I’d been Amsterdam once before for a brief layover. I wasn’t sure what to think of it then, but now its one of my favorite places. It’s a city that’s always bustling no matter what time of day it is. Sometimes it’s hard to walk because the streets are narrow and there are so many tourists. Its hard to tell the locals from tourists sometimes because the population is so diverse. Indonesia was once a Dutch colony, so you’ll see a ton of Indonesian restaurants (there are also a lot of Argentinian steak houses, shwarma places, Chinese food). Everyone we met was so cheerful, it was hard not to enjoy ourselves.
Amsterdam is not a big city. We took our time, but walked all of it in about two days. Our favorite thing to do is wandering the streets at random. It’s easy to get lost because the streets curve around the concentric ring of canals, and get lost we did, but most roads lead you back to the central train station.
The canals are lined with narrow buildings from different eras. Some of them lean to the side because they’ve settled in the soft ground. At night, with the lights on, we could see that most of the interiors were renovated and modern (minimalist Scandinavian design) despite how they looked on the outside. Each home has a hook set into the roof so that furniture can be lifted up into the upper levels through the windows since staircases are too narrow for couches.
While you’re walking, you have to remember to watch out for all the bikes. They go speeding along and have the right of way so you have to get out of it. During rush hour, there are long convoys of bikes in their bike lanes: kids going to school, people going to work. All day long plenty of people are zipping along.
All the bikes make sense if you’ve observed the city for a while. There’s a huge population crammed into a small space, mostly living in condos without parking garages. There are very few places to park along the narrow roads. The roads are constantly blocked by unloading trucks or construction, and traffic can back up a long way along the small roads. It’s so much more practical to bike, and there are bikes EVERYWHERE. There are city bikes available for rent on the street (you pop money into a machine and go), and personal bikes decorated bikes with floral baskets, and bikes with boxes in the front for young kids or groceries. People love their bikes. We saw a couple of tiny cars zipping along the bike lanes twice (narrower than I can stretch my arms wide). I’m not sure if that’s legal, but it was odd to see cars barely larger than a bike.
There were lineups at the Anne Frank House and the Van Gogh museum, so we didn’t see those. If you’re ever in Amsterdam, go early to avoid the lines. But if you’re a fan of modern art, there are a good number of small modern art galleries tucked away into the different neighborhoods. There are also many smaller museums (Interested in the history of tulips? The history of cheese?)
The food was seriously good too. There are foods I’ll dream of forever from my travels, because I’ll never get back to those places. When I think of Amsterdam I’ll dream of fries. It’s odd, I know, but I swear I had the best fries I’ve ever tasted in my life. They were so crispy (not soggy) without batter. I had no idea that you could perfect fries, but these were perfect and crispy even after they cooled off.
El couldn’t pick a favorite food. He loved the pannekoeken (pancakes). The savory pancakes were a cross between a crepe and a pizza. The sweet version came heaped with ice cream and whipped cream. Both could be drizzled with a generous amount of stroop (syrup) which was witting in a big open bowl on the table with a ladle.
El also wanted all the cheese. I’m surprised we didn’t come home with no clothes and a wheel of cheese in our suitcase. The man can live off of milk products, I swear. We brought some chunks home with us, of course. They love their cheese in the Netherlands, and they also love their cows. There’s a tiny museum in the Amsterdam airport with Dutch paintings in it (if you’re ever on a layover in the airport it’s worth checking out). There were Dutch artists famous exclusively for how well of they painted cows. They’re that important. They’d paint cows into family portraits, and living room scenes. Maybe happy cows make better cheese? There’s got to be something to it.
On our last night there, we went to a small traditional Dutch restaurant that was packed with locals from the neighborhood. The stewed beef was amazing. It melted in my mouth, and was served with boiled potatoes, braised cabbage, and boiled green beans. Hearty food. El thought it was like his grandma’s cooking and he was in heaven.
We also spent a day in Eindhoven. It’s a small university town and we were there to meet up with friends. It was less touristy and pleasant to get around, but there wasn’t much to see.
If you wore a leather jacket, skinny jeans, and boots in the Nethelands you’d fit right in. Hair styles for men and women reminded me of 90’s grunge with a little punk mixed in. They typical middle aged dutch man wore plaid blazers over jeans or khakies and brown shoes.
Reading menus in Dutch wasn’t that hard to puzzle out, but most places also had an English menu. I was surprised at the closeness linguistically. It’s no wonder that most people were also fluent in English.
Check out the full set of photos on Flickr.
If you think I talk too much about food, just wait till I tell you about Belgium!