Since I have been sitting here, staring at a blinking type icon for 10 minutes, it’s clear that I honestly do not know where to begin with Amsterdam. It had always been on my dream list of cities to visit, and as I now begin to recount all of our moments and relive them through all of our pictures, it seems like a dream within a dream.
Long story short…we absolutely loved it. The city, with its juxtaposition of constant motion and comfortable ease, quickly captured our traveler’s curiosity. While there were so many places to see in Europe – and so many left on our itinerary – we were quite okay with setting our bags down and staying in Amsterdam for awhile.
Long story long…here is the full recap:
We arrived in Amsterdam from Brussels late in the afternoon. As we walked out of the train station, the first thing that hit me (almost literally) were the bikes. Everyone had told us about the amount of bikes rolling around this city, yet somehow the amount was still staggering to see in reality. THERE WERE BIKES EVERYWHERE. It was an astounding sight: flying around the streets, zig-zagging through clueless tourists, lined up on every bridge, leaned up on every doorway…not sure how this is possible, but there were definitely more bikes than people in that city. And it was AMAZING.
Aaaand terrifying. Renting bikes had been #2 on my Amsterdam list (right behind the Van Gogh museum) but within moments of witnessing the bike phenomenon and obviously, me nearly getting killed by a few local bikers actually trying to get somewhere, we quickly realized that renting wheels would not necessarily be a “leisurely activity” …especially for someone as uncoordinated and absent minded as me. Think about it as the equivalent of me renting a car in a foreign city. Not doing it actually makes a lot of sense.
So, sticking to our two feet, we walked an average of 15 miles each day for the three days we were there. We nearly covered every street, alleyway, garden path and median within the city limits. And because some parts of the day became insanely windy and cold (it was nicest in the morning and at night, when the wind calmed down), we also ducked into a manyyyy cozy cafes and bars (okay, and one “coffee shop.” Mom, don’t ask.)
You wouldn’t believe how many small, dimly lit, and utterly charming little places there are scattered throughout the winding streets and narrow alleyways in Amsterdam. The first one we stopped into in the Jordaan neighborhood wound up being one of our favorites: Cafe Di Prins. And while its local charm and delicious drafts can take some of the credit, what really made us fall deeply in love was their tomato soup. It was pretty chilly when we first arrived, and so in an attempt to defrost (and eat without having to wonder what the hell I was ordering), I opted for the “tomatoseoup,” which, to my delight, we would find at pretty much every cafe and restaurant we visited during our trip. But no bowl could hold a paddle to the soup at Cafe di Prins. It was unlike any tomato soup I had ever had – thick yet creamy, sweet but with a serious kick, filling but light enough where I wanted 17,0000 more bowls immediately – and topped with two cheesy sticks of doughy bread. Holy shit, I want that soup right now.
Somehow and someway, we tore ourselves from Cafe di Prins that day only to stumble into another teeny corner spot, aptly named Cafe l’Small. I actually had this cafe on my “Amsterdam Eats/Drinks” list before we even took off from Austin, as it dates back to 1786, and found such delight upon peeping my beer coaster that we found it without even looking for it. That never happens to me.
The next morning we headed off on the bright to the much-anticipated Van Gogh Museum. We had bought tickets way in advance (HIGHLY recommend doing this) and were one of the first people to enter the museum – an experience that I take full advantage of by stepping thisclose in front of every painting until I spot a guard in my perpetual vision and/or Matt purposely scares the crap out of me from behind. This experience went on for the first half hour of my time in the special Van Gogh/Munch exhibit, where I also illegally snuck a few photos (flash off, people!). After that, I just became the really annoying American who spends too much time blocking and/or breathing on every painting in every room on every floor. Sum it up…we were there for four hours. IT WAS A VERY HAPPY TIME FOR ME. For Matt…not so much.
After finally tearing me away from Starry Night over Rhodes, Matt and I walked around the “i amsterdam” area for a bit and eventually found ourselves walking through the famous Flower Market along one of the canals (cool, but probably much cooler when there are actual flowers in bloom) and stopping into a few more cafes. And eating more tomato soup.
