Amsterdam

Within minutes of arriving, I had visions of myself living in Amsterdam. It’s such a pleasant city, full of cobblestone street flanked canals (many of which are lined with houseboats), row-houses with enormous windows, and quaint rounded bridges decorated with posted up bicycles. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a centrally located European city with easy access to its airport and train station (Centraal Station is walkable from most areas around town, and the airport is only a 15 minute ride from there!).

I’m particularly obsessed with the Jordaan neighborhood. I could totally live there for a few years, what with its impossibly cool shops and restaurants, yet mellow, casual vibe. The only glitch in this plan is that it’d be challenging for me to make friends because all the Dutch women are legit a foot plus taller than I am. How would we converse?

Plus, if we lived here, I could reignite my middle school aged self’s passion for clogs.

Unlike the rest of the city, the red light district kind of made me cringe. We went over there largely because as a first time visitor to Amsterdam I felt compelled. Though it was early evening, late afternoon even by most people’s standards, and far from its prime (as I’m told), it was not my scene. We saw but one woman standing on offer in a crystal bedazzled thong in a window box, but that was enough for me. While I’ve heard the legends of the local sex shows, e.g. ping pong balls (or wait, is that Thailand!?) and the live sexing, I just couldn’t stomach it. We had a much tamer tourist experience and stuck to the Sex Museum, which offered somewhat PG versions of the red light world (using the term PG lightly because there were still pictures of fully nude people engaged in sexual acts and descriptions of and images of some fetishes that put 50 Shades readers to shame…that said, it’s a museum, so…).

I knew Amsterdam was a big biking city, but I hadn’t anticipated the full extent of it. There are bicyclists, and bikes, everywhere. And you really notice the lack of vehicular traffic, which is incredibly nice as a pedestrian.

Having arrived fairly late our first day, we wandered around until we found an enticing pizza shop, grabbed a pie to go, and sat outside on the side of a canal. So enjoying the moment, I looked at Alan and told him this is going to be one of the nights I look back and cherish, someday when I’m sitting in an office and missing this journey. This despite that I was sipping sparkling water and not wine! It helped also that the pizza was insanely delicious. Like, Italy good.

I hadn’t realized the Netherlands were so well known for their gouda. It’s damn good. We sampled many at the Cheese Museum. All were amazing, but steer clear of the florescent blue one. Not sure what happened there. If you’re up for another non-museum-y museum, check out the Tulip Museum next door. We just perused the gift shop and later the tulip selection at the Bloemenmarkt (floating flower market). They have some serious bulbs. Tulips are no joking matter here.

We got our culture in at the Van Gogh museum, which is perfect because it’s just the right amount of art to keep you entertained and not overwhelmed. We actually walked the entire museum, which has to be a first for us! (Hooray! Little gold stars for us!). Van Gogh’s work is, of course, amazing, and there are also a handful of pieces by other artists scattered among the exhibits. It’s done in a really nice way so that you can follow his evolution as a painter.

While fairs are generally awesome, I was really bummed that there was one set up in the Museumplein so that it blocked my shot of the IAmsterdam sign. I got over it pretty quickly when we tried mini Dutch pancakes with powdered sugar.

It was in Amsterdam that we met up with Alan’s brother, Kenny. He was on the tail-end of business school travels. We hung out with him and some of his Kellogg friends for a couple days in Amsterdam before the three of us headed to Italy. One of Kenny’s classmates is a Netherlands local, so she was able to guide us around to some great bars and a tasty Indonesian meal (aka rijsttafel). She also put us onto La Chouffe beer, which tastes almost as good as its logo is cute.

We ate well in Amsterdam. A romantic dinner at Restaurant Vlaming for just Alan and me was delightful, as well as the aforementioned pizza, pancakes, and Indo food. The highlight, though, was probably the late night Dutch fries. If you think putting mayo on your fries is gross, you are right, but you are also wrong. It is gross, but it’s amazing. And the garlic mayo is on point. We also happened upon this shrine to cured pig one day, and after ogling the hind legs we enjoyed a cone of Iberico ham. Nom nom nom.

Practical Info

Amsterdam is just a delightful city, and not only due to its liberal attitude towards marijuana and prostitution. It oozes cool, and yet it’s so accessible.

Transportation: We arrived on an easyJet flight from London Stansted. There are frequent trains from the airport (Schiphol) to Centraal Station; the ride costs €5 and takes about 15 minutes. From Centraal, you can walk, take a tram, take a taxi, etc. depending on where you’re going. It was a 15-20 minute walk from Centraal to our Airbnb spot on the far end of Lindengracht. We walked everywhere we went within the city. By the way, the score is definitely easyJet 1 : Ryanair 0. This was a much better experience than our flight from Cork to Liverpool. That said, I wrote this before onward travel on easyJet from Amsterdam to Rome, where it took an hour to drop our bags and clear security at Schiphol. I don’t know how much blame lies with the airport vs. the airline, but…

Accommodation: We stayed in an Airbnb apartment on Lindengracht in the Jordaan district. This area has many boutique shops and nice restaurants, and it is quieter than some more touristy areas. We thought it was lovely for a stay, especially if you could find a place a little closer to Prinsengracht just to save the extra few minutes walk each way. We visited the nearby textiles market on Westerstraat and the Noordermarkt flea market, both on a Monday. If you want more action, you might prefer to stay closer to Leidseplein (Kenny and his classmates stayed at Dikker en Thijs Fenice Hotel), which has the added advantage of being much closer to the museums, or perhaps stay near Rembrantsplein.

Food and Drinks (and Smokes): Pizza our first night at Da Portare Via was solid. Dinner our last night at Restaurant Vlaming was great. Rijsttafel with Kenny and crew at Kantjil & De Tijger was very enjoyable, from what I remember. We had a relaxed breakfast at Café ‘t Smalle. If you love ham and will open up the wallet for it, don’t miss Ibericus. There are proper restaurants plus cafes or fast food type places all over the central areas. An Amsterdam staple is fries with mayo-based sauces. Fresh squeezed OJ is ubiquitous. Amsterdam knows what’s up…they give you the marijuana to enjoy, the coffee to help you stay awake and the OJ to aid your immune system. Among other places, we had drinks at Cafe Hoppe, which is a classic old Amsterdam pub.

And now, to coffee shops. These are where you can buy marijuana and related products. Cafes are places you drink coffee and maybe eat. You might have heard rumors that tourists may no longer buy weed here. Entirely unfounded. You can find countless articles online listing the best or most famous coffee shops. Some are mini-chains. I won’t offer reviews, except to say that Dampkring has an impressive selection and was my favorite in that sense.

Activities: Amsterdam is home to some great museums, especially now that the Rijksmuseum has reopened after an epic renovation. We visited the Van Gogh Museum, buying tickets online (€15 each) to skip the queue. Other popular and reputable stops include Rembrandthuis, the Anne Frank house and the Heineken tour. Then there is the cheese museum (more like a shop with some info, and tons of free samples) and the tulip museum.

On the less reputable front, there is the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum, and the sex museum (which we visited, costs €4) that is moderately entertaining but not that great. Just strolling the canals and shopping (the Nine Streets area is popular) is great. We perused the Bloemenmarkt (a floating flower market), which was nice, though there are more bulbs and seeds than grown plants. A boat tour always seems like a good idea, but I’ve never done one.

August 30 – September 2, 2014 (Saturday-Tuesday)

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