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’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!!

Bruges-Medieval Mall

Bruges was always on our “must” destination list if we visited Europe.  So, at 6 a.m. yesterday after one hour of sleep (due to insomnia not partying), off we went on a four hour train ride from The Hague to Bruges.  Expecting to see a small medieval city with the iconic Bell Tower featured in the movie, In Bruges, we were shocked to turn the corner of the winding brick road into the city and find a commercial boulevard with a Zara, McDonald’s, Claire’s and all the modern stores found in the local mall.  REALLY?

Bruges-cobblestone streets, canals, churches, waffles & beer
Bruges-cobblestone streets, canals, churches, waffles & beer

Now, I’m all for retail stores, which have been my livelihood for years but there is a time and place and Bruges is not where you want to shop for $19.99 fashion at H & M.  I guess you can’t blame the locals who want to profit from all the tourism so they can make a living and there can only be so many chocolate, lace, waffle and beer shops to feed our appetites and tacky souvenir needs but still…WTF!  I don’t think the best use of a 1767 historic building is to house another Zara.

That being said, parts of Bruges were well preserved and, if you get off the main street, you can find quaint history houses from the 9th century as well as 17 churches (16 Catholic/1 Protestant) to wonder through and lovely bridges over canals for picture-taking.  The train station is conveniently located within walking distance of this town which used to be on the sea until it retreated.  Global warming may one day make it seaside again-you never know.

The highlight for Thom was walking up the 336 steep steps to the Bell Tower featured in the movie, In Bruges.  I guess someone is pushed off the top and lands SPLAT in the square below in the film.  Not my kind of movie but whatever-it was an interesting climb up teeny, tiny stairs with only a rope in certain places to cling to.  Just like the Great Wall, this is not ADA friendly and if you fall and get hurt, good luck getting back down those stairs ’cause no one is helping you down and there isn’t an elevator.  Still, the view was stunning from the top!

336 steps and you are at the top!
336 steps and you are at the top-grab the rope and pull yourself onward and upward!
The view of Bruges from the Bell Tower
The view of Bruges from the Bell Tower

I talked Thom into a horse-drawn carriage ride around town.  While he has never consented to one of these in NYC, he relented and ended up enjoying the guide’s history lesson as we galloped through the narrow streets.  You definitely could imagine days past when horses were the only mode of transportation and, when the final bell of the evening sounded from the tower, the gates to the city were closed to protect against marauders.

We were lucky to arrive on  market day in the town square.  Munching a sugar-coated waffle as my local snack (YUM!), we rested on the town square steps and wished we could take home the lovely pots of lavender offered for sale.  Gorgeous!  On the train home, we noticed fields of lavender waiting to be picked.  Though a long ride with a stop in Brussels to change trains, the 8 hours of train ride were just another part of the Bruges adventure.  Arriving home tired and ready to get a good night’s sleep, we were glad we had finally been “In Bruges”.

Thom talking to the swans that roam the canals
Thom talking to the swans that roam the canals

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Amsterdam First Impression-Bikes & Beer

Hot Damn-I finally made it to Amsterdam!  I have dreamed of this trip for years and I was right-it is gorgeous AND the perfect walking city for us to explore.  My Fitbit is loving me with 12,000+ steps in on our first day.  Touching down at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, we fumbled our way through buying a tram ticket at the machine, dealing with ALL our credit cards being rejected before I finally got an ATM to spit out some euros with the debit card.  Then, we were jumping on the #5 tram with a little help from a local who scolded us that the tram lets people off first, moves down the lane and THEN you are allowed in.  Okay-I had to appreciate the orderly fashion that they follow here in public transportation vs. my fond memories of the clusterf*&k of using China mass transit.

Bikes, Beer and Canals!
Bikes, Beer and Canals!

First impressions–bikes, German beer, brick streets and bridges over impossibly picturesque canals where the tour boats glide by slowly.  The architecture reminds me of SoHo in NYC with no big new ugly buildings ruining the vibe of little boutiques.  We noticed quickly that every building has a large hook hanging from the roof, probably we figured out to haul up furniture and such into the apartments.  Quirky and charming, our neighborhood is the perfect blend of residential and commercial.

After receiving the best service EVER from Corrodo at the Andaz Amsterdam, we checked our bags and off we went.  Learning very quickly that the sidewalks are narrow with random steep stairways to lower levels jutting into your way so you have to watch every step or fall, it seemed a relatively quiet Sunday with primarily (not a helmet in sight) bike riders and some sassy scooters filling the one way streets lining the canals, I can’t imagine the chaos that will ensue tomorrow when everyone jumps on their bikes to go to work.  We’ll be dodging and weaving to cross the streets for sure.  I figure if I lived through China though, I’ll probably survive here.

Gorgeous Andaz room!
Gorgeous Andaz room!

We ducked into the local grocery to check it out-to feel the culture is to see how the locals shop.  Lots of prepared foods and smaller portions (didn’t see a lot of families living around here) bread, waffles, chocolates and calories galore.  YUM!  Got a small bottle of wine tucked into my bag for later.

Cozy nook to sip wine at Andaz
Cozy nook to sip wine at Andaz

We’re saving the famous red light district for another night.  More to come on that experience!  I hear it is quite interesting.

For those not familiar with the weed culture like we have in Seattle, there is probably interest to visit the head shops here.  I’ve smelled more pot in the hallways of our building than I have here so no big deal for us.

Tomorrow we leave for the Hague and another train trip.  Every day is an adventure!