Hello, fearless reader! I had the opportunity to go to Amsterdam for work this last week, and fell in love with the Dutch city. It's a beautiful, historic European city with so many of the features I love about Portland:
- It's a bike city (though with a more aggressive and helmet-less bike culture)
- It's very environmentally concious, with almost 100% electric boats, a lot of vegans, and a gazillion solar panels.
- Lots of healthy food! Usually when I travel I get sick from eating out so much, and not getting enough veggies. Definitely not a problem in Amsterdam.
- So many plants! While there isn't quite the greenery of PDX, the Dutch definitely love their plants
But while Amsterdam felt familiar in many ways, it was also unlike any other city. The canals are sparkling and beautiful, the canal houses are historic and unique, the cobbled streets and cafes and public gardens all make the city special. I spent a whole week there, and while much of that was spent focusing on work I also got a few days to explore Amsterdam and it's many splendors.
My favorite thing about Amsterdam is that there's no "tourist checklist". There's no shortage of touristy things to do, but there's no sense of "Well we have to go to the Eiffel tower, and the Louvre, and the palace, and Versailles..." and before you know it your trip is over and you never really got to wander. Amsterdam is a city where you can just wander. It's much more about the vibe of the city, soaking in the architecture, and just turning down streets that look interesting. Without the pressure of a travel checklist, here's:
What I Did
The museum in Amsterdam, I went to the Rijks first thing Saturday morning (pro-tip: this was a good call - it was deserted when I got there, but by the time I left was very crowded and would not have been as enjoyable). The Rijks is fantastic whether you're an art/history/art history buff or not. It has very accessible content that even I could appreciate. The collection is organized chronologically, and while the building layout isn't perfect it's definitely more navigable than most art museums I've visited. It begins in ~1100 - for the uninitiated, this is right around when art started to get good. Before 1100, it was 100% religious scenes and no one had realized what perspective or light or shading where yet. So the content was good, the museum itself was beautiful, and the best part was that it was a relatively small museum. I did it in about 3 hours, and while I did rush a section or two I think most everyone could do the whole thing in half a day. A few things stood out in the Rijks:
The metal work. There were a lot of bronze statues, silver dinnerware, and jewelry that were absolutely stunning. I wasn't expecting to be so in awe of the detail, opulence, and beauty of these items, and can't imagine the lives of the artists who created them or the royalty who used them. It seemed unthinkable to have something so beautiful in my life just for the sake of it, and made me think that it might not be such a bad thing to buy things not just for their utility but also because they're pretty. I think part of my amazement was not just in the beauty but in the craftsmanship, so perhaps I should also explore more handmade things as well.
Amsterdam has not changed. There were a few paintings of the canals and city itself, and if you added a few cars and bikes they could have been painted yesterday. It was cool to see that kind of history.
Depictions of women, and specifically body types. Like every woman ever I've struggled a lot with my weight, my body, and my relationship to food. I've thought for a long time that this was internally motivated - that I didn't feel pressured to look a certain way by society, but that I had a certain conception of beauty I strove for (which I knew came from our social idea of beauty, but still felt internal). Seeing women who looked like me - with hips, and thick thighs, and small boobs that face the wrong way, and kind of limp hair - glorified and molded in bronze and dressed in armor was nothing short of mind blowing. Of course I'm aware of the body positive movement, but it always feels fake and cheap. Like sure, you can say you think being fat is beautiful but who are you kidding really we all know the score. This art felt like such a genuine celebration of women's bodies, and while it was only a few pieces that capture this it almost brought me to tears. I am normal. My body isn't wrong, or bad, or weird. It's going to take a lot more than some art to change how I think of beauty, but it's a good place to start.
Their babies looked like babies! If you've ever been to the Louvre, you know that the human race really struggled to draw babies for a long time. I was vvv impressed with the baby quality at the Rijks.
Overall, the Rijks was a great experience.
I wasn't expecting to have time to visit this small photography museum, but found myself in the area with a few hours to kill and stopped in. It's an enchanting building which lives up to it's french name - detailed crown molding, beautiful chandeliers, all white-washed wood and brick. They had 3 exhibits when I visited, the main one a series a semi-absent father took of his son from birth to 18. It was reminiscent of 'Boyhood' in photographs, and while artistically was not especially interesting I really enjoyed reading about the son's transition from baby to child to adolescent to young man. It took me out of my own head for a while, and felt like getting to know someone very intimately in fast-foward. The next exhibit was of famous video game players, southeast asian teenagers who played League of Legends in tournaments for a living. It made me think of my roommate Daniel, who watches Starcraft tournaments, and the exhibit was even called 'Dream / Hack', which is a play on one of the tournaments he goes to every year. It was incredible to see how focused the players were while playing, and in seeing a few images of their life it seemed like a lonely and stressful way to live. The last exhibit was a series of family portraits where one member was in a coffin. It was weird, I didn't really get it.
I really enjoyed this museum, and think it's a great one to visit if you're not that into art museums. It's small and quick (easily under an hour long visit), everything has english translations, it's cheap, and the content is very accessible.
Another photography museum just down the street from Huis de Marseille is it's edgy younger sibling: Foam. If modern art is your scene I highly recommend!
