I knew that headline would get you.
After our little Barcelona fiasco, I probably could have gone anywhere and loved it for two reasons: 1) it wasn’t Barcelona, and 2) I could stay somewhere for more than one night.
For anyone who didn’t catch our blog post a couple of weeks ago detailing the series of unfortunate events leading to my throwing a full-blown adult temper tantrum, and spending double what we should have to fly to Amsterdam three days earlier than we were supposed to, you can check that out here. Fun times had by all.
Amsterdam was exactly the pick-me-up we needed. Since we arrived early, we had to find last-minute accommodations for the first few nights until we could check into the apartment we originally booked. Thankfully, we had a lot more luck with HotelTonight here than in Barcelona, and got a fantastic room at The Albus Hotel, right in the city center.
First thing’s first, Dutch people are literally the friendliest people I’ve ever met. They make Bahamians look grumpy.
By the time we got settled in at the hotel, I was totally exhausted, and, honestly, feeling a little defeated from the events of the week prior. I was bound and determined to pout, curl up in bed and watch South Park in Dutch subtitles (which is absolutely hilarious), but somehow Pat coaxed me out of the hotel room. To find food. Because, what else?
So, on our first full day in Amsterdam, we did absolutely….NOTHING.
What kind of travel bloggers are we!?! Relatable ones, I hope. There are down days, and they are glorious.
Okay, I lied. We didn’t do nothing. We had a feeding schedule to adhere to.
These people brunch. It’s the real deal.
Having lived in Denver for the last four years, where brunching is about as religious of an experience as going to church on Sundays, we’ve missed our favorite meal IMMENSELY since arriving in Europe. There were little to no breakfast food options in Portugal and Spain, so we were THRILLED to stumble upon Amsterdam’s brunch scene.
Greenwoods is an awesome little spot in Keizersgracht, serving up breakfast all day, with a drink menu that’s a mile long. I never thought I’d be so happy to see mimosas on a menu. We’ve spent the last few months ordering a bottle of Prosecco and two glasses of OJ and calling it a day. The weird looks we get from Europeans are great, second only to the high-fives we get from other brunch/mimosa-deprived Americans.
If you’ve been following along with our Braising & Bubbles posts, you should know by now that I’m a fairly predictable eater. My typical ‘go-to’ move for brunch is eggs Benedict, but this time I opted for something different *gives self a pat on the back*. I went with Greenwoods’ ‘Kaizers Veggie’ breakfast– two scrambled eggs, flash-fried Halloumi (a mild, semi-hard cheese made from a mix of goat’s and sheep’s milk) with tomato chutney, roasted potatoes, avocado, mushrooms and baked beans.
In an ironic twist, Pat went with a version of Greenwoods’ eggs Benedict, the ‘Eggs Royale’– two poached eggs on a hot-buttered muffin with smoked salmon, hollandaise and chives.
We loved this place, and highly recommend it to anyone who visits Amsterdam. And a huge shout-out to David Eichler for recommending it to us!
For dinner, we went to Bridges Amsterdam, a one-star Michelin restaurant in the Grand Hotel. More on that later – we’ll be publishing a full restaurant review on the blog soon.
I told you, all we did the first day was eat.
The next day, we checked out of The Albus and made our way to the apartment we had originally booked in Wittenburg, a neighborhood near the Eastern Docklands. It was a great find with more of a ‘local’ vibe, since it was a bit outside of the city center. Amsterdam’s public transportation system is second to none, so even being a little off the beaten path was an easy five-minute bus ride to downtown.
A journey through time at Anne Frank’s house
The Anne Frank House is probably the most famous house in Amsterdam, attracting a million visitors every year. You all know the story, but for a refresher, Anne Frank and her family hid in from the Nazis in the annex of the building for two years. The museum is a sobering reminder of the horrific atrocities that befell Amsterdam, and so many other places under Nazi control during World War II.
During your visit to the museum, you will walk through the annex and all of the rooms that housed the Frank family during their time in hiding. It costs nine euros per person (one of the cheapest museums in Amsterdam) and, in my opinion, it’s a must-do.
Your best bet is to buy tickets online for a specific time slot, unless you want to spend all afternoon in the queue. Tickets typically sell out weeks in advance, but sometimes same-day tickets will open up at the last minute, so it’s worth checking online in the morning if there are any slots that afternoon.