That night, we decided to trek to the “Windmill Bar,” or as it is really named, the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, which was recommended to us by a few friends. It is located a bit outside the main area, and since our conquer incorrectly told us around 5 p.m. that it closed at 6, we burned some serious Nike rubber fast walking our way across town. While it was a very fast-paced walk, it was another incredible one, as the route took us outside of the crazy, bike-zooming bubble of town and into a more relaxed, this-is-where-the-locals-actually-live part of town. Plus, all that walking made the beers taste that much better once we actually found the place and realized it didn’t close until 8. Huzzah!
The night was sealed by a stroll through the infamous Red Light District. I really had no idea what to expect…except for prostitutes, of course…and so the whole thing was pretty crazy! And uncomfortable. But mostly crazy. I am known for being extremely prudish when it comes to those sort of things, so its safe to say that my face was as red as the street light bulbs over every, um, “place of business.” However, it is a must-see. (And see you will!)
The next day we hit up a cute little coffee house (an actual coffee shop) before trekking once again aways from the center city to the Heineken Brewery. The brewery was really cool, and definitely the most extensive, interactive experience we’ve ever had that was dedicated to beer. Well, except for a few Bonaventure parties. :)
After filling up on beer, we spent the rest of the day walking around various parts of the city. Eventually, when we got cold/hungry/thirsty again, we walked to De Brabantse Aap, a wonderful little spot on the corner that was recommended to us for both the canal and people watching. It ended up being one of our very favorite spots in Amsterdam (though I feel like I’ve said that about every place so far), and we wound up going back the next day for lunch before hopping on the train to Paris.
We hopped on a canal tour that evening, which was a bit more large and touristy than I originally anticipated after our teeny motorboat tour through Bruges. This boat was about five times the size of that one, with a automated tour guide recording playing over the speakers in various languages as we cruised along the city. It was a gorgeous night, so we opted to sit in the very back, out in the open air. Meaning we got great pictures, but totally missed the tour due to the lack of outdoor speakers. Meaning I still have no which which house was Rembrandt’s. Eh, next time!
Before leaving Amsterdam, I was determined to get to the Anne Frank House….without the two hour wait. So on our very last morning there, I woke up early, got dressed in a frenzy and power walked a few blocks over to the house/museum – only to find a line 10 people deep! The museum didn’t open for another 30 minutes, so I stood in line (Matt decided to skip out on this in favor of a long run…he’s not what you would call a history buff) and chatted with some American chaps behind me until the doors opened. The museum/house itself was obviously very powerful and moving, and during my walk back to our hotel afterwards, I tried to view Amsterdam in the light of WWII…so much had changed since then, and it was hard to believe that a city this dazzling could have, at one time, been the backdrop for such an awful time in history.
After my somber stroll, Matt and I packed up our stuff and headed to De Brabantse Aap for two last beers, two last bowls of soup and a few last minutes of nonstop people watching. As we sat overlooking an intersection whizzing with bikes, trains, cars and pedestrians, I thought, “someday when I am sitting alone in a quiet or dull space, I will remember that Amsterdam exists, as does all of the life that lives inside of it. And it will make me very happy.”
And as I sit here, in my quiet apartment with the TV on mute, my teeny Christmas tree glowing in the corner and the small hum of my heater…I am certainly dreaming of Amsterdam.
Favorite Amsterdam Sights:
- Van Gogh Museum
- Ann Frank Huis
- Flower Market
- Flea market
- Heineken brewery
- Red Light District (weird, but a must-see to believe)
- Canal cruise (we hopped on one around 6 p.m. to see Amsterdam in both the day/evening/night lights.)
Favorite Amsterdam Eats/Drinks:
- Cafe di Prins
- Cafe d’Small
- De Brabantse Aap
- Brouwerij ‘t IJ
- De Brabantse Aap