Amsterdam. More than just clogs & cheese.
March 4, 2012
Before we even moved over to London, Chelsea and I started a list of places that we would like to visit while living here. And one by one, we are checking them off the list. Of course, since we moved here we have gotten a ton of recommendations from friends for other cities to visit. One of the most recurring recommendations was Amsterdam. From friends that are constant travelers to conversations that I’ve had with clients, they have all said that the Dutch were incredibly friendly and that the city had a lot to offer. So, we moved it to the top of list and booked tickets! But what would be the best way to get there? Planes? Trains? Auto… well, no not that. Anyhoo, we noticed a deal online about a cruise to Amsterdam that sounded fun. It was an overnight cruise that docked in Rotterdam where we would then take a train to Amsterdam. It took about 2 seconds for us to say “Let’s do it!”
Once we got to Amsterdam, we found our hotel, dropped off our bags and hit the streets. We had our list of “must sees” — Red Light District, the canals, etc… but on the train to our hotel, we saw plenty of little side streets and shops that we also wanted to explore. The city is made up of a ton of small, winding streets and alleys that you would never know about unless you explored… so we did! Below are photos of some of those adventures. We would definitely recommend Amsterdam as a place to visit – friendly locals, fantastic food (including a totally hidden fondue spot in the back of a bar) and plenty to see and do… even if you don’t speak the language.
To see the rest of our photos from the trip (including a bunch of graffiti shots), check out our Flickr page.
After a short train ride out of town, we hopped on the ship that would carry us to Amsterdam overnight. Neither one of us had been on a cruise before, so we were really excited! Indoor plumbing! Our cabin was pretty swanky. Nothing but the best for my lady. Like I said…nothing but the best. We decided to have a little snack as the boat took off – beer, pudding and M&M’s. Yup, we’re adults. In the morning, we pulled into Rotterdam to catch the train to Amsterdam. Happy kids! An appleflap for the train ride?! Don’t mind if I do. For those of you who know us well, you know that Chelsea and I are huge Chuck Ragan fans. One of my favorite songs from Chuck is a little ditty called “Rotterdam“. We couldn’t believe we were going to actually be on a train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, so we both geeked out and listened to the song on our iPods as we left the Rotterdam train station, headed for Amsterdam. It was the perfect soundtrack for a ride through the Dutch countryside. This piece of paper was full of ideas and doodles by the time that ride was over. Thanks Chuck! We made it! This is outside the train station in Amsterdam… not exactly your typical Amtrak station in the States. Being that Chelsea and I have a little “thing” about objects being straight, we noticed as soon as we got to Amsterdam that it may be the crookedest (yeah, it’s a word) city we have ever seen. Check out the windows in this building. This is not Photoshopped. Oh yeah… and Chelsea didn’t get this trait from her mom. This city is a haven for graffiti artists – trains, buildings, construction sites… you name it. Hell, if you stood still long enough you would probably get tagged. I live by this rule. It just seems to come naturally. Oh, really? The home owners association has a problem with my balcony. And just where do you suggest that I put all of my extra topless statues? Oooh… so close. Almost every block in central Amsterdam is on a canal. It’s surreal… and absolutely beautiful. Ummm… I. Uh. Well. Oh, well now it makes total sense. I thought you just wanted people to urinate on the street. You didn’t tell me there was 2 feet of metal blocking the “show”. Well done Amsterdam. Come on… how could we pass up sharing this? The one in the top left is a windmill! These ducks were pretty embarrassed about the whole condom display thing. Sorry guys. The PERFECT lunch… sitting next to the canal with a delicious sandwich on a cold day in the Netherlands. Yum. This is an “outdoor” gallery that is open to the public for free. It houses some incredible pieces of both classic and contemporary art. Yes, that says 1683. Awesome. The main mode of transportation in the city. They even have their own stop lights on the bike paths. We read about an old part of town called the NDSM Wharf that you could get to by ferry, so went to check it out. It is a former shipyard that is now a center for art and “underground culture”. We found art, a flea market, an indoor skatepark and a ridiculous amount of graffiti. As we walked around this somewhat abandoned area, we saw a hole in this warehouse… and had to climb in! There were a ton of colorful pieces inside the warehouse. And some relics of times passed. I love this stuff. After some more wandering around the wharf, Chelsea and I found another spot that was chock-full of graffiti. There was something kinda pretty about the way this cable spool was sitting in the water, especially with the totem in the background. This colorful skull is cool… but the Santa-looking guy at the top was my favorite character that we saw around town. Oh, hey there Santa dude! You like cats, too?! We could be friends. Dog kisser. Just a typical view. Check out how those tiny buildings are just crammed in there. We saw very little wasted space. Thanks to recommendations from a few Denver friends, we went to check out Browerij’t IJ. It is a great little brewery on the outskirts of town (and it has a windmill). Craft brews and a plate of cheese made for a tasty mid-day break. Since our Dutch isn’t what it used to be, we ordered the sampler… and loved every one of them! This is what happens when you have a few beers and try to do math. Chelsea wins… and gets a star! Not a bad walk back to the hotel. Along the way we saw a tiny pub that looked like a great place to stop for a drink, and to warm up. Most definitely a locals spot. And what could possibly make this pub any better, you ask? How about a pub kitty! She came over and greeted