We <3 Amsterdam!

12 May

Here’s Part 2 of our weekend getaway. If you missed Part 1 from yesterday, be sure to check it out- a wonderful Mother’s Day surrounded by millions of the world’s most beautiful flowers!

Keeping It Real: OK, today’s KIR is more like a rant, especially since I’ve had 3 examples to back it up within the last 24 hours. I may even do an entire post on this before we come home, but for now…We’ve all heard the general consensus that German people aren’t the friendliest. And y’all, they’re not. As a whole, they are not friendly people. Now before you start getting bent out of shape that I’m lumping everyone into a pretty big category, I’m most certainly aware that there are nice Germans, friendly Germans, polite and courteous Germans- I have personally encountered several of them and thoroughly enjoyed meeting them- but pound for pound, just not so much. Two of the examples are ones I’ve experienced since the day we got here and that continue to baffle me- both deal with simple common courtesy. First, storekeepers do not acknowledge you when you’re in their store looking to make a purchase. And not clothing stores, but day to day stores. The bakery, the meat counter, the cheese guy…You can literally stand there looking in the cases and they will never even bother to make eye contact. Second, bikes are big here- a main mode of transportation. You can be approaching a pedestrian head on, looking them straight in the eye, and they can have 5 feet of sidewalk on their right. THEY WON’T BUDGE. I swear they would let you crash right into them before they would step a few inches to the side! WTH? Doesn’t matter that you’re on a cumbersome bike, that you have a kid riding on the back, that there are a gazillion cars to your right- they still expect you to be the maneuverer…because it’s the law. Jeez. My final example is more of a doozy and the real reason I decided to make this my KIR for today. Remember my post a couple weeks ago about the giant Cuckoo Clock and how the store looked neat and we would definitely return to check it out when it was open? Well that day was yesterday. It’s a Cuckoo/Christmas shop with every surface covered in one or the other. We had been in the store about 3 minutes when the shop keeper lady came up to me said that ‘it would probably be best if my kid would wait outside on the curb while I finished making my selections and purchases.’ WHAT?! And let me just say that Neve was on her best behavior- hadn’t touched anything, wasn’t being loud, had stayed right by my side…I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open as I wrapped my brain around the fact that she was serious, before proclaiming, ‘She’s 3!’ Then I started laughing out loud, took Neve’s hand and hightailed it out of the store. I may or may not have said my peace somewhere in there. Lord.

OK, end of rant. I’ll just say that the bottom line is that life would certainly be happier- or at least more pleasant- with a little bit of courtesy. The occasional smile, the lending of a hand here and there. Even a brief eye contact when someone is looking to spend their money in your store. I get that Germans think Americans’ politeness is fake- that we are friendly even if we have no intention of ever being friends with someone- but folks, there’s something to be said for making life a little more pleasant. Afterall, we’ve all gotta live here together- might as well get along! Ha!

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Amsterdam. As you’ll remember from last week’s post, John and I went to Amsterdam a few years back to celebrate his birthday and we fell in love instantly. We knew it was somewhere we’d return to one day and once we got the word that we’d be over here during the spring, we knew that we’d be back sooner than later as visiting the famous tulips has long been on our bucket list! There’s just so much to love about this city. For starters, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The old architecture, the hundreds of islands, the oodles of canals…It’s got that big city feel, while maintaining a bit of a smaller town feel if that makes sense. Everywhere you turn, there are tiny alleyways, quirky shops and local watering holes. Simultaneously, there are naked women dancing in windows (Red Light District), trains galore and a bajillion bikes speeding by as locals go about their lives. It’s just the neatest combo. A great energy.

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Amsterdam is the capital and most populous city of the Netherlands, as well as a top financial center in Europe. It started as a fishing village in the 12th century and grew to be one of the most important ports in the world by the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age. In the 1700s, it was considered to be the wealthiest city in the world. During this time, the three main canals- forming concentric horseshoes around the city- were dug outside of the ‘original canal’ that was actually the city’s moat. Contrary to popular belief, the construction didn’t happen from center outward, but rather from left to right, as a windshield wiper. As the city grew, so did the number of canals and bridges connecting them. Some canals were created for residential use, others for transportation, trade and water management. Today, there are nearly 100 miles of canals and 90 islands. The city and its canal system are considered one of the best examples of successful city planning of all time.

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Let’s start with our hotel. Once again, we hit the jackpot. LOVED the Hotel Pulitzer. It’s made up of 25 canal houses along the Prinsengracht Canal built in the mid 1600s, connected and combined into one 230-room hotel. In 2010, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our room was just lovely. Original beams crossing the ceiling, heated marble floors in the bathroom, original tilework…Oh, and one (two twins pushed together) of the best hotel beds we’ve ever had! WOOHOO!

