What is a Smart Shop? I Was Way Off!

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Photo: psicotropia.wordpress.com                                    Photo: campusblog.nl

When I first moved to Amsterdam and saw these “Smart Shops”, I honestly thought they were some sort of small electronics stores selling little gizmos and gadgets. I mean, it is a “Smart Shop” after all.

However, it is the complete opposite as it’s a shop that sells organic, legalized drugs from your magic mushrooms, to your cannabis seeds in which you can grow your own marijuana and of course, endless paraphernalia. You can see where one could get confused considering when anyone consumes these types of drugs… Well, the side effects don’t exactly scream “smart”.

Let’s just say it was a little awkward when I walked in, took a confused look around and asked, “Do you sell 16GB Flash drives?”

Ummm, NO!

I guess it’s safe to say that if you consume too much of what they offer and malfunction, there won’t be a “Geek Squad” a la Best Buy (an American electronics store) to come to your rescue.

The name could be a little more straightforward such as, Get High Here ← or more cleverly, The Little Shop of Horrors/Dreams, depending on one’s experience.

If your curious, go in, act accordingly and take a look around. But remember that flash drives, scientific calculators or anything of that nature is not available.

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Shark Week!! (Or Lack Thereof)

shark 5 Photo Source: velociriot.org

As an expat, one thing I miss about living in the states compared to living in Amsterdam, aside from Wawa, Trader Joe’s and automatic transmissions, was the hype that surrounded the approach and start of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.

Sure, I see the occasional commercial, but that’s only if you have the premium cable package that includes particular channels such as the Discovery Channel. If not, then you wouldn’t even know it existed here.

In the states I could go to a gas station to fill up my car and the pump attendant would ask, “You getting excited, dude?” About what? “SHARK WEEK MAN!!!”

I’m guilty too, as I would put a huge dorsal fin on the roof of my car and pump the theme to Jaws. No shame in my game! I even rolled the windows down! (Were gonna need a bigger car) 😉

See what I mean?

Even my mom called me the other day on my birthday. Was it to wish me a Happy Birthday? Nope! It was just a friendly reminder that Shark Week was coming up. They take Shark Week pretty serious on that side of the pond.

It was like a holiday, a celebration, another reason to look forward to summer. Who doesn’t love sharks?

Well, Amsterdam, I guess we could celebrate Herring Week instead. We can all go apeshit and shove loads of pickled herring in our mouths while listening to some “House Music” 🙂 Sounds like a damn good plan!

shark4 Photo Source: discovery.com

 

The Top 5 Common Sounds of Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a busy, bustling city that is thriving at all times of the day and night. Living here, you tend to get used to the sounds of the city pretty quickly. In some cases, your brain trains itself to react to certain sounds in different ways without even looking around you. You almost become a sound ninja! Here are my top 5 common sounds of Amsterdam, in no particular order, which I personally relate to, but I’m sure it could differ from person to person.

1. Tram Bells – The bells that ring from the tram when it is close to you or about to flatten you, is a sound that embeds itself into your head very quickly. So much in fact, after while there is no need to even look over your shoulder to see which direction it’s coming from. It’s almost like a 6th sense. You hear it, you move out of the way, and everything continues smoothly.

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Photo Source: Michael Skomsky/myrandomamsterdam

2. Bike Bells – This is an absolute “Sound of Amsterdam”. Bike bells play a huge role in our auditory intake. They can, however, be a little tricky. Of course, when riding along in the bike lane, other riders will ring their bell to warn you of their passing on the left. Others will ring it when coming down the street and a crowd of people are standing there like they’ve never heard of a sidewalk. Now the tricky part: unlike the tram, there are a million more bikes to look out for. So whether you are on foot and crossing the street or riding in a bike lane, there are so many bells going at once from all directions. It can be a little chaotic at times to say the least. But take a deep breath and instead of freaking out, just start ringing your bell even if for no reason at all. Pretend it’s a celebration! I’d rather blend in than get run over and stand out.

bikes Photo Source: bicycledutch.com

3. House Music – Ahh, yes, the ever so in your face all the time, house music. The Dutch are big fans of house music, as well as most of the young European population. I on the other hand, am not. Sorry people! That doesn’t mean I won’t go out and tear up the dance floor with friends that do enjoy it. Been there, done that! However, when the local cheese shop is pumpin’ some DJ (insert name here) while I’m trying to get my fill of free samples for lunch, it’s kind of a free sample mood killer. Also, I was confused for the longest time as to why it’s called house music. I thought, “Why the hell would anyone want to play this in their house?” House music? Like dinner music? “Hey sweetie, can you pass the potatoes?” PUMP, PUMP, PUMP, PUMP, PUMP! I can just imagine people gliding around their kitchens doing fist pumps while lathering up some nice soiled dishes after a fine meal with some even finer “house music”. But hey, whatever floats your boat, I guess.

