August 29, 2011
When you think of Amsterdam as a tourist destination, the first things that come to most everyone’s mind is the liberal attitudes and the legality of so-called “soft drugs” and prostitution that can be found throughout the famous Red Light District. This of course draws many people, but if that is the sole purpose for visiting this wonderful city, then people are really missing out on what is one of the cultural capitals of all of Europe.
Amsterdam has so much more to offer and exploring the beautiful architecture, museums and inordinate selection of cultural offerings is just too rewarding to pass up. Kathy & I had this brought home while we were there as our visit happened to coincide with the largest cultural festival of the year, the Uitmarkt.
The Uitmarkt celebrates the opening of the cultural season in Amsterdam and is an entire weekend at the end of August each year throughout the city but mainly focused in the large open areas of the Leidseplein, Museumplein (museum square) and Nieuwmarkt. Every cultural institution previews their upcoming season with free performances of theatre, dance, poetry readings, recitals, ballet, symphony and all other sorts of music ranging from rock and pop to hip hop to classical, cabaret and even films.
Huge stages are set up featuring large performances and smaller ones for improv, dance, theatre and comedy are there as well. The crowds of mostly locals turn out en masse to take it all in, this year braving chilly temperatures and intermittent rain showers to enjoy the festival. There are also numerous booths set up selling books and others promoting the various cultural institutions such as the myriad of museums, theatres, dance companies, symphonies, libraries, and any other cultural venue that can be found in Amsterdam.
There seemed to be no end to the variety or number of entertainment options and Kathy & I enjoyed performances by the Amsterdam Symphony, a contemporary dance company and a local rock band that was exceptionally good which sang in both English and Dutch. It was a cool event and we were thrilled to be able to check it all out.
In the afternoon, we drifted away from the festival, maneuvering through the narrow canal laced streets over to check out another big attraction of the city, The Heineken Experience. Housed at the historic Heineken beer brewery, this visitor center/tour is an interactive experience that explains the history and relevance of the famous pilsner beer.
I was a little skeptical that the tour might be a little hokey and too touristy. It certainly has elements of that, but overall we were both impressed at how fascinating and interesting the tour was. It really delves into the history and methods of brewing the tasty beverage and is all supremely well done. I came away with a lot more knowledge and appreciation of beer making and Heineken as well. Pretty cool stuff.
The best part of course is the free beer at the Heineken bar at the conclusion of the tour. The bar was as happening as anyplace we’d been in Amsterdam and we ran in to some fellow Americans who had managed to put their good old American ingenuity at work in figuring out that by asking departing patrons who did not use their free beer coupons to donate them to their cause, they could basically drink free for as long as they wanted. They had been there four hours drinking free Heineken when we arrived and stayed even longer once we arrived. It was a really fun time.
Michael & Kathy