Alrighty, so this has been a LONG time in coming. We’re over a MONTH out from the trip and all I’ve posted is a teaser picture. LAME! Time to rectify this. Seriously, I need to just get this post written and I don’t know why writing about this trip has felt SO much like pulling teeth. Especially since we’re heading to PRAGUE TOMORROW >.<
(no really, we get on a bus at the crack of dawn!)
Our trip to Amsterdam wasn’t exactly planned out — yes be bought a guidebook, and yes we planned it, but really we just WENT for it. Also, unlike Rome which we planned the date out for we booked Amsterdam when we did because of an awesome deal I found on EasyJet for tickets — one leg of our trip was ONLY 29-euros per person. !!! We also found a pretty good deal on our hostel.
We started off our trip by leaving Berlin on a Thursday evening, arrived in Amsterdam about 80 minutes later putting us at our hotel just before 10pm. I thankfully chose a place with 24-hour reception, and, unlike Rome, we didn’t have any problems with finding ourselves to be homeless. When we arrived at Amsterdam’s Central Station (which is a gorgeous building!) and headed towards our hostel it started to rain. As expected we began the upwards swim through the tourist hordes that are in every European city from May 1st on. We arrived at the hostel, check in was no problem then we went up to our room.
Before I go on, a few things about the hostel we stayed in. Where we stayed was very basic. No private bath, and it was about the size of a walk-in closet. There were a few good things and a bunch of bad things about it. First the Pros: 1) the price per night for two people was good, 2) the location was excellent, including being just a couple doors down from a grocery store. Now the Cons: 1) The Stairs, though this seemed to be a Amsterdam thing in general, were SO steep! It felt like we were practically climbing a ladder going up and we were just maintaining control over a fall on the way down. 2) The bed was not comfortable. 3) Mold. Yes mold. There wasn’t any in our room (thank God), but the shower was molded — this I’m getting from JP as I never actually took a shower while we were in Amsterdam. After he reported back that there was a growth I opted to wash my hair in the sink in our room and use wet wipes, which he eventually resorted to as well. (the reason being that we’re both VERY allergic!) 4) Additionally, we were told that there was a shower on every level — this did not end up being the case. The “shower” on our floor was “out of order”, which JP didn’t find out until he was ready to turn the water on only to discover 4) The breakfast wasn’t worth staying to us. Sliced bread, jam, butter, a slice of cheese and a very (meaning BARELY cooked) soft boiled egg — we opted to head to other bakeries the remainder of our trip. 5) While not the direct fault of the hostel, some of the other guests were, how shall we say, interesting? We swear the guys in the room next to the shower were Eastern European skinheads. Oiy oh boy.
SO, if you’re looking for someplace in an excellent location and feel like you can deal with the ick factor, go for it. Though, JP and I strongly recommend that you stay elsewhere…
Aside from checking in our first night we decided to walk around and take in our surroundings. It was very rainy and being the little kid that I am I was insanely amused by knocking the rain off of my umbrella and giggling like a lunatic. JP also discovered on out evening walk that he has the same reaction to marijuana smoke as I do as we passed the plethora of coffee shops — we both get a painful deep stomachache — so needless to say we did not partake of the coffee shop wares. Also, did you know that “magic” mushrooms were legal in Amsterdam? I had NO idea until we arrived and saw them advertised everywhere. The more you know, right? Also, it goes without saying that we didn’t partake in those either.
The thing we did partake in the first night, and quite often after, was FEBO!! JP was a little skeptical when I pulled him into the location near the hostel, but then he discovered the goodness that was the cheese filled fried pocket things. Oh those cheese things. Yes, we tried some of the other offerings, but those were the BEST item in our opinion. I’m pretty sure that if we ever go back those will be ALL we eat… well, that and stroopwafels. 😉 Actually, before we left I googled Amsterdam street food and JP swears that my eyeballs were popping out of my head. I only tried a fraction of what I found online. Mark my words, someday I will return and eat my weight in Dutch Pancakes!
Our touristy stuff began with walking to the southern end of Central Amsterdam to go to the Heineken Experience. On our way we happened upon the Old Amsterdam cheese company store. Oh my goodness. Old Amsterdam is probably one of my top favorite cheeses in the world, if not my absolute favorite cheese! And I may or may not have squeed like a little girl when we found it and then charged in and bought some cheese… Chhhheeeeessssseeeeeeeee.
