Monday, April 28, 2014

And Then We Fell In Love With Amsterdam...

Before heading off to Amsterdam in March I promised to share photos and impressions of the city upon our return. What I didn't count on was getting a great offer on our house while we were gone, one that stipulated a two and half week close! Can't say that I recommend agreeing to such terms, but sometimes you gotta work with what comes your way. So, obviously there was zero time to post as I figured out how to go through all our belongings, sell off, donate or otherwise dispose of about a third of them, secure temporary housing and arrange for everything left to get moved. But now I have a little breathing room and am excited to revisit the great week we had visiting Amsterdam!

First of all, getting there from Portland was a breeze via the direct nine hour flight on Delta. With no layover it felt like we were there in no time. I had planned to sleep, and that would have been smart, but the little screen in front of me was just too tempting with its endless movies to select from. So I opted to catch up on some films I'd been wanting to see and arrived very tired but ready to begin exploring.

We booked an adorable little crooked house in a central location, instead of a hotel, wanting to get a taste of local life. Just a couple blocks away was Albert Cupmarkt with gorgeous flowers, fruits and vegetables, breads and cheeses. And then the bikes. Bikes are everywhere, it seems there are more of them than cars and we quickly joined in and rented some ourselves.

But first jet lag got the better of someone. Oh, that's hard.

But he rallied and fit in a tour of the canals and other exploring before the day was over.

The first day or two I kept comparing Amsterdam to the destination of our last spring break, Paris. But you just can't do that, they are such completely different places. With Paris you can't help but be wowed with all the iconic must sees, it is impressive and to be impressed is a given. Amsterdam is less obvious. It's charms are a bit more subtle, requiring a visitor to pay closer attention to be able to discover and understand what is so special and unique about this city - which begins to feel more like a small town once you learn your way around its streets. 

One of the best ways to begin to understand a city is to find great places to eat. And we did that. Favorites were the Golden Temple, above, and Indian Shiva on Reguliersdwaesstr below.

And explore the city on bikes. It can be quite nerve wracking at first while learning the rules of the road and you just might need a map in one hand to find your way around. But it's worth it. Suddenly you get Amsterdam and why this component of the city contributes to its unique character and way of life.

One of best parts of renting bikes is getting to peddle through Vondelpark, a large oasis in the center of the city.

For shopping don't miss De Bijenkorf, a department store with fabulous designer goods and a decent restaurant for a mid day break. 

Other must stops are the Rijks Museum...

... and the Anne Frank House. Reading her diary again before the trip, anticipating this visit, it was moving to walk through the rooms I had just read about written in detail. To experience just how small the quarters were and to imagine all the people trying to exist in them for such an extended period of time, trying to survive while hoping for the end of the war and madness. How to be grateful for all we have now?  

After a few days in the city we wanted to taste a bit of the countryside and headed out to Zaanse Schans to see the windmills. Getting off the train we rented bikes and explored the area on a perfectly gorgeous day.

Back in the city, another great meal one night was at de Culinaire Werkplaats, were we enjoyed a five course dinner, each inspired by an iconic aspect of the city.

Apart from the amazingly delicious and interesting food, the method of paying was certainly intriguing, though puzzling. How much is too little, how much is too much? 

You certainly know where you are looking at this iconic skyline.

And one of the first things I wondered upon arriving at our house for the week, being greeted by an unbelievably steep staircase, was how on earth does any furniture get into these homes? The beams jutting out of the roofs with hooks offers the solution: through the windows of course!

One area we particularly liked was the Jordaan, I could imagine walking up to this door and calling it home!

We'd need bikes of course, and it was fun to look at the options in a local bike shop.

Another favorite day was heading out to the coast. Who knew it was only a half hour train ride from the city! Arriving in Zandvoort, renting more bikes for the day, it felt like we had stumbled into some laid back Californian or Australian town. It was simply fabulous.

We didn't do a lot of shopping, but several stores caught my eye, including this one with its perforated metal pendents.  

And if you love chocolate, one can't go wrong with a visit to Puccini Bomboni. 

And with that it was time to go home. I would love to return here and stay for a longer spell next time. It's an amazingly friendly city that's easy to get around and small enough to walk nearly anywhere. The food is great, I found it quite affordable and there is a really outstanding supermarket called Marqt that reminded me of Whole Foods - at a discount. 

English is spoken everywhere and it simply feels familiar, while at the same time offering up an opportunity for way of life that is quite different from what we experience day to day at home. So two thumbs up, definitely!

(Whoa, I can tell I haven't posted in awhile... I'm rusty! But I think I'll be brushing up my skills again around here, posting about our move, the new house and just how I plan to turn it into a home! Stay tuned.)

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