There are many different travel styles out there. There’s budget, luxury, backpacking, fast travel, slow travel, vacationers, expats, and all the like. I tend to be someone who likes to spend a lot of time in one place, or at least go back to the same place many times. Why? Because I actually want to get to know a place. I think it takes weeks to get behind the touristy gloss and reach the core–perhaps even a liftime. Consequently, many of my trips are related to visiting someone I know. This makes it really easy for me to fall in love with a place because I see how much my friend loves it. They reveal the inner beauty. This is the case for Barcelona, Lisbon, Dublin and many other wonderful European cities. But, every once in a while, Victor and I want to go somewhere totally unrelated to our life and this was the case with Amsterdam.
Well, technically, Victor has been to Amsterdam before but his visit was tainted by a medical emergency and some unruly travel companions. It doesn’t really count. We arrived on a Wednesday evening from London. Public transportation in Amsterdam is so incredibly easy–we took the metro from the airport and walked to our hostel. The metro is really easy to use, thank goodness, so we could get all rested for the days ahead.
The Van Gogh Museum
And so Day 1 arrived! Our first stop was the Van Gogh Museum, an absolute necessity when visiting Amsterdam. Perhaps I’m just part of the masses, but I love Van Gogh so much. His artwork means a lot to Victor and I because we bonded over many Van Gogh-related moments. It began when we saw the Starry Night together at the MoMA in New York. Since then we’ve seen Van Gogh in Paris (the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay), London (British Museum and National Gallery), Washington DC (National Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection), and at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Met in New York. Wow!
So when I’m saying we’re fans, you can believe it. When we got to experience the Van Gogh museum, it was like a dream. Seeing so many Van Gogh works was, needless to say, overwhelming. The museum was reimagined and reopened in 2014 with a completely different look and concept. The museum focuses on Van Gogh’s complete life story, which you means you get to get different snippets of Van Gogh. From sketches to drawings to letters, there’s still so much to understand about his life. The white walls of the museum are now covered in vibrant colours and magnified versions of Van Gogh’s work. Each gallery corresponds with the paintings housed inside. This results in a magical effect.
Photography is not permitted inside except where indicated, which ends up being everything but the artwork itself. I do have a few photographs because I did not quite realise it is forbidden. Whoops.
After an incredible experience we took a break in the museum’s wonderful cafe. We then roamed around the I Amsterdam letters because it was still super early in the morning. It’s almost impossible to get a letter all to yourself, but I honestly wasn’t too concerned and neither should you! This is not the great struggle of the day.
We left the Museum quarter and walked around the beautiful canals of Amsterdam. One great walk is along the Golden Bend which famous for its grand manor houses that came into existence when the über-wealthy built their dream homes here during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. If only I could have my very own!
For a snack we tried stroopwafels at Lanskroon. What is a stroopwafel you ask? It is a waffle made from two thin layers of baked dough with a caramel-like syrup filling in the middle. The typical thing to do is place your stroopwaffel on top of your coffee to make it warm. Deeeeelicious!
Making our way through the canals, we ended up at the Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt). It is actually a floating flower market, and is full of tulip bulbs! I so wish I could have bought some because tulips are my absolute favourite. The market also had plenty of fresh flowers for sale, all more beautiful than the last.
We continued to walk around, going through Spui Square and Begijnhof.
The Begijnhof is one of the oldest hofjes in Amsterdam. Hofje is the Dutch word for a courtyard surrounded by buildings. The hofje used to be a begijnenhofje, which was a hofje inhabited by particularly religious, pious women. A phenomenon only existing in the Netherlands and France, begijnes lived in semi-monastic communities. They did not take formal vows, however lived a very spiritual existence.
Food and Drinks
At this point in our lives Victor and I are trying to save money and travel at the same time. Saving money is not difficult, but it takes a lot of planning and research… and compromises. We decided we would cook our dinners at our wonderful hostel, but then go out for lunch simply because lunch is cheaper than dinner. Running back to the hostel would also prove to be an interruption in the day. You might laugh, but Amsterdam is crazy about sandwiches! It is such a typical lunch that even nicer places offer sandwiches. For lunch we went to Broodje Bert, a small place with huge sandwiches. All sandwiches are between €5.00-7.50. I indulged with a slightly fancier sandwich: goats cheese, honey, and walnut. Needless to say, it is an amazing combination. Victor opted for Broodje Bert’s deconstructed burger. Sitting by the canal was the cherry on the top.
Speaking of cheese, there is no better souvenir from the Netherlands. The country is rich with farmland abundant with dairy cows. While the Netherlands produces lots of different types of cheese, it is most well known for hard or semi-hard cheeses. Ever heard of Gouda? This Dutch cheese is the most typical and popular cheese in the Netherlands. There’s nothing like having a cheese in its country of origin. In my opinion, De Kaaskamer is the absolute best cheese shop. I advise staying away from the touristy-type cheese shops with overly colourful wrapping. Instead, go to a place where they can cut the cheese for you i.e. a real cheese store.
Besides cheese and stroopwafels, I also really wanted to take advantage of the beer culture in this part of the world. While I’m not a fan of Heineken, I do appreciate high quality Dutch beers. We headed to Proeflokaal Arendsnest, where they serve over 100 beers from Dutch breweries.
And that’s a wrap! Stay tuned for Part II about Anne Frank, crossing the IJ, and the Red Light District.