It took four days for Amsterdam to really work it's way into my system. When we were originally plotting our tour through Europe, The Venice Of The North was one of the places I was most excited about, but every time we tried to enjoy one of the hallmarks of Amsterdam, it left us wanting. Ready for some bullet points to elucidate that point? GET HYPE BECAUSE HERE THEY COME.
- When we arrived from Berlin on the overnight train to Amsterdam Central Station and needed to catch a connection to Lisse, where we were staying for the night so as to be closer to the Keukenhof in the morning, there had been a train derailment, delaying all trains. Our platform got switched multiple times and we ended up running across the train station three times before finally packing our way onto a train. Then once we finally caught our connection to Lisse, it cost us SIXTEEN Euros on the bus. Expensive public transportation is quickly becoming my pet peeve.
- The Generator Hostel Amsterdam (where we stayed for four nights) didn't allow outside food or alcohol. Pardon my Dutch, but Go Fuck Yourself, Generator Hostel. You're a hostel not a four star hotel. We drank beers AND ate muffins in our room. Suck it.
- We took a Sandeman's Free Walking Tour (If you've traveled in Europe in the past five years, I'm sure you've seen the flyers for these, basically they sell you other tours or fast pass tickets to museums during this "free" tour and then the tourguide asks for tips at the end. They're pretty much in every large city) It's a fine way to see the highlights of a city, but they are incredibly dependent on whether or not your guide is interesting. And ours was not. Sorry, Morgan. Your bad jokes reminded me of my ex-girlfriend. Free tour wasn't worth the price tag.
- We rented some bikes, then immediately returned them. Allow me to explain. I don't really know how to ride a bike. They say you never forget, but when you didn't learn until last year like I did (Yes, that's right. Make fun in the comments if you want, but I'm the one on a yearlong trip around the world and you're reading about it on the free computer at the library like Kimmy Schmidt) you may not forget, but you aren't going to be super comfortable with it when you're riding a bike made of solid steel that weighs one hundred and fifty pounds (all facts approximate) and there are eight hundred bikes whizzing by at every corner. We rode bikes in Berlin, and it was good not great, a quick way to get around, but I wasn't super comfortable, and once we tried riding our rented beasts down the cobblestone streets and I almost fell immediately, it was right back to the rental store. Not Amsterdam's fault, and most people absolutely love riding bikes in Amsterdam, but a home run ball that goes six inches foul still counts as a strike.
- The city center is incredibly dirty. The streets are just littered with *ahem* litter and while we thought it was only after the long Amsterdam nights or weekends, it seemed like there was a constant pile of Amstel cans or Hamburger wrappers on the streets and sidewalks at all times of day. Come on, Amsterdam.
- We tried to take a canal cruise on an absolutely gorgeous sunny day, and they stuck us on a boat with a glass top! We had to stand on our tiptoes in the middle of the boat just to get some fresh air and some sweet Gramworthy pics! When we tried to demand they put us on another boat, we were rebuffed. Bad job Lovers Cruises and by extension Amsterdam.
- We were told by multiple people that we trusted to try Indonesian food, as The Netherlands and Indonesia have had an open border for years, and it's extremely authentic and delicious. We were told specifically to order the Rice Table (Rijstaffel), which is a gaggle of delicious treats chosen by the chef, and you will leave the restaurant stuffed and questioning exactly what you just ate. We did exactly this, ordering the Rijstaffel at Aneka Rasa, and HOLD UP WAIT I ALMOST FORGOT. When we first sat down, we tried to order tap water, to which our waitress replied "I can only bring you tap water if you order something else." Stupid but whatever, we were going to order beers anyway. So we order beers and she brings us the tap waters and says "These are the only ones I'm bringing you." BRO. We are ordering a 70 Euro meal. We are not trying to "take you" for your tap water. Stop being an asshole. OK BACK TO THE TERRIBLE RICE TABLE. We love spicy food, especially of the Asian variety, the more unknown the better. Multiple times we have guessed at what we thought we might like on menus without knowing exactly what is going to come out of the kitchen. So we thought this would be right up our alley. NOPE. Bland and room temperature. Extremely disappointing. When the best dish served out of twelve is tofu satay, you're in trouble.
So. You're probably thinking I hated Amsterdam. I really didn't, I just hold grudges over silly things like a bad Indonesian meal. Let me tell you the things that were awesome about Amsterdam, also in bullet points:
- Renee Loved It. I'm not sure if it is her Dutch heritage, the canals, the bike riding, or simply Amsterdam's ecofriendly attitude, but Renee was in absolute heaven here. She couldn't stop raving about the views from our coffee shop, or the random pieces of street art we passed. Even when things were going wrong (see the littany of bullet points above), she had a huge smile on her face our entire visit, even when we were trudging from platform to platform at Amsterdam Central. She's a real peach, and when mama's happy, everyone's happy.
- Keukenhof, also known as The Garden Of Europe, was one of the most beautiful collections of flowers we have ever seen, and we're no rookies in the looking at flowers game. What I originally thought would be just a long stroll through unending tulip fields (that's available too if you're interested) turned out to be almost 80 acres of brilliantly manicured gardens in perfect bloom. The Keukenhof is only available mid-March through mid-May, and while you're in Amsterdam, you can't miss signs for it. The garden is actually located in Lisse, which was about 45 minutes by public transport from City Center. Most places will sell you a combination bus/entrance ticket for about 25 Euros, which is absolutely worth it (see above, we paid almost 10 Euros to get to Lisse, and the bus stop is about a 15-20 minute walk from the actual fields. Be sure to pay attention as you approach Lisse, as the tulip fields start early, and are absolutely beautiful. If you want to see a ton of pictures of random flowers that I won't take up your bandwidth with (that's a weird turn of phrase if you say it out loud) here, check out our Facebook Photos Page. Literally hours of picture looking fun awaits you. If you are visiting Amsterdam in the early Spring, you would be a real "Keuk" to not make a special trip to Lisse to see some tulips. SPECIAL NOTE FOR KEUKENHOF ORGANIZERS: Yes, you have my permission to use that quote in all of your brochures. You're welcome.
