adventures of an american housewife in the south of france

Amsterdam City Guide: Dos, Don’ts, Eats

Our next adventure, right after New Year's, took place over 4 days in Amsterdam!  Thanks to RyanAir, we got tickets direct from Marseille to Eindhoven for only 45€ each.  The bus ride from Eindhoven to Amsterdam was easy and relatively fast, and before I knew it, we had arrived.

canals! hooray!

It was my first time to the Netherlands, but The Hub had already been a few times, most recently on a work trip in November, so I let him show me all around.  We stayed at the Hotel Pulitzer along the Prinsengracht canal in the Jordaan district.  This hotel recently became a Starwoods property which allowed us to stay for "free" on Michael's hotel points.  The hotel was gorgeous and in an awesome location away from the tourists, so I would recommend staying here, but only on points.  With room prices starting at 219€/night and Wifi costing 19€ each day, it seemed like a really expensive place to stay .  19€ EACH DAY!  For Wifi.  Are you kidding me?  I mean, build it into the room price and don't tell me, for pete's sake.  Don't expect me to pay 19€ each day for something that's usually free.  They also tried to sell us on their evening boat tour that ran 38€ per person.  Guess they didn't know that we are boat tour experts (hello!) and we knew that that was an outrageous price to pay.  Insane cost structure aside, we really enjoyed our stay at the Hotel Pulitzer.

sweet ceilings

And now for rest of my recos. DO: - Do take a canal Boat Tour.  If you take a Boat Tour anywhere, it's gotta be in Amsterdam!  Amsterdam is home to over 100km of beautiful canals and there is no better way to experience them than by boat.  When I was researching what company we'd use for our tour, I learned that it's really easy to rent your own boat for birthdays, Bachelorette parties, or a just a ride with your group of friends.  Doesn't that sound so fun?  Since it was just me and Michael, we didn't need our own boat.  My first choice for a group tour, the non-profit, very underground St. Nicholaas Boat Club, seemed to have been shut down due to "legal problems", but I would check and see if they're up and running when you're planning your trip.  St. Nicolaas' 80-minute small boat tours are a BYOB, food, and whatever you want (wink, wink). We settled for a tour through Blue Boat Company and had a great time!  As usual, we somehow picked the best 2 hours of our time in Amsterdam weather-wise, so we were able to sit outside during the whole tour.  Being outside, we didn't get to participate in the audio portion, but who needs history when you have such great scenery?  I could not stop looking at the buildings' beautiful windows.  Something about the perfectly painted trim and the way the huge sheets of crystal clear glass gleamed in the sunlight made these 17th century buildings look brand new.  I was in awe.

Hub ready for a tour!

inside of the Blue Boat Company's boats. we were cracking up at the "conference tables" where you could listen to the audio tour.

view from the boat

a church and a blue sky

so many little boats docked on the sides of the canals. we had fun picking out which one we'd want for our own!

my favorite pic of our trip

seriously, look at these windows

aren't they gorgeous?

- Do go to the Van Gogh Museum.  But only the first floor.  That's where the good stuff is - Van Gogh's original works.  The other floors consist of works by artists who preceded the Impressionist era, Van Gogh's colleagues, or artists who were influenced by Van Gogh.  You all know how I feel about museums, but to me this one is worth it because it only takes about an hour and a half to tour the first floor, Van Gogh's life story is crazytown and gripping, and the audiotour is extensive.  At only 5€ it's a worthy add-on. - Do shop The Nines.  This neighborhood, known simply as "The Nines" is made up of - duh- 9 streets where the funkiest, trendiest, boutiques, galleries and restaurants are located.  Lucky for us, our hotel was right on the edge of this district, so we got to walk through it twice a day when going to and from the main part of town.  We did lots of window shopping and discovered what quickly became our favorite cafe, Screaming Beans.  But more on that later.

the Christmas decorations were still up!

- Do check out a coffeeshop.  You have to, it's tradition.  Don't be scared, the people are nice and friendly.  For a cool, modern atmosphere with great music, I'd recommend going to this location of Green House (there are a few).  We also liked Kadinsky because they let you bring to their bar across the street.

inside De Rokerij

- Do go to Haarlem.  Michael has a very kind and generous friend through work, Leon, who lives in Haarlem and took us on a little tour of his town, which is only a 15 minute train ride south of Amsterdam.  (Fun fact:  this town gave Harlem, NY it's name back in the day when New York was a Dutch colony known as New Amsterdam.)  Haarlem is a cool town (sort of like a mini-Amsterdam) with lots of shops, a beautiful church (Grote Kerk), fun bars, and good restaurants.  Leon and his girlfriend Tamara took us to a wonderful meal and some after dinner drinks at their apartment.  I always love seeing how the "real people" live when I'm visiting a new country.

the canals of Haarlem

streets of Haarlem

Haarlem is home to Grote Markt, the central square, where an open market takes place every Saturday.

