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January 28, 2015 / oneworld82

Amsterdam, what an Amazing City…!

While Amsterdam is clearly a prime destination for European youth), the city always eluded me as I never was really into that stuff. Hence, when I was in college I could never find a friend willing to go to Amsterdam for something other than getting stoned – not my ideal type of vacation.

So I finally made the decision to visit this European capital – with my dad and his girlfriend. I am happy we came here, as the experience was very enjoyable.

Amsterdam - a Magical city

Amsterdam – a Magical city

I had booked a place for us on airbnb.com – I am starting to like this website a lot. Since I had read a lot about the Jordaan – and about how underrated by tourists it is – I booked us an apartment in that part of town, a barely 7 minutes tram ride from the Central Station. As in all Northern Europe, public transit is extremely efficient in Amsterdam, making going around town a real breeze.

I will not go ahead and bore you with all the details of our trip, but I will try to give you a concise summary and let the pictures speak.

Sightseeing: Amsterdam is certainly culturally very rich. First of all, it has two fantastic museums: the Rijksmuseum is a wonderful repository of Dutch art – from Rembrandt to Karen Appel to everyday-life objects – and the Van Gogh Museum is a fantastic home for some of the Master’s greatest artworks. And then the are churches (Oude and Niew Kerk above all), the Royal Palace, the beautiful train station… but the most striking feature of the city are certainly its canals.

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The waterways that give the city its distinctive character add an unmatched charm to the city – each neighborhood being characterized by them and the houseboats docked in them. Furthermore, they make the city very photogenic, as the perfectly-preserved vuildings along the canals make for excellent photo opportunities from the top of each little bridge.

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But again, the Jordaan is certainly the most distinctive area of town, a gentrified neighborhood bustling with boutiques, cafes, and restaurants where the pace of life seems slower than elsewhere and where the beautiful architecture brings you back in time. Cafes, restaurants, independent boutiques abound in this part of time – as well as bed & breakfast and apartments for rent on AirBnB. There also is a Little Italy of sort between Lindengracht and Westerstraat, with plenty of attractive restaurants and deli stores where to have a delicious cappuccino and a real Italian cornetto (croissant).

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Italian deli...

Italian deli…

...and a perfect croissant!

…and a perfect apricot jam croissant!

As we visited at the end of November, the city started to take on its festive atmosphere as well; throngs of people would stroll and shop in the city-center’s pedestrian alleys, defying cold and rain to enjoy this magic time of the year, from Koningsplein to the Central Station through the shopping street of Kalvinstraat.

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Royal Palace

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From the Royal Palace is a pleasurable 15 minute walk to the famous red light district, one of the most visited parts of town. Just as Pigalle in Paris or Pat Pong in Bangkok, the area is totally safe and teems with cafes, coffeshops, hotels, bars… It’s really a touristic attraction these days more than anything else. Yet, business goes on behind the curtained windows of the area. Girls charge flat fees based on the service provided (I read online), so that if you wanna try you shouldn’t worry too much about getting scammed. At each his/her own. 🙂

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Red light district

Red light district

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Oude Kerk

Oude Kerk

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The area around the museums (and the Concertgebouw, where we attended a Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht and a Beethoven’s Concerto N.1 concert – I have to note that it offers pre-show and interval free drinks to attendees!) is very well-manicured and kept. It lends itself well for photographs; nearby lies Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat – the high-end fashion street of Amsterdam.

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Food: Amsterdam has a very trendy and multi-cultural food scene. From Surinamese to Indian, from Thai to Italian you will find almost any cuisine here – true to the open spirit of the country. but, of course, I was more interested in trying the local food, and I found two places that delivered a true Dutch experience.

The first one was Moeders – a cute little restaurant with pictures of moms hanged everywhere. The second was Hasje Clas, a traditional Dutch restaurant housed in a traditional building with wooden interiors. The common denominator: great, authentic, and not expensive Dutch food.

You might not think much when you think of Dutch food –  but that’s a mistake. Of course, this is a cold country that developed a “poor”, hearty cuisine to keep people through the long winters. So don’t expect too much variety in ingredients. But some dishes are truly exceptional.

First and foremost, Dutch-style pea soup is simply amazing.Thick, lavorful, with chunks of meat sausage inside. It’s just as good as it sounds.

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Fantastic split pea soup at Moeders

Fantastic split pea soup at Moeders

Then, I would say stoemppe and hatchpotch are another must: mashed potatoes mixed with one vegetable (try saurkraut!) and served with a veal meatball, steamed bacon, and sausage. Simply: delicious.

Stompp at Hasje Clas

Stompp at Hasje Clas

Then, quintessentially Dutch is herring – and it’s most popular form, the herring sandwich. The herring is always raw, served in a hotdog bun with pickles and chopped onions. It tastes much better than it sounds. The, anything stew will not disappoint you – these people mastered the art of stewing! At hasje Claes I tries the hare and deer stew; served with pickled red cabbage salad, mash potatoes, and Brussels sprouts was – and I am not even exaggerating – the best stew I have ever had in my life.

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I had also the chance to try some satay – Indonesian style. They were really good!

Satay

Satay

French fries, just like neighboring Belgium – are another thing Dutch perfected – I do not understand how they can taste so good (and I cannot understand why the never taste this good in the US, a country that eats  more fries than anyone else in the World). last but least, desserts: e it Belgian waffles or Dutch pancakes (a hybrid between a pancake and a crepe), these folks know what they are doing – you won’t be disappointed!

Dutch pancake

Dutch pancake

Given the festivities, there were a lot of stalls around the city center selling Christmas treats (and a lot of crepes shops, too). In the picture below: oilballens, that is fried dough served with powder sugar.

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Drinks: Amsterdam has a strong coffee culture (I am not talking about coffeeshops of course!). Little cafes are found everywhere, and they regularly serve excellent cappuccinos and lattes. really, no need to go to Starbucks here! Also, while in Amsterdam you have to try one Brown Cafe or two: these are traditional, old cafes where usually beer and jenever is served and where locals congregate to have a good time. Jenever, by the way, is Dutch gin. It’s pretty darn good, it’s drunk alone and room temperature and it’s served in cute shot glasses. The berriescan clearly be tasted in this delicious spirit. And when it comes to beer, forget about Heiniken: try one of the many local craft beers (or trappist ones), like Texels. You will not be disappointed.

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Beer and jenever - Perfect combo

Beer and jenever – Perfect combo

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People: the nicest ever. Dutch are polite, smiling, bicycle-lover people. They speak perfect English (like, everyone does!) and are overall very friendly to foreigners. When I say they love bicycles, I really mean it. Biking lanes are found everywhere around town, and bicycle seem to enjoy right of way even over pedestrians. The Netherlands is a very healthy, eco-friendly society indeed!

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One more thing I will add is that the city has free wifi spots basically everywhere. rom cafes to museums to restaurants, every estblishment seems to offer free high-speed connection. I was very happy about that!

As you might have understood from my summary, I (and my family for that matter!) really enjoyed Amsterdam. It was cold and days were short, but that did not detract to the apepal of the city. Of course, visit in summer if you can: then you could simply rent a bike and make your way around the city easily (all the city features extensive bike lanes), you could enjoy drinks on outdoor patios, and you could see tuips and trees in full splendor. But nonetheless, we really loved this city and we all look forward to being back soon!

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