Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Netherlands Part 1: Amsterdam!

"Dancing House" by Rembrandt's
Josh and I visited the Netherlands for a long weekend over Aug 12-16th and Amsterdam is now one of my favorite cities!! Besides the stereotypes because of its famous "coffee shops" with legal marijuana, there is a lot to see and do in this city! They say that Amsterdam is the “Venice of the North” because of the canals, but it is just too different from Venice to call it that. Both cities are special in their own way. One thing that surprised me was how many young professionals are in Amsterdam! It's funny, I didn't realize how much I missed being around younger people until our trip. Most of the people that I see out and about in Milan are much older (mainly baby boomers). Nothing against the baby boomers, but I just don’t have much in common with them. It was nice to see a large population of people our age out and about!

Some interesting facts about Amsterdam:
  • There are over 2500 houseboats on the canals in the city (and yes people live in them!)
  • Bikes are the preferred mode of transportation- when crossing the street be sure watch out for both cars and bikers)
  • Amsterdam was essentially built on a swamp and the buildings were set on wood poles. When the poles started rotting out, the buildings would start to lean, or “dance” as the locals call it. This is why there are so many leaning buildings in the city.
  • Dutch are the tallest people in the world with men averaging just over 6 feet tall and women 5’7’’.
  • Gay marriage was legalized in the Netherlands in 2001- these couples enjoy all legal rights and obligations as a regular marriage.
  • Prostitution and marijuana are legal

Swans in the Red Light District

Ok, enough random facts for you! Getting to Amsterdam is very easy! I had to meet Josh there because he was already in the Netherlands for a work trip. So I was flying solo (literally). When leaving Schiphol Airport I was expecting to walk a long way to get to the train station. As it turns out, they are connected and the trains were a short walk from my terminal. So easy! The train to Amsterdam was only a 10 minute ride and I met Josh at the Amsterdam Central Station. The weather was a little over cast and drizzly, but that quickly ended and we enjoyed our first night on the town.

The restaurant had birds hanging in the window- strange...
 but the BEST Chinese I've ever had!!
Bikes blocking the sidewalk
There is so much to see in this city! Amsterdam really is the definition of a port town- there are great restaurants with exotic food (we had AMAZING Chinese food at Nam Kee!!), the houses have hooks on the outside of their gables that were originally used to bring up the boats for the night, the red light district and the bars on every corner would give sailors the entertainment they were searching for when in port. In addition to these things, Amsterdam has amazing museums! On our first trip to Amsterdam back in 2006, we visited the Van Gogh Museum (a great way to see how his style progressed to impressionist) and this time we wanted to see more museums. In addition to the Van Gogh Museum, the Rembrandt house is open for tours with some of his works, and you can also see the house that Anne Frank lived in during WWII. We didn’t have time (and tickets were sold out…) for the Anne Frank House, so we visited Rembrandt’s house and also took a canal tour while we were there. Of course, we also wanted to go through the Heineken Experience. Many people from Amsterdam have raved about it, so we decided to check it out. It was really creative and fun to go through! Anyone in marketing should check this out- what a great way to get people excited about a product!!

Examples of objects that Rembrandt painted

One of Rembrandt's works with a guest bed-
they slept in cupboards

Materials used to make paint (the colors and oils)

Another thing we really enjoyed in Amsterdam was the Cuyp Street Market. It’s right off of the tram line and there are so many great things to experience there. Juice vendors are selling fruit smoothies for 1 euro, waffles with chocolate and other goodies are sold for 2 euros, and other sweets like a flat waffle with caramel in them. OMG- so good!!! We went by the flower market, but it was packed with people, and we can’t bring flowers home anyways… so we skipped that. Locals also recommended trying the french fries with mayo- I know, it may sound strange. But wow! They are sooo good! Not the healthiest snack, but sooo good when it touches the lips! We haven’t had french fries in a very long time, so we ate our fair share while in the NetherlandsJ
I know Josh's Grandpa would approve of this one :)

Heineken has horses too... is that where Budweiser got the idea??

We were able to make a label with our names on it

Dutch people also speak English very well, so it was nice to be around people that understand what I’m saying! One thing that may help them learn the language is the cinema- movies are played in their original language with Dutch subtitles (unlike in Italy where they just dub over in Italian). I was so excited about this! The weather on our second day was cold and rainy, so we decided to see the final Harry Potter and I’m so happy that I was able to see it (in English)!! I miss going to the movies…
Waffles with chocolate and coconut!! Yummy!!
A few things to remember when in Amsterdam- the people are very laid back and relaxed. It’s a pretty safe city so no need to worry there, but use your usual precautions when traveling. You may see some people looking to pick pocket. If you want coffee, don’t go to a coffee shop expecting it! You’ll want to find a Starbucks or a small café. If you are interested in going to the red light district, beware that women are right there in the windows soliciting for business! Since prostitution is legal, they are very open with it. Do not take pictures of the ladies of the night!!  A woman poked her head out and starting cussing out an old lady for having her camera out, she was not happy! There are also shows in the red light district- keep the legal prostitution idea in mind when thinking about seeing a show. The shows are not exactly done in the burlesque style… they are a little more risqué than that.
House boat on one of the canals

"No Parking" zone

Enjoying my coffee and the canal cruise

"Stop looking at me swan!"

Some things that I would recommend doing while in Amsterdam:
·         Eat the french fries!
·         Check out the Cuyp Street Market
·         Go through the Heineken Experience
·         See the Rembrandt House and Van Gogh Museum
·         Experience the red light district, even if you just go there and people watch from a bridge (but leave the kids at home! We saw people with children walking around….)
·         A canal cruise- it was a great thing on a Sunday morning when the weather was nice. Enjoy a cup of coffee while cruising around the canals and seeing the amazing city.
We really enjoyed our time in Amsterdam and are already looking forward to our next trip! After spending more time in this city, it shot straight to the top of my list of favorites!!

Up Next: Den Haag, Netherlands

1 comment:

  1. Josh and Maren, your blog is SUCH a day brightener! I love the things you are seeing!