I Amsterdam…

A few weeks ago, Jim and I took our first trip to the Netherlands.  It was another long weekend, where we spent time exploring the city of Amsterdam as well as venturing outside the city for some prime tulip peeping.  It was near perfection, and probably one of my favorite trips that we’ve taken since living here.

Our first night started with a trip to Arendsnest.  If you’re not familiar, let me just say I would be a regular at this bar if I lived in Amsterdam.  It is GREAT.  A friend from college (Sarah) had recommended we check it out, and I’m so glad she did.  Not only does the bar have an amazing list of Dutch beers, but they have the largest/best selection of  de Molen in the city.  For those of you unfamiliar, de Molen is Jim’s favorite brewery.  We discovered it a few years ago while buying some beers at my favorite SF Bottleshop – Ales Unlimited.  If you’re drinking in Philly, they’ve also been known to team up with Monks (they even had de Molen on draft!), which I’ve enjoyed there more than once.   Luckily, they even sell it here in Toulouse at our beer cave – La Voie Maltee.

We arrived around 9pm or so (straight from the airport after a pitstop at our hotel).  We weren’t starving, but didn’t want to drink beer on an empty stomach.  If you’re looking for a full meal, Arendsnest is not the bar for you, but if Dutch cheeses and sausages are what you’re looking for to nibble on while you drink, look no further.  We ordered two sausages and a cheese sampler to go with our first beers:  a Jopen Extra Stout and a Gulpener Gerardus Blonde.  Both were pretty tasty.  After we finished our food, the crowd started to thin a bit and two spaces opened at the bar.  As such, we moved (pro tip – this spot seems to be HUGE for happy hour/after work drinks, but really thins out after 10pm, even on a Friday).

If you have a chance to sit at the bar, sit at the bar.  The staff is insanely knowledgable as well as funny.  Probably one of the funniest things we heard while sitting there was a bartender’s saucy response to a patron asking, “Do you have any Belgian beers?”  Bartender’s response:  “No, we only serve Dutch beer.”  Patron:  “I really like Belgian beers.”  Bartender:  “Then go to Belgium.”  We easily said this to each other every other hour all weekend.  Yes, again, I would totally be a regular here.

Once at the bar we noticed the huge de Molen beer list and were in awe of the offerings.  Amongst the list included a “saison-like” beer – Cabreuva & Safraras and Rook & Vuur.  I drank the Cabreuva & Safraras, which tasted a bit like Birch Beer, but in beer form, and I was absolutely in love.  This is now my new, favorite beer.  If you’re not a de Molen drinker, these two finds might not seem that impressive.  But I’ll just say I’ve NEVER seen a saison from them and the Rook & Vuur was some sort of limited edition beer, which is Jim’s favorite (we bought it once & never could find it again).  After we finished those, we ordered the same two again, only to be told that we’d ordered the last two.  I was crushed, but we persevered and ordered two additional de Molen beers we’d never had before.  I’m just glad I got to have my beer once…now I’ll be on a lifetime quest to find and consume it again and again.

We left the bar close to 11pm or so and made our way back through the canals toward our hotel, overhearing what we found to be a disturbing conversation a drug-dealer (we think) was having over the phone, “You want cocaine?  We can get you cocaine, MDMA, people…”  The line that stuck out to us was, “people.”  Did he just say people?  I choose to believe that he did not actually say people and that is some street slang I do not understand.  After that we took what we thought was a shortcut home through a mini red light district.  Yes, we’re in Amsterdam.

The next morning we had tickets at 8:30am at the Anne Frank House.  This was the single thing in Amsterdam I absolutely wanted to do, no matter what.  I’d read Anne Frank:  The Diary of a Young Girl as a child, seen the movie, and seen the play twice.  The museum is top-notch and incredibly well-done.  The audioguides are phenomenal as well as the videos that accompany.  My eyes were full of tears through the entire tour of annex and museum, and I’m not a crier.  It was incredibly emotional.  You see how tiny the spaces were, how quiet they had to be, all mixed in with things like measurements of Margot and Anne etched into a wall.  In sum, this is one of the most moving and powerful places I’ve ever been.  Throughout our trip, Jim and I discussed our favorite things we did, and each time, after each event we both kept saying it was visiting the Anne Frank House.  Don’t miss this.

If you’re planning to go, I recommend booking a ticket in advance (at least 2 weeks to a month before your trip), so you can select your time and not wait in line.  I believe after 2 or 3pm, reservations are no longer possible and it’s just waiting in a long line until your turn, which could take a while.  You can see the house and annex above in the bottom right photograph.

After composing ourselves, we wandered through the De 9 Straatjes shopping district.  If you’re interested in cafes or boutiques, this is the spot for you.  Essentially, it’s nine streets that cross canals that are hugged with cafes, restaurants, and boutiques.  We didn’t buy anything, but the window shopping was pretty fantastic.

From there, we decided to continue walking until we came to the Leidseplein (area in below photo – upper left) and ultimately the Rijksmuseum (remaining photos below).  Amsterdam is surprisingly walkable and flat.  We chose to walk, though it was a LOT of walking (and we took the Tram a few other times).

Jim had been told the Rijksmuseum was superior to the Van Gogh museum, so we just toured the Rijksmuseum, and I have to say it was pretty great.  If you’re a museum person, all the museums are located in a general museum area (which is nice), and I think you could easily hit multiple in one day, or go to one museum each day of your trip to really enjoy them all.