JP was really looking forward to The Experience, and we feel that it was totally worth it. We got to find out about the history of the company, why the beer has a wonderfully consistent taste around the world, saw lots of awesome vintage ads, and of course drank beer! I even became a certified Heineken pourer. I am totally framing and putting the certificate up in our kitchen or somewhere else when we get back to Bloomington. Also, I am sort of kind of tempted to put it on my resume. The guy who certified me said that I could TOTALLY use him as a reference 😉
After The Experience we hopped onto the Heineken boat and rode to the brand store. Silly? sure. But also worth it? Totally! The ride was about an hour and we had a narrated tour. The incentive to go on the boat was a free gift at the store — which turned out to be a mini tasting glass, and we picked up a vintagey Heineken tin sign.
After the brand store we headed towards Rembrandt square and bought a HUGE cone of fries for lunch. Eh, we had salad for dinner so the grease consumption was evened out. By the time we finished eating the crowds were wearing on us, and we decided that since there was a plethora of bars and other nightlife on our street that the best idea was to head back to our room and rest before the noise started for the evening, and maybe try to hit up the New Church on the way. En route, we stumbled upon a really really pretty small Catholic church that we would have missed if we had blinked. We glanced over and saw a really pretty mosaic, and upon closer inspection it revealed the church. The door was even manned by a priest sporting a cassock. We stayed long enough to pray a decade of the rosary, snap a few pictures and light a prayer candle. (side note: JP and I try to light at least one candle in a church on every trip — we offer the prayers up for continuing strength for our marriage and have been doing this since we were in Germany last time. I think there has to be something to it since we’re nearly at five years and still going strong!)
After stopping in the little Catholic church we were both in much better moods, and upon walking out we had a little bit of sunshine for the rest of our walk. Definitely lifted the ol’ spirits. We made it to the New Church only to find out that there was (what we considered anywho) a pretty hefty entry fee to this church-turned-museum. The exhibit they had was something modern-y that didn’t appeal to us so JP snagged some pictures of what we could see. Tip: IN the museum shop there is a small balcony area you can go up into and look out into the New Church. There are also some little info kiosk things which was nice. Oh, and there was a hobo sleeping up there! I can’t blame him though. It wasn’t terribly noisy and due to the wetness from the crazy weather that weekend it was nice and dry. Also, he didn’t smell to high heaven like booze.
We decided to hit up the main red light district on out way back to the hostel — not because we wanted to do red lighty things, but because the secret church, Our Lord of the Attic, is located in that area. We walked up and down both sides of the street and couldn’t find it. What the heck?! We did however see just how seriously they take the no pictures of the window workers thing. A random guy (he looked Italian to me) took a picture across the street of some ladies, and one off the ladies flipped him off and called the bouncer up to her room and he took off after the guy. We didn’t stick around to see what happened, but I can only imagine that it included the guy having to delete the image files. We ended up walking around the Old Church and stumbling upon a really good looking chocolate shop. We picked up a box of little chocolate bars with pulverized coffee beans (they were SO good), and while I was very tempted by the trays of truffles I ended up being glad I didn’t opt for those. There were two ladies who would TOUCH the type of chocolate they wanted and then demand the girl put a different one in their box. They were the height of rude to her I went out of my way to be nice though. En rout back to the hotel JP and I were walking down a side street and out of no where he was surprised by a lady’s large boobies being pressed to her window with what I assume was a come hither look. Sorry honey, he’s taken! He was surprised to say the least, and very embarrassed. BTW, for those who may not know, the working girl windows are not just located in the main red light district. Like I said, the surprise boobies were located off a side street adjacent to the Old Church, which itself if next to the main district, but we found windows in other parts of the city as well.
We also had the unfortunate luck of running into a group of asshat middle aged British men who had brought a joint out of a coffee shop (which is illegal!) and were blowing their smoke all over. I was just able to deal with holding my breath as we passed the shops (see painful stomach ache described above), so running into these dumbasses did NOT put me in a better mood. Guh. How uncharitable is it of me that I hope that they ran into an undercover cop at some point?
