Eating in Amsterdam

I am probably not the best authority to write about the cuisine in Amsterdam but I will give it a shot.  Thom and I have very simple tastes and are very happy eating a picnic on the train and don’t frequent fine dining establishments.  Foodies we are not!  As I think back on the best food I ate on our trip, the cheese with basil and dried tomato stands out as does the hot, buttery sugary poffertjes  and waffles from the markets.  Yum! I do like my dairy and sweets.

Poffertjes-little pancakes with butter and sugar!
Poffertjes-little pancakes with butter and sugar!

That being said, if you have finer taste buds (and most do) there is a wide variety of restaurants for everyone’s taste in all the places we visited.  As always, ask your concierge at the hotel for recommendations on their favorites.  Here are some other observations:

Coffee–Screaming Bean (in several locations) delivers the best cappuccino in Amsterdam and maybe the world.  Thick and creamy foam tops a rich smooth coffee underneath.  Super friendly folks serving in a quaint coffee shop make it a must try when you are here.  Many thanks to my friend, Kurt, for recommending to us.

Screaming Bean cappuccino... so rich and delicious!
Screaming Bean cappuccino… so rich and delicious!

Grocery–There aren’t many groceries and practically no competition in the city but Albert Haijn does have whatever you need for a first-rate picnic for the park or train or hotel room.  Also a good place to buy chocolate for the perfect souvenir to take home.  We got some awesome salads to go one night for a quick, cheap diner (under $10 euros for 2 people).   I also saw some Aldi Food markets but didn’t go in to check them out.  I also found a smaller Mqkt chain that had a cheese to die for–basil and dried tomato–that pared well with salami and pears and raisin bread.  Perfect picnic!

We didn’t eat out many times but did stop at one German restaurant that promised authentic cuisine.  Thom proceeded to have weinerschneitzel and fries.  Initially, he said he didn’t want ketchup or mayo but decided he needed some mayo.  Now, based on the waiter’s prior attitude and the steep stairs he had to climb to get to the kitchen on the floor above, I knew this would not go over well and it didn’t.  “You said you didn’t want any!” the waiter growled at Thom.  “Yes, but I changed my mind.  Okay?”  Grudgingly, ten minutes later Thom finally got his mayo and felt compelled to eat it fearing retribution from the waiter if he did not.  Were we in Paris???

Pancakes with brandy-soaked raisins paired with red wine!
Pancakes with brandy-soaked raisins paired with red wine!

I got the brandy-soaked raisin pancake that filled a plate and paired nicely with a Merlot.  Yep-when in the Netherlands, drink with your breakfast-type food.  Every bite was enjoyed.  No butter or syrup was offered and I was afraid to ask the testy waiter.  They are tight with the butter here.  At our great breakfast at the Andaz, when you ask for toast, you get barely warm bread, no butter.  Today, I asked specifically for “crispy” bacon and got the limpest fatty slice of meat you would ever want to see.  Really????  Crispy means fry that sucker!  Same with eggs, unfortunately.  I remember also having this issue in China and having to keep asking for “hard scramble” several times to get barely done eggs.  Oh well-first world, five star hotel issues I guess.

We don’t go for fancy restaurants but we walked by many in Amsterdam including one, MoMo in the area near the museums.  Swanky!  There are many white-table cloth type places as well as many beer halls with outside seating and lounge seats and heaters for the cool nights-even blankets at some places.  You can find all types of ethnic food easily too.  Lots of Argentine steak houses along side the pancake houses.  We even found a place today, Bagels & Beans, that is a chain around town and has great bagels served with the largest pile of cream cheese that you could ever eat.

So, whatever you like to eat, you can probably find it in Amsterdam.  Happy eating!

Uniquely Amsterdam

So beautiful!
So beautiful!

Uniquely Amsterdam:

*buildings lean and tilt at odd angles-not sure if the insides are as lopsided but the outsides sure are crazy

*with fries, you can get either ketchup or mayo–your choice but they may charge you .50 euros for the condiments FYI

*taxi’s are surprisingly upscale as  many are Mercedes and even saw a Tesla–expensive rides for a taxi

*don’t expect street signs in English-there aren’t any.  Pull out your map provided by your hotel and figure it out–nice locals will stop and ask if you need help.  Say YES!

