with Mike in the future!

One disclaimer on this entire grouping of posts:  this is a beer trip so it of course involves a lot of beer!  In most cases our group shared tastes of most of the beers we ordered so when I mention having 5 or 6 beers in a row, I'm counting those tastes.  There is simply no way my liver could have handled this much beer on my own over the two weeks we were gallivanting around Europe!  I also was smart enough (this time) to try sticking with the lower alcohol beers when possible.

So without further ado, let us get on with the show and take a virtual seven and a half hour flight to Amsterdam from Minnesota.  Luckily you readers need not deal with the crying children, ubiquitous bronchitic coughing, heinous airplane food, and possible deep vein thromboses that we risked to make the trip.  We left the country at 7 PM and arrived in Amsterdam at 10 AM local after having slept a total of 30 minutes on the flight.  Here we go jet lag!  In the airport we changed our boring green paper money into an uncomfortably smaller amount of multicolored euros, and bought a 48 hour bus pass for the following 2 days in Amsterdam.  Onto a bus from Schiphol and off to the Hotel Fita, right near the Rijksmuseum.

The Hotel Fita was a small family run place right in the center of things.  They were just finishing some renovations, so there was a bit of wet paint and carpeting work being done, but this did not interfere with our enjoyment of our stay.  Roel and the rest of the staff were young, incredibly friendly and probably the most helpful I have ever met.  I would stay at this hotel just for the personal aspect and that is why our co-travelers Chris and Hassan took us there in the first place!  The breakfasts were wonderful as well and included a made to order pancake that was light, fluffy, buttery and dusted with confectioner's sugar.

Nearly impossible to take a picture in Amsterdam without several bikes in the shot!

After checking in to the hotel and getting recharged with some cappuccino that Maxime fixed for us, we headed out for some exploration of the city.  The weather was chilly and a light sporadic rain spat at us intermittently that first day.  Amsterdam is known for its canals and they were certainly something to see!  Encircling the city in concentric rings, these waterways were both aesthetically pleasing and functional.  Getting around the city was fairly easy with good tram and bus routes, but this is not a pedestrian friendly place. I have never seen so many bikes and scooters in my life.  Walking, you need to be very aware of yourself, as a scooter or biker could come roaring at you without any intention of slowing down.  Between the tightly clustered cars, bikes, scooters, and trams there were several near misses in our time here.  One tourist on a rented bike nearly ran down Chris and only Hassan's quick wits and even quicker arms were able to pull her from a certain collision.

Many of the buildings actually overhang the street and most have hooks or beams at the top for hoisting furniture and larger items into the upper floors.

We ended up having a wonderful lunch of Thai food with possibly the best waiter we had on our entire trip.  A good way to start the journey.

Windmills?  Must be Holland!

After lunch we headed for our first beer destination on our solo tour of Amsterdam--the Brouwerij 't IJ.  Located next to the Gooyer windmill, this is one of the most picturesque breweries I have visited!  They have been open since 1985, in a building that used to be a municipal bath house, and have been crafting beer there ever since.  The bar is a newer addition and they had 6 beers on tap when we visited.  They are one of the only breweries we saw that actually offer a sampler, so we were able to try all the beers amongst our group.  The walls of the tasting room are old and cracked white tiles from its bath house days and are lined with dusty and faded beer bottles.  My Minnesota radar was on and I spotted a Fitgers sticker on one of the doors.  Most of the beers were Belgian style, like a tripel, dubbel, and wit, but had a house flavor that didn't quite fit those categories.

The tripel and wit were a bit rough on the finish...perhaps too much coriander or other spices?  Their Struiss barleywine was fantastic though, dripping with dark fruit, sugar, yeastiness and complexity.  The busy family style bench and table set up in the room encouraged talking to neighbors and we ended up discussing beer with Canadian ex-pats and several locals.  A very fun place to visit and worth the trip out there.

Tastes as good as it looks!

Next we wandered the streets (warily now) looking for the de Proef brewery, but they were closed by then.  Their store was open and we bought a few bottles for later consumption, then forgot them in our hotel fridge when we left town.  Hopefully the staff at Hotel Fita like craft beers!  Balked in our attempt for another brewery, we set out looking for a beer bar that Hassan had discovered on his previous trip to Amsterdam.  We passed the "historic" Red Light District passing some working ladies showing of their wares beneath  a lurid red glare, situated just feet from the Gothic spires of an ancient church.  A strange place for sure.  We passed many Coffee Shops that do not actually sell coffee and often had strange smoky aromas wafting from within their dark recesses.

Possibly the coolest pub sign ever...

Eventually we finally stumbled upon our quarry: In De Wildeman.  This is a fantastic beer bar, boasting 18 taps and over 250 bottles of imported and craft beer.  Located in an old Amsterdam distillery, the inside is small, wood paneled and has all the charm of an authentic English style pub.  Beers ranged from Brewdog, to a plethora of Belgians, to a 17 Euro bottle of Alaskan Smoked Porter!  We discovered a cute little back bar hidden around the corner from the main area and settled in.  Several beer books and board games looking to be as old as the bar lined the shelves in this room.  I ended up trying the wonderfully malty and smoky Schlenkerla Doppelbock on tap, while Sj ordered the Netherlands' own trappist beer La Trappe Quadrupel.  It didn't take much before all four of us weary travelers were nodding off with the comfort of clinking glasses, murmur of background chat and tasty brews.  This gem of a pub is well worth the visit and I'd love to go back when I have more time and energy!

Sj falling asleep while I sneakily drink half of her La Trappe...

Off to a quick dinner of felafel and a much needed early bed time!

Coming up: Day 2 in Amsterdam and ton of flower pictures!

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