DJ Photo Source: clashmusic.com

4. People Singing Aloud (Wilhelmus) – When I say “people singing aloud”, I don’t just mean people singing their favorite songs or the most popular, just reached #1 on the charts type of songs. I’m talking about the groups of Dutchies, usually on boats cruising down the canals, that will belt out the Dutch National Anthem known as Wilhelmus van Nassouwe or just the Wilhelmus. I’ve witnessed this on numerous occasions walking along the canals, or past cafes/bars. Of course there is usually beer involved, and lots of it, as if the consumption of beer automatically constitutes the public recital of the Wilhelmus. And don’t get me started on the melodic aftermath of a soccer (voetbal) game. I guess I should actually learn the lyrics (in Dutch of course) and chime in sometime!

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Photo Source: Michael Skomsky/myrandomamsterdam

5. “Volgende Stoppen” – Back to the tram! When riding the tram the automated voice will announce the stops along the route, whichever it may be. “Volgende Stoppen”, meaning “Next Stop”, will burrow itself into your brain like meerkats. So much that even when I’m not on the tram and just riding my bike, I find myself reciting “Volgende Stoppen” at stop lights, crosswalks, etc. It’s like a sickness. Ugh, I just did it again!

tram Photo Source: nl.wikipedia.org

Honorable Mention:

– Scooters – Scooters are a more common sound than the Wilhelmus, and just as common as the others I’ve listed, however, after while you really just don’t hear them anymore. As you get thoroughly used to it (you will very quickly), it kind of just sounds like a faint pack of flies buzzing around at all times. It’s one of those constant sounds, like the humming of a ceiling fan, or the running of a broken toilet, that you learn to ignore, which ultimately spares your auditory senses from the annoyance that it is. However, the same can not be said for house music. You WILL hear that!

scooter Photo Source: iamsterdam.com

When and if you ever visit or live in Amsterdam you will see exactly what I am talking about. Just stay alert so you don’t get plowed over by a bike, scooter, tram, or maybe even a boat full of singing Dutchies (I would stay on dry land in that case). However, have fun!!

Back in the A’Dam (Pride Weekend)

Hey all you My Random Amsterdam lovers, or at least I hope you all are 😉 I am back from my short hiatus after an awesome little trip to Varenna/Bellagio, Lago di Como, Italy (stay tuned for more).

While I was away from this gem of a city we all know as Amsterdam, Pride Weekend raged on as it will wait for no one. Boat parades throughout the canals, open air concerts, flags hung from anything and everything, such as the Westerkerk, and people hovering over the Amstel doing flips and whatnot with water jet packs. Gotta love some good, old fashioned fun!

Nothing but Love, Equality and Freedom my friends… Spread it, live it, learn it, love it!

photo Photo Source: Michael Skomsky/myrandomamsterdam

 

The Spanish Farmer’s Delight (AmsterGRAM)

I recently visited Barcelona, Spain and it was nothing short of amazing. Barcelona is a great city with a lot to see and offer. However, I love to eat, and I will eat almost anything, which is why I fell in love with La Boqueria market located on the Ramblas. It’s an outstanding place to grab some fresh meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables whether you are planning a huge family dinner or just looking for some quick, small snacks to enjoy a nice little picnic. I did, however, come across this one of a kind treat that I can only assume has all the necessary nutrients. Yes, it’s the “Penis Pepper”…

Photo Source: Michael Skomsky/myrandomamsterdam

Typically Dutch (AmsterGRAM)

Typically Dutch…

typically dutch

Photo Source: Michael Skomsky/myrandomamsterdam

A typical Dutch weekend afternoon in Amsterdam. Friends gossiping, sipping beers and wine, eating cheese and meat, smoking cigarettes, laughing and of course, the token lap dog.

Cafe Heuvel: Located at Prinsengracht 568 (corner of Prinsengracht and Nieuw Spiegelstraat).

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Caf%C3%A9+Heuvel/@52.3625392,4.8877947,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x78616dfa68049fb4

If you are in town or looking for a nice, local place to grab a drink, I advise checking this place out. They also have outside seating which has a beautiful canal view and great people watching (if you are into that). In any case, I definitely recommend stopping by to get a taste of the local culture.

Being Short in the Netherlands

The fact that the Dutch are ranked the tallest people in the world, according to several sources, says it all. I don’t consider myself short at 5’8 (average I guess), however, there are a few things that can be a bit of an obstacle. Here is a short list of things I have found so far that I usually deal with on a regular basis…

 1. The Height of Urinals in Bars/Restaurants – Really! It’s easy for a taller person to aim down than it is for a shorter person to aim up. I usually just take it in stride, stand on my tip-toes and hope for the best. It’s safe to say, or maybe not, that I now carry a retractable stepping stool around with me to such places. It makes life a little easier.