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Neve loves her travel cot. It's already been alot of places with us and shows no signs of leaving the journey! We just make it up with hotel blankets and a pillow and she's good to go!

Neve loves her travel cot- yes, it’s under there and sits about a foot off the floor. It’s already been alot of places with us and shows no signs of leaving the journey! We just make it up with hotel blankets and a pillow and she’s good to go!

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Hotel Pulitzer connecting down the canal…

Not surprisingly, Neve loved every single thing about this city. We’ve never seen her so in love with a place so immediately, but she was all smiles from the moment we handed the car over to valet. The boats, the trees, the bicycles, the trains…She absolutely loved it all. We had wondered how it would be, being back in the city with a preschooler, especially a city known as much for its ‘grown up stuff’ as for the rest. The Red Light District with its brothels, strip clubs and window displays. The ‘coffee shops’ lining most alleyways with clouds of smoke just pilfering out of the doors. But she hardly noticed. Occasionally she would let us know that she smelled ‘fire,’ but other than that…Ah, to see the world as a child again!

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Parking lots for bicycles, not cars!

Parking lots for bicycles, not cars!

We were excited to go back a few of our favorite haunts from last time, one of which was Cafe Bern. It’s a hole-in-the-wall bar/cafe on the main plaza, the Dam, that happens to have the BEST fondue outside of Switzerland and escalope, so it was a must. There wasn’t going to be a table for over an hour, so we ended up at the bar and it worked out just fine. Yes, we asked first- would’ve stunk to have had to tie Neve to the lamp pole outside to wait 😉

When there's an hour wait for a table, you take a seat at the bar. 3 year olds and all!

When there’s an hour wait for a table, you take a seat at the bar. 3 year olds and all!

Swiss Fondue and Pesto Escalope

Swiss Fondue and Pesto Escalope

The pesto platter begins to sizzle over an open flame, then you add your pieces of raw meat a few at a time until they're cooked just perfectly. OMG.

The pesto platter begins to sizzle over an open flame, then you add your pieces of raw meat a few at a time until they’re cooked just perfectly. OMG.

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Another view of The Dam

Another view of The Dam

Another all time favorite is Cafe Winkel. John adores apple pie. Which is really weird because he’s very anti-fruit filling of any kind. Can’t stand Pop Tarts, jelly, jam, filled donuts, other pies, trifles…You get the picture. It’s a texture thing, I think. Anyway, he’s always loved apple pie (how very American of him), so for his birthday weekend a few years ago, I was thrilled to find what many called ‘the best apple pie in Europe’ right here in the Venice of the North. Dutch apple pie has a shortbread crust- top and bottom- and lots and lots of apple slices (and usually raisins, unfortunately) in the middle, very little ‘goo.’ You would think this was a bad thing (I’m a huge fan of goo in just about any pie- less fruit, more goo is my motto), but not here. DELICIOUS apple pie! So much so that John recreated the recipe as soon as we got back to the States and it’s been a regular on our special dessert rotation (labor intensive is an understatement- between the dough from scratch and the peeling and slicing and pre cooking of apples) ever since. I’ll let you in on a little secret, too- John’s is better. It’s perfection.

IMG_3379 IMG_3380Another funny tidbit about John’s dessert preferences. He loathes whip cream- Redi Whip, Cool Whip…But he loves homemade, fresh hand-whipped cream. And here in Europe, it’s just faintly sweet. Perfect for adding just that extra pinch of richness. 🙂

Love how all the cafes provide blankets on every chair so you don't get chilly.

Love how all the cafes provide blankets on every chair so you don’t get chilly.

While we’re on the topics of sweets, let’s go right into another of Amsterdam’s best culinary inventions. The Stroopwafel. Oh. My. God. Y’all. There are just no words. Back in 2010 when I was going to open an international bakery in Charleston, it was one of the first things added to the menu- right behind malasadas- and one of the first things I got to work perfecting. A stroopwafel is a thin, firm waffle cut in half (mad skill there) and filled with a caramel-like syrup. The best ones are fresh and warm from the street vendors at the markets, but you can also find them pre-made and packaged in some of the specialty shops. We actually found something similar at World Market at home- they’re called ‘Caramel Wafers’ and about the size of a silver dollar packaged in bags of like 20. Definitely not the same, but a nice little substitute when you’re jonesing. Lucky for us, we found a guy making them at the local Farmers Market.

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Amazing, right?! Words and pictures really can’t do these gifts from Heaven justice. And remember the goo thing I was talking about earlier? Oh yeah. Right here.

Lots of these neat architectural wonders. So your house is leaning? Fill that crack with some concrete! Ha!

Lots of these neat architectural wonders. So your house is leaning? Fill that crack with some concrete! Ha!

And another leaner...