*you get menu’s for your weed selection in the cafes all over Amsterdam..coffee shop is code name usually for pot café served with a side of caffeine too

*people are impossibly thin and healthy and gorgeous–what they must think of us when they visit the US where we don’t live this healthy lifestyle and more food is considered better

*no need for gyms here with all the biking and walking–saw very few gyms

*no helmets on the bikers, even the kids, which is counter to all safety precautions in the US

*Thom and I are amazed that there aren’t bodies littering the streets with no stop signals and bikes/scooters/walkers/cars/trams going every which way but somehow it all works

*just like Vietnam, life is enjoyed on the sidewalks but in Hanoi locals are sitting on plastic stools eating phao and here they are reclining in wicker cushy chairs enjoying Heineken with friends under heat lamps

*not alot of public bathrooms so just like China, there are men pissing in the streets-day and night.  In the train stations, you can find public bathrooms but have your .50 euro coin ready because you have to pay attendant to get in to use.  If you are out and about, you can also usually just walk into any nice hotel and act like you belong and use their lobby facilities

*work days start at 10 a.m. with lunch and then off by 5 p.m. to enjoy happy hour–quite the life style but don’t expect to get a cappuccino before 8 a.m. when the cafés open up vs. Starbucks back in Seattle that open at 5:30 a.m. to provide caffeine for commuters

*people like to display their little collections on the ledges in their street level apartments–we saw Pez collections, photos, etc.  Cool glimpse into their lives that they share.

*no big tacky mega stores like Target or WalMart–lots of little groceries, boutiques but not a lot of international brands-no Gaps, etc. that I saw

*bookstores everywhere and vinyl/cd stores–peeking into apartments, we saw lots of floor to ceiling bookcases just filled with books… my kind of place

*in the US you see folks at cafés on their devices but here everyone is just drinking and actually interacting with other human beings vs. their devices… very refreshing

*love the practice of getting a little ginger cookie with every cup of coffee-yum!

All in all, the European lifestyle is one of enjoying life to the fullest with families and friends, whether with food, music, art, literature,  architecture, wine or beer.  I think they have their “priorities in order” as Hermione famously told Ron in Harry Potter.  🙂

North Sea beauty!
Good Bye Netherlands!

 

Enjoying Vondelpark in Amsterdam

The sun was shining so off we went to the park to enjoy life as the locals do on our last full day here in Amsterdam.  Damn, they’re healthy here!  Not only do the folks who live here bike/walk everywhere but on the weekends they take to the park to do yoga outside, bootcamp, jog, walk their dogs and enjoy the great outdoors. 

In Vondelpark, we saw it all but especially laughed when the pregnant ladies lined up around the tree bench we were sitting on and proceeded to do push ups as part of the Moms in Balance group exercise.  One old guy rode by on his bike and said something off color-it was in Danish but you could just tell he was being bad and the ladies just laughed!!

Vondelpark in Amsterdam
Vondelpark in Amsterdam

Thom stalked a couple with their Vizsla out playing ball.  This dog was young and much better behaved than our Izaak-he stayed with them even off leash.  Izaak would have been a menace to all the joggers/bikers filling the park lanes.  I miss my puppies!

Poffertjes-little pancakes with butter and sugar!
Poffertjes-little pancakes with butter and sugar!

After we experienced the lakes and trees, we cut back into the city, promptly got a bit lost but, as usual, ended up just where we wanted to be six miles later.  We love open air markets and this one on Albert Cuypstraat was a huge one filled with fruits/vegs, cheese, clothes, and anything you could want.  We ended up buying an extra carry on bag for all our stuff we bought and Thom promptly found a vinyl store and bought 3 albums that he couldn’t have gotten in the US.  More music!

I had been told that poffertjes were everywhere over here but I was having a hard time finding the little pancakes covered in butter and powdered sugar.  EURECKA-they were in the market and hot off the press.  Thom and I gorged on a large order loving every sinful bite.  Hey, we’re walking 10 miles a day so bring on the sweets!

