Spring Break in Amsterdam
Prior to beginning our trip to Amsterdam, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this city. For starters, I have never even been to the Netherlands, so I didn’t have any grasp on the culture of the country, let alone the city. While it pays to understand where you're going, I think that going into a city with blind expectations makes for fun exploration.
Kyle and I met in the Amsterdam airport early on Friday morning. He flew in from Munich and I flew in from Atlanta. We opted for Uber to take us to our Airbnb (even though I have some qualms with Uber currently – they unfortunately do not have Lyft in Amsterdam yet). After arriving to our beautiful Airbnb and settling in – we set out for some breakfast. Our host recommended a few places, but she mentioned a place called Cafe Zurich, better known as “the mushroom” by locals. We were intrigued. We wandered down the street and came across a building that was, indeed, shaped like a mushroom. We had a delicious breakfast in the mushroom – a sandwich with aged cheese, pickles, bacon, greens, and mustard on it for me, and a cheese, egg, and bacon toast for Kyle. We grabbed a quick nap after filling our stomaches with our first Dutch meal, and then took to the city.
We wandered around a bit, stopping in a few pubs for the local favorite – Heineken. The Dutch love Heineken. Most bars only serve Heineken. The dedication they have to their famous, local brew is not like anything I have seen before. These folks love their pale lager and it was something that I was 100% okay getting in on.
Once dinner time rolled around, we decided to set out to the streets until we came across something that looked good. After wandering through the canals, we came across a busy Italian restaurant, tucked away between residential apartments, and housing mostly locals, called Spaghetteria Pastabar. We waited for a table for around thirty minutes and when we were finally seated, it was at a long table with several other couples. Kyle and I shared two pasta dishes; one with squid and one with sausage. Oh and a bottle of wine, of course. The food was great, and even though we were in the Netherlands, I am always okay with a meal of pasta. After dinner, we walked a long the famous Dutch canals. If you ever find yourself in Amsterdam, I definitely recommend this stroll at night with your best friend after a few glasses of wine.
Saturday morning rolled around. We grabbed some Dutch basics at a local grocery store for breakfast. Think: fresh bread, three types of cheeses, bacon (okay, not Dutch but we are obsessed), arugula, tomatoes, green onion, fresh eggs, and a mango-orange juice. Making breakfast together is something Kyle and I love doing. We turned on some good music, toasted the bread in a pan on the stove with loads of fresh butter, got that bacon sizzling, and sliced up all of the vegetables. Our Airbnb was ideal for enjoying mornings; it was bright, airy, had so many huge windows, and the breeze that flowed in from the chilly, early-Spring Dutch streets was ideal.
After breakfast we decided to make our way into the city for the day (while our Airbnb was in Amsterdam, we were about a mile outside the “happening” part of the city). We wandered around the canals, basked in the sunlight peaking through the clouds, and sipped on coffee all morning. We found our way to a huge public park near the center of the city and did a little more wandering around and getting lost. The tulips, the flower the Netherlands are famous for, and my absolute favorite flower, were just beginning to bloom. The houses around the park were large and luxurious, and we had a fun time observing them and their wealthy inhabitants. We found a bench and sat down to do some people watching in the busy park. When I say people watching in Europe, it should just autocorrect to dog watching because Europeans take their pups seriously and we were absolutely okay with that.
After the park, we found ourselves in a very wealthy part of the city; while I have never been to Paris (it is high on my bucket list), the streets in this area reminded me of what I suspect the streets of Paris to look like. Beautiful homes and apartments, narrow streets, many trees.
It was around noon at this point and we came across a little restaurant with plenty of outside seating called George. Neither of us were particularly ready for lunch yet, so we settled with a glass of white wine for me and a beer for Kyle. Again, we people watched. Sipping our beverages, enjoying each other’s company, and making guesses of what the prestigious looking women in fur coats were up to.
