Our first stop in Europe was Amsterdam. Our flight had felt long, it had been long! Our layover was in a Chinese airport with literally nothing open. Despite only being in transit we were still required to line up and give fingerprints – honestly the last thing I felt like. It was such a relief to finally reach the end of our tedious journey. We had instructions on how to get to our hostel, but first we wanted to buy SIM cards so that we could reconnect with the world. I didn’t realize at the time, but the airport prices for phone data are SO much more expensive than what you can expect to pay anywhere else – I will not make that mistake again! Anyway, read on for mine and Andy’s respective highlights in Amsterdam.
Strongest memory: Perhaps because I have now been there twice, but the Anne Frank House is certainly one of my most vivid memories of Amsterdam. A little grim I guess, but I think the memory remains so strong due to the chords it struck inside me both at the time, and after. The museum is set out in a way that made me really feel as though I was experiencing it for myself. Having read her diary as a young adult, I had a huge appreciation for both her tale and what families at the time had to endure. God forbid I ever have to feel the sheer terror that was their daily lives. The space they were living is SO small, it makes our wee Vancouver apartment seem like a gigantic house. With Corona virus at the forefront of everyone’s minds right now, it really puts perspective on how much freedom we actually still have.
Memorable meal: This one is easy. Our first proper meal after landing in Europe, we hired bikes and cycled through Vondelpark out to a cafe called Dignita. This brunch was special not only because the food was tasty and beautiful (see picture below), but also because the meal brought with it excitement and anticipation of all the amazing adventures to come. We were recommended this cafe by an old school friend of mine (thanks Penny!) and I would have no hesitation in passing this recommendation on to anyone visiting Amsterdam.
Best activity: Cycling around the city. The roads are built for bicycles and everyone is doing it; naturally we wanted to join the club. The park was my favourite place to bike, just because I didn’t have to watch out for cars. Being so fresh in Europe, I would ALWAYS look the wrong way as we tried to cross the road, and I’m pretty sure Jamie almost got hit by a bus! Cycling makes getting from place to place super quick and easy as well – ideal for sightseeing. We covered so much ground on that first day and had so much fun doing it. I loved cycling out to the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, a brewery set in a windmill that would have been quite a long walk.
Favourite place: The suburb of Jordaan is by far and away the cutest area of the city. The houses are all so picturesque, there is an abundance of independent shops and galleries, and the cafe scene is top notch. If I lived in Amsterdam and could afford to buy a house, this is where I would choose to live for sure. It is such s a great spot for just wandering around and soaking up the sights along the canals with a coffee in hand.
Unforgettable sight: Amsterdam is a city of unforgettable sights. The houses, the canals, the flowers… it looks like something out of a picture book. This makes it pretty hard to choose just one. For me, nothing beats seeing these sights from the water. Taking a boat cruise down one of the canals gives a whole new perspective of the city, as well as an appreciation of how the canals all link up to form an intricate and well thought out waterway system. With a gin and tonic in hand, hearing anecdotes about various buildings, canals and the people of Amsterdam was such a great way to spend the afternoon.
Strongest memory: I remember walking through canals and alleyways on our first morning and being unprepared for the uniformity of the buildings. I realized that when I’d looked at photos of the cities prior to my arrival I had focused only on the canals themselves, but now that I was surrounded by the city, it was the buildings that caught my eye. Even though the buildings all looked the same, that fact was in itself unique – for a building that housed a coffee shop to look exactly the same as the law offices that stood beside it was disarming. Of course, the buildings weren’t exactly the same. My other lasting memory was noticing for the first time how almost none of the buildings stood on an even keel. I wouldn’t stop noticing that for the remainder of our time there.
Memorable meal: Our first lunch was eaten on a quiet street close to Vondelpark. The cafe, Dignita, came highly recommended. It was appointed in the modern style, and operated a socially-conscious business model – which, unless you are particularly cynical, is usually a marker that the business means more to its founders than money in the bank. I had well-executed eggs Benedict. We didn’t know at the time that our first meal overseas would become the hallmark against which the quality of all of our other lunches would be measured, just as Amsterdam was to become for the cities that we visited – but it was.
Best activity: Without question, our best activity was a sun-soaked float around the inner-city’s canals. As we cruised, laid-back guides told genuinely interesting tales about the buildings that drifted past and served beers and cocktails from an open-air bar. The weather surely helped, but the combination of supreme relaxation, beautiful surrounds, and effortlessly intriguing story-telling was a winning one.
Favourite place: My favorite spot was Brouwerij ‘t IJ, a brewery serving modern craft beers housed in a re-purposed windmill. The windmill aspect could seem a little on the nose when you consider the icons of the Netherlands, but the execution falls short of being tacky or gimmicky. The outdoor courtyard was a highlight (again, the weather was sure to have helped) and the beer managed to be both tasty and creative.
Unforgettable sight: The red light district. Although not exactly the sight you may be imagining. There was something unforgettably absurd about seeing “sex-work-as-a-tourist-attraction” in action. The red-lit windows were surely eye-catching, but I was almost more surprised by the size and demographic of the crowds filing past. It was like an X-rated theme park, with no sign of an age restriction. You could almost forget why it existed in the first place – until you see someone discreetly knock on a window and be invited inside.