**Where are my manners? I never related Part Two of our extra-long layover in the beautiful city of Amsterdam! Hopefully absence has made the heart grow fonder.**
Day #11,221: When I mentioned we were stopping in Amsterdam for a 2-day layover, two different people independently told us to take our picture with the “Amsterdam” sign. I smiled and nodded and had no idea what they were talking about.
When we stopped for impromptu waffles the day before I finally understood. Just behind the Rijksmuseum there was a wall of tourists with flashing cameras pointing at this:
While I did stop to snap a picture, I made my top priority shoving the heaven-sent goodness that is The Belgian Waffle into my face at maximum speed. Good Decision.
Mr. M & I decided to spend our day wandering the parts of the city we’d missed the day before.
Traveling is one of my absolute favorite things to do primarily because it exposes me to the innumerable other ways that people choose to live their lives. Amsterdam, with its spiderweb of houseboat-lined canals, posed a brand new question for me: what is it like to live on a boat? Are they cozy? Is it a ridiculous amount of work, or is it liberating knowing that you can sail away at a moment’s notice?
Mr. M & I were musing aloud when serendipity stepped in, and we saw a sign across the canal for a sort of houseboat museum… more specifically, a houseboat that you could explore.
This boat once housed not one, but two families- a couple who lived in a master suite in the stern, and a family of 4 who helped to run the ship. While surprisingly cozy- a little too cozy when it came to the bunk beds in the bow- my claustrophobia would not let me live the life of a houseboater.
Beyond houseboats, Amsterdam is also known for its flowers- namely, the tulip!
Amsterdam’s Flower Market is an explosion of colors and floral notes. And tourists taking pictures of marijuana seeds for sale.
We also happened upon the Royal Palace in Dam Square. Built in the 1600’s, it’s still one of the Queen’s residences and gets used for various royal goings-on.
While walking through the historic old city, I was surprised to run into the famous Stock Exchange bull… doesn’t he live in New York City?
Mr. M, knowledgeable capitalist that he is, informed me that the very first Stock Exchange was established right here in Amsterdam in 1602! In fact, before it was “New York,” part of our home city was actually an outpost of The Netherlands called New Amsterdam, and many of the neighborhood names in Manhattan reflect this Dutch heritage today. (‘Stuyvesant’ was the last Dutch colony director long before he was a neighborhood on the east side.)
I like a good history lesson as much as the next girl, but I have to admit I was a tiny bit more amused by some of the laissez-faire shops bordering the Red Light District.
Because the Van Gogh Museum was under construction while we were there, Van Gogh’s most famous pieces had been set up in The Hermitage. Van Gogh- along with many of the French Impressionists- is a favorite of mine.
The colors in his art glow and pulse with life. I stood in front of Irises for a Very Long Time because I just couldn’t believe that I was seeing it in real life. (A Van Gogh-related aside: The Philadelphia Museum of Art sells a plush Van Gogh doll that comes with detachable, Velcroed-on ear. “Tear it off, and give it to someone you love!” the packaging suggests.)
Part of exploring the local way of life means testing the local food. Being an herbivore isolated me from much of the traditional Dutch cuisine (sausagey “wursts” and deep-fried beef bitterballen and raw herring), but there was at least one specialty that I could try: genever, a strong spirit made from juniper berries (like gin), which is normally sipped, straight up. When I ordered genever with dinner, the waiter paused, smiled politely, and inquired whether I knew what I was ordering- was I sure I wouldn’t prefer one of their local beers? Which everyone knows is the culinary equivalent of a triple-dog-dare.
Given the sort of introduction that I would imagine generally accompanies dishes like squid testicles or BBQ’d tarantula, I was surprised to find that genever is actually… good! Strong (it is ‘sippin’ gin’ after all), but good! On my counsel, look your waiter square in the eye and boldly announce that yes, you will take the genever.
In any list of Amsterdam Must Do’s, visiting the Anne Frank House absolutely must hold court at the very top. As the sun set on our last day in the city, Mr. M & I headed off to the walls that once hid Anne Frank and her family from Nazi persecution, and which has now been converted to a museum.
With the bottom floors of the building serving as a spice trading company, eight people were hidden in the rear of the house- the Secret Annex, as Anne referred to it in her famous diary.
Standing on those wooden floors, looking at the same peeling wallpaper that had been there in 1943, it is impossible not to feel swallowed up by the magnitude of history and the capacity of the human spirit for both evil and kindness.
For whatever reason, the thing that touched me most deeply was the old bookcase standing guard against the Secret Annex entrance. A tiny bookcase put in charge of such an important secret. It brought tears to my eyes.
Our petit tour de Amsterdam yielded such a colorful and eclectic bouquet of Big Moments.
Maybe it’s just me, but for all of the city’s hidden treasures, I say you can do much better than getting your picture taken with the I Amsterdam sign.
Details of the Day:
Accommodation: Uncovering good, cheap hotels that include a full breakfast gives me the same feeling that 1990’s Me once had discovering hidden 1Up mushrooms in the old-school Mario Bros Nintendo game. Hotel Fita (Jan Luykenstraat 37, Amsterdam) not only offers up the usual continental spread of thick, creamy yogurt; granola; fruit; and pastries, but host Rolf will also cook you up made-to-order eggs and the hotel’s famous Dutch pancakes. Do This. Like Mario’s 1Up mushroom, it’ll add a bit more life to your game.
While the rooms are quite small, they’re reeeally comfortable and include everything you’ll need for exploring the city- including an umbrella, an in-room Nespresso machine, and tea & cocoa-making supplies.
Tips & Tricks: To avoid the epic lines at The Anne Frank House, aim to show up 40 min or so before closing. You’ll still have time to take in the house and exhibits, and the absolute lack of crowds will allow the sort of quiet contemplation that the location deserves.