Now, we are off to the Foam, which is a photography museum.  More walking and fun on our last day in Amsterdam!

Getting Around Amsterdam

Yesterday we walked 11 miles-the Fitbit doesn’t lie!  Really-that’s our idea of fun!  Now, if you aren’t walkers like us, you can get around Amsterdam in so many other ways-bike, scooter, car, boat, tram or train-and still have a great time seeing all the sights.

Cruise boats are limited to 4 mph on the canals
Cruise boats are limited to 4 mph on the canals

Of course, these other modes of transportation may set you back a few Euros but all are easy to find in town.  Everyone rides bikes in Amsterdam-way more bikes here than in China even.  Our lovely Hotel Andaz offered free bikes for use but my frozen shoulder would probably react poorly to bumping up and down on the quaint cobblestone streets so we chose not to try.  I love watching whole families commute to school/work on their bikes.  Carts in front of the bikes allow for 2-3 kids to pop in while Mom or Dad peddles their hearts out.  Our pollution and global warming (and health) issues would be greatly reduced if every county embraced biking like they do here.

Family commute
Family commute

Next up the transportation chain is the scooter-very popular and driven fast so watch out when you’re walking.  There aren’t really rules here other than walk fast and keep swiveling your head when trying to cross bike paths and roads so you don’t get hit by a biker, scooter or tram.  They might try to stop for you but don’t chance it.  The trams run on all major streets and cost $7 E for 24 hours or $1.6 E for one hour of riding.  You buy tickets at machines but our credit cards didn’t work so we had to use cash to buy them.  On the trams, you tap to get on and off but it’s the honor system and many didn’t even use cards.

When you take a train, the conductor will come through and check your cards so no honor system there.  We travelled to The Hague and to Bruges by train-very easy and inexpensive way to travel and see Europe.  Pack a picnic from simple fare like cheese/sausage/bread/fruit from the local grocery and enjoy the scenery as you speed through the countryside.  If we hadn’t taken the train, we would have never seen a windmill or experienced another way of life other than the urban scene in Amsterdam.

Picnic on the train
Picnic on the train

Boats are obviously popular here with canals in all the cities we were in.  The average citizen may have just a motorboat to get around but there are lovely cruise ships for the tourists-about $15 E for a ride in the glass topped long and low boats.  There are truly lovely houseboats where people live on many of the canals as well.  Our new dream is to come over here for an extended stay in one of these houseboats.  How fun would that be???

Coolest car in Amsterdam-oh the tales it could tell
Coolest car in Amsterdam-oh the tales it could tell
Family commute
Family commute

Do people have cars here?  Yes, and are they ever teeny tiny!  Parking is very limited along the canals and I’m sure many a car trying to parallel park beside one has missed and gone swimming.  I’m terrible at parking so no way was I going to even try although they do have Car2Go here in abundance.  No, I’ll keep on walking and enjoying the journey.

Lovely canals provide popular way to travel here
Lovely canals provide popular way to travel here
Horse drawn carriage is the popular choice in Bruges
Horse drawn carriage is the popular choice in Bruges
Scooter or mini car? Both have about the same room.
Scooter or mini car? Both have about the same room.

Amsterdam Shopping-Boutiques and Books and Vinyl, oh my!

Amsterdam is filled with quaint specialty boutiques in all the alleys and cobblestone streets…a shoppers paradise!  We love to wander in and out and soak up the quirkiness of it all.  So different from the grand, oversized stores in the US, these teeny tiny storefronts are hardly over 100-200 sq. feet–a closet really-but a closet filled with very specialized and focused wares to tempt and delight shoppers. From bead shops to teeth shops to bow ties, they have it all for you in Amsterdam.

The “all things teeth” shop featured every kind of toothbrush, floss, etc. you could imagine with a ferris wheel display in the window.   How cool is that???  Next door, a gorgeous house cat calmly watched over the huge assortment of bow ties in every color and pattern, all tied up and ready to be worn.

Boutiques specialize-bow ties, of course, with a house cat guarding at the shop.
Boutiques specialize-bow ties, of course, with a house cat guarding at the shop.
Toothbrush boutique with a ferris wheel in the window to showcase the goods.
Toothbrush boutique with a ferris wheel in the window to showcase the goods.