DON'T: - Don't go in the winter.  Or do.  But make sure you bring lots of warm clothes.  Here's the thing, we only have about 2 years that we're living here in Europe, so we can't wait until the ideal season to visit all these cities we're going to.  Traveling in the off season has actually been pretty awesome because we're some of the only tourists around and the weather hasn't been too bad.  January was the month during this adventure when we had time to go to Amsterdam, so we went.  And man, oh man, was I cold.  This was the first trip so far where I said, "I wish we were here in the summer."  Not just because of the temperature (which actually was not that bad, it was just so freaking windy!!) but because the city just begs you to be outside.  All the canals and boats and parks.  Sigh, I just wanted to go to Vondelpark to have some drinks and then spend the rest of the day on a boat.  The nice thing about Amsterdam is that there are lots of things to do inside like going to cool museums or, you know, hanging in a coffeeshop.  All and all, it wasn't unbearable to be outside or anything, but this is definitely a trip I would save for warmer weather if you can.

me, all bundled up, about to get blown over by the wind.

- Don't worry if you miss the Heineken Experience.  This place is like the Disney World of brewery tours, and it still didn't hold a candle to our trip to the Carlsberg Brewery.  They have a lot of the same features (old posters and bottles, a tasting room, horses and stables, etc.) but the corporate commercialism of the Heineken Experience was a real turn off for me.  I mean, there's even a 4-D ride.  I appreciate the fact that they make a lot of effort to create an interactive experience, with DJ booths, make-your-own post cards, and videos, but I'd rather tour and taste on my own than be corralled from room to room while being inundated with advertisements.  But you know, it was cold outside.  So it was something to do indoors.

labels through the years

cranks (?)

taste some delicious wort! err....

Hub in the first tasting room

the Heineken stables

our postcard :)

in the second tasting room. i won a "free beer" by being the only person to correctly answer the question, "what is the first thing you do when you're beer tasting?" do you know the answer?

- Don't underestimate the size of the city.  Remember when I said I thought Florence would be bigger?  Well, I thought Amsterdam would be smaller.  It's not small.  It's a pretty big city that, while is absolutely walkable, requires some comfortable shoes.  Which brings me to my next point, don't... - Don't go anywhere without a good map.  Now, I am not very good with directions.  San Francisco is the only place on earth where I've ever been able to reference where north, south, east, and west are located.  But I usually get my bearings in a new city after a day or two.  Not so with Amsterdam.  In fact, I never quite figured that city out.  It was so confusing!  Michael finally got the hang of it and said that in order to figure it out, you need to orient yourself with the Central train station, and for some reason I just couldn't do it.  But that is my recommendation for others, if you can manage it.

don't forget, find Central Station first

EATS/DRINKS: The first thing you should know about eating in Amsterdam is that it's not exactly a "foodie" town.  We had some tasty meals, but your food experience there is really all about the snacking.  And do they have some good snacks in Amsterdam.  For example: Stroopwafels - these little waffles-thin-as-crepes with caramel syrup in the middle became our favorite treat of the whole trip.  We ate them fresh in the street, we ate the pre-packaged ones that magically showed up in our hotel room every night, and we bought a big package to take home with us.  In fact, we actually finished the last of the Stroopwafels last night and almost shed a tear.  I'm now on a mission to find them in France.

fresh, hot Stroopwafel!!!

i know i look cold, but look how happy i am to have my Stroopwafel!

sadly, this box is now empty

Bitterballens - pronounced "bitterballs", these taste much better than they sound.  They're sort of like someone took the gravy from a batch of chicken & dumplings, rolled it into a ball, and then deep fried it.  And then told you to dip it in mustard.  Yeah.  Like that.  Our friend Leon took us to Cafe XO to get the best Bitterballen in Haarlem and they were every bit as incredible as they sound.

fried deliciousness

Fries - Ok, fine, they're just fries.  But there are entire fast food chains in Amsterdam dedicated to serving freshly made, piping hot fries.  Like Chipsy King.  We stopped in here once or twice to get a hot cone of fries with Curry Ketchup for Hub and plain fries for me.  I know, I'm such a purist.

fries, please!

yum, yum

And now, for the real food. Specktakel Leon and Tamara took us to this awesome restaurant in Haarlem and I was like, this is what I've been looking for!  Really chic and modern with innovative food and good wine.  And fried crickets.  I ate crickets ya'll!!  And I liked them.  We had a feast here of Crocodile Spring rolls, Hong Kong Pork Dumplings, Angus beef with smoked egg, and Llama Churrasco.  Talk about a unique dining experience.  And did I mention the dessert?  A 12-in. chocolate tower and Caribbean Banana Pancakes.

crocodile spring rolls - see the crickets on the left hand side?

see the smoked egg in the back?