us in our booth. Just another beautiful bridge on our walk. The lighting at night makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. We did a little research before we left, and found a village outside of Amsterdam that still has working windmills!! So, we hopped on the bus to Zaanse Schans to see it for ourselves. And we are soooooo happy that we did. We spent the afternoon there exploring. Look who we found! Everyone’s favorite drug-induced children’s show, Pippi Longstocking. Then we went to check out the official Clog Workshop & Museum. How awesome are these shoes?! No longer fully hand-carved, these are the machines they use to make clogs today. This guy gave us a demonstration on the lost art of clog making. With help from machines like this, the whole process only takes 5 minutes! A stack of samples from the demos. To show us how wet and fresh the wood is (which I unfortunately didn’t get a photo of), he holds the finished shoe up to his mouth and blows out probably a quarter of a cup of water! It was so crazy to see. Just your average home in Zaanse Schans… with a bridge. There are 7 working windmills along the river in the village. We walked down the little road to check them all out. Little did we know that you could actually go inside them! This windmill is used to grind spices. Others are used as a saw mill, a paint mill (grinding pigments), and an oil mill (grinding linseed or peanuts to draw off the oil). Here are the inner-workings of one of the mills. Some of them were built in the 1500s! In this windmill, you could climb all the way to the top and go outside. Go into the light, Chelsea… go into the light. The thatched green exterior of a windmill… not a bad view. Here we are standing on the deck at the top of the windmill. Never thought I would utter that sentence. My girl. This guy loves windmills… almost as much as he loves being sassy. Just check out that pose. So Dutch. We kept reading about Dutch pancakes and how delicious they are. One big difference… they aren’t for breakfast. These are savory pancakes that you eat for lunch or dinner, and they are served with syrup. Luckily, the one restaurant in Zaanse Schans was a pancake place so we decided to grab lunch there. And we were soooo glad we did! This is my bacon and cheese pancake covered in syrup. The pancake is crispy on the outside and crepe-like on the inside. Then you top it with a syrup that tastes like molasses. Oh. My. Goodness. We were both in heaven and didn’t want lunch to end. The pancakes are cooked in this giant rotating grill… creating doughy love for all. After lunch, we watched a short film in one of the windmills about the history of the village and this guy was in it! When we saw him, Chelsea and I both stopped and looked at each other… “that’s the guy!” Not only was he “the guy,” but he was rockin’ a pair of wooden clogs and a pipe. You, sir, have won the Dutchman of the Day award. Kudos. This home/windmill was built in 1667, with love apparently. Chelsea and I just kept walking around in disbelief. Are we really here? Are we really seeing this? A day of “windmilling” made us pretty hungry. One other piece of info that we found out through our trip research was that the Netherlands has the largest Surinamese population outside of Surinam. Yup, Surinam. Don’t worry… we had to look it up, too. Apparently, Surinam was a Dutch colony and that is why there are so many Surinamese folks in town. We always want to try the local food on our trips, so we found a great little Surinamese restaurant in the Pijp neighborhood for dinner. Why not? When else would we get the opportunity to try this cuisine? And it was AMAZING!! The best way to describe it is a combination of Mexican and Asian food. Mmmm… noodles, satay, savory rice, roasted chicken, grilled veggies. Hopefully, this food reaches the U.S. soon because we would eat it again any day. After dinner, it was time to wander. Empty little streets… a little rain… perfect. We found this little corner pub (Cafe de Wetering) while wandering. Tiny and warm, it seemed like a good place to stop. We walked in and the downstairs is simply 3 beer taps and 2 bar stools. That’s it. The bartender was a friendly older Dutchman. He didn’t speak much English, but his friend that was drinking at the bar spoke a little and was excited to talk to Americans. He impressed us by naming U.S. states that he knew… like Massachusetts and Illinois? Of all the states, I have no idea why he knew these. But he was really friendly and helped us get a beer… so he’s cool with us. With delicious Dutch beer in hand, we headed upstairs to this little room with a huge fireplace. It had a few tables, some games and nice low lighting. Aside from these 2 women who were deep in conversation, we had the place to ourselves. Warmed by the fire, Chelsea and I grabbed a chess board from the corner and enjoyed a pretty incredible night together in this random and unique little watering hole. It’s moments like this that make any little headaches along the way totally worthwhile. I didn’t want to leave. It felt like home. On our last morning there, we had a few hours before the train and we knew that we wanted to see the Anne Frank House. It is located in central Amsterdam, easy to get to and definitely worth spending some time experiencing. The outside isn’t much to speak of, but what went on inside this modest building speaks volumes. Taking a tour of this home will truly put things into perspective about life. You think you have it tough? Think life is hard? Try not going outside for two years and not making any sounds in your own home because you fear for your life. It was a pretty moving experience to have before hopping on a train and letting your mind wander about your own life. Babies sitting on skulls… sure, why not? That’s not creepy at all. Lupita and Pablo loved the boat ride back to London. I mean, just look how happy they are! I almost forgot about this chocolate we found. The Choco Lonely. So sad, I hate seeing lonely candy. We had to buy it because it was so sad, not because we love chocolate. Nope. The view on the ride home. Not seeing anything for miles was a beautiful way to end the trip. Until next time…