By: Glenn Scarborough, Travel Consultant
After our Avalon Waterways Rhine river cruise, we decided to extend our stay with a full-day excursion booked by Urban Adventures, a partner of Intrepid Travel who operate a-la-carte sightseeing excursions in several major tourist destinations around the world.
As we arrived at the meeting point for the Urban Adventure, we checked the email for our guide Sean’s description. Look for a tall guy with a red hat and a puppy, he wrote. Immediately he appeared, complete with hat and dog as promised. The puppy, Tolkien, was the sweetest little thing and accompanied us for the entire day.
Amsterdam is as friendly to dogs as it is to bikes, and everyone welcomed him that day, from the shops to the restaurants. Everyone welcomed Sean as well, and it seemed he knew about half the people in the city. Sean runs the Amsterdam branch of Urban Adventures, and I can definitely see why. He’s an engaged member of the community, and his passion for his city is contagious. At one point we ran into another UA guide with her tour group, who of course had to stop and give Tolkien some attention.
Our first (and for me, most highly anticipated) order of business was pancakes. The plan was to join a local who would teach us to cook them in her kitchen, but unfortunately the lady who planned on hosting us had to cancel at the last minute. Instead, Sean took us to his favorite Pannekoekenhuis, a place just a couple of blocks away called Lucien’s. The Dutch pancake (the large pannekoeken, not the tiny poffertjes) is similar to an open-faced crêpe, loaded with all sorts of delicious toppings, whether sweet, savory, or both. The most interesting and surprisingly delicious flavor combination was the “bacon” (closer to Canadian bacon), cheese, and ginger marmalade. Afterwards, we stopped at a couple of places to round out the weekend’s now comprehensive food survey with a generous slice of Appeltaart (better than the best “dutch” apple pie that I’ve had in the US) and another cheese tasting, this time at a shop that uses sustainable, ethically sourced milk from local independent dairy farmers. There is so much fabulous gouda in this city!
Once we couldn’t eat any more, the rest of the tour started. Sean took us to a few local shops, and a (second) canal cruise. We had mainly signed up for today’s tour for the pancakes, but the shops and the cruise were both nice additions, even though we had already been on a canal cruise. The boats that Avalon charters were fine, but the boat that we had for the Urban Adventure was lovely. It was much smaller (there were only about 16 people on board), and made of beautifully carved wood instead of the sleek metal of most of the canal tour boats. Plus they had free wine and beer on board, which is always a plus.
The most memorable shops we visited were the shirt shop and the bike shop. The shirt shop specializes in sustainable production techniques to print shirts by local artists (they’ve made a few based on Sean’s art too). The owners are actively trying to innovate with more eco-friendly dyes and inks, as normal screen-printing ink is extremely toxic and standard printing practices are quite wasteful. The “bike” shop was actually a store for all kinds of items made from reclaimed bicycle parts (mostly rubber from discarded tires) and from other kinds of creatively repurposed plastics, paper, etc that would otherwise be in a landfill somewhere. It was great to talk with the guys who run the shop and make most of the items. There is a real sense of environmental responsibility in this city, as suggested by the prevalence of shops like these and vegan and/or sustainably sourced restaurants.
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