May 13th – 16th 2013
Canals, bridges and bicycles… turn the corner, more canals, bridges and bicycles… go down the street from there, even more canals, bridges and bicycles. Add colourful flowers in square pots along the bridges and they were all one picturesque scene after the other. And yes, there were clogs everywhere (wooden, porcelain and even the fuzzy slipper kind).
Our first day was pretty dreary and, being quite exhausted from all our travelling so far, we opted to walk around but stay close to the hotel. Our hotel, the Ibis Amsterdam City Stopera, was close to Centraal Station and Waterlooplein, and only a 5 minute walk from the Nieuwmarkt neighbourhood. It ended up being a really convenient location since we were able to get everywhere on foot and there was a grocery store, wine shop, pharmacy and some restaurants all 2 minutes away.
So after some preliminary exploring, we did a little grocery shopping, picked up a couple items that we’d never tried before and, since it was a rainy day, we popped into soup enzo which ended up being one of the best places we stumbled upon. Their store front and logo is nothing to write home about – quite plain and minimal in design, you could walk right by and think nothing of the place. But if you stop, you will be pleasantly surprised by a variety of freshly made soups on a menu that changes each day and if you do go, definitely try the cheese stick (a light crispy cheese bread that is better than the cornbread they offer as the other side option). The chips and crisps we got were good, the chocolate and the wine were fine but the eierkoeken (literally translated, ‘egg cakes’) we got were the next best thing to the soup. Light, slightly sweet, flat rounded cakes with raisins that, when you pair with some spreadable Camembert cheese, took me to fat kid heaven. Speaking of Camembert, we couldn’t have gone without walking into the cheese shops and trying sample after sample – the green pesto cheese was my favourite. I also felt obliged to try the fries and mayo. Unfortunately the fries were thick-cut and I prefer shoestring myself, but it was still pretty good (though you won’t miss out on anything if you don’t have them). Souvenir stores had broken pieces of stroopwafel for sampling – thin crispy waffles with a layer of caramel-like syrup in the middle – and I’m definitely sorry I didn’t buy a tin to bring home. The dutch pancakes with chocolate and powdered sugar… the cheese baguette with green mayo… the apple beignets…ooohh the apple beignets… it was all so good! But alright, enough about the food. Exit stage left: Kim’s inner fat kid.
Despite hearing about how convenient the trams were, we didn’t end up taking them anywhere since everything was within walking distance. The Anne Frank House was just as sobering as the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Berlin, and it was another heavy dose of reality to stand in a place that holds so much sad history. The Rijksmuseum offered art and history displays from many countries and would certainly require more than one trip to complete. It was a little odd to have found the Oudekerk so close to the heart of the Red Light District. We could literally look down a street to the left and see the old church, and then look down a street to the right and see half naked girls on display in windows. Yes, we perused through the sex shops in the Red Light District, but then it was difficult not to since they were all open and on display compared to the ones here that are generally hidden behind covered windows. There were neon signs welcoming patrons in for ‘Live Sex Shows!’ in ‘Private Cabins!’ and I was sure that the up-close-and-personal action may have been too-close-and-awkward for me. So the Erotic Museum sufficed and provided a good laugh worth our €7 a piece.
Walking was good for more than just the cardio since we stumbled upon the Westerkerk, where Rembrandt is buried; Trompettersteeg, the 100-centimeter wide street making it the narrowest in Amsterdam; Chinatown up in the Nieuwmarkt complete with dimsum restaurants and a Buddhist temple and a flea market with numerous stalls down Jodenbreestraat on the canal next to the Rembrandt House Museum. We walked through the Bloemenmarkt and saw flowers in every colour you could think of and I was surprised to see more wooden tulips than real ones. Unfortunately we did not make it out to Keukenhof, though we heard the gardens there were the best to be seen, so I’d safely say I would return to Amsterdam just for that. The rest of our time was spent in good company with hundreds of Chelsea and Benfica fans who had literally taken over the streets in anticipation of the finals of the UEFA Europa League that happened to be at the Amsterdam Arena while we were there.
I suppose our trip would not have been complete without almost being hit by a passing bicyclist. It was quite amusing that in my two weeks of crossing busy streets in London, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam, that my close encounter was not with a car, taxi or bus… but people on bicycles in their own bike lanes. I even got a dirty-over-the-shoulder-look from a cyclist too. Damn tourist.