Amsterdam – July 2016

by Monday, August 8, 2016

Firstly… before I begin…can we just take a moment and marvel at this sunrise that I got to see before I landed… 🙂

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Ok, now, let’s go.

I’ve always said that a place is always about its energy.

Every city has its own energy, and if the energy of the city connects with your energy, then you naturally enjoy your time there (and maybe even feel like returning someday). I’ve felt that way about a few cities I’ve been to in my life, so I know how it feels. And I also know how it feels when I know I didn’t “vibe” with a place, and wouldn’t care if I never visited that place again.

So, which one of these was Amsterdam?

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Definitely, the I-could-come-back-here-again-someday type. 🙂

Let’s start by talking about the “energy” thing first. The energy of a place constitutes the place itself, how it’s maintained, is it clean, does the city/place take pride in its appearance, is there litter lying around on the streets, are there trees/gardens/parks around, do the streets/shops have ‘character’  etc. Cleanliness, and more importantly for me, greenery contributes a lot to a place having positive energy. But more importantly, the energy of a city/place comes, in a large part, from its people. Are they smiling, happy, do they look healthy, are they active, do they look like they are rushing through life, do they look like they are enjoying the moment.. ? All of that becomes a huge part of the energy/vibe of a city.

And Amsterdam? Well… let’s begin..

1 – Despite being an old European city, it is super clean.

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(Dam Square, bang in the center of the city)

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(The National Monument, at Dam Square)

2 – It is green. Everywhere. Not just in the parks/gardens.

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3 – There is water to be seen everywhere. And it is clean canal water. Nothing icky floating about. And correct me if I’m wrong, the sight of water is generally a very calming thing.

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4 – Do the people look like they are rushing through life? Not at all.

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(Vondelpark, on a regular weekday!)

5 – Are the people friendly and easy to talk to? Absolutely! Everybody smiles, everybody is polite, everybody speaks English when they realise you’re not Dutch (which I had a problem with a few times, because I am tall, and Dutch people are tall, ergo a lot of times I was being greeted or being spoken to in Dutch and I did have a very deer-in-headlights look on my face)

6 – Do the people look healthy? Yes! I mean, come on…they’re biking everywhere.

7 – Is there traffic on the streets? Traffic jams. None whatsoever! The only traffic rules worth remembering in Amsterdam are – avoid the trams! And get out of the way of the cyclists. Because these 2 always have the right of way.

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8 – And food is of course another important part of your holiday and life, in general. So does Amsterdam offer enough options for vegetarians? YES! Healthy vegetarian food available in most restaurants, and I was honestly so surprised… my friends and I got really lucky with food. We never ended up at a restaurant where we didn’t enjoy the food. It was fabulous. Even for a non-foodie like me.

So will I go back to Amsterdam? ABSOLUTELY.

There was something very ‘comfortable’ about being there. It is very rare that one feels this way about a city that one visits solely for a holiday. But I actually had thoughts like – “if I ever had to live in Amsterdam, I think I could do it! Despite it getting really cold, it’s such a chilled out city, with friendly people, great food, so much to do and see, I could definitely live here if I had to.” Oh, and it looks gorgeous at night too. 🙂

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(This above is De Waag, the oldest prison right in the middle of the city… in front it is a huge courtyard/plaza where public hangings used to take place)

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(Wine ‘o clock at Dam Square)

So to get to the places of interest I covered in the week that I was there, let me start with the restaurants.

RESTAURANTS:

1 – Piqniq – a great breakfast/lunch place. It shuts at 5.30pm. But the food, ah! You can select a set of 2, 3 or 4 dishes and mix and match as you like. Wonderful food, wonderful staff and super vibe!

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2 – Bagels & Beans – this one has a lot of outlets across the city so pick the one closest to you and just go! You will not regret it. And I know I will dream about that bagel for a long time to come. I have never had such FRESH sun-dried tomatoes in my life. I ate here on day 1, and resolved to go back before I left.. so I had my last breakfast in Amsterdam at a Bagel & Beans as well before leaving for the airport.