Moving on to the Toms Store, which was slightly larger and featured a coffee bar as well, I saw a few items for my Christmas list and Thom’s.  We love their shoes and can feel good buying from them as they give a pair of shoes for every one that is bought.  Great story if you haven’t already read the book that the Toms creator has written about his idea to give back and still run a successful retail business.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone did this?

American Bookstore had multiple floors and an author signing going on when we visited
American Bookstore had multiple floors and an author signing going on when we visited
Toms...love them and their retail concept.  Give back and provide quality goods.  Sold!
Toms…love them and their retail concept. Give back and provide quality goods. Sold!

Along with the many boutiques, I have never seen so many bookstores–little and big ones–some Dutch only and others, like the American Bookstore, featuring English titles.  Rarely have I seen such an immense and impressive collection of books other than perhaps the Strand in NYC.  Multiple levels with deep stock in each topic, we were lucky enough to happen upon (as we always seem to do) an author event with a writer by the name of Charles Stross, a British writer of science fiction, Lovecraftian (?) horror and fantasy.  He was very articulate and funny–hoping he swings by Elliot Bay Books in Seattle soon!  Alas, the luggage will not accommodate one more item so no books were bought unfortunately.

Books galore at the American Bookstore!
Books galore at the American Bookstore!

Today we visited the vinyl stores in our neighborhood of Jordaan.  There are many in Amsterdam-such a variety that a local magazine had a double spread article detailing the music havens where you can buy vinyl, new and used for $3 to $40 euros.  Quite the large assortment to pick from at places like Second Life Music across from our hotel and VelvetMusic and InDeep’n’Dance both on Rozengracht.  It hurt to watch Thom thumb through the vast crates of music and know he couldn’t buy any to bring home.  Oh well-he has quite collection already so he will live. Harsh but true!

Just make sure you leave enough room in your luggage when you come to Amsterdam so that you can buy some cool jazz or soul vinyl or a stack of books to bring back with you.  Of course, if you are needing a unique toothbrush or bow tie, that doesn’t take up quite as much room so shop away I say!  There is something for everyone here in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam’s Red Light District

If you want to visit the busiest section of Amsterdam, aim for the Red Light District situated by Central Station and sandwiched between Old Town and Chinatown.  Now, you’re not allowed to take photos of the “ladies” but I’ll try to describe our brief tour through there last night around 10 p.m.  While there are no signs or billboards directing you there, a single red string of lights on the main canal cutting through it, Oudezijds Voorburgwal, will signal your arrival as will the hordes of horny men packing the streets to check it out.

Moulin Rouge-just one of the "shows" in the Red Light District in Amsterdam
Moulin Rouge-just one of the “shows” in the Red Light District in Amsterdam

So, I’m looking around and not seeing what the big deal is and then I spotted in the lower below ground windows the “ladies” in their lingerie trying to entice men into their lairs.  All types and some looking quite bored on their smartphones, the “ladies” just open their private door once they get a live one and in they go for whatever they want (all legal here) in their private room and they discreetly close their red curtain to show they are busy for awhile.  Not sure what their rates are but here, in the off season, they didn’t seem to be busy so perhaps you can negotiate a good price.  Interestingly, even in the regular part of town, you’ll be walking by commercial shops and look down and see a lady in her finest waiting for a client in the window.  We even saw one gal with a feather boa and not much else on who had to be 70 if she was a day.  What???  No, I’m not judging.

Cannabis College in the Red Light District..wonder how many credits needed to graduate?
Cannabis College in the Red Light District..wonder how many credits needed to graduate?

What WAS super busy was the live porn shows with lines around the block of young folks, lots of couples, waiting their turn to see whatever was going on inside-one can only imagine.  Once you get through the red light part, you immediately go into the high density weed shops where you can order off a menu depending on your need.  Not like in the old days, as Thom would say, when you put a fiver into a hole in the door and out would come a bag for you.  I don’t know of such things, being the Hoosier good girl hick that I am, so Thom has to share his NYC stories of bad behavior with me.  And, of course, along with the sex and weed going on, the big business in this part of town is the donut/pizza shops that are on every corner like Starbucks in Seattle.  I guess you work up an appetite in that part of town quite quickly.