A huge, beautiful park just south of central Amsterdam, it's no surprise I loved Vondel Park. It's close to a lot of shops and museums (read: easy to get to), but feels like it's own little world once you're in it. It's well maintained, with both bike and walking paths, fountains, gardens, ponds, and of course an abundance of flora and fauna. The leaves were just starting to turn yellow and red while we were there, and it was so nice to go there to clear my head and rest for a bit.
A small, 15-minute stop while wandering through the Jordaan neighborhood, I'm not sure I would recommend this. I didn't regret going - it was cool to see the inside of a house boat - but ultimately unremarkable.
Everyone will tell you that you should do a canal tour in Amsterdam, and for good reason: you should! I especially recommend going early in the trip, since you'll get a better idea of how the city is laid out, which neighborhoods you want to visit, and what is and isn't worth doing while you're there (for example, our tour guide let us know we didn't have to waste our time with the flower market or cheese museum). There are approximately 1 million canal tour companies, and while I can't speak for the rest of them I really enjoyed doing ours with Those Dam Boat Guys. Our guide was very experienced, had studied European history, was casual and funny and made the tour really enjoyable.
Similar to the Pearl District in Portland, the 9 streets are a fancy shopping district with cute local shops and cafes. Located in the heart of the Jordaan neighborhood I loved wandering in and out of shops, looking at beautiful things and rich people.
I wouldn't call this a 'must-see', but if you're in the area it's a gorgeous bridge, especially when it's lit up at night.
Where I Ate
To be honest, most of my meals were either smoothies or to-go sandwiches. Amsterdam isn't particularly known for it's culinary excellence, and it was honestly really nice to not feel like I had to enjoy the local cuisine or hit certain restaurants. I also loved that Amsterdam is a very health-concious city, and it was easy to find healthy, tasty, cheap, and high-quality meals. I never got that eating-out hangover you get when travelling, and was relieved I didn't have to make my own meals at home in order to not feel sick. All that said, I did eat at a few places that were interesting!
Like a much larger version of Pine Street Market, Foodhallen was a cafeteria with local, street-cart-like vendors selling a variety of cuisines. While I wish the portions had been smaller so I could have tried more of the carts, I had vegetarian ramen, chicken fresh rolls, veggie dumplings, a custard bun, and a small french galette all of which were to die for. Had it been closer to where we were staying we definitely could have gone everyday and never tired of it. A great place if you're with a big group, as there's something for everybody.
Yep - Amsterdam has a restaurant dedicated to avocados. Avocado pancakes, avocado burgers, avocado cheesecake, avocado salads - it was glorious. It's a very bourgeois place, all neon signs and cement walls and Edison bulbs. But the food is well made, the atmosphere is cozy and casual, and the staff were friendly and nice. Whether it's just for the shtick or for an actually really good meal, I highly recommend!
A gorgeous cafe just a few blocks north of Museumsplein, Buffet van Odette had it all: atmosphere, delicious and light food, a quiet space, and tons of natural light.
This is the bougiest place I've ever been. It's like if Lauren Conrad and Anthropologie collaborated on a cafe / restaurant / shop. They had unicorn cupcakes, avocado toast, marble tables, gold-rimmed everything, and lots of pink. I honestly didn't think a place could ever be too bougie for me, but Pluk proved me wrong. That said, their matcha was pretty good and they had great outdoor seating, so it was fun to sip and people watch.
The best matcha I had in Amsterdam wasn't even on my radar after all my research. It was from a little cafe just a block away from my AirBnB, and I loved the atmosphere there as much as their rich, not-to-sweet matcha.
A close second in Matcha Quest was De Koffieschenkerij, which came to be known by our group as "The Garden Cafe" and eventually just "The Cafe". Located in the back of a church, hidden behind it's own outdoor patio overflowing with foliage, this gorgeous cafe was the perfect place to go take a breather from the chaos of our work. Their latte, like Roost's, was rich and not-too-sweet. While I loved Roost, if you're ever in Amsterdam and are planning to visit a cafe, make it this one!
A brunch spot close to all the museums, we stopped by Bakers and Roasters briefly on our way to something else for a morning cup of matcha. Because we were rushed I didn't get to sit and enjoy the space, but the restaurant was adorable and the tea equally delightful.
While the atmosphere was a bit aggressively cute for me, their tea was great and their outdoor seating has amazing views.
I loved how french the cafe was, and their brioche was to die for. The lady who made my tea was very nice - and even gave me a free drink after I came in for the third time! - but the matcha was always very clumpy. Go for the coffee instead :)
Ok ok ok ok ok hear me out though. The matcha from Starbucks in Amsterdam is way better than in the states, and while it is a chain it's also the only coffee place open at 6am when you have jet lag and can't sleep. They use real matcha and a healthy dose of it, and it's very lightly sweetened (unlike in the US). I was pleasantly surprised, and this definitely measured up to some of the smaller coffee shops we went to!
While they didn't have a matcha, this cafe is located on a quiet street near the museums. Not far from the 'touristy' areas, it's well worth a 5 minute walk to sit outside and enjoy some peace and coffee at Sweet Cup.
And that's all she wrote! I fell in love with Amsterdam without expecting to, and would love to go back for a longer trip some day. The ambience and history are so different from anywhere I've been before, and the city felt vibrant and exciting.