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3 – Trattoria That’s Amore – FANTASTIC. And I generally try and stay away from Italian food but we happened to be feeling really hungry and upon googling, this seemed like the closest place. So we got here and then I realised it was one of the most popular Italian restaurants in the city, and WITH GOOD REASON. Golden rule – you can tell how good an Italian restaurant is by its margarita sauce/pizza. We ordered one, and it was huge, and we finished it. My friend and I, we literally inhaled it. It was so good. A definite must visit.

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4 – Cau Restaurant – it’s right off Dam Square so if you’re in the city center shopping or generally walking around, head here. It’s also one of the few places that stays open late. And by late, I mean 11pm. Most restaurants close their doors by 10pm. We got here a little late and were warmly welcomed by the staff who insisted we had come to the right place to take care of our hunger. And they weren’t wrong! Excellent food, excellent wine, and my friends said their steak was amazing.

5 – Pancake (in front of Centraal station) – so surprisingly, this particular Pancake Amsterdam restaurant is NOT marked on Google Maps. Which is why we missed it the first time we tried to get to it for brunch. But I’m gonna help you out by giving you the website so you can look up the address here: http://www.pancakesamsterdam.com/ It was recommended to me by a friend and it was fantastic! We had our brunch here just before leaving for our day trip of Zaanse Schans, Volendam and Marken, and when we finished, we were all in a food coma, enough to not make us want to cross the street to get to our departure point!

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6 – Caffe Esprit – again, we ended up here because we were tired and hungry and in the area. And so glad we did!! Like I said, we just always got lucky with food in this city, and that was reason enough for me to fall in love with it. So this one is in the Spui area, which is an area with a lot of bookstores, and of course, shopping. Super busy cafe/restaurant, with a really nice outdoor seating area in a plaza. Definitely try the salads here. Fantastic.

7 – Ristorante Italia Oggi – this one was first recommended by Google, and then a friend messaged me saying I must visit it and try their tiramisu! Let me tell you, I tried a whole lot more than that, it was the last dinner stop on the last night in AMS, and it was not a disappointment. Super fabulous pasta, super pizza, awesome salad, great wine, very warm staff (I think it’s a family run restaurant), and delicious desserts. Just fabulous.

Other than the above, we of course visited a lot of cafes, roadside restaurants (note how I don’t say “coffeeshops”) whenever we needed to sit and have a rest. We’d ended up having a cuppa tea, or some wine, or a snack, and the one thing you have to constantly have in Amsterdam is dutch cheese.

If you’re a cheese lover like me, just keep having cheese!

It. Was. All. Just. Very. Good.

Sigh.

Alright… moving on from food.. what else did I do/see in Amsterdam?

Ok, here goes:

1 – Van Gogh Museum – I am not a museum fan/visitor when I travel usually, because I feel a city’s vibe is felt better out in the real world where the real, living people are. But I’ve always been a fan of Van Gogh and I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity of seeing some his life’s greatest works under one roof, and just learn about his entire life. And man, I am SO SUPER GLAD we signed up for this and bought tickets to the museum. I have never spent so much time in a museum before just staring at every single painting, trying my feeble best to understand his evolution as an artist, the brush strokes that he came to be known for, and his use of colours to depict emotions. Understatement of the century coming up here – what an amazing artist! What amazed me at the museum was his journey… how difficult it must have been as an artist, in his time, to survive… to feel that angst against the world which most artists feel, the ones that aren’t appreciated in their time, and the ones who have something to say, but no one understands them when they say it. I could go on and on about this particular experience but I think I will save that for an entirely separate blog post.