Our stroopwafel addiction.
I’m not sure what a sensitive transition would be from Anne Frank to the rest of this post, so we’ll move on to stroopwafels.
If you’ve never heard of a stroopwafel, stop right now and Google it, then figure out how to ship some to yourself. If you want to ship them to us, too, that’d be great. My birthday is coming up 🙂
These cookies are LIFE CHANGING. Seriously, they are addicting and it is way too easy to eat a dozen of them in one sitting. And no, these sweet treats are not the ones they make with pot. Those would be space cakes. But you didn’t hear it from me.
As any local will tell you, the best way to eat a stroopwafel is to set a cup of hot coffee on top of it to warm it up. I don’t know what kind of self-control they have, but my stroopwafels never made it out of the package long enough to heat up before I ate them.
Also, let’s be real. I love saying the word “stroopwafel”. Say it out loud… “stroop – waffle”. So great.
A city tour, and a sex show.
I don’t know how we get ourselves into these situations.
Since we left Barcelona so abruptly, we missed out on the Tapas Tour we booked with SANDEMANs. Luckily, they gave us a credit to use on a tour in another city, so we checked online and they had several options in Amsterdam. What they didn’t have online, though, was any descriptions of the tours. So, we saw a “Red Light District” tour available and thought it would be really interesting, and probably safest to experience the District for the first time with a local guide.
You guys. Don’t ever book a tour unless there is a description. You don’t know what you’re getting into. We’re not ‘prudes’ by any means, but this was the most awkward thing I’ve ever experienced. What we thought would be a fun ‘bar crawl’-esque evening turned into a 30-minute discussion on the history of sex toys (as an intro), followed up by a live sex show. A. LIVE. SEX. SHOW.
That was it. These people had thrown me lightyears beyond my comfort zone. There was a line, and I was drawing it, underlining it and etching it into stone. We waited for the group outside. Happily within the aforementioned ‘etched-in-stone’ perimeter of my comfort zone.
Maybe someday we’ll regret not putting our two euro coins into what is basically a porn vending machine to open a curtain and see two people doing it on a spinning stage, but that’s a chance I’m willing to take.
When one of our tour companions overheard Pat and I (mostly me) talking about how UTTERLY AND COMPLETELY shocked we were, she laughed and asked us, “Did you not know what you were getting into!?” to which I responded, in what I imagine to be an incredibly judgey tone, “And you DID?!”
Hey, I get it. To each their own. All I’m saying is it would have been nice to have been appropriately prepared for a tour like that, with several glasses of wine beforehand. Yep, folks, we had to go through the entire ordeal stone. cold. sober.
Needless to say, several glasses of wine came afterwards, and we all came out okay. Actually, some of the tour was pretty interesting, and watching the drunk tourists staggering down the street gawking at girls in the window was incredibly entertaining.
We also did a regular (non-sexual) SANDEMANs walking tour, because it’s basically become a habit for us at this point. This one was by far my favorite. Our tour guide, Julian, was fantastic, and really connected us with the history and culture of Amsterdam.
Most importantly, though, he helped us not get killed by a bicycle. These two-wheeled death machines are the locals’ primary mode of transportation, and if you don’t have your wits about you, you WILL get hit and it WILL hurt.
Remember how I said the Dutch were ‘soOooOo friendly’? That’s until they get on a bike. I’m serious. No matter how non-touristy you think you look, they will know, and they will hit you. Stay on the sidewalk, or accept your fate.
Are those houses leaning, or were we at that coffee shop too long?
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. We thoroughly enjoyed Amsterdam’s ‘coffee shops’ during our visit.
Now, let’s all take a deep breath and move past that, because I’m not here to argue what’s what when it comes to pot legalization with you.
ANYWAY, one of the biggest things we noticed about the canal houses in Amsterdam was that a lot of them were leaning a little bit, in one way or another. Some of the houses were leaning to the side, which is a result of rotting wood foundations. Historically, canal houses in Amsterdam were built on wooden foundation piles that were driven deep into the clay and water until they reached the first layer of solid sand. Nowadays, reinforced concrete piles are used, but the vast majority of houses in the historic center still rest on timber piles. To avoid rotting, the water level has to be carefully maintained (climate change is a bitch), which is costing homeowners a lot of money. Replacing a rotten foundation costs about €100.000 per building, so it’s understandable that many homeowners will put it off for as long as is safely possible.
