After a late evening arrival to Amsterdam, I saw the city in daylight for the first time this morning. It's objectively one of the most picturesque European cities I've been to. Every street corner is a postcard.
Oddly, as I walked up from the outer canals, I noticed one thing: At 8:30 a.m. on a Friday morning -- rush hour, by all known Western standards -- I was the only pedestrian on the sidewalk.
Everyone -- EVERYONE -- was on a bicycle.
I knew Amsterdam was a cycling city, like Copenhagen, but I don't think I REALLY knew.
In anticipation of traveling to the famous Keukenhof in the afternoon, I had a nice lunch at Vinnies, which is close to the central train station, where my tulip adventure was to begin.
Vinnies is small, but the menu is very good. I chose a warm lentil salad with asparagus and a poached egg, and it was really delicious! I half-planned to come again later in my trip since there were some other things on the menu I wanted to try, but I never did make it back.
No photos, sorry, but the presentation was lovely.
I chose today to see the tulips because the weather forecast for the rest of my time in Amsterdam was iffy. As it turned out, I needn't have worried for opportunities. But it was still nice to see Keukenhof on a weekday -- as it was, I can't imagine the madness that is a nice spring weekend!
I took a train from Centraal Station to the airport, then a bus from the airport that goes straight to Keukenhof. The ticket price is a bit exorbitant, but I paid it, figuring it would be the only time in my life I would.
The park is big, well-manicured, and very, very, very colorful. And when it's crowded, it's a bit of a zoo, honestly.
There are some big buildings that house particular flower shows and events, but the most enjoyable part for me was finding a patch in the sun near some blooms and watching the people pass by.
I'm not really a flower person, so I don't think I appreciated it as much as I could have, but I'm glad I went -- if nothing else than to see what all the hype is about.
After being deposited safely back at the central train station in the late afternoon, I wandered south(west) in the direction of my AirBnB. Along the way, I stopped in this lovely shop, Thuykskamer, because it had some unique things in the window display, and there was a sign that they served tea.
When I went in, there was a friendly dog, Max, waiting to greet me. He wasn't overly enthused to receive a petting, but he was a pleasant enough installment. When I asked about the tea, the shopkeeper seemed genuinely surprised -- it must not be asked after often.
But she served up a tasty cup, and I asked her a bit about the shop. She said she had been there a year, and it was tough. She'd have to make a decision in September about whether to continue renting the space -- she was waiting to see how business went in the summer months. At any rate, she was planning a one-year celebratory party anyway. As she should! I don't envy small business owners like that. There's a lot of stress.
The shop was nice, and I bought a small notebook to replace the one I always keep in my purse that's almost full.
I took a morning stroll around Vondelpark, which was pretty quiet at about 9:30 a.m., save for The Serious Joggers and a few cyclists. And one guy taking odd photographs of a stack of chairs at a not-yet-open café in the park.
After exiting the park, I popped into a supermarket (Albert Heijn -- they're everywhere!) and bought a small picnic lunch.
I consumed my picnic lunch (mostly fruit, to be honest) on the grass planted on top of the slant-roofed Albert Heijn at the south end of the Museumplein, a nice big green space in front of some of the major museums like the Van Gogh, the Rijksmusem, and the Stedelijk Museum.
It was so nice sitting in the sun, I almost didn't get up. But there were things to see, so off I went.
Do all street markets seem the same sometimes? I think they do. It's just different kitsch. In Holland, it's tulips and Dutch clogs.
But still, I went to see the Albert Cuyp Market, because that's what one does. As it was a sunny, warm-ish Saturday, it was positively SWARMED with people. I stood no chance of squeezing in at any of the cool cafés, so after a mandatory stroll through the booths, I had a quick tea at a rather impersonal café on the outskirts and was off again.
This market is in the De Pijp neighborhood, which is very hip and Brooklyn-like. I bought a simple silver ring at one of the shops I passed, because I was half-heartedly looking for one, and it was 4 euros.
Then I came across a bike rental shop, and as it WAS so sunny, I thought, Why not? The owners were a Greek couple, and while the man was almost irritatingly friendly, the woman was nice and straightforward. They got me set up on a bike, and off I went for the afternoon.
(Really, I have no excuse for not taking more photos.)
My first Amsterdam bicycle adventure was off to a solid start.
