Amsterdam reminded me a storybook. Looking around the colorful homes, pedestrian walkways, the flurry of bikers, and the canals laced through the central, I realized this is what Disney World was trying to emulate when creating their theme parks. Amsterdam has a million bikers alone, and in such a small city, this makes it the predominant form of transportation in the city. The biking lanes are about the size of a car line, making it a safe and efficient way to explore the city. Amsterdam was also a great break from Italy because it gave us a flavor of a city that was European but had much more Western and British influence. The culture and look of the city was very European, yet it’s population was much more diverse, there was a lot of ethnic cuisine, stores were open all day and into later in the night, and American clothing stores and restaurants frequented the streets.
We arrived in Amsterdam on a Friday night and checked in at the Amrath Hotel, which was home to the offices of several shipping companies in the early twentieth century. The building retained much of its original flooring and marble walls, which added to its charm. The rooms had been updated with modern furniture, but the walls and carpet were old. Unfortunately for us, our room had a bad odor. We complained about the smell, but when we returned after hearing our room was “cleaned,” the smell was more potent, which made us realize the smell was a result of the mixture of the sanitation spray and old carpet!
We had dinner at the Duchess, a modern restaurant with a spectacular interior that was previously home to an was an old bank. The scene reminded us of a trendy Chicago restaurant. The only difference were the clientele were on the older side. We think this is the case (also in other nice restaurants) because younger people in the United States have better jobs/opportunities than they do in Europe . We dined on a few dishes including a sea bass carpaccio, a foie grois donut, and a beef wellington. While the first two dishes were good, the beef Wellington was an absolute standout, with a golden butter crust and a tender filet in the middle. Afterwards, we walked through the red light district, infamous for its prostitution. It was surprisingly nicer than I anticipated. It is located in a touristy area of Amsterdam and the woman are standing in front of windows wearing lingerie “advertising” themselves. It is awkward to look at, but you realize that because prostitution is legal, the scene is completely normal and does not faze most pedestrians. We ended the night at a recommended cafe called Bulldog.
The following morning we rented bikes and managed a small bike tour around the city. Amsterdam is very easy to bike through as long as you abide by basic traffic rules. It is like driving a car, but a more enjoyable and efficient way to see the city. The city is also flat, making for a very smooth and easy ride. We went to the Rijks museum that afternoon, which vastly exceeded my expectations. The description of the art was well suited for tourists because it provided context around the paintings and the authors background. We also enjoyed the temporary exhibits called “Catwalk” which showcased real clothing and fashion throughout Dutch history.
Dinner was at an excellent Michelin starred restaurant called Yamazato. The sushi was simple but top notch- in fact some of the best sashimi I had ever tasted. My only disappointment was the miso black cod. It is usually excellent at most Japanese restaurants, but this one was prepared a little too simply, lacking any sauce or vegetables on the side to balance the taste of the moist cod. The deserts, however, were unique and beautifully presented. Overall, we would recommend returning just for the sushi bar. Although it had a Michelin star, the service or atmosphere did not compete with other restaurants of the same rating.
Our second day in Amsterdam we headed to the Van Gogh museum. We bought tickets in advance with an audio guide, which enabled us to skip the long ticket line. We thought the audio guide was excellent and highlighted all of the major works of Van Gogh in an hour. However, the museum was so jam-packed that you had to wrestle your way through the crowds to catch a glimpse of the paintings. It was not an ideal scenario and unfortunately it hindered our experience. At least the audio guide helped us stay focused and we had the opportunity to see many of Van Gogh’s masterpieces!
We had also booked tickets to the Anne Frank house later that afternoon, and thus had plenty of time to spare to enjoy the beautiful day. We perched ourselves at a table overlooking a canal and indulged in a burger and creamy tomato soup, watching the boats glide by on this gorgeous Sunday morning. This is what the locals enjoy on the weekends, and slowing down a bit to enjoy your surroundings was an ideal way to experience what life is like in Amsterdam.
The Anne Frank museum also had a horrendously long line, but thankfully Ryan knew to also buy tickets in advance. We were immediately ushered through the entrance to begin the tour of the house, which winded its way through steep staircases and narrow hallways. The museum is housed in the actual office of Anne Frank’s father and includes the quarters where the family hid during WWII. You were able to get a sense of the fear and isolation of living in hiding from your neighbors. The museum was laced with quotes from her diary depicting how careful her and her sister had to be when bathing (which was near the window), how quiet they had to be at all hours of the day, and how Anne tried to make sense of why the Nazis were persecuting the Jews. Although the museum was very informative, I thought it could have done a better job setting up the story of why Anne’s family went into hiding and learning more about the family members. We felt a little detached waking through and thought many of the artifacts/exhibits could have been put into better context.
Our last evening we had drinks at Tales and Spirits, a bar with unusual drink concoctions and a lengthy menu. Ryan ordered a drink called General Lee and it came out with a toy car with a confederate flag painted on if. Clearly it was their sense of humor, but I don’t think this could have passed with the same humor in the US!. We then had dinner at the French Connection, where we enjoyed an unusual cassoulet, a pork roast, and unbelievable cod dish. French food was a nice diversion from the Italian food we always eat- and even though Italy does have a lot of pork and cod- the preparations are vastly different. French food is noticeably more heavy and decorated. One dish would suffice for a French meal, whereas in Italy ordering two is the minimum at a restaurant as the portions tend to be smaller. Our night ended with some dancing at Escape. We never go dancing in Italy, so we took the opportunity to stay up late in the city and enjoy our remaining hours.
Although I got a good feel for Amsterdam, I would love to return to do more biking around the city as well as venture off the beaten track from the main tourist sights.