An adventurous girl cooks, eats and explores in Europe.
We woke up Thursday and finished getting ready for our trip. It was tough to get excited since I was still feeling pretty sick, but I knew I’d have to feel better soon. The airport was much less crowded than the last time we flew out, so we got through security with a good amount of time left. We landed in Amsterdam just before 4PM local time, an hour ahead of Dublin.
The best way to get to our hostel was to take the train downtown from the airport. We figured out tickets, took the train about 15 minutes and had a short walk to our hostel. We stayed at The Flying Pig, downtown Amsterdam. It is a famous hostel chain throughout Europe, with two hostels just in Amsterdam. We decided to stay at a hostel this time partly since I never had, but mostly for pricing. We were in a four bed room with private bathroom, so it wasn’t bad. It was pretty silly sleeping in bunk beds again. Marcus slept on top since he didn’t trust me not to fall. I felt like I should be passing him notes or throwing things up there (he clearly was not for the throwing things idea).
We got all our stuff settled and decided it was time for dinner. Walking down a nearby street, we stopped in to Cafe Dominus. It was a big bar that was nearly empty, given that we were still quite early. It had a great layout and very cool décor though. At the bar tender’s recommendation we tried a new white beer we liked- Wieckse, and ordered burgers for dinner.
After eating, we walked around a bit and stopped into a coffee shop to see what it was like. I had a tea to help my cold but we didn’t like how smoky it was in there. I guess I should have expected that but we had to peek anyway. Walking around, we saw a bit of the area as we made our way back towards our hostel. I hadn’t realized how close we were to the red light district and how much it really just blends into everything else. (Again, I suppose I should have seen this coming, I wasn’t expecting it to be walled off or anything but I guess I just didn’t know what to imagine). It was weird.
We went to a bar closer to home since it was still so early, but since smoking is allowed in most the bars, it wasn’t very easy to get comfortable. I forget how spoiled we are that people can’t smoke in bars in Dublin or California. We ended in our hostel bar, which has a separated smoking room so it was nice, clean air. I had a pre-bed tea and chatted with Marcus since I wanted to keep him company and being healthy, 9:40 was not an appropriate bedtime for him.
Friday morning I slept in a bit to try to get more rest. I felt a lot better which was exciting. We had a pretty mellow day planned, so getting a later start wasn’t an issue. We headed out around 10AM and walked to the Van Gogh museum we had spotted close to our hostel the night before. Unfortunately, we realized when we got there that it was not the museum; it was actually a Van Gogh 3D exhibit of some kind- not what we were looking for. We then consulted the map and rerouted to the actual museum. We saw quite a bit of the city on our way and definitely got off the touristy path. We walked through the flower market, the Bloemenmarkt and found some fun souvenirs. The flowers were gorgeous- were we at home, I’d have bought some. We got great views of all the canals- though the heavy fog limited how far out you could see. We saw the Rijksmuseum, a huge and amazing building. It is supposed to be a great museum also, but it just didn’t make our to-do list. After seeing some of the big park- Vondelpark, we walked to the real Van Gogh museum to find it is closed for renovation and temporarily housed in the Hermitage museum. (I then vaguely recalled seeing something about where it was located on the home page of their site. Suppose I should have actually read that). We stopped to grab lunch since this was taking much longer than expected. We found a small Italian place; after tea and minestrone, I felt up for the rest of our adventure. With directions confirmed, we headed out and found the museum. It was nice learning a bit more about Van Gogh while seeing his art. The Hermitage museum also had an impressionist exhibit which we ended up liking even more than the Van Gogh section.