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(The famous Sunflowers painting, one of my favourites)

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(One of Van Gogh’s self portraits that he was known so well for, he did it because he often had no models to sit for him…

but I’d like to credit him for inventing the world’s first SELFIES!) 🙂

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(Another favourite of mine.. The Bedroom in Arles)

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(And I absolutely loved The Yellow House)

2 – Zaanse Schans – A windmill village very close to the city. Less than 45-50 minute bus ride actually. Which is amazing, but as they explained to us, Amsterdam is a very small country, but densely populated. So, land is very precious. And there is absolutely no land wasted. As soon as the city ends, the countryside begins and the villages pop up almost immediately. Every piece of land is precious, needs to be farmed and needs to be put to good use. So that’s what you see as soon as you get to the city outskirts. The farmlands pop up immediately, and before you know it, you are in this traditional windmill village. We got a nice guided tour by one of the windmill owners whose windmill was being used to extract oil from flax seeds. We even go to climb up to the top, and the lake view, along with other windmills in the village, made for quite a fantastic view.

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(The windmill owner explaining how the mill works)

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3 – Volendam – Our next stop was the village of Volendam, which had it’s own cheese making factory… which was, of course, heaven to me. *gets heart shaped eyes* But what I loved here even more was that our guide (shout out to our guide Edgar, who was a total hottie by the way, and he spoke 6 languages so yeah… but I digress) took us walking through Volendam through a shortcut used by the locals, which basically meant we walked through all the tiny cobble stone streets, among the little dutch houses with their cute little gardens and verandahs…it was literally like walking through a movie. The cheese factory was awesome, divine smells..and of course, lots of cheese was purchased.

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(these are all little lanes in between people’s houses!)

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(The Cheese Factory entrance – greeted by the cow of course)

4 – Marken – On to Marken, the little island village. We got here by ferry, but as my other guide Mireia told me, it’s not really an island anymore because it’s been connected to the mainland via a bridge/motorway. So we got there by Ferry, but our bus picked us up from there to take us back to Amsterdam (which was only a 2 minute ride away now! Wow). Anyway, so in Marken we visited a traditional Dutch wooden shoe making factory. Clogs I think they are called. And we had a supremely entertaining presenter at this factory. Hilarious is the word. Loved the entire experience. 3 villages in a half day trip + a lunch stop at Volendam. Very good tour, absolutely worth the 50 Euros spent.

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(This was our boat ride to Marken, it used to be an island village but it’s now connected to mainland by a causeway)

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(The Shoe Factory)

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(I wanted yellow shoes like hers!) 🙂

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(Call me silly but I love seeing houses with open fields like this and with SHEEP!! REAL LIVE SHEEP just hangin around in them! Makes me happy!) 😀

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(That’s our awesome guide Edgar who speaks 6 languages and was just doing this to take a year off from a regular job!)

5 – Amsterdam Canal Cruise – You have to find these online as well and book in advance as there are very few that are open till late (post 6pm that is). We were lucky enough to catch the last cruise of the day from Centraal and since the sun sets around 10pm in the summers, you’ll only be able to see the city by day light. Which is great because you get a running audio commentary of everything in your headphones, and later when you walk by those places you’ll know so much more about them. This tour, combined with the bicycle tour, will pretty much sum up the history/cultural aspect of the city. Well, as much as you can learn in 1 short stay of a trip any way. I did the River Seine cruise at night, and Paris looked so gorgeous at that time, but I don’t think that is something I missed in Amsterdam. It’s prettier walking around the old town by night in Amsterdam.

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6 – Central Amsterdam (Dam Square and all the 9 streets area) – busy busy busy area. The central part/the shopping hub. One can spend hours walking around here… lots of stores of course + bars + coffeeshops.

7 – Jordaan – hands down my favourite part of the city. Followed closely by Vondelpark. What I loved about Jordaan was that though it’s pretty much city center, it’s still not. It’s still quiet, super pretty houses, cute little lanes, amazing stores… seriously, if you’re looking for quirky, off-beat, one-of-a-kind of shopping experience, this is the area to be in. Also, lots of cute restaurants and cafes, and generally a very happy, chill, pretty vibe. Loved it.

8 – Heineken Music Hall – We were lucky enough to catch a concert here, one of India’s biggest singers at the moment, Arijit Singh. Super music venue, lots to do in the area as well while you’re waiting around for your concert. If any of your favourite music acts are in Amsterdam during your stay and they’re playing at this venue, don’t miss it.