Donuts & Pizza, of course!  Red Light District works up an appetite!
Donuts & Pizza, of course! Red Light District works up an appetite!

In a city where prostitution and weed are legal and the folks don’t go into work until 10 a.m., overall everyone seems pretty darn happy and laid back.  Thom, of course, wants to rent a houseboat and move here immediately. Predictable he is!

Life is an adventure and we never know what experiences we will move on to next but I’m certainly open to anything and everything!  We love Europe and all it’s quirks and history and cultural differences to the US.  I can’t wait to explore more countries while we are still spry enough and able to afford to travel in the style Thom has become accustomed to.  Off we go!!

Our European Adventure continues..

So, I’ll try not to gush too much but OMG do I LOVE EUROPE!  I love the history and architecture, the lack of tacky skyscrapers and shiny malls, the friendly folk who love football (soccer to you Americans) and laidback lifestyle.  Yes, the coffee shops don’t open until 8 a.m. but since they don’t appear to go to work until 9-10 a.m., that works.  Three hour dinner-sure!  Keep on drinking and eating with your buddies-no rushing home to get some zzzz’s and be at work by 8 a.m.  At our hotel today, around 3 p.m. a hotel employee was seen taking two huge bottles of icy vodka into a meeting room for a group-think it was a bank. Now that’s how you should conduct business!  Think up an idea-take a shot to celebrate!

Luxurious elegance in lobby at Hotel Des Indes
Luxurious elegance in lobby at Hotel Des Indes

We have received such wonderful service to the point where we have to wrestle our bags away from well-meaning hotel staff who want to assist us.  We are very self-sufficient and used to wheeling around our own stuff, thank you.  Get us museum tickets?  Get us football tickets?  Change out our cash to Euros?  SURE!  Our slightly ditzy hotel staff member was changing out some cash for us and doubled what she should have given us.  Realizing her error, I handed her back $100 Euros and hopefully she will tell others, giving US tourists a good name for their honesty.  Good karma, baby!

Speaking of good karma, how about that Pope flying around DC in that modest Fiat?  Love that he is eating with the homeless instead of all those corrupt bickering politicians.  You go Father!  CNN International is covering all Pope all the time over here.  While there are a few shows in English, the street signs here are all in Dutch-even China was easier to get around with signs everywhere that we could read.  So far, we just guess and ask for help and everyone is quick to assist.  Most people do also speak English which makes it easy to get around.  BTW, always carry .50 euro coins with you as the public bathrooms all have attendants collecting money for use.  At least they aren’t squats like China-hallelujah!

antique and book market in front of Hotel Des Indes
antique and book market in front of Hotel Des Indes

Today, we finished up our time in The Hague, a truly lovely city which Rick Steves doesn’t even recommend visiting.  Rick, come on, don’t be a Hague-hater!   I disagree with Steves-lots to enjoy there with the beach nearby and the Peace Palace and museums galore.  We loved walking out of the Hotel Des Indes and seeing an antique/book market going on in the square.  If only I had a huge container to utilize to send back furniture and paintings!!!  I settled for a jazz CD and some antique postcards–my luggage is stuffed as it is.  Then it was off to the Mauritshuis Museum to see the Vermeers, Rembrandts and Reubens in a beautiful mansion built in the 1600’s on a pond.  So gorgeous and small enough not to overwhelm the senses.

Then, it was off to the train to zip back to Amsterdam for another stay at the Andaz-the best hotel chain around.  If you haven’t stayed in one, treat yourself.  We were lucky enough to stay for two months at the one in Shanghai as my temporary housing and they are in many cities now.  The one in NYC is right by the library.  They are small, well designed with unique rooms and the service is the best I have ever experienced.  TOTALLY!  With free mini-bar in room, free bikes to use (if my shoulder wasn’t hurting so bad), lavish breakfast included and free happy hour, it can’t be beat for amenities.  Cheers! Tonight, we’re off to the Red Light District and a jazz club!

utter elegance at musem
utter elegance at museum
Rembrandt
Rembrandt