We took a long wander home and settled in for a nap. Then it was time get ready and find a spot for dinner. The hostel recommended BIRD, a Thai restaurant a few blocks over. It was packed! We waited about 15-20 minutes and were very hungry by the time we were seated. (As a cruel and unusual punishment for wanting to eat there, they have a TV where you wait to be seated playing the food channel- rude). We ordered spring rolls to start and they were great! They make them skinny and crispy which I love. We followed with their Pad Thai and that was great also. Everything was tasty and the service was fine, but we were at a small table by the entrance which meant people were constantly passing by. We were definitely ready to get out. There were many bars on the next street. Many red light windows also, which was a bit awkward. We found a nice bar nearby – Cafe Bar de Stoof. It wasn’t too crowded but had a nice atmosphere so we sat and hung out there for a drink. People-watching was fun, but with the dim lighting, we began falling asleep and decided to move on. We looked around for another bar but didn’t find much that fit our mood. Everything was either too smokey, blaring loud music for no reason, or extremely calm and too sleepy (I may sound a bit like Goldilocks but there is a happy balance between the two ends, we just didn’t find it close by). We settled on a walk and bed, making it out a little later this time at least.
I woke up feeling pretty much recovered the next day, but still set on taking it pretty easy. We had a week and a half of travel left, so I had to play it safe. With a loose schedule, we headed out to find the Amstelkring museum which was one of the places I really wanted to see. After not finding it where it appeared on the map, we stopped for some directions and found it just around the corner on the street over. It houses a church built in the attics of three houses along the canal when Catholicism was illegal and could not be practiced in public. Following this, we were off to another one of my chosen places, the Begijnhof. As with everything we went to see in Amsterdam, we were somehow unable to find it. Knowing we were close, we stopped in for tea and directions at the nearby Café Hoppe. Refreshed and with new directions, we quickly found the small arched entrance shortly down the block. It was originally the community for the sisterhood of Begijns in the area (similar to nuns, but with different terms on their vows). It is a beautiful courtyard, so quiet in comparison to the noisy city streets around it. Today, the houses are occupied mostly by older women.
We then stopped for lunch at Tomaz, a place we found just outside the Begijnhof. It was very cute and cozy; they even had a selection of board games. The menu was largely traditional Dutch food. I ordered veal croquettes and Marcus got a Panini, planning to share. The food was pretty good, and we enjoyed eating at what seemed to be a less touristy spot.
Continuing on with our to-do list, we were off to the Heineken Experience. The tour was interesting and ended with two beers, so we spent some time hanging around there. When we left, it was raining quite hard and we had no plan. We popped into Café Berkhout just across the street to regroup and wait out the rain (at least the current downpour). It was very cute and a perfect place for us to sit and plan. Once the heavy rain let up into a slight drizzle, we went in search of the highest recommended tapas restaurant, only to find it closed. We wandered the area and found another, open tapas place not too far, Granada. It was also close to one of the bars I had read about. It was very cute, well decorated and pretty delicious.
After dinner and dessert, we went across the street to check out the bar Bourbon Street. They have live music nightly, usually in the jazz or blues genre, but were not yet opened. We walked around the area and popped into a smaller bar nearby to kill the hour or so until the music started. We were quite entertained by the group of Aussies doing a Christmas jumper pub crawl, as though the fact that they were many drinks ahead of everyone else there was not enough to make them stick out. It was the most excited I’ve ever seen anyone get when a Nickelback song came on in a bar, and we did enjoy their amazing performance. Finally, we were off to Bourbon Street, excited for some live music. We waited about 30 minutes for the band to come on and though we tried to stick it out, gave up after about 2 songs when we were not into them at all. (2 long songs that is- we listened for around 15 minutes). We took the bus back towards our hostel and went to bed.
The next morning we checked out and headed to the train station, off to spend the afternoon in Brussels and rest up for our early flight out. We saw all that we wanted to and had plenty of free time. Had I felt better, we would have found some way to fill it, but it worked out well. All in all, I am glad we went to Amsterdam but don’t feel any desire to go back. Everywhere you went smelled like smoke and it felt a bit dirty through much of the town. The buildings and houses are very cute, and the canal views are great with the bridges, but aside from a few fun historical stops, I don’t think there is much more appeal to it for me. Besides the name, of course. They should really consider the addition of an ‘s’ in there; Samsterdam has a great ring to it.