I was a bit nervous, to be honest. The Dutch are very comfortable on their bicycles, and they're also very... to the point. There are bells dinging all the time, and fairly deft maneuvers being made by people on what are basically city beach cruisers in skirts and high heels. There are very particular rules that cyclists abide by -- mostly the rule that as long as it's generally safe-ish, you just get on with things, because cyclists really do rule in this city.
So, there I went. I ended up doing a tour of several Amsterdam parks, including Westerpark (the east end is nice-ish, with some cafés and ice cream spots), Rembrandtpark (fairly dull and uninspiring), and back to Vondelpark, which, now that the weekend was in full swing (and everyone was awake), was busy, busy, busy.
I was mildly thrilled to be a part of the cycling throng, quietly dinging my bell to give gentle reminders to pedestrians and (fellow) tourists who were otherwise oblivious.
The Greek couple closed their bike shop at 5:30 p.m., so I had to drop my bicycle off by then.
Because I was close to it, I then had an early dinner at an African/Ethiopian restaurant called Azmarino, which a Swedish friend recommended to me.
And it was a fantastic recommendation. I was the only person in the restaurant for a bit, until another couple came in. The owner/chef was at the back table, chatting with two friends, and even though the two friends didn't work there, we chatted a bit about the menu and about Amsterdam while the chef started cooking.
I've been to a few Ethiopian restaurants before, and the food here did not disappoint. Unsurprisingly, the lamb dish I picked was my favorite, but the lentils were good, too, and I gorged on the spongy injera bread -- freaking delicious.
It was a long walk back to my AirBnB, but I used it to walk off some of the calories I had just consumed. Because it's nearing summer, the days are long in the Netherlands -- the sun doesn't set until 9-ish, and it stays light until almost 10 p.m. That's one of my favorite things about summertime.
I saw the worst weather of my trip on Sunday. The morning was overcast but dry, so I walked up to Bloemenmarkt.
There are simply tulips, tulips, everywhere. Bulbs to take home, garden knicks and knacks, kitschy magnets and flags.
I made quick work of Bloemenmarkt itself, but on the street opposite, I found an artist's shop where I purchased my only souvenir.
I've begun collecting original etchings from local artists when I visit European cities. I have one from Prague, Tallinn, Berlin, and now Amsterdam. I like this approach to souvenirs for several reasons:
1. It's buying local.
I'm not buying a pair of made-in-China clogs or other kitsch. I'm supporting the local economy and -- even better -- supporting a local ARTIST.
2. It's original.
I make it a point to buy original, numbered etchings, which sometimes means they're a bit more expensive (depending on the city -- Amsterdam yes, Tallinn no!), but it makes for a unique remembrance of my time in a particular city.
3. It's not superfluous.
When I finally settle down a bit and have a home again, I can hang all of my etchings on a wall together to remind me of my travels. Instead of gathering dust on a shelf or sitting forgotten in a closet, my souvenirs will serve as decor for my home.
Now, just the finicky business of actually settling down and having walls to hang things on!...
Maximizing the fact that the rain was still holding off, I walked a bit farther and ran into a neat little street with a few bookstores that were just opening up.
After perusing the racks at Athenaeum for forever (and stumbling across a few things I made mental note of), I finally settled on purchasing the inaugural issue of a magazine called REMARKABLE, with the tagline "Live Better. Harm Less."
I took it across the street to Cafe Luxembourg, where I perused it over a cup of very fresh and lovely mint tea with honey, the taste of which which reminded me of Morocco!
I didn't want to carry my etching around all day, especially if it was going to rain, so I headed back to drop it off at my AirBnB, taking the time to have lunch while there (and save a few dollars -- Amsterdam is expensive!).
By then it had started to rain, so I took the tram over to the Tropenmuseum to hide out from the weather.
There are two main floors of exhibits, but the big draw for me was the temporary exhibition currently on: Body Modification. There were some really cool and freaky photos and videos of people who had done all kinds of odd things to their bodies -- and not just tattoos and stretched ear lobes, either.
One of the things on my list for Amsterdam had been the Tattoo Museum, but upon arrival in the city, I sussed out that it seemed to be permanently closed, which was a bummer. This exhibit at the Tropenmuseum was a close second. (Even better would have been getting a tattoo from one of the great Amsterdam-based artists, but I didn't plan ahead nearly well enough for that!)
