Amsterdam - 10 Days in Europe, Part-2
If I were given an option to pick a city I would like to live in, Amsterdam would be it. It's architecture is stunning - both historic and modern, it has rich cultural heritage, charming canals, high quality of life in general and a progressive society.
Amsterdam was a 3 hour train journey from Paris. You can read about how we spent our days in Paris in Part-1. Amsterdam Central train station was very modern, clean and had a Christmassy vibe. From there we took an Uber to our home for the next 3 nights, The ED Amsterdam, very close to museum quarter. Our hotel was yet another surprise, though very different from that of Paris, we had to self check-in at a kiosk which we have never done or seen at any hotel before. The boutique style hotel was super modern with minimalistic design, painted in bright colors, tropical wallpaper throughout and eccentric art displays. Our room was towards the front and so there was a decent road/canal view. We noticed people walking and cycling until very late in the night, but we've had a long day literally traveling from one country to another, so we called it a night.
The ED Amsterdam Hotel
Day 4: It was Christmas day and the entire city was decked up for the festivities, our hotel included. We started our day with a good buffet breakfast. And then our first task was to rent a bike. You cannot go to Amsterdam and not ride a bike, actually the most convenient mode of transport for getting around the city. I didn't quite get the scale when they said there are more bikes in Amsterdam than people, until I saw it. There were an overwhelming number of bikes anywhere and everywhere. Apart from those parked on the streets, there were bike parking lots that we came across where bikes were stacked on top of each other. Anyway, we rented from A-Bike Rental for the day, followed google maps on our phones and off we went to Jordaan.
Westerkerk in the background
Jordaan is a charming neighborhood not far from central Amsterdam with beautiful centuries old brick houses, tree lined canals, narrow streets, quaint little cafes and restaurants, speciality shops and boutiques, and historic sites. A place where you could truly get lost in the calm and beauty. It was so gorgeous that we really didn’t know which side to look or which way to go. We biked all around taking in the picturesque canals, and in narrow alleys keenly observing the beautiful row houses some of them dating back to the 17th century.
On a rain day in Amsterdam
There were many crooked and bent houses that looked like they could fall over any minute. Here's a fun fact - there are many reasons for why houses in Amsterdam look crooked, some natural and some purposely built that way. One of the reasons for why houses lean forward is that the buildings were used to store goods and a slight tilt prevented damage to the structure while hoisting heavy objects to the top floors.
It was a rainy day and the cold weather was slowly creeping into our bones. We parked and wandered off by foot for a while. There are plenty of quirky little shops and museums in Amsterdam with intriguing names, selling unusual souvenirs and oddities, and interesting window displays. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants and unusual coffee shops, all decked up for the season. Here's another fun fact - Cafes and Coffee shops are not the same in Amsterdam. Cafes sell beverages and food while Coffee shops are for weed enthusiasts.
Beautiful exterior / Quirky shop
We stopped at Café de Oude Wester for lunch and indulged in some dutch delicacies. Poffertjes (tiny fluffy pancakes), Pannekoeken (large savory pancakes stuffed with chicken) and to wash it all down some hot Gluhwein (mulled wine). By the way, we had mulled wine wherever and whenever possible, it kept our bodies warm and our souls happy.
One of the most popular sights in Jordaan for tourists is the Anne Frank House, which we weren’t too keen on seeing on our first day in Amsterdam and then we ended up not going at all. After a good stroll we took our bikes and headed to Bloemenmarkt, a floating flower market. A colorful stretch of shops sold a good variety of products including flowers, flower buds, seeds, souvenirs and even cheese. Opposite to the flower market there were little shops selling souvenirs and Amsterdam paraphernalia, and bakeries selling popular dutch bites. From one of the bakeries we tried the famous dutch waffle, the Stroopwafel.
Souvenirs and flower bulbs sold at Bloemenmarkt / Stroopwafel
Bloemenmarkt - Floating Flower Market
It was the evening and time to return our bikes. We returned our bikes, went to our hotel for a quick freshen up and headed to Ice Village Christmas Market located in Museum district, just an easy walk from the hotel. It was a cozy and festive Christmas market right next to the Ice Amsterdam skating rink. Many festively decorated wooden chalets sold an assortment of things from spirits to traditional food, fair food, jewelry, decorations and many more. As always we started with a glass of hot mulled wine. We got to try the traditional dutch raw herring which was served with pickles and onions, and it was the most delicious raw fish we ever had.