 2. Trying to Order a Drink in a Crowded Bar – Walking into a crowded bar can be a little overwhelming on its own, but trying to order a drink is even worse when you walk in and feel like a mouse lost among Giraffes. Of course, I just go with the flow and fight my way to the front (eventually). Although, when you’re 5’8 and standing between 6 foot something Dutchmen, you get that feeling of… “We’re gonna need a bigger boat (Jaws, 1975).”

 3. Trying to Look in Bathroom Mirrors – “Mirror, mirror on the wall… Never mind, who am I kidding.” I don’t actually have this problem myself, however my itty-bitty fiance who stands at an elegant 5’1 hasn’t looked in a mirror since we moved here. I actually had to buy her a table top mirror and a long door mirror in which she can do all the fun, normal things a woman would. “Mirror, mirror on the door” is more like it.

 4. Buying Pants – I don’t necessarily need new jeans/pants at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I can’t browse. I haven’t been to too many clothing stores yet, but the pants in ones that I have been are very tall and long. Like I said I am 5’8 and unless I want to purchase stilts with my pants then I’m pretty much shit out of luck (pardon my French. I mean Dutch).

 As of right now these are the only obstacles I’ve come across, but I’m sure I will find more that remind me that I’m only 5’8. I don’t mind it by any means, though. I have Dutch friends that tower over me, but being some of the friendliest people, would never belittle me (no pun intended).

 In fact I had a Dutch friend over the other day for a few drinks and some BBQ and he got his head caught in the ceiling fan!

HA! Who’s the joke on now?

The Key to Buying a Cheap Bike in Amsterdam

Photo Source: Michael Skomsky/randomamsterdam

An Amsterdammer’s main mode of transportation, if you haven’t noticed already, is a bike (fiets). For every inhabitant in this wonderful city, there are roughly 2 bikes. With that being said, if you haven’t already picked one up and are new to the city, what are you waiting for?

As an expat (NYC transplant), arriving in Amsterdam was a little different but nothing one couldn’t handle with a little confidence. I figured, in order to feel like a local, well, be a local. It’s Makkelijk! What is one of the first steps to being a local here? Get a bike!

The beginning of the search was a little overwhelming when seeing the price tags on some bikes in storefront windows. However, after a little research and aimlessly wandering around, I stumbled upon Waterlooplein Outdoor Flea Market. I did a few walkthroughs and test runs through the market, checking out bike vendors, stopping for some frites and being distracted by the heaps of junk spread among dingy blankets. After a few days of observing others buying things, not only did I feel like a creep, I came to my senses and realized that I found a loop hole. Of course it’s appropriate to haggle, it’s a flea market! However, it gets better… Rain! Who wants to shop in the rain? And as we all know, it absolutely rains here in the Netherlands. The clouds open up, potential customers run for cover, and vendors button up their coats and tighten their hoods. Well, that’s when I come in twirling my umbrella and whistling “Singing in the Rain”.

Being the only customer at that time and braving the onslaught of cloud barf, it’s fair to say that I have the upper hand. With no customers, especially in wet, uncomfortable conditions, money is money.

“How much do you want for this one?”

“90 euro.”

“Eh, that’s a little steep. Would you do 50?”

“I can’t. How about 80?”

“55.”

“No, 70?”

“60, and that’s all I have, sorry.”

Done deal! Saved 30 euros and it was a nice bike!

Of course after a while I found out about a group on Facebook called ISN Amsterdam Online Market, which is like Amsterdam’s Craigslist, Facebook Edition. You can get fairly priced bikes on there (and a lot of other goodies) through people who need to move, bought a new bike and don’t need it anymore, etc. However, I heard about that through a friend of a friend and being new in the city a while back when I bought my bike, I didn’t have a friend of a friend who’s mom’s brother’s friend is selling a sweet bike. In any case, keep in mind, Waterlooplein Market does have a pretty big selection to choose from and you might find other great things too. So check it out!

112 is the New 911

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Hey fellow Amsterdammers, expats, visitors/tourists, or whatever you may be. It’s obvious that the locals are aware of this, but just a little tidbit of helpful information in case you might need it whether you are visiting, living here and are just not in the know, or have fallen down the stairs and can’t move your spine.

Anyway, being an expat from the states, it blew my mind when I found out that 911 was not a universal (emergency, help me I am going to die, this person is going to smash my skull with a hammer, I’m running from someone with a blade, there is someone in my house and I am hiding in the closet, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up) number. In the Netherlands, you in fact dial 112 to resolve your emergencies, whatever they may be.

In any case, I would have been shit out of luck if I were in a situation where I needed the “Politie” hotline. “We’re sorry. The number you have reached…” Ugh, like I haven’t heard that one before.

So… in the words of Biggie Smalls… “If you don’t know, now you know.”