Amsterdam: Bicycle Paradise

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Amsterdam is just the coolest. I was a little worried that my expectations were so high it would be impossible to meet them, but the city’s spunky personality, gorgeous architecture and endless stream of bicyclists left me with quite the crush.

My husband and I flew in early Saturday afternoon and checked into our hotel inside a canal house in Leidseplein. We had a picturesque view of the canal with the Rijksmuseum in the distance from our fourth-floor room, at the top of an incredibly steep, winding staircase leading down to the street. Starving from skipping lunch, we headed to a popular stand that sells cones of french fries topped with all different kinds of sauces. I went for the classic fries and mayo, while my husband opted for a curry sauce. Both were tasty, but we agreed the mayo was the winner.

Afterward, we wandered through Vondelpark (sort of like the Central Park of Amsterdam) before heading to dinner at a trendy Indonesian restaurant, Blauw. We decided to split a vegetarian rice table and, oh my goodness, it was DELICIOUS. I had read reviews online saying that, despite what the waiters say, one rice table is more than enough for two people to share, and sure enough our waiter tried to convince us to order two. We stuck to our guns and it was the perfect amount of food. The dishes were served in more than a dozen little bowls, and our favorites included tofu in a rich peanut sauce and a sweet, fried banana. After dinner we took a canal cruise that was part of the museum pass we bought for the weekend. It was cool to see the city from the water, but the cruise itself was not our favorite, partially because the audio seemed to be a little late for portions of the trip and partially because a really loud group of Brits was on our boat. Naturally, we finished the night with waffles and nutella (yum) with a detour back to our hotel through the infamous Red Light District, which sure was happening on a Saturday night!

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We spent Sunday at the lovely Keukenhof garden, which is a short bus ride from Amsterdam in the town of Lisse, but I’ll leave that one for a separate post tomorrow. In two words: Breathtakingly gorgeous. We still had breakfast, dinner, dessert and drinks in Amsterdam though, and I can enthusiastically recommend all four places we checked out: First, we had amazing poffertjes (sort of like little Dutch pancake dumplings) at the adorable Four Pillars restaurant, which was a five-minute walk from our hotel. It was so good we went back for breakfast yesterday. Dinner was at the low-key but super tasty Hummus Bistro d&a in the Jordaan, followed by what my Dutch friend promised to be the best apple pie in Amsterdam at Winkel, and it did not disappoint. We ended the night with fancy cocktails at Tales & Spirits, which has an impressive menu of drinks and a sophisticated vibe. Photos below are of the pancake house and our evening stroll around the city.

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Monday was chock-full of art after a delicious egg breakfast at Bakers & Roasters. We started the morning at the Van Gogh Museum, which does a brilliant job of laying out Van Gogh’s evolution as an artist, as well as his relationship with his contemporaries and lasting influence. His famous sunflowers painting is so impressive in person – much of it created using just three shades of yellow – and his frenetic pace of painting in the year leading up to his suicide is unbelievable. Next we headed to to Rijksmuseum where the crowds around Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” were quite overwhelming, but warranted. My husband is a big Rembrandt fan so he was stoked to see that collection while I was drawn to the museum’s trio of Vermeer paintings, including “The Milkmaid.” We stayed until closing. Dinner that night was at Moeders, where we enjoyed hearty portions of traditional Dutch food, washed down with cold glasses of Heineken. I recommend Moeders too – Honestly, thanks to my Yelp research and my husband’s navigation skills, we didn’t have a bad or even mediocre meal in Amsterdam.

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We closed out the trip Tuesday with a visit to the Anne Frank house, which, unsurprisingly, was very moving and left me and my husband quiet and reflective during our walk to meet a college friend who lives in Amsterdam for lunch. Afterward, we spent the afternoon biking around the city (including through the Rijksmuseum, see photo below). It’s incredible how bicyclists own the roads in Amsterdam: Both pedestrians and cars yield to the steady flow of two-wheelers, who are never helmeted and have their own extensive network of lanes attached to the sidewalks. In fact, I found navigating the city much less treacherous by bike than by foot. As a pedestrian, I kept accidentally walking into the bike lanes, thinking they were part of the sidewalk, and then almost getting plowed down by cyclists. It was much better to be on the other end, ringing my little bell at the hoards of tourists making the same mistake.

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We had our last Dutch meal at Upstairs Pannenkoeken, a four-table, family-run pancake house at the top of yet another extremely steep canal house stairwell. My strawberries and cream King pancake was amazing and my husband’s savory tomato and cheese pancake was equally as delicious. Definitely worth a stop when you find yourself in Amsterdam, which I hope is soon. Check back tomorrow for photos of tulipmania!

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