Ice Village Christmas Market
Shop selling spiralised potatoes / Raw Herring
Trams are the second most convenient mode of transport in Amsterdam in our opinion. We purchased a day pass and took a tram to Oude Kerk (Old Church) to check out the Red light district. We got off at Dam tram stopping and walked through Dam Square, which is in the heart of the city. The square and connecting streets were festively decorated with beautiful light installations and was bustling with tourists. There is a National Monument in the center of the square, a pillar built as a memorial for WWII victims, surrounded by the Royal Palace, Gothic New Church, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and many other attractions. Hoards of people gathered near the monument for some kind of street performance. Unfortunately none of the pictures we took at the square turned out good.
Amsterdam at night
We followed our map and found our way through to the Red Light District. As we walked along the canals and through narrow alleys in the district we noticed very few businesses open, I am guessing because it was Christmas and that explains why there were barely any tourists in the area. Skimpily dressed women stood behind a glass window in a room with red light waiting for customers. We went there just to see what the hype was all about, it was kinda sad to watch and not really our thing. Again we do not have any pictures from there.
We then stopped for dinner at De Molenwiek, a contemporary dutch restaurant at another very busy neighborhood close to the Amsterdam International Theatre.
De Molenwiek / Kipsate (Chicken skewers)
Day 5: We dropped our plans to go to Rotterdam and explore Amsterdam some more. We took a tram to Amsterdam Centraal and from there we took the free ferry to NDSM terminal. We wanted to check out some of the restaurants there, but all of them were closed the day after Christmas. Little did we know that we were in for a much bigger surprise. NDSM was formerly a shipyard and currently a breeding ground for artists. The place had a unique atmosphere with abandoned old warehouses and rusting vehicles, covering all that plenty of colorful street art. Some of these warehouses are being used as art galleries and the wharf itself is used as a venue for concerts and cultural events.
There was a functioning floating hotel named Botel at the wharf. There was an arch built with shipping containers. There was a housing community built by stacking containers on top of each other. Bathtubs were used as plant pots. It was such an extraordinary place. You could spend hours walking around and admiring the graffiti alone.
Housing community built with shipping containers / Arch built with shipping containers
We took a ferry back to Amsterdam Centraal and headed to Foodhallen for a late lunch. It is a popular food court in Amsterdam set up in an old industrial building with many stalls serving a wide variety of international cuisines to choose from. We tried many items ourselves, all of them with a slight dutch twist - Chicken hotdogs at Bulls and Dogs, Tandoori Meatballs at Dutch Meatball Company, Chicken Bitterballen at De Ballenbar and few desserts at Petit Gateau.
Foodhalen / Chicken Hot Dog
After lunch we did a little wandering off before heading to House of Bols for a gin experience. We took the self guided audio tour. It was a fairly short tour where we got to taste and smell some of their spirits. There was an exhibit of different flavors and ingredients used in their flavored gins and we were able to smell all of them. There was also an exhibit of miniature models of different types of houses in Amsterdam from the 17th century onwards. We finished the tour with a free cocktail that we got to choose from a list of options. I picked one with Genever in it, a traditional dutch spirit, and it was really not to my liking.
House of Bols
House of Bols / Cocktails
As a last stop for the day we decided to go to the Ice Village Christmas Market once again as it was only a few meters walk from there. Unfortunately the raw herring we had the previous day was not available. Instead we had Spiralized Potato on a stick, Poffertjes (tiny pancakes) and Hotchocspoon at the CHCO Chocolate Company stall. Hotchocspoon was a first time thing for us and the child in us was super excited. We got to choose a flavor of chocolate spoon, dunk it in hot milk, watch as it melted slowly and enjoy the hot deliciousness.
CHCO Chocolate Company stall at the Christmas Market / Poffertjes - Tiny Pancakes
Day 6: We had enough time to take a leisurely stroll around before catching our train, and so we did just that. By noon, we checked out of our hotel and headed to Amsterdam Central for our ride to our next destination and third country on this trip - Brussels, Belgium. This time we booked second class on Eurostar and the journey was just under two hours. Except for the food served at your seat in first class coach we really didn’t find second class any less comfortable or enjoyable.
Continued in Part-3...