We opted for the Audio tour and hit the highlights, which ended up taking a little under two hours (I’d also like to mention this museum has THE BEST museum map – hands down).  Below are a few photos of some of my favorite works we saw.  The two paintings on the top row (below) are Rembrandts:  Jewish Bride (left) and Night Watch (right).  Historically, I’ve never really appreciated Rembrandt.  They looked dark and dull to me.  However, in person his paintings are anything but dark or dull.  His use of light and building of paint to create texture is unreal.  Unreal.  The bride’s ring sparkles and the gentleman’s sleeve has so much depth and texture.  It was a real treat/surprise for me.

I also highly enjoyed the room with all the Delftware (below, bottom left) as well as the black and white (pen & ink?) battleship pieces.  And, there was a library inside that is (basically) the stuff that my home library dreams are made of.

But one of the coolest things we saw had to be the Dutch doll houses (below).  From the plaque:  “During the late 17th century and early 18th, spectacular dolls’ houses were created in the Netherlands, especially in Amsterdam.  These were not children’s toys, but display pieces, furnished for and by wealthy ladies who lavished enormous amounts of time, money, and attention on them.  These houses present a picture of a well-ordered and prosperous Dutch household.  The focus lies on the world of women and directs attention to life behind the scenes, in attics, cellars, and kitchens.  A regular feature is a lying-in chamber, complete with mother and newborn baby.  All the dolls and objects in these dolls’ houses are made to scale and highly detailed.  As a result, they provide a wealth of information about the furnishing and use of Dutch houses in this period.  In this miniature world, much has survived that has long since vanished from our own.”

What’s even more wild, if you can believe it, is that these houses had real clothes in the dressers and armoires, and some even had running water!  The detail and beauty of these houses was astounding.  They’re the most beautiful cabinets I’ve ever seen.  I had a dollhouse as a kid (which I was supposed to paint and build all the furniture, but mine never got past a few rooms and an exterior coat of paint.  Good thing I never saw this as a kid…(thank your stars, mom & dad).

Following the museum, we wandered over to the Foodhallen for lunch.  This is a pretty cool place that felt like something you’d wander into in Brooklyn (they also had a Filmhallen and huge shopping space).  Essentially, it’s a giant, “hipster-esq” food court featuring Dutch treats as well as cuisine from all over the world.  We started with some local beers from Oedipus Brewery (if you’re into breweries…they’re in Amsterdam):  Panty, a Stout & Vogelen, a Sour Wheat.  We paired both with the absolute tastiest Dutch treats from De Ballen Bar.  Apparently these fried balls (bitterbal) are a Dutch snack, and I think they should be served at every bar in Amsterdam (these apparently started as an appetizer at a Michelin star restaurant in Amsterdam).  Holy crap these things were delicious.  We got five balls each, but I think we could’ve easily eaten 10, each, maybe more.  They told us the flavors of each, but I can’t remember them, just that one tasted like clam chowder, one like spinach risotto, another like a stew or chicken soup, and another like amazing cheese.  So good.  After that we got some tacos at Taqueria Lima (because we can’t eat tacos in France), which were also pretty darn good.  If you’re hungry, check out this place.  You’ll love it.

After lunch, we were pretty tired as we walked back up toward our hotel on the other side of the city.  This is when things started to feel REALLY crazy in Amsterdam.  Imagine Powell Street in San Francisco, then multiply that by 10 and make it EVERY street and you’re walking around in Amsterdam at 3 or 4pm.  I don’t know if I could handle that every day or not.

We wanted to see more of the city, but our feet dictated it was time for something like a canal cruise, where we could enjoy from the comfort of a seat.  Our hotel concierge recommended the Lovers Canal Cruises, which picked up at a number of locations throughout the city.  We opted for one that was somewhat close to our hotel.  It was about 16 euro/person, and I don’t recommend taking this tour.  Maybe it was a fine tour, but it paled in comparison to the tour we took in Copenhagen.  We explored what seemed like the outskirts of Amsterdam and didn’t see any (real) areas of main interest.  But, I will say, we saw lots of tour boats that were in cool places, so it’s possible we picked a bad one.  Tip for everyone else – look into the tours and where they go (or ask) before purchasing.

After our cruise we rested up a bit before dinner, which took us down to Cause Beer Loves Food.  We both ordered burgers, fries, and a number of beers.  Surprisingly, this spot was pretty empty for a Saturday evening, but that meant the service was fantastic.  At this point, we decided Dutch people are incredibly friendly and even a little bit warm. While this bar wasn’t as charming as Arendsnest, it had tasty food and a legitimate tap list.  Jim was recommended stout after stout, while I had numerous saison and sour options.  All were super tasty.  Belgium has a little Dutch beer competition!

After dinner, we opted to walk back to our hotel, passing the Anne Frank House as well as the church from across the street.  My photos above don’t really do the city justice, but I think the photo on the bottom left somewhat captures the charm and beauty of the houses along the canals.  The architecture reminded me a little bit of Philadelphia and a little more of Boston.  Regardless, it felt like we were walking through a movie set.  I have no idea what these homes cost, but I would LOVE to go inside a few.  As we wandered through the streets we just kept saying, “Man Amsterdam is gorgeous.”  And it really is.

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