There are more bikes than people in Amersterdam. At least this is what was told to me over breakfast by my beautiful waitress. There are also, it seems, many beautiful and tall people in Amsterdam riding those bikes.
I just spent an incredible weekend in Amsterdam with Dragan to celebrate our 1 year wedding anniversary. Whew. Year 1 down. What a year, but I will write on that this week….
This was a gift given to us by our Dutch friends to visit them and see their incredible city. I’m almost nervous to write this post, as I was so enthralled with this place, I can only hope to capture a bit of that here with my words. Where to start….
Our friend Guido picked us up at the airport and drove us to our hotel that he had chosen for us….and what a treat. We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria, set on the grand canal homes of the Herengracht. The hotel is absolutely stunning as as we pulled up, the doormen were in full cape and hat costume that took me back to a time in my mind that I’m sure I’ve never actually experienced. It was…..picturesque. The hotel is actually quite new and perfectly decorated although the buildings date back to the 17th century and have hosted a plethora of businesses….mostly of the banking sort…which fits the high ceilings and grand space.
The service was great, especially coming from France and Switzerland where service doesn’t seem to exist :-), and upon checking in, they even give you a scent tray so you can choose how you want to have your room smell after the turn down service. I adore this attention to detail, and this one was unique, so I was in love with the hotel from the start.
After we got sorted, we were left alone for the night, and walking out, there was, I kid you not, a horse in carriage at the entrance of the hotel, and the driver looked to be from the 1800’s and even had his dog sitting next to him as they prepared to cart people around the city.
I was jumping up and down, I was so happy to be in a place such as this. So……off we go to explore and eat.
This was where I had my first sense of the city. To think how to describe it, I will say, it is a city, but it feels like a village. It feels like DisneyWorld. It feels like you are walking through Never Never Land…..although you smell pot so often that perhaps it’s a pot filled NeverNeverLand. It’s magical and romantic. Everyone is on bikes. I mean everyone….parents…..girls dressed up for a night on the town…..couples…..businessmen riding home from work…IT IS fantastical b/c it feels so much like a tiny village where everyone knows eachother. You get the sense that people are happy here and that life is simple. They pay attention to beauty as you can sense from the way they have laid out their city and their love of architecture, but there are flowers and bikes and canals and little houses and, I find I can’t describe it. It feels like Neverland and it feels free. Perhaps that’s why it has a reputation being a city of sin. I find it fitting that it is the Netherlands BECAUSE I felt I was in NeverNetherLand. ha! See what I did there? Sometimes cities feel the same, even when you know their uniqueness, but this town is truly special…….
Anyway, our first we ate at Momo, which you can check out here. http://www.momo-amsterdam.com
It was a fashionable Japanese fusion place with pretty people and prettier drinks and was a nice walk to and from our hotel. The food was great too and if you find yourself here, try it out. Walking to and fro ,I felt I was constantly screeching from excitement over the beauty of everything.”Dragan…..look at that buuuuiiiiillllddding……OMGoodness!!!” This continued each day. The city at night continues much as it does during the day, a constant but casual pace and the sort of quaintness I only experience in old cities.
I will skip forward. The next morning I put on some lipstick and my new Favorite hat and we headed out and it was slightly drizzling but that just felt perfect. We are bad tourists, me especially, in the sense that I just like to walk around, get coffee…..basically just wander. It’s hard for me to follow an itinerary. So we set out towards the shopping area, as I ever so inconveniently (perhaps conveniently???) forgot to pack proper fall clothing and needed some boots. 🙂
Here is where I really noticed the bikes. The Dutch are a people who love bikes and they don’t just have regular ones. There are bikes with wagons at the front to put all your goodies after shopping, there are lots of bikes with baskets perfect for dogs or flowers, there are bikes with little seats on the back for a friend, there are tandem bikes, and my personal favorite….there are bikes that have baby seats perched on the front, where they actually put a baby and ride around. What, you say???? YES. It’s a bike with a baby seat and where the babies don’t wear helmets b/c they trust the system. It made me incredibly nervous. lol.
So we walked and the streets were, again, just magical. We found a cute corner full of pubs and coffee shops (the kind with actual coffee, not pot) and bookstores. Wonderful old bookstores! We even found an American Bookstore! Of course! I want to note here that most of you probabably know, but for those who don’t, a coffee shop in Amsterdam is a place where you can legally smoke pot. I’ve never really been into the idea of pot and don’t plan to start now, but it’s there and everywhere. Although our friends say it is mostly the tourists going crazy over this.
It then started pouring so we ran until we could find cover at a cute little pub where we ordered up 2 beers and some frites. OF COURSE you need to do Frites in Holland. They are amazing and we had some each day. Served up with a side of mayonnaise and dripping with delicious saltiness, you will be glad you are doing so much walking and/or biking.