We stopped by the grocery store down from our apartment and picked up some awesome salads for dinner, stroopwafels, and some beverages, then headed back to get some rest in anticipation of a noisy evening ahead of us. We ate, then both laid down to read and with the intention of taking a “short nap”, only to find ourselves waking up at 11:30pm! Apparently we needed the sleep. And we were pleasantly surprised that despite it being a Friday night our street wasn’t at all noisy!! Woot!
Saturday morning we woke early and decided to skip the breakfast in favor of finding a bakery or cafe with strong coffee on our way to the Rijksmuseum. And we totally found it. The girl at the counter seemed a little miffed when I asked for a new lid as mine had split right through the drinking opening part (does that hole actually have a proper name?), but aside from that it was exactly what we needed for our very humid walk to the southern part of town again. JP and I arrived at the museum about 15 minutes after the doors opened and it was already busy! Instead of rushing up with the crowds to see the Rembrandt area, we opted to head to the basement to check out the Medieval and Renaissance art first. There were some gorgeous pieces, but the way that some of the other visitors acted was not as gorgeous. Several times when JP and I were trying to read a description or just look at the art someone pushed right in front of us. Once it was when, I kid you not, we were standing less than three feet away from something, another instance was in front of a particularly stunning Marian piece and the SAME woman walking in the way multiple times when other guests (us included) were respectfully sitting or standing around the viewing bench. Then she seemed offended when we and other people said “excuse me”. Oiy. There were of course other nice patrons who were aware of their surroundings, but you know what they say, one rotten apple spoils the bunch.
After the basement we decided to gird our loins and head upstairs to see some of the most famous Rembrandt and Rembrandt-era paintings in the world, including the Night Watch, the Milkmaid, and the Jewish Bride. Holy crap, if I though people were crazy in the museum before, they were even crazier here. It literally felt like we were salmon trying to swim upstream to see the paintings, and we were only able to see maybe a third of the collection due to the craziness that was going on. We snapped a few shots, and tried to head over to see the Delft Pottery collection, but halfway I started to have a minor crowd-induced panic attack and we decided to cut our losses for the day and head out. We did stop by the museum shop and were able to score a couple of over-sized postcards (for my planned art “splash” wall) and a book that covered every part of the museum with pictures. So while we didn’t get to see as much as we wanted, we’ll get to at lease see pictures and read about everything from the comfort of our home.
We had planned on going to the Van Gogh museum after the Rijks, but after the crowds of the latter I decided that I would need to wait to see some of my favorite paintings on another trip. I wasn’t sure that I could handle another group of rude and rowdy tourists like we had just encountered, and I really didn’t want to stand in line. By the time we left the Rijksmuseum the line just to get IN to buy a ticket was a 3-hour wait. Thank God we opted to come close to opening time! Someday I will gaze upon the Potato Eaters!
After calming down from the museum, we opted to head back to a “modern dutch” restaurant for our “fancy” meal out, followed by stopping in a cheese shop. We got there just after they opened for lunch. JP and I got some much needed water and alcohol in us (he had a Dutch beer other than Heineken and I had a glass of red wine). He ordered what turned out to be a MASSIVE club-type sandwich (at least I think that’s what it was) and I got a bowl of pea soup and a veal croquet sandwich. All very yummy. As mentioned we stopped in a cheese shop to sample their wares and ended up buying some smoked goat cheese. Oh yum! After that I also made it a point to stop in other shops for samples 😉
We dropped our cheese off back at the room, and headed over to the Cathedral of St. Nicholas to look around. It is an absolutely beautiful church! After spending about 45 minutes looking at the art and taking pictures we asked a very nice man working at the postcard counter if he could direct us to the secret church. He was MORE than happy to do so, and it turns out we were just idiots and completely missed the sign the previous day. We totally felt silly. On the way out of St. Nicholas we noted a sign saying that there would be evening vespers and decided that it would be nice to attend. After we found what was a very obvious entrance to the second church, we went in, toured Our Lord of the Attic (which was de-sanctified after St. Nick’s was built and it was legal to be a practicing Catholic again), which is another site that I HIGHLY recommend seeing. It is amazing to think that a couple hundred people came to worship in the space for a couple hundred years. It made me tingly in a good way.
