When people ask me what is the best place I have been to so far, my automatic answer would always be Barcelona, Spain. After spending four days and three nights in Amsterdam earlier this week, I think I might just have had a slight change of heart.
I think it is safe to say that Amsterdam, out of all the cities I have visited, is easily the most tourist-friendly. The locals are obviously used to their city buzzing with people from all over the globe revelling in their breathtaking views of the canal and the gingerbread houses (as one blog I’ve previously read has cleverly put it), their generous offer of healthy brunch options, the very entertaining Red Light District, among others.
What I liked the most was the fact that all of the locals (okay, I might be overgeneralising) speak English. Every tram driver, receptionist, or vendor we came across conversed with us in a language we actually all understood. This, for me, is quite impressive as not every other tourist hot spot that we had been to did the same and it sort of became a struggle to communicate.
Anyway, I have yet again compiled a list of five personal favorite things I did in Amsterdam. Surprise, surprise.
1 Purchasing an I Amsterdam city card as soon as we got out of Schiphol’s border control was easily the best decision we made on our first day. For 74 euros, the red card was inclusive of access to many museums, a canal cruise, and public transport around the city for 48 hours.
I cannot really say these are perks or that they came for free (cos we had to pay for a fee to get a card) but it clearly cut our costs and saved us from that dreadful feeling of literally taking cash out of our wallets every now and then and feeling as if we were splurging.
The pack came with a magazine (which I have yet to read) and a map which came in really handy in double checking our itinerary before heading out of our hotel room.
Probably the only downside to this was that one of my friends lost her card a few hours after activating it on our second day. We tried to see if they can provide a replacement for lost cards but unfortunately, if you lose it, you lose it.
2 Museums were our main agenda for our second day (which was also technically our first full day). Out of all the museums we visited, the Van Gogh Museum would have to be what impressed me the most. From what I have learned, not only was Van Gogh a master of self portrait, he had also led quite an interesting life from the moment he discovered art up to the days leading to his death.
My favorite part of the museum would probably have to be Van Gogh Dreams where we got to see his emotional journey as he moved to southern France and had regular mental breakdowns until they became no longer just that. This was apparently another eye opener for me about how serious mental health should be taken and how everyone suffering from any related issues is clearly a victim desperate for an escape.
On a lighter note, Van Gogh also painted sunflowers! Not exactly the brightest-looking bunch of my favorite flowers but it will do.
3 If there is one other thing I learned that has stuck to me, it is this: the Dutch love their (or serving) brunch! It is insane how there are so many cafes and restaurants with all-day brunch choices on their menus. I have quit brunch a long time ago and decided to stick to lunch but staying in this beautiful city, the former seemed like an imperative thing to do.
Before going on this trip, I researched some of the best places to have breakfast and/or brunch around the city. Most travel blogs suggested Pancakes! Amsterdam and The Breakfast Club. We tried out the former on the first day and passed by the latter (but did not have the chance to eat in it unfortunately) on our third.
Most of the places that serve pancakes offer a selection of either traditional, sweet, or savory. We had mushrooms, paprika, cheese, & bacon for the savory one and ham & cheese for the traditional. They look really flat on photos but are actually quite filling!
Of course, on this number, I just have to throw in few other random food photos from the entire trip.
(first photo was yet again another big breakfast and second photo is a bowl of nachitos and guacamole dip from Fento, one of the recommended food stalls located inside Foodhallen)
4 The canal and the view of gabled houses along it were breathtaking. One of the things that convinced us to get city cards was actually the canal tour. Fascinating fact: canal houses are installed with hoists and most of the narrow canal houses have really interesting background stories to tell.
5 When we were making our itinerary, two of the suggestions we came across were the Albert Cuyp Market and the Bloemenmarkt which were basically a street market and a flower market respectively.
In the middle of the long stretch of Albert Cuyp Market, we found a little stall selling their must-try stroopwafels which was a perfect treat for a sweet tooth like myself.
For 1.50 euros, you get a piece of heaven disguised in two thin waffles with a spread of caramel syrup in the middle. Plus, it comes with a chocolate topping too.
Bloemenmarkt, on the other hand, was home to a number of flower stalls and it was crazy how many tulips, among other flowers, they sell in the area. Not all flower vendors were willing to have their products photographed but we managed to find some stalls whose owners were not bothered by tourists (like ourselves) getting too excited at the sight of tulips in different colors.
I was this close to bringing home tulip bulbs but the thought of colder months incoming and the fact that I do not really have a green thumb prevailed. Plus, luggage issues.
Another thing we spent quite some time doing in the flower market was finding the perfect cheese to take home. Clearly, I love cheese. You can take one of my friends (who was with me on the trip) to the coffee shops, you can take me to the cheese shops. We went inside Henri Willig Cheese Farm Store (which was only one of the many stores selling cheese, by the way) and I swear had the best moments in cheese heaven – what with all the free taste!
Eventually, I thought truffle cheese (although gouda came a really close second) suited my palate best and bought with me a set that came with smoked goat cheese, a honey mustard spread, and a cheese board! I cannot wait for wine and cheese night with my friends from college tomorrow.
So there you go, my top five list for Amsterdam. The Red Light District and the brownies did not make it to the cut but those were definitely unforgettable experiences worth recommending as well! And maybe, just maybe, I might write about them in a separate post later on.