I ended the rainy day (which in reality ended with some dramatic sun) by seeing a movie at the EYE cinema, which is across the water in North Amsterdam -- which you can reach via the free public ferry that runs essentially every ten minutes all day and night.
The building is cool. It's dramatic. It's probably photogenic, but I couldn't be too bothered. It was windy, and I was a bit chilled from the ferry.
I saw a Swedish film called "Turist," and it was fantastic. It was a psychological drama about a family on a ski trip in (I believe) the Alps. I won't recount the plot for you here, but do indulge if you get the opportunity to see it. I highly recommend it!
In spite of the persistent forecasts, I woke up to another sunny day.
I celebrated by returning to the De Pjip neighborhood and having a fancy-schmancy breakfast at Anne&Max, one of the hip cafés that had been slammed on the sunny Saturday before.
It was quiet this morning, and I enjoyed a delicious egg & spinach concoction with what looked like home-made bread. (I don't usually eat bread, but I made an exception for this partly because I was really hungry, and partly because it looked really good.)
I had intended to rent a bike from the friendly Greek couple again while in the De Pjip neighborhood, but I walked over from my breakfast at Anne&Max to find them closed for the day, so I had to readjust my plan.
I instead rented a faithful steed from Black Bikes Amsterdam, at a rate that was one euro cheaper than the Greek couple, but the service was delivered with much less of a smile. They have locations all over the city, though, and the best opening hours of all the bike rental places (usually 8a-8p!).
After biking around almost the entire city at an absolutely ludicrous pace for a sightseeing tourist, I finally collapsed into a cafe in the historic Jordaan neighborhood called 't Smalle, which is hilarious to me, because who begins the name of anything with an apostrophe-t?
I had the "warm meatballs," which were indeed warm, and actually quite good. The outdoor seating was all taken, so I sat inside, but it was a charming interior, and I didn't mind. (Of course I took no photos of it.)
When sufficient time had passed for it to be acceptable for me to eat again, I had dinner at Foodism, a well-reviewed spot on the edge of the Jordaan that lived up to its hype. The menu is tapas-style, with some full-size mains on the specials menu.
I had the lamb special (does anyone else sense a trend?) and enjoyed it immensely.
The interior of this place (which of course I do not have a photo of) is really nice, but it is small, so were I dining later, or as a party of more than one, I would have been wise to make a reservation (take note, future visitors).
Monday and Tuesday (mostly Tuesday, but also Monday?) were holidays in Amsterdam -- celebrating their independence or something like that.
So, the king and queen came to Dam Square for a little "event" -- there was some military faffing, and then two minutes of silence at exactly 8 p.m. Almost on cue, as the two minutes began, two babies near me began wailing. It was actually hilarious, but I was trying to respect the occasion by putting on the appropriate stoicism -- and not laughing.
When the two minutes of silence were over, there was a bit of bugle-trumpeting, then everyone immediately dispersed with very little fanfare, really. It was kind of an odd ceremony. No one seemed very moved by it, but EVERYONE was there.
I took no photos because I could see nothing. (I'm not sure there was anything to see.)
After a late wake-up (I didn't get home from my movie the night before until midnight -- so late for me!), I had a leisurely breakfast, packed my things in preparation for my evening flight, and headed out for my last day in Amsterdam.
I did some half-hearted shop-browsing before popping into Pancakes! Amsterdam at a very convenient time -- they had room for one, and I didn't have to wait (the occasional benefits of solo travel!). Usually, the line for the place extends down the sidewalk. It's a bit touristy, but I do love a good pancake, and this place offers a gluten-free one! Mine came with bananas, apples, and strawberries, and smeared in raspberry jam.
It was sinful, and I felt a jolt from the sugar immediately, which propelled me for at least a couple of hours before I was famished again. #fastmetabolism
After my pancake, the thunderclouds started gathering, so I took the opportunity to step into the House of Bols, a museum about the Bols family and their famous genever and liqueur brand.
It's a short but sweet tour, with some interesting bits. Apparently the gin-making enterprise in the U.K. originated with some folks trying to emulate the production of genever. Having just recently been on the Plymouth Gin Distillery tour and learnt of its history, this was especially interesting to me.
Your entrance ticket entitles you to a cocktail and two tastings at the end, all of which I employed fully.
As I collected my coat to leave the building, the cheery hostess at the front desk assured me I had missed a very dark and stormy 90 minutes whilst I was inside the museum -- timing FTW.