Amsterdam: The Most Livable
Amsterdam is a place I always knew we'd visit. I've heard it's a lovely city, but moreover, we had a connection.
Caroline and I used to work together on Capitol Hill. She moved to Amsterdam last year with her partner, who had a work opportunity.
We stayed in touched, and I vowed to visit. Thus once we finally got to Europe, we made it a priority.
To be honest, Will was fairly impartial about visiting Amsterdam. Or as he puts it, he had no opinion. But, he'll also admit that he often has the best time in cities that surprise him.
This time, we didn't anticipate the degree that completely fell for the city. We concluded it was the most livable place we've visited.
Perhaps because it seemed doable, with former DC colleagues making it work. Or, perhaps because it really is a utopia. Amsterdam's functioning government is far more focused on equality and investing in their people. It was refreshing, really.
After Paris, Will and I were thinking of doing a weekend trip in France. But if you're booking last minute in the summer months, it's best to steer away from France. Prices of trains skyrocketed, and anywhere we were looking from Paris (Annecy or Mont St-Michel) would be at least 400 Euro roundtrip for both us. France is a place we decided we can come back to, so we rerouted and headed straight to Amsterdam via Thalys.
Everyone says it because it's true. Railways in Europe are an unparalleled experience compared to the States. It's yet another example of where the U.S. priorities fail to invest in alternative transportation methods to cars. The quick trip was just over three hours, without security checks or customs. It's basically traveling from Washington DC up to New York City, but traversing three countries.
They literally knew everyone. The dog walker, the guy sitting next to them, the bartender.
Across the street was an Italian restaurant where they explained that the owner will personally deliver lunch on glass plates, that you return at your convenience. It felt like you stepped back in time.
After, we went to Winkel 43 for some infamous apple pie (appeltaart), which was more like cake, and a side of aged dutch cheese.
It was a wonderful introduction.
Friday was our first full day and we were eager to explore on our own.
I told Caroline that this was my favorite feeling: waking up on the first day.
She countered, because you don't know where you're going? But I think it's because you have the entire city to discover. It's all ahead.
It's a known fact: Amsterdam is best explored on bike. It's a biker's dream, as the city is completely oriented for those on two wheels. When in doubt, bikers have the right of way. It feels at times that it's the only form of transport.
Bikes are ubiquitous, jammed around every bike rack. Upon getting off the train from Paris, we were greeted with seemingly thousands of bikes. Even parking garages were setup just for bikes.
We were told that Amsterdam is a small city. And geographically, it is. When we asked if we could catch a cab from the train station, we looked terribly naive. It's about a 15 minute walk to Caroline's place. In fact, I don't know if there are even cabs around. If there are, though, they'd be via bike.
For our first day, we met up with two friends we met in Cat Ba. Laura and Neik are from the Netherlands and it felt so different meeting them in their comfort zone. We met at Vinnies, and on the mere walk over, I felt grateful we had more time to explore the secret bridges and alleys. And there really is plenty to discover. Amsterdam has private gardens hidden behind grand row houses, which are open to the public.
Although small in size, Amsterdam has such a rich culture. The people are comically friendly, and the honor system take on a whole new meaning. People's homes have massive windows, always open, and Caroline explained it's simply common courtesy not to stare.
We walked the canals. Compared house boats.
Walked by the Anne Frank House, which was sobering. Unfortunately, tickets inside sellout months in advance. I have to reread her diary.
That first day was the first of many picnics. Amsterdam is known for their green space. The city has over 30 maintained parks, which are widely used. Amsterdam was experiencing an uncharacteristically oppressive heat wave, so we sought shade. It's honestly, how we spent most of our time.
And we weren't the only one's. Locals flock to parks in the summer to bask, sprawl out in bikinis, bring portable grills, and perfect the art of picnicking.
We walked to Westerpark with Caroline and her sweet pup Blue. Whereas the park was crowded, there are also manicured trails for some quiet.
Saturday is market day. And thus, one of my favorite days. It was a bit of everything: clothes, jewlery, art, antiques, loads of gorgeous flowers, and plenty of specialty foods.
