Soon after we arrived here we were coming back to our hotel via some back streets after a visit to the nearby Vondelpark1 when we noticed a small sign saying "Coffee Shop." It seemed a fortuitous find, since we had declined the $15 per person Continental breakfast offered at our hotel. Later that evening a travel guide revealed that if one was mainly interested in coffee and perhaps a croissant or breakfast sandwich (not just an Egg McMuffin; here they have dozens of types of "belegde broodjes," from thin sliced pork to crab salad to egg and tomato) one goes to an "Eetcafe."
At a coffee shop one can buy coffee, but the primary attraction is marijuana, hashish, or perhaps a special brownie. Amsterdam's liberal drug use policy has attracted a lot of what one restauranteur characterized as the back-packers2; one T-shirt proclaims: "They tell me I went to Amsterdam, but I don't remember." Laws have been tightened on hard drug use but soft drug purchase and use is still permitted in specific licensed shops. One of the biggest chains is Bulldog. We walked by the one on the Leidesplein and it appeared like any coffee shop, except for the non-coffee aromas wafting from within. In the red-light district (another unique Amsterdam attraction) there is a Bulldog nearly every block, interspersed with other brands.
1The Vondelpark is even more attractive in some respects than our previous favorite, the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. It's over a mile long with several sinuous lakes, some with fountains, a rose garden with dozens of interestingly-named varieties (including Can-Can, Prima Ballerina, Doris Hyster, Baron van Herzhog, and Coeur de Dame). Also a fenced area, within which, I discovered during one morning run, were several llamas, including a baby, several cows, several rabbits of different breeds and at least four different breeds of chickens – two of which were roosters. One evening when Betty Lou and I went for an extended walk, we heard both loudly announcing their respective territories. Betty Lou especially enjoyed one of the breeds, a "furry"-legged, white-feathered one.
2 We have taken great advantage of lunch specials; special menus available only then often are half the price of evening prices. We have often found ourselves with little additional company and usually end up conversing with the waiters or owners. The back-packer comment came from one to whom we'd remarked about a Michelin one-star restaurant that was closed during the peak of the tourist season, one which was even in a hotel. He pointed out that the locals were on vacation and the back-packers didn't patronize the better restaurants. However, things had improved in the last few years and they were fully booked for the evening. At another, Szechuan(!), restaurant which Michelin awarded one star, the owner told us that 90 percent of his clientele was repeat business. He has the first, and only, Szechuan restaurant in the Netherlands – even the concierge at our hotel didn't know what Szechuan food was. The only reason we managed to get a dinner reservation in his small restaurant was that so many businessmen were on vacation.