Oh, Amsterdam. You have my heart!
What a tremendously beautiful city. Amsterdam is so rich and full of culture and heritage that it’s nearly impossible not to fall for its charm and elegance. Architecture and ambiance aside, the Dutch people we encountered were phenomenally friendly. I’m pretty sure we have a million new best friends! It was so nice to feel so welcome by the locals and all the kind people we met. We will be back, I’m sure of it.
We read numerous times how wonderful the city is in the spring and the reviews did not disappoint. The new greenery and blooming flowers, the promising local-to-tourist ratio, and generally mild temperatures were certainly in our favor. Though I must confess at the beginning of this recap that we did not go to Keukenhof Garden like we meant to. But, if you had been there for the line in the tourist office that foreshadowed the equally long and disorganized line just to get on the bus that didn’t even speak of the long bus ride out there you probably would have done the same. That is, walked around the city, had an amazing lunch and then enjoyed sunshine at the local brewery. So, I do want to apologize for the distinct lack of tulips in this post (and the next) because we really didn’t see that many. And I know that’s the point of being in the Netherlands in the spring, but alas, it’s distinct absence from this visit only giving us more impetus to return.
But there are a lot of bikes in these pictures and they are just as prominent, if not more so, as the tulips. (Did you know that are an estimated more bikes than actually inhabitants in Amsterdam? I knew there would be a lot of bikes, but I was still blown away by the massive concentration of them in the city. It was amazing.)
Adam and I arrived on Thursday afternoon and checked in to our Airbnb apartment. As I mentioned on our trip to Paris, we really like staying in local apartments. This flat was actually set up as permanent tourist apartment and wasn’t anyone’s home, but it was in the beautiful Jordaan neighborhood and cost quite a bit less than staying in a hotel in the same area would have. Jordaan is full of stylish cafes, shops, and delicious restaurants. It was also far less clogged with tourists than other districts and we got a great sense of how the Dutch live, which, to be frank, looks fantastic.
After checking in we had lunch at Cafe de Tuin, which was right around the corner from our apartment and had the best little sandwiches. Everyone eats sandwiches, or tosti’s, for lunch and we were happy to fit in with the cool kids. I highly recommend the smoked salmon with cream cheese and chives. This spot also hosted a chic crowd for late-night drinks.
^^Mr. Adam’s traveling shoes
Obviously, we spent a big chunk of the early afternoon just walking around and taking pictures (and trying not to get run over by bikes). It was a stunning afternoon that unfortunately gave way to strong winds and a chilly rain later in the day. We did walk by the Anne Frank museum and admired the line, if not the touching and poignant exhibit inside.
Perhaps it will be a part of our next visit.
^^Mendo is one of the most fashionable book shops I’ve visited. It has an impressive array of design, style, architecture, and fashion titles and top notch music to accompany your browsing. Definitely worth a visit if you’re in need of adding to the coffee table collection.
We finally headed indoors to escape the chill and spent a good hour at Foam, Amsterdam’s photography museum. Foam is a very manageable size and doesn’t leave you completely worn out like some of the larger museums do. The Enclave by Richard Mosse is on view until June 1st and I’d highly recommend it. It’s a moving and emotionally stunning feature that treats the violent conflict in Congo through both visual and audio representations awash with a psychedelic hot pink filter. Interested? Of course you are.
There are several other rotating exhibitions that are worth a visit, especially if you’re fond of photography like we are.
^^afterward, we needed sustenance. Fries covered in mayonnaise and ketchup were a must.
That night for dinner we ate at Worst Wijncafe, a dim and cozy enoteca on the northern side of the city. If you’re looking for a cornucopia of sausage and meat then hustle up to this joint and snag a seat at the bar (or if you’re really lucky, the two-person table in the kitchen). I won’t say, “Prepare to be amazed!” because I like you too much, but everything is so, so good. Of course, we may have been a little biased because we immediately spotted our favorite bottle of Spanish Garnacha (Camino de Navaherreros) that we used to drink all the time in Charleston and promptly threw down a few glasses, but I think everyone who is not a vegetarian will enjoy the place. Our waiter, Kees, made it an even better experience, as did our tablemates, with whom we shared great conversation and dinner recommendations. Go for the charcuterie plate and the fennel sausage. And the wine.