One of the things that we’ve started collecting is the Starbucks city mugs so we headed back to the hostel to ask where the closest one would be (figured it was safest bet!) and get a little cleaned up before vespers. Turns out (get ready for a huge duh moment) there was a Starbucks in the main train station. And I swear it had to be the PRETTIEST Starbucks I’ve been in. They kept all the original architectural elements (including the painted rafters!) and simply added seating and a coffee counter. It was SO pretty. As both of us were cold we grabbed some coffee and opted to people watch before heading over to St. Nicholas.
On the way I ended up getting my shoulder taken out by another tourist. Yes, the streets were busy but there was plenty of space for her to do the sideways lean away so we didn’t whack into eachother. But nope, she LEANED into me taking out my left shoulder and hit me so hard I had to step out of the flow of people and try to pull myself together and not burst into tears. Oiy. JP asked me who she was so he could intervene, but by the time I turned she had disappeared.
We got to St. Nicholas only to discover that we had read the sign wrong and that vespers was only Monday through Friday. Between the hurt shoulder, the tourist hordes, the cold and the rain we were both feeling just done, but decided to try to see another church around the corner (can you sense a trend in what we try to see when we reach a new city?), but it was ALSO closed. Feeling discouraged we decided to try to find someplace to sit down and have a beer to calm down. We literally turned around and found a bar called “Het Elfde Gebod” or “The Eleventh Commandment” which had a good selection of Trappist Beer.
We walked in and were instantly charmed by the interior — it was dark and decorated in a Catholic-kitsch way and very homey feeling – and homey in the way that made it feel like the clouds had opened up and angels started to sing. If we had a bar like this in Bloomington you can bet your but that we would be there several times a week just for the atmosphere. It goes without saying that it was exactly what we needed. The beer was wonderful, the bartender amazing (the guy seriously spoke at least FIVE languages flawlessly) and to top it off after we had finished our beer (we ended up splitting four) we walked outside and the clouds had literally parted and it was sunny. It felt like God wanted us to stop in and have a few beers. Oh the mood lift was amazing, and made me forget the residual pain I had from the encounter with that other tourist later. We wandered (on the tipsy side) until we found a FEBO for some of those wonderful cheese pockets to absorb the alcohol.
After the FEBO location we were at ran out of cheese things (we weren’t the only tipsy people in there munching on them) we decided to go ahead and call it a day, head back to grab something for dinner at the grocery store and pack.
Sunday morning we woke up, JP opted to skip the icky shower and join me with the wet wipes and washing his hair in the sink, we checked out and hit up a bakery down the street for breakfast before heading to St. Nicholas for a truly beautiful Mass and then onto the airport.
Aside from a little bump with the EasyJet gate staff (our flat Heineken sign was going to be counted as “extra baggage”, *eye roll*) our trip home was uneventful.
As I’m sure you’ve surmised my feelings during our trip were on the bi-polar side, but I am happy that we went, and I would love the opportunity to go back again. I’ve been wanting to see that one Van Gogh painting since high school. And while we encountered a bunch of crappy tourists all of the Dutch people we encountered and met were simply the NICEST people ever! I seriously want to know what their secret is. And while the hostel lacked some things, our hosts were among those nice people. The guy who directed us to Starbucks was rocking some seriously awesome Robert Plant curls. (also he wasn’t at all judgey when we asked about the evil American coffee corporation!)
Also it seemed like where ever we were they were all able to speak at least 4 languages fluently. (if I have any Dutch readers I want to be friends!!!!) I also love love love how the Dutch language sounds, and once I get a slightly better handle on my German and get back into French, Dutch is on my list of languages I want to learn to speak (functionally) in.
So would I recommend Amsterdam? Yes, BUT cautiously with children. Just be sure to look things up and know where the windows are more adult areas are. Do I have mixed feelings about our trip? Yes, but I will be the first to admit that it was mainly due to the wacky weather and the rude tourist hordes. Heck, I’ve already asked JP (along with Rome) if there might be SOME reason he needs to spend a couple months in The Netherlands. In addition to filling in the holes in Amsterdam I also want to visit more of the country itself. Heck, if for nothing else to appease the inner-fat-kid 😉
So this very long overdue post is nearly at 4000 words! Holy cow. If you’ve gotten this far you totally deserve a virtual stoopwafel!! Stay tuned Saturday for the picture post (because let’s be honest, this was a mammoth post as it stands now!) and exciting things coming next week!