Amsterdam isn't necessarily known for their cuisine. However, they're known for their cheese, specifically, aged Dutch gouda.
As well as stroopwafels. The two thin layers are filled with a caramel syrup. The scent alone is intoxicating.
Men were on the corner, playing accordions and singing old Dutch hymns. It felt like you were walking through a storybook.
I may add, my love for Amsterdam was only heightened by their adoration of birthdays. They are recognized to great lengths and I completely resonate with these celebrations. In fact, they sell birthday calendars. Pure brilliance.
Boat tours of varied sizes sail along the canals at all hours.
Amsterdam has over 165 canals, which were created centuries back to help promote trade and further develop the city.
The Seventeenth-Century Canal Ring Area of Amsterdam inside of the Singelgract was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010.
Rather than a more traditional boat tour of the canal, Caroline and Colin rented a private boat for a few hours on Sunday morning.
We woke up early to a peanut butter sandwich bar, masterfully constructed by Colin. We prepared some obscure combinations: fruit and chocolate, pickles and hot sauce. We packed mimosas as well and were on our way.
It was such an idyllic morning, and it felt we had the entire canal to ourselves. It was well before the heat of the day and the waters were completely still.
Our friend Laura joined as well, since despite growing up in the Netherlands, she had never sailed the canals.
Touring the city via boat is a completely different perspective.
You're lower, and viewing the city through a different network of paths.
We crouched under bridges that were questionably passable.
It was a super unique perspective and an awesome experience. Thanks again, Caroline and Colin!
Ultiamtely, Will and I fell in love with Amsterdam. It's easy to.
It was the Netherlands that normalized lounging in parks, all day.
Later in the week we discovered Vondelpark, Amsterdam's largest and most popular green space.
Built in 1850, the park itself is extensive.
The area designates sections to picnic, bike, but also hike nature trails.
In addition to outdoor space, Amsterdam also has a wonderful collection of museums. We spent a particularly hot day exploring the Rijksmuseum.
It's a substantial collection that spans 800 years of Dutch and global history.
Notably, the museum includes Rembrandt’s 'The Night Watch,' as well one of Van Gogh's self portraits from 1887, which he painted largely in part to avoid paying for a model.
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's poster for 'Le Moulin Rouge' is also displayed, his first and most famous poster.
After the museum, we stopped at the popular Eetcafe Singel 404, which serves beautiful open-faced sandwiches.
Although I'm quick to say that every stop is my favorite, I'm even quicker to say so about Amsterdam.
And I know that's largely because of Caroline and Colin's extreme generosity, and sharing their gorgeous home.
We weren't going to stay too long, but it became increasingly tough to leave. I think it was the way that they made us feel so welcome.
And their kitchen! Freshly remodeled, it was a true joy to be in and I realized how much I missed cooking.
We'd share family meals almost nightly. Since they also left jobs in DC for a life abroad, we related to them on a slew of levels.
On our last full day in Amsterdam, we took the ferry to the Noord to check out IJ-Hallen, Europe's largest summer flea market.
The second hand market is only once a month in the summer, and nearly anything you think if is for sale: clothes, collectables, furniture.
There's also some food stalls, and I finally tried a herring sandwich. Served on bread with pickles and onions for only three euros, it's considered a signature dish in Amsterdam.
Later, Caroline recommended poffertjes, which are hot, spongy, mini pancakes.
Served with powdered sugar and butter, they're delicious.
We continued on into one of the warehouses in NDSM.
It's a former shipyard that's become a cultural hub with it's creativity and post-industrial architecture.
There were some quirky art exhibits.
And we squeezed in a bit of foosball.
We went to Noorderlicht Cafe for lunch, and camped out for a while.
On the way back, we stopped by some playground apparatuses, which are always all but too tempting.
And had our farewell meal at Pikoteo, a lovely tapas restaurant along the canal.
The combination of the unique architecture and relentless sunshine made Amsterdam seem dreamlike.
But it was how we felt in the city, that made our stay so pleasant.