Indrapura Did you know that Amsterdam is known for their Indonesian restaurants?  Makes sense, since Indonesia was a Dutch colony for over 300 years.  We wanted to make sure we got to try this cuisine (for the first time!) and chose Indrapura.  We dined on the traditional Indonesian dish, rijsttafel or rice table, which basically means that they bring you a million different little bowls of awesome food.  It was delicious.  The ambiance here was really nice and our server, despite the fact that he insisted on speaking to us only in French after we told him we were Americans living in Montpellier, were incredibly friendly.

they keep your food hot by putting a bunch of little votives underneath

yum, yum

Bagels & Beans This is a fresh quick-service restaurant chain in Amsterdam that's like Panera, except it's actually good.  It's the perfect stop on in between sightseeing for a quick lunch that's made to order and healthy.  Their sandwiches were so tasty!

my awesome sandwich.

Hub's yummy sandwich

Restaurant Belvedair - Eindhoven Airport Is it weird that one of our best meals of the trip was at the Eindhoven airport?  Yes, but it's also true.  It reminded me of a really, upscale college dining hall (like Ogden to the 10th power) complete with fresh smoothies and sandwiches, soups, a pasta bar, a grill, desserts and many choices of beer.  We took our dinner outside on the terrace (who cares if it was cold!) and enjoyed our last meal in Amsterdam.

sandwiches, salad, and tea

our drinks on the terrace

Screaming Beans This cafe was so cool!  Handmade cups of coffee, freshly made bread and sandwiches, and a "Coffee Academy" to train the baristas, it was like hipster central up in here and we loved it.  We stopped by every morning  for our breakfast and lattes.

looks good, doesn't it?

Vyne  This little wine bar was located just a few blocks from our hotel and we had a lovely nightcap here one night.  They have a really extensive wine list full of bottles from all over the world and Port wine!  I was in heaven! They also have appetizers and small plates for a evening snack.

inside Vyne

i loved how they display their bottles

 In de Wildeman This is the kind of place I wish we had in Montpellier.  A former distillery, this centrally located bar has a lo-ong list of delicious craft beers for you to choose from (17 on tap and 200 in bottle!) from all over the world, and also hosts occasional beer tasting events.  We met another set of local friends here, Arnaud and Coline (who knew we had so many friends in Amsterdam?!) and had an awesome time.  I had a Flying Dog Farmhouse IPA, a beer that was made especially for In de Wildeman's 25th anniversary, but is now available in the US.  The crisp and hoppy taste was throwback to my good old days that couldn't have made me happier.  If we lived in Amsterdam, I would be here every weekend. So Amsterdam, maybe I can come back and see you in the summer?  I hope so.  I'd love to see you again.

see you soon!

5 Responses to “Amsterdam City Guide: Dos, Don’ts, Eats”

  1. Dawn says:

    What is the first thing you do before you taste beer? I don’t know the answer.

    I loved Amsterdam when I visited. I believe it was in Febraury or March so I can relate to your comments about the cold winter. I had such a desire to visit in the spring when all the bulbs would be blooming.

    • Natalie says:

      You look at it! A bit of wisdom I remembered from years of wine tasting ;)

      I hear you guys might be headed back to Amsterdam during your summer trip here – hope this guide helps you :)

  2. Amanda Havel says:

    I love Amsterdam, looks like a great trip! Too bad about the Heineken brewery, they definitely remodeled their old time tasting room from the late 90s when I was there. The bartenders used to dress up in suspenders and bow ties and serve you beer to your table over and over again. Btw, they sell those waffle cookies at Trader Joe’s Natalie, I’m sure someone could mail you some from the US if you can’t find them in France. :)

    • Natalie says:

      Suspenders and bow ties sounds like a lot more fun!!

      I actually found some Stroopwaffels at the grocery store here and was OVERJOYED, but they didn’t taste the same! I want the real thing, fresh and hot! Guess we’ll just have to go back ;)

  3. Jen Glawe says:

    Just checked this out, as our trip is in less than 2 weeks now and I’m very excited :) Thanks for letting me know about the city guide that you created. It’s been helpful and I marked a lot of the places you visited down for us to check out.

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