Amsterdam! Known for its red light district and coffeeshops, it is also home to a network of beautiful museums and a lot of history. We went for a long weekend and had an amazing time!
We arrived at our AirBnB around lunchtime. Our flat was located on the third floor, and we climbed some funky stairs to get there! Interesting fact: some doorknobs in The Netherlands must be pulled toward you to open. We had never before encountered this type of doorknob... so we spent about 20 minutes trying to open it ourselves (after our host had already opened the door and let us in once), couldn't figure it out, and had to call our host to come let us back in! Oops. Definitely felt like dumb tourists, but luckily our host was very friendly and happy to ride her bike over to help us. Speaking of bikes, EVERYONE in Amsterdam has one. We saw all different types of people riding bikes, and most of the bikes had cute little baskets and bells. Bicyclists (and motorcyclists) have their own lane EVERYWHERE in this city, stay out of it or you will definitely get run over!
We wandered around the local area to find lunch. Our host left a list of local recommendations, which was helpful in guiding our wander. Our AirBnB was in Amsterdam-Oost, the east neighbourhood of Amsterdam. We didn't see any other tourists in this area! It's always nice to get a taste of what true local life is like when we visit a new place. The refugee population is large in Amsterdam and our neighbourhood was accordingly diverse, with many little middle eastern restaurants and a delicious middle eastern pastry shop! We stocked up on baklava (and other goodies that I don't know the name of) and continued to wander until we stumbled upon Bar Basquiat. I had the duck and waffle, Luc had the duck nachos, and we split an order of the duck egg rolls. If you can't tell, this restaurant specialises in duck. Yum!
In Poland we always found ourselves starving in the middle of the night with nothing to eat. We made sure to avoid a similar occurrence this trip and stopped at a local grocery store on the way back to our flat. We stocked up on essentials like stroopwafels, Dutch apple pie, Dutch cheese and crackers, and a lovely assortment of random snacks and sweets that we had never heard of. By the way, I. LOVE. STROOPWAFELS. And I ate many-a-stroopwafel during our trip. No regrets.
In researching what to do in Amsterdam while planning our trip, I learned that Amsterdam is the best place in the world to eat Indonesian food (outside of Indonesia). This is a byproduct of Dutch colonisation in Indonesia for more than three centuries. We had a reservation at Sampurna and made sure to arrive with empty stomachs! We ordered a rijsttafel (dutch for "rice table"). Not exaggerating, this was probably the best meal I've ever eaten. Ever. Hmm...maybe our next trip will be to Indonesia?
We spent the rest of the evening wandering around Amsterdam. I'm learning that wandering is the best part of traveling. Sometimes I get too focused on planning a perfect itinerary, so my goal this trip was to be flexible and go with the flow. We definitely did! The culture and general vibe of Amsterdam promotes this. I was surprised to find that the crowds of Amsterdam were all very friendly, relaxed, and generally polite. We felt very safe everywhere we went, which was also a surprise to me! Amsterdam is overall very chill...maybe this has something to do with the coffeeshops on every corner?
We wandered past the floating flower market, through some touristy squares, and into the red light district. No photography is allowed in the red light district, so I don't have photos to share, but I must say it was much less rowdy than I would have expected! This was a pleasant surprise. There were near-nude women in windows and sex shops and live sex shows and coffeeshops and dispensaries and psychedelic mushroom shops all over, but people (locals, tourists, families with small children) all walked past these displays as if it were the norm (because here, it is the norm).
Before anyone asks: no we did not attend any live sex shows or interact with the women under the red lights, but we did make sure to have a broad, well-rounded experience of Amsterdam's culture...which may or may not include visiting "a few" coffeeshops.
After stopping at a cafe for a quick downing of espresso, we began our second day in Amsterdam at the Anne Frank House. We were able to walk through the spaces where Anne and her family hid. It was a surreal experience, for sure.
Next we wandered around the canals for a bit and managed to find an amazing stroopwafel shop. It was warm and gooey and delicious.
The rest of the day was honestly just spent getting lost in Amsterdam and stopping at many shops and cafes and bars along the way. People watching in this city is never boring! At night we went to a bar across from our AirBnB called Bar Joost. They had a nice selection of board games to play as well as an even nicer selection of Dutch craft beers. We had a fun night of drinking beer and playing Dutch scrabble.
We woke up early on our third day in Amsterdam to visit the Van Gogh Museum. No matter how much I despise mornings, in our experience we've found that getting up early is ALWAYS worth beating the tourist crowds. The Van Gogh Museum was so cool!
We wandered around the museum square and the market. Definitely felt a little touristy here but again, fun to people watch! Plus it was a beautiful day to sit in the sun.
We walked from the museum square toward the River Amstel, where we were hoping to find a boat tour of some kind. We hadn't booked in advance so we weren't sure if we would be able to sneak in a ride. We got distracted by a hot dog stand and decided to rest on a pier while we ate. We also stopped for some coffee on the way.
We then went on an AWESOME canal tour! We went to the dock where all of the big tourist boats drop off and pick up, hoping to jump on a boat and pay on board. The crowds were huge and we didn't make it onto the boat, but luckily as the big boat was pulling away we saw a small, 12 seat boat with a nice man driving pull up to the dock. We asked him if we could have a ride and he said yes! The captain was named Jamie, he just started giving boat tours that week!! In the end I was so glad that we chose to ride with Jamie instead of one of the big tour boats, it was so much more relaxing than sitting in a hot crowd of people. The tour lasted about an hour and went all over Amsterdam. We saw the crazy canals filled with boats of people drinking and cruising. We also got to see some of the quieter, more peaceful canals, the seven bridges, and houseboats. It blew my mind that some buildings have doors that open right up to the water!
After our canal cruise we hung out near a small outdoor market, shopped a bit, people watched, and got some CHIPS! Topped with ketchup AND mayo of course.
For dinner on our last night we went to a traditional Dutch restaurant...let's just say it wasn't the best thing I've ever eaten. Not sure what I expected though, since traditional Dutch food is really just mashed potatoes with some vegetables or meat mixed in. If we go back to Amsterdam (which we want to do!) we will definitely be getting Indonesian food every. single. night.
Our flight left early the next morning and we were so sad to say goodbye. I must say that Amsterdam has been our favourite city in Europe so far! We can't wait to go back!