And another leaner…

Let’s talk for a second about the houseboats lining the canals. In olden days, the metal ships were used to transport goods around the city. The owner and his family would live in the quarters below deck. After retirement, he would moor the ship along a canal and continue living on it. Living on a boat was a sign of low status- definitely not desirable. After WWII, during the housing shortage, living on these motorized transport vessels became the most logical answer. They weren’t particularly comfortable- low ceilings, incredibly humid, cramped quarters- but they were cheap and could be parked where you wanted. Today, these older ships- some more than 100 years old!- can still be found on canals throughout the city, especially in the inner, historic canals. The other type of ship in the canals is not motorized and is built on a floating pontoon made of concrete, called an Ark. Introduced in the 1960s and 70s, these don’t have the charm of the old vessels, but they’re much larger and thus, more comfortable for permanent living.

Who says you can't have a yard on your house boat? This one has the coolest bottle trees!

Who says you can’t have a yard on your house boat? This one has the coolest bottle trees!

Modern Arks, as you start moving away from city center...

Modern Arks, as you start moving away from city center…

Today, all boats moored in the canals are connected to city power, cable and sewage. The biggest problem comes with permits. You can’t just park your boat wherever you like. No, you have to get a permit and they are in great demand, as you might imagine. In fact, there are only 2400 permits in the entire city, with no plans for more. Therefore, a houseboat with a legal permit is very expensive. Even wrecks with a permit will sell, while a luxury boat without one will not. Times have certainly changed as nowadays, only the wealthiest residents live on the boats as they’re the only ones who can afford the permits. However, once you have the permit, there are very few guidelines as to what you can do with your space on the canal shore- you are free to build, or park, your castle of choice. In addition to traditional living, there are Botels (haha), apartments, markets, and even museums, all on the houseboats!

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Lunching along one of the main houseboat canals and choosing our next house :)

Lunching along one of the main houseboat canals and choosing our next house 🙂

Moving along…So, there are 8 original windmills still in operation today. The most famous, the DeGooyer, happens to be in the city and right next to one of its most famous breweries. Those two facts, coupled with the fact that we got to take a short train ride to them (absolutely perfect in Neve’s world!)- made it a win-win.

This totally sums up Neve's thoughts on train riding...

This totally sums up Neve’s thoughts on train riding…

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IMG_3417De Gooyer is the tallest wooden windmill in the Netherlands and is a registered national monument. Built in the early 1600s and used as a corn mill for over 300 years, it’s built with a brick base and a wooden octagonal top. The blades still turn, but are no longer operating any grinding mechanism. The brewery next door, the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, is housed in the old Municipal Bathhouse and has been a brewery since 1911.

Never have we seen so many people waiting for a bar to open! 2p is the magic time. How about some selfies while we wait? ;)

Never have we seen so many people waiting for a bar to open! 2p is the magic time. How about some selfies while we wait? 😉

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So after our pitstop at the bar, we spent the afternoon ambling around the city, making our way back to our hotel. Truly, just walking around has got to be the single best part of Amsterdam for us. There is just so much to see and to take in. And there are markets GALORE. Seriously. Farmers Markets (we went through 4), Flea Markets (we found 2), Flower Markets (we did the big dog)…We. Freakin. Love. It. The more markets the better in my opinion. 🙂 And the quirky little shops. I’ve never seen a city with more shops right up my alley- and I’ve been to alot of cities. Art, clothes, jewelry, other people’s garbage…Take your pick, there’s someone selling it in the coolest of nooks along some alley here. Now if I can just get rich…

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The Bloemenmarkt is the only floating flower market in the world and is the largest market Netherlands. Started in 1862, it’s now home to 15 florists and countless garden shops. It is the main supplier of flowers to all of central Amsterdam.

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Some of the best graffiti around...Although Germany's is still better, gots to say...

Some of the best graffiti around…Although Germany’s is still better, gots to say…

And that brings us to dinner. At one of our favorite restaurants ever. Like, ever ever. If you missed last week’s post, definitely go back and check it out if you’re interested in our backstory with this little place or my sentimental babblings of coming full circle, but just to recap…Moeders is Dutch for ‘Mothers’ and it’s consistently rated as the top restaurant for authentic Dutch cuisine. It’s a tiny, kitschy place where you’re packed in like sardines- reservations can be 4+ months out- and every single surface is covered in pictures of mothers. From the moment you walk in, you literally feel like you’re in someone’s home. And being surrounded by all those happy pictures just makes you feel happy. It’s awesome. And it was the perfect place to have our Mother’s Day dinner.

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Meant so much adding our picture to the wall...Somewhere are the ones we brought years ago of my mom and grandmother, and John's mom...