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(Arijit Singh Live in Concert – that Sunny at the console, his sound/production man-in-charge)

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(The man who kept getting asked for Selfies himself… ironic since he’s the one who says “selfie le le re” Ha. ha.)

 

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(The Crew)

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(Post concert vibes – happiness)

9 – Museumplien + IAmsterdam Sign – long green lawns… a shallow little pond of a pool, basketball courts, skateboard area… and all just 10 steps away from the Van Gogh + Rijksmuseum. Perfect place to relax, take in a bit of sun, lie on the grass, people watch… and of course, get a token picture taken in front of the most photographed spot in the city, the IAmsterdam sign.

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(Taking a moment to rest post the Museum visit)

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(What I also loved about this city is that DOGS can go everywhere! This little pool of water had kids, adults, dogs, everyone running around in it… it was AWESOME)

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10 – Bicycle Tour of the city – by far, the BEST thing I did in the city! The last time I cycled all over a city/town was in Ubud (Bali) and there is such a happy feeling associated with bicycles for me. It makes me feel like a kid again and I love it. Not to forget, it’s great exercise, eco-friendly, and extremely fuss-free because you can just about stop anywhere you like, park anywhere you like, and get anywhere super fast! Besides walking (which I love doing), this really is the most amazing way of exploring Amsterdam because you never have to worry about traffic and getting run down by a car. Everybody has to give way to the cyclists, and even when a section of the road is under construction, they make sure it is cycle-able! We did this on our last day in the city and I really, really wished we’d done it on Day 3 (as per our original plan), because I know I would have rented a cycle for the rest of my week in Amsterdam then. But nevertheless, it was absolutely fabulous. We signed up with the Yellow Bicycle Tours and everything from the organisation, the ease of booking our spots on their site, to our guide, our route through the city, the pit stops – everything was FABULOUS. A MUST DO.

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11 – Vondelpark – we cycled through it during our bicycle tour, and loved it so much that we had to come back a few hours later. Spent our last day in Amsterdam sitting around the park for a couple of hours, because we definitely don’t get this kind of chill, outdoor vibe in Dubai, not in July at least! So many people around… playing games, cycling, barbecuing, putting on music, drinking… just hanging out. SUCH A GOOD VIBE. Loved, loved, loved it. Definitely keep an afternoon for this, preferably a weekday so it’s not OVER crowded… though it’s pretty much always full of people.

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12 – Red light area – so I know what you’re thinking.. but we didn’t actually plan on going here! We, however, landed up there on our very first night, which also happened to be a Saturday night! So needless to say, the area was packed, and full of people. We had been looking for a restaurant to get dinner at, it was closed, so we walked out, turned a corner and here we were… red windows all over the place! Happy coincidence because we got to be in the middle of the ‘party’ scene on the right night. Word of caution – do not try and take pictures of the women in the windows, you may be rudely told off by the cops. We saw it happen to someone. It was just an amusing experience walking down those streets, if nothing else. Lots of drunk tourists walking around, but nobody bothers you, also because it is a very safe area, there are policemen everywhere.

13 – Shopping – I would say the shopping was pretty decent. The usual chain stores, but the best area being Jordaan for it’s uniqueness.

14 – History and culture – you know, that’s the intriguing thing about Amsterdam. It looks so modern, the people, the places… but it’s also got so much history and culture.. you don’t really have to go looking for it. It’s all just around you. Love that.

Well, there you have it! I may have missed some things out but the information here should take care of a short visit to the city (3-7 days).

What I want to say about Amsterdam is this (and I know I risk sounding repetitive) – it felt like a place I could go back to, visit again, make memories in again, and who knows, maybe even live in for some time. It felt like a place where one feels free, relaxed, not judged, and completely comfortable just being. 🙂

Perhaps, best summed up by John Green..

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Until next time, keep Being Awesome! 😉

 

All pictures are taken by me on an iPhone6s.

I am on Snapchat at – missjyotisardar

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