Later that evening, we met up with our Friends, Guido and his wife Maureen and their son Nick, as they had arranged a 2 hour boat ride through the city. Please do this if you come. You are able to really see the city in a way, obviously not possible unless on a boat. I especially enjoyed getting a close look at the houseboats, which are unique to the city and architecturally interesting, although I’m not sure I could deal with the low ceilings! I was told you are to wave when making eye contact with people in their houses of boats, which inevitably you do! The Dutch don’t seem to have a problem with the casual onlooker as the windows to the homes I saw, on water or land, were mostly open to view, to my delight!
Our driver was jolly and funny and I had the feeling he would be a great film star. So many of the people I met there were so nice looking, I felt they could be movie stars. Maybe it’s the height…I’m not sure. So, we headed out and he stopped at a restaurant where we all ordered steaks and wine and we boated around the city. It was cool, but the weather had cleared and we had a blast. Guido played some Dutch music as well and Dragan and I really enjoyed being serenaded by our 3 friends and the captain.
What a night and I’m grateful for that experience. Later, when Dragan and I were discussing the evening, he made a good point. It’s humbling to be around different cultures, to sit on a boat with good folks from completely different walks of life who are all attempting to speak the same language, and to laugh and enjoy the moment.
It’s true. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed b/c I’m in places and situations that are so different for me, but when you are surrounded by such welcoming and kind people, it can almost make you cry…..to see how beautiful life can be when you open your arms to humanity and differences. It’s a challenging and wonderful thing that sometimes doesn’t seem as wonderful until you remember it.
Dr Seuss said, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory” and maybe that’s what I’m trying to say.
I will carry on……..Sunday was our last day, and we were blessed by weather. Perfect sunny weather that requires a light sweater.
We stumbled upon the Cromhouthuizen museum that was an old mansion where we moseyed through, took some pictures, sat for a bit and felt nostalgic. Walking through the Cromhouthuizen takes you through the various rooms of this former mansion gives you an idea of the extravagant lifestyle enjoyed by one of Amsterdam’s wealthy Golden Age families. In the Large Salon (Grote Zaal) you’ll see a collection of biblical and religious themed works, and in the Dining Room (Eetkamer) you’ll see the portrait gallery (this one filled with paintings of the Backer family). We took some pics in both to show!
Next we did some more shopping and met up with Guido and Nick again for a coffee. My favorite area to shop, was the 9 little streets known as De 9 Straatjes…..and is named after the nine side streets connecting the main canals. Together they constitute a charming neighbourhood full of unique shops, wonderful places to have lunch, grab a coffee or wine, and just relax.
We found a custom jean shop with an in house take away coffee counter, with GREAT coffee and jeans that only cost about 650 Euros. Why not buy 4 pairs….but with the price tag comes a lifetime guarantee I guess where you can bring in your ripped jeans and they fix them. This is not for me, although I appreciate the artisan effort.
My favorite moment of our last full day, was walking back to our hotel. We found a Starbucks and I got a Pumpkin Spice and Dragan did not (I don’t think the French appreciate flavored coffee as we do) and while looking for a bench along the canal to sit and cuddle, we decided to just hop into an empty boat that was tied up. Here we sat for 30 min while drinking our coffee and I thought how special it was to be in a place where noone seemed to mind that we sat in someone else’s boat along the canal. I can’t imagine that going over too well in NYC.
Can you imagine anything more lovely?
I would like to mention where we had our anniversary dinner that night as well for anyone who is going to be visiting. We went to a romantic little Italian restaurant called Incanto that you can check out here. http://www.restaurant-incanto.nl
The only dangerous thing about this place is that the restaurant is up a flight of steep stairs and the restroom up two more….so after my glass of Prosecco and splitting a bottle of red wine, I was wishing I hadn’t worn heels. This is very European though as they lack the space we take for granted in the US. It was drizzling when we moseyed back, which felt right. It felt cleansing. And, on the walk back to the hotel, we passed a place where there were several men dressed up in sparkly blazers dancing and Dragan who has a panache for the dramatic (and those who know him know he buys crazy outfits and hats to wear to be silly) says loudly and to the bouncer, “Now that’s a place I could really get into if she wasn’t with me!”. It was only after walking a few more steps that he noticed it was a gay bar. Oh Dragan. I almost died laughing.
Where to finish and I apologize for the length. I wanted to capture the ambiance of the city and tell our experiences b/c I’ve never felt anything like it. No, we did not go to the Red Light District or smoke pot and I find it sad this is what this incredible place has a reputation for, as it’s the most unique and charming place to visit. Full of flowers, bikes, cheese and jolly people, it also has a moroseness to it…..a feeling of drizzle…..it feels like a place to find yourself. Thank you for allowing me to give a window into my thoughts and feelings and I hope that in turn gave you a window into Amsterdam. I always appreciate when you all send me message telling your stories, and I would love to hear any you have of Holland as well. I tip my head off to this city!