Meant so much adding our picture to the wall…Somewhere are the ones we brought years ago of my mom and grandmother, and John’s mom…

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So what exactly is authentic Dutch cuisine, you ask? Well, in many ways, it’s similar to German food. Potatoes, bread, meats, heavy sauces…Apparently the carb-heavy diet dates back to olden days when laborers needed the energy that carbs provide. Fish is big due to the seaside location. In fact, one of the most popular street food is raw herring with onions. Blech. Veggies also have their place, of course, as farming is prominent. Well, our favorite of the ‘national dishes’ is the Stamppot (aka the Hodge Podge). It’s made by mixing mashed potatoes with a leafy veggie (sauerkraut, kale, endive, spinach…), topping it with an au jous and serving along side a big sausage and another kind of meat, often a meatball. I know it sounds odd- and it’s going to look even moreso- but trust me on this, it’s fabulously delicious and oh-so-satisfying in a comfort food kind of way.

Stamppot. Tonight's was mixed with spinach (endive and onion is my favorite), served with a HEMA sausage, bacon and a meatball. YUMMO.

Stamppot. Tonight’s was mixed with spinach (endive and onion is my favorite), served with a HEMA sausage, bacon and a meatball. YUMMO.

No, Neve opted against the Stamppot...And against the salad...And the mayo for her fries. Nuggets, fries and applesauce, however, were gone by the end of the meal.

No, Neve opted against the Stamppot…And against the salad…And the mayo for her fries. Nuggets, fries and applesauce, however, were gone by the end of the meal.

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Now this next, and final, section shows just how much my husband knows and loves me. I absolutely love dessert. Especially on celebratory occasions. Yes, I’m one of those who equates celebration and happiness with food and togetherness. Sue me. The battle rages on. And at some point, I’m going to dedicate an entire post to sweets as that’s one huge area where things are seriously lacking over here. Germans have no clue how to do desserts, in my opinion, and it’s been a bone of contention for me since the plane landed a few weeks ago. The struggle is real. Sorry, I digress. So John knows how much I love dessert and how no Mother’s Day celebration would be complete without it. He also knows that my absolute favorite food group- no lie- is breakfast. God I love breakfast food. Mostly breakfast carbs if we’re getting specific, but whatever. Neve takes after her mama, btw. So he combined the two! EEEEEEK!

Pancakes are big business in the Netherlands- who knew?- and there are shops on just about every block in the city. But there’s one place in particular that is known as an institution throughout the COUNTRY- as THE place to go for pancakes. The Pancake Bakery (I know, someone was feeling creative when they came up with that.) It’s another hole in the wall- actually a hole underground as it’s in a basement- where you’re packed in as tightly as they can get you. We found it last time and waited nearly 2 hours for breakfast one morning. Worth. Every. Minute. Lawd have mercy.

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Dutch pancakes are closer to a crepe in that they’re the size of your head. But they’re thicker- not as thick as an American pancake, but thick enough to chew. The Dutch consider them fair game for just about any meal, too- breakfast, savory ones for lunch or dinner (think meats, veggies and cheeses), and sweet ones for dessert. You want a pancake, you got a pancake. Don’t be ashamed if it’s 3 in the afternoon or 10 at night. My kinda people.

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We had talked about going back here Mother’s Day morning, but then decided that it would just make for too long of a day with the Keukenhof and the drive home. Bummer. But my guy had something up his sleeve. Walking home from our perfect dinner at Moeders, he detours and says that nothing will do unless he can have a pancake for dessert. And that no, he won’t share- we each need our own! *Swoon, Huge Cheesy Smile* Y’all, the night couldn’t have ended better if I’d met Pauly Shore. Well, I take that back, we got to FaceTime with my parents when we got back to the room, so that was pretty good, too. All in all, a terrific night.

Dutch pancake mixed with stroopwafel pieces (yep, same cookies from earlier- don't judge), topped with cinnamon ice cream and fresh cream. Dessert Heaven.

Dutch pancake mixed with stroopwafel pieces (yep, same cookies from earlier- don’t judge), topped with cinnamon ice cream and fresh cream. Dessert Heaven.

What’d I tell you? A great weekend, right?! Mondays after fantastic weekends are always tough, but what can you do…The weather here is in the 80s and sunny, so Neve and I have spent much of the last two days on the bike, so it’s really not so bad. 🙂 Hope everyone is having a good week themselves! Talk soon!

4 Responses to “We <3 Amsterdam!”

  1. Georgia May 13, 2015 at 5:10 PM #

    These are such great pictures .

  2. Eleanor May 13, 2015 at 12:59 PM #

    Great Blog. Pictures incredible. Interesting!

  3. Robin May 13, 2015 at 4:35 AM #

    Sounds like a perfect weekend!! Really enjoyed the post – thanks.

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  1. Hallo, Amsterdam! | Thomas Wanderings... - October 3, 2016

    […] Completely different trip than our first, but every bit as fabulous and memorable. Check it out here if you need to jog your […]

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