After our drinks, again we wandered. This time down to a farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets are one of my favorite things in the world. I spent an entire summer selling organic juice at a farmer’s market in my hometown the summer after my sophomore year of college, and with that grew a strong fondness and admiration for the folks who spend their Saturdays setting up tents and talking passionately about their goods.
We settled on an Irish pub for lunch. Rugby on the TV, a salad for me, and a chicken sandwich for Kyle. We encountered a women’s march after this, similar to the one’s that have been taking place in the U.S. and in many countries around the world for a few months now. It brought tears to my eyes and pride to my heart seeing women who do not speak the same language I do, who don’t know me, marching for the same rights and respect from their government as the women in my life who marched. It was a moving moment, standing there, listening to these Dutch women and men speak out against misogyny, hate, and racism.
After spending the day hopping around Amsterdam's tourist landmarks, we began the trek back to our apartment. At this point, we were about two miles away. Before leaving for the Netherlands, one of my good friends told me, “you have to try stroopwafels. They are everywhere and they are incredible”. So the entire two-mile walk home, we tried desperately to find these stroopwafels. They were nowhere. We walked in and then back out of three different cafes. No stroopwafels in sight. Needless to say, we were disappointed, but we had hope for tomorrow.
Finally, we made it back to our apartment and grabbed a quick nap. We woke up and decided tonight was the night that we would visit the Red Light District. Every person I know who has visited Amsterdam has said this district is a must-see, no matter its reputation. And I have to agree. After walking around and seeing the women in the windows waiting for a night caller – I would be disappointed if you visited Amsterdam and didn’t check this district out. From a feminist point of view, I thought it was awesome. First of all, prostitution is legal. That means these women are following rules and regulations, and the callers they are bringing into their windows are following rules and regulations as well. They get paid, they get taxed, and they do their thing, legally and safely. Walking through the neighborhood was an awesome experience and definitely an Amsterdam must-do. We had a midnight dinner of Chinese food in this wild district and stayed out for a few drinks. If you are looking for a party neighborhood in Amsterdam, this is the one to visit.
Sunday was our last full day in the incredible city and we decided to rent bikes. In the Netherlands, biking is a huge part of the culture and the main way most folks get around. So we hopped on our rented bikes and decided to make our way to the “Noord”, or the northern district. We biked a long the canals and through all different neighborhoods. The interesting thing about Amsterdam is there are many different neighborhoods and districts, all close to each other, but all incredibly unique from the next. The biking part was a little nerve-racking since I have not ridden a bike in years and these Dutch people were flying past us; but we made it out alive. To get to the Noord you have to take a ferry across a channel of water. Before hopping on the ferry, we finally stumbled upon a waffle restaurant, albeit not stroopwafels, they were still delicious. We both opted for Nutella and strawberries on top. It was heaven.
After indulging in our waffles, we hopped on the ferry and arrived in the Noord. The Noord was a neat place. It is an up-and-coming neighborhood where if you take a different turn (which we did) you end up in the suburbs. We had no idea where we were going, so we just walked a long inside the neighborhoods, lined with kids outside playing ball.
After getting a first-hand look at Amsterdam’s suburbs, we found our way back to what we presumed is the touristy area and sat by the water for a bit. We discovered a nice little restaurant, called Cafe De Pont. We soaked in our last sunset in Amsterdam while slurping down fresh oysters, munching down on aged cheese, and sipping on refreshing beverages.
After getting back city side, we rode our bikes to grab sushi from a restaurant called Hosokawa. We took it home, popped in a movie, and spent our last night in Amsterdam curled up on the couch with sushi, local craft beers, and Netflix. An ideal night for us.
Amsterdam was a city like one I have never visited before. It was incredibly diverse, friendly, and beautiful. From the canals to the variety of people of every race and nationality, our time there was spent alongside kind people and eating incredible food. I felt welcomed everywhere we went. Dear Netherlands: I can’t wait to return.
Sidenote: The next time we visit, we decided that we would rent bikes the first day in order to have them the entire trip. The bikes made the city so much more accessible and they were an absolute blast.