- Another half day trip we took was to Zaanse Schans, a small village about 30 minutes outside of Amsterdam. Unlike Keukenhof, there is a train that goes from Amsterdam Central to Koog-Zaandijk direct and only takes 17 minutes. From there it's about a 15 minute walk to Zaanse Schans, or you can do what we did, which is rent bikes from the friendly neighborhood bike renter immediately outside the train station. Two hours is all you'll need to make your way through the small village of windmills (Honestly, this is really a tourist trap, but if you're a local Amsterdam-er reading this HI KATHRYN you probably can just ignore this advice) and around a loop of about five kilometers, Then you'll need to debike and head into the cheese museum, where they have at least 50 different cheeses for you to taste, and if you time it right, you can slip out the door without buying anything. WIN.
- FOOD - One of the things you'll notice the more you read Getting In The Map is that we love food. And drinking, but that's more of a habit than a hobby. And Amsterdam has some great, if not especially healthy, offerings. Actually, like most destinations, the most famous and delicious foods in Amsterdam are terrible for you, and it's not as if there's anything in Amsterdam to do which will make you super snacky. Luckily, you've got all that bike riding to work off the calories. Yes, they have the vending machines where you can buy fried food (Our personal favorite was Bitterballen, which we described as a deep fried beef pot pie. Yes, it's as good as it sounds.) or cheeseburgers at all hours of the night, but they're not the stars of the show.
- Yes, Gevulde Koeken are mindblowing I'll let our Australian friends Terri and Mat tell you about Stroopwafels, the best cookie you've ever had in your entire life. But the real hero in Amsterdam is Stamppot, which is a traditional Dutch dish involving mashed potatoes mixed with a vegetable of your choice as if your inner five year old is back in the kitchen swirling his Sunday Dinner plate topped with either a meatball, piece of bacon, or a homemade sausage. SOMETIMES ALL THREE. Oh, did I mention it's topped with gravy? My mouth is literally watering just typing about it. Every single time we ate stamppot we were asleep within the hour; it's definitely a winter dish, but who are we fooling? If you're there any time of year, you're going to be sad you didn't have stamppot. We had a particularly good version at Moeder's, a fun place serving traditional Dutch fare. Make sure you make a reservation, we went at 9:30 on a Tuesday and it was PACKED.
- Speaking of food, there's an Amsterdam Cheese Museum in the heart of City Center with hundreds of free samples and is crowded enough where you can slip out without buying something if you're on a backpacker's budget after having eaten half a pound of cheese. Let's ask Renee if she liked the Amsterdam Cheese Museum:
- During one afternoon, we took the free ferry from behind Amsterdam Central which goes to Amsterdam No'ord NDSM, which was described to us as "Amsterdam's hipster area". While I might argue that the entirety of Amsterdam is Amsterdam's hipster area, I can not argue that NDSM is pretty awesome. It is a neighborhood comprised of storage home houses, repurposed materials, and coffee shops/bars directly on the water. While it started raining fairly soon after we arrived and we had to head back fairly quickly, one of the places I wish we had explored more was Amsterdam No'ord.
- The National Opera & Ballet puts on free concerts every Tuesday at 12:30, and we were lucky enough to catch an absolutely breathtaking Schubert concerto that probably would have set us back Buco Dolorays any other time at any other place. Amsterdam definitely has options for the budget traveler, although overall, we found it to be a fairly expensive European city, especially after buying beers for 29 cents in Berlin.
- Remember how I said that we liked to drink while traveling? Well, if you can't remember, then maybe YOU like to drink while you read blogs about traveling. Either way, we do like to have some drinks while we're traveling, and much like the eating portion, we like to check out the "signature" drink of that area. That means in Belgium, we're drinking a whole lot of delicious beer. In France, there's a ton of wine being passed around at every meal. And in Amsterdam, that means you're drinking Jenever, the traditional Dutch juniper liquor from which gin evolved in the 1600s. Most folks will drink it straight or in a cocktail, I found it extremely enjoyable to chase each sip with a bit of Bitter Lemon soda. YUM.
- At the Rijksmuseum, there is a very popular painting by Johannes Cornelisz (Fun fact: The plaque underneath it says "Why is this painting so popular? No one knows.". It caught my eye and I loved it, and if you want to buy me a present, frame it and send it. Thanks. Other than that though, we were fairly disappointed with both the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum. Certainly interesting, but VERY crowded and 12 Euros each. Do one or the other unless you're a real art lover. I guess this bullet point should have gone in the top section, but THAT PORTRAIT THO:
- Coffee Shops/Red Light District - Not that kind of blog, you guys. Check out GettingInTheMapAfterDark.com for a full breakdown.
Did I love Amsterdam? Not especially. Did I hate Amsterdam? Definitely not. I certainly enjoyed our time in this beautiful old-world place, and would absolutely recommend it to travelers, but if you're only going to hit one European city, Amsterdam wouldn't be at the top of my list. I realize this is not going to be a popular opinion, but YOLO. Sorry 18 Year Old Josh.