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Amsterdam

Biking, Amsterdam's best abbey beers and smoke

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Between the tourist traps of Rembrandtplein and the triangular park of Fredericksplein is the Utrechtsestraat. This is a fine street, full of tailors, shoe stores and bakeries, including an outlet of the infamous Dutch cheese shop Kaashuis Tromp (at Kerkstraat). Ask for the very oldest farmer's round, but be forewarned — this crumbling, orange cheddar is the gateway cheese for an oldworld lactose addiction that will have you airmailing vacuum-packed slices at horrendous prices (see cheesebymail.nl).

A few doors up is Concerto, a five-building beast of a record store, the best in all of Amsterdam. Staff is knowledgeable; turntables are waiting; the digs line up deep. Concerto offers a wide selection of 20th century music — think punk to opera, minimal techno to jazz. After sweating the sounds, check out the Café Marcella, which faces the Prinsengracht Canal. Wicker chairs and tables line the waterway during the warmer months, and the staff serves a respectable pannekoek. Finish off the afternoon with a concert at STEIM, the Dutch centre for improvised experimental music on Achtergracht (check the listings; it's mainly a studio venue).

Every dinner deserves a dérive. If you need some meditative herb for the meander, drop by the discreet and business-like Stix on your way out. If getting down to DJs at Paradiso or an arts show at de Balie or Melkweg is your forte, head west along Prinsengracht — the shortest route to Leidesplein (there are numerous bike rental shops; hook up some wheels, and lock it up tight). Or, wander south past Fredericksplein and head west along Welteringschans; pop south to visit the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, or take a gander through Vondel Park. Dinner can be had at Srikandi, a natively spicy restaurant on the Stadhouderskade; to truly simmer both ears and guts, follow it with an ear-splitting noise show at the legendary squat, Overtoom 301.

I like to end the penultimate night in Dutch style. Head north, toward the hedonism of the inner circle, past the Dam square, to the Spui. Off lower Spuistraat you will discover Gollem on Rammsteeg and Tweede Kammer on Heisteeg. Gollem features over 200 bottles in its tiny cellar, including an extensive list of abbey beers, all listed on blackboards that abut the ceiling, while cozy wooden benches fit a select few inside its warm walls. All beers are poured in their proper glass, at the proper temperature. Talk to the barman, and set-up a four course liquid meal (warning: the narrow stairs to the head are a treacherous test of one's nationality). Stagger out into the night (don't fall into the Singel) and wander an alley down to Tweede Kammer, which has the most elegant gifts from Morocco waiting. And a last word: don't forget that the canals loop. Bring a compass if in doubt.

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