The next morning we started with coffees at Winkel, a cute café in the Noordmarkt neighborhood. They are supposed to have unbeatable apple pie but it was a bit early for me to indulge.
Just along the same street is Moooi, a very cool store that is honestly way too cool for me. It was a great spot for inspiration, however, and offered a fun look at what’s happening in Dutch contemporary design and interiors.
We later lunched at t’Smalle (above) which was also right around the corner from our apartment on a sweet little canal. It’s a distillery and brown café that was opened in 1780 and is still a local favorite. It’s perfect for people watching and a quick sandwich lunch.
Bikes. Oh, the bikes. I was, in a word, obsessed with the well-maintained and clearly demarcated bikes lanes in the city. Everyone mostly rides these kooky little one-speeds and ours didn’t even have hand brakes! They were the kind where you just reverse peddle to stop and it took me way back to my first bikes.
We rented ours through our apartment but there are dozens of companies around the city that offer rentals. I liked that we didn’t look super obvious as tourists because ours were black and inconspicuous (unlike a lot of rental places that have bright red, yellow, or gold bikes) and I was hoping that would deter thieves, which we heard are numerous. I’d highly recommend renting one, however, since it was so easy to get around by cycling and we ended up saving a lot of money by not buying public transportation tickets or taking taxis. Doesn’t Adam look great?!
We rode our bikes over to the Stedelijk Museum, which was another highlight of the trip. It’s an incredible contemporary art museum that reopened in 2012 after extensive renovations and additions. Their collection of modern and contemporary pieces was extensive and thoughtfully curated, but the temporary Jeff Wall: Tableaux, Pictures, Photographs, 1996-2013 exhibit really stole the show. His large-scale photographs mounted on lightboxes offer extraordinary glimpses into the lives ordinary people. Yet, there is also an element of the sublime and absurd. His technique and point of view add so much vibrancy and life to the space. It’s a can’t-miss show and it’s open until August 3rd.
^^new closed-mouth smile. Thoughts? (Oh, and a pretty good glimpse at what short hair will look like. Again, thoughts?)
After a couple hours at the museum we went around the corner to Vondelpark. It’s akin to Central Park in New York City or the Tierpark in Berlin and is obviously the place to be when it’s warm, which it most definitely was not when we were there. That didn’t deter the hundreds of people we saw, ourselves included! My hands were tiny ice chips by the time we got home, but it was a great ride nonetheless.
We recovered at the apartment for a bit with a couple of Grolsch beers (when in the Netherlands…) before biking over to Blauw for dinner. It’s just past Vondelpark, so we of course could have timed it better, but the ride out there further fueled my flames of love for the city’s bike lanes. Blauw is well known by both locals and tourists for great Indonesian food and, again, we were not disappointed, though admittedly we did order an insane amount of food:
There’s a medium-size square dish right behind my bottle of Bintang beer. That’s my entree. Every single other dish is just one order of the “rice table” and that is supposedly all for Adam. It’s a healthy combination of meat, vegetable, and fish dishes that give you a diverse taste of Indonesian cuisine and heartburn. We had to order the additional spicy shrimp entree since they don’t allow you to “share” the rice table because, of course, you would never order anything else. It really was a great meal, but despite our big appetites we barely put a dent in dinner.
We tried to squeeze in next door at Franklin for a digestif, if you will, but it was too packed and smoky. We instead cycled over to Bar Oldenhof for a more exclusive experience. After we rang the doorbell and walked around the block for ten minutes (seriously) we were finally let in and given the star treatment. I mean, we were everyone’s closest friend there. That city is so, so nice. Our waitress even wrote down a long list of her favorite bars and restaurants in the area. Adam indulged in a few bourbons (they have the largest selection of whiskeys in the area) and I sipped Champagne before heading home. It has a very warm feel and it’s a fun place to hang if you’re looking for a treat.
Phew! And that was only two days! I’ll be back tomorrow with more photos and highlights of the trip. Until then, have you been to Amsterdam? What were your favorite places/experiences? Do you love it as much as I do?!