Other houses are leaning forward into the street, as if they’re about to topple over right in front of you. But that’s actually on purpose. Back in the day, Amsterdam had a bad flooding problem, so you couldn’t store anything in the lower levels of the home. Many of these homes had very narrow, steep staircases, which made moving bigger items from the lower to higher floors incredibly difficult. For that reason, you will see a protruding beam and hook on the roof of several homes, where they would use a pulley system to bring items upstairs. In order to prevent the ascending items from colliding with the building, they were built with a forward incline.
Today, it’s ‘illegal’ to use the pulleys to hoist things up into buildings, but as with most things in Amsterdam, the term ‘illegal’ is more of a suggestion. At some point, you’ll probably see a flat-screen TV flying through the air on its way to the third floor bedroom. Don’t be alarmed.
Pancakes should become a food group during your visit to Amsterdam. They’re sort of like a crepe on steroids. You can get them sweet or savory, and they’re delicious. The Pancake Bakery has the best ones, in our opinion, but really, you can’t go wrong.
Did I mention brunch?
Amsterdam’s famous concentric web of canals is known as the grachtengordel (I don’t know how to pronounce it either, so I can’t help you). The Canal Ring, which is one of Europe’s most historically intact neighborhoods and a UNESCO heritage site, was originally a 17th-century expansion plan for the rich. There are over 160 man-made canals to explore, and one of the best ways to do so is by boat.
What’s better than a canal cruise? A canal cruise with BRUNCH. We spent a morning aboard the G’s Brunch Boat, and it was easily my favorite part of the whole trip. For €39.50 per person, you get a two-hour boat ride and brunch. It’s the only ‘brunch boat’ in the world, or so they say, and it sails on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, all year long. Make sure you get a reservation in advance (call or go online) as there is limited seating.
Other sites worth visiting:
- I Amsterdam letters: Embrace your inner tourist, climb atop a letter, and get a photo. There are a few different sets of letters around the city, some of which are ‘traveling letters,’ so check the official ‘I Amsterdam’ website before you go looking for them.
- Rijksmuseum: Check out the extensive Rembrandt collection, in addition to over a million other works of art.
- Tulip Museum: Everything you need to know about Holland’s tulip obsession.
- Amsterdam History Museum: I’m told it takes several hours to go through the whole thing in detail.
- Rembrandt House Museum: This guy was a real character. You can tour the house he lived and worked in from 1639 to 1658.
- Vondelpark: A huge park that’s great for relaxing and people-watching.
- Haarlem: Day trip to this quiet Dutch town, a quick train ride away from Amsterdam.
- Foodhallen: Food Hall! Self-explanatory.
- Zaans Schans: Another day trip. Great place to see windmills
- Amsterdam Library: Read a good book with an awesome view!
All in all, Amsterdam is much more than a capital for stoners and winking red light ladies. It’s a city of acceptance, where everyone can come as they are and be whoever they want to be. It takes a special place to meld so many contradictions together so harmoniously. On one corner you’ll see a church, and on the other, people are buying ‘magic truffles’ at a Smart Shop.
It’s a simple philosophy, really. Amsterdam has three golden rules when determining whether or not something is illegal:
- It has to be discreet
- It has to be good for business
- It can’t hurt anyone
Seems easy enough.
And yet, you don’t see drug gangs running rampant on the streets. Prostitutes are actually independent contractors who have chosen their vocation, pay taxes, and are thoroughly regulated by the government. If you actually were to go into a coffee shop, you would find a ton of people sitting around, smoking weed, eating chips and drinking tea or coffee (there are actually fairly elaborate selections of tea and espresso drinks. More civilized than the bar next door, if you ask me.)
Obviously, Amsterdam has its problems. Everywhere does. But no matter what you agree with or disagree with, you can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of honesty about the place. It’s like the city looks right through you and says, “What the hell are you looking at? Who do you think you are?” then it hands you a stroopwafel.
Oh, and one more thing. Can someone explain the whole Holland vs. Netherlands thing? Which one is it? I never got that.