Last but not least: Amsterdam! With just one weekend left in my trip, I knew it had to be spent in Amsterdam. Thankfully, it’s only about an hour and a half train ride from Nijmegen, so after morning subject-running, I was soon rolling into the city. One of the things I’ve loved about the Netherlands is the universal transit pass (OV chipkaart), which allows you access to trains, buses, and trams all over the country. You just need to load it with money. It was an easy tram ride to the AirBnB, and I managed to just escape inside as the rain started torrentially downpouring. Once it had subsided, I took a walk over to the Foodhallen, an indoor food market, where I bee-lined for the bitterballen vendor and feasted on veal, goat cheese, truffle and even satay flavoured bitterballen. Delicious!
The clouds were starting to part as the sun set over the city. I hopped on a tram and made my way down to the House of Bols, purportedly the oldest distillery brand in the world. The tour was self-guided through a very glossy, interactive exhibit of the history and distillation of jenever, a traditional Dutch liquor and the precursor to gin. At the end of the tour, you received a cocktail of your choice and a couple tasting shots of jenever. My cocktail, a chocolate-honey mixture, was actually super tasty. I sampled the jonge jenever, called “young” because of its use of more modern distilling techniques, as well as a barrel-aged jenever. They were both rather potent (mind you I don’t tend to drink a lot of liquor straight up), but I did prefer the jonge jenever as it had a cleaner taste. I picked up a bottle of the barrel-aged for David, since its potency reminded me a bit of whisky which I figured he’d appreciate before heading out.
Just across the street was the Van Gogh Museum, which on Friday nights remains open until 10 pm. It’s so common for things to close at 5 or 6 pm, that it’s great when something stays open later. Nevertheless, the line was still quite long (and unfortunately outside in the blustery cold). My museumkaart unfortunately did not allow me to jump the line at this particular museum. Once I got inside, the lines were super long for the coat check, so I opted to carry my purchases around the museum. Photography wasn’t permitted, so I contented myself with taking in the collection. I’ve always been a fan of Van Gogh–his thick use of paint lending his work an almost sculptural quality. I saw his Almond Blossom painting, which hangs in the dining room, as well as his lilies and sunflowers. It’s great to see so many works by the same artist on display. You can really get an appreciation for the artist’s range, both of subject matter and techniques. They also had an interesting exhibition comparing the works of Edvard Munch and Van Gogh, where they would display thematically or stylistically related works side by side. In many cases, they were surprisingly similar. Ultimately, I preferred Van Gogh’s often glossier, textured paintings over Munch’s more matte work. After I’d had my fill, I did a quick search of the surrounding restaurants and decided to give The Seafood Bar a try. It seemed to be a popular spot, as it was bustling and full of folk (even had to wait for a seat at the bar). I started with a salad with smoked salmon and horseradish and, because I wanted to sample something else, their lobster salad sandwich. The nice thing about sitting at bars is that it’s often where solo travelers/diners sit, so I ended up striking up a conversation with the nice gentleman sitting next to me, chatting about travel, linguistics and fish.
The next morning, I ventured over to the Rijksmuseum and met up with Susanne, who hadn’t visited the museum in a long time. We grabbed a quick breakfast in the museum café and got her tickets (with surprisingly no line). We wandered through the collection, sticking mostly to works after the 1600s, as we’re both not big fans of paintings from the earlier centuries. Some of Rembrandt’s most famous works were featured, including The Night Watch, which were fairly heavily trafficked by tour groups.
After we’d satisfied our cultural inclinations for the morning, we headed off in search of lunch. Susanne took me through De Negev Straatjes (the nine little streets), a neighbourhood with small shops, galleries and restaurants interwoven with the canals. I was so tickled by the narrow, often very slanted buildings. Things just seemed to be falling into each other, holding each other up. We chanced across Van Harte, a tasty looking eatery in a stylish space. The weather was blustery and cold (very Chicago-like, so I’m well-prepared), so it was nice to warm up with a drink and sandwich. From there, we wandered up through the Jordaan district, an upscale neighbourhood which Susanne noted many locals consider to be a reflection of a more real Amsterdam (relative to the more tourist-trafficked areas near the city center).
As Susanne had a prior evening engagement, I saw her off at the train station, a gorgeous building in its own right. I ended up booking an evening canal cruise, so I’d have something to do in the evening. I wandered my way back down Damrak, the city’s main thoroughfare lined with major brands and tourist shops. I stopped in at De Drie Fleschjes, an historic jenever tasting house for a tulip glass of it. I was told that traditional Dutch establishments like this one always have sand on the floor (to keep things clean apparently), no music and hardboiled eggs on the bar as snacks.
I continued my wanderings and ended up walking so far that I came across the Nationale Opera and Ballet theatre. I had discovered last week that the Dutch National Ballet was putting on Giselle and had decided to seize the opportunity and grab one of the last tickets. I picked up my ticket and decided to head back to the apartment for a bit. While waiting for the tram, I did see the aftermath of a scooter-pedestrian collision. Thankfully, police and ambulance were quick to respond, but it was a sobering reminder of how easy it could be to get hit. Bike lanes also permit scooters, which I’ve never really liked since they typically move so much faster, so they can be easy to miss.
It had unfortunately started to rain when I headed back out to grab dinner at Haesje Claes, a traditional Dutch restaurant, with wood-paneled dining rooms and an old-timey feel. There seemed to be a mixture of locals and tourists. I started with a goat cheese salad and ordered chicken liver with mashed potatoes and bacon as a main (I’ve come to realize that starters here are really not meant for one person, as they are quite sizable). The American couple next to me started chatting with me, and we had a pleasant conversation about travel and my work. I must have been particularly charming because as were getting our checks, I discovered they paid for my meal! The kindness of relative strangers never ceases to amaze me. I thanked them profusely but had to run to catch my canal tour. The rain-streaked windows of the tour boat did make photo-taking impossible, so I just sat, sipping my mojitos (it was a cocktail cruise) and enjoying the view. One of the great perks of touring the canals on the water is the glimpse into house-boating life (apparently there are around 2500 house boats in Amsterdam), peeking into their often gorgeously-appointed water-bound homes.
The next morning, I had a scrumptious breakfast at Gartine, a tiny, sweet little eatery that Susanne and I had tried to get a reservation for the previous day but had been all full up. What better way to start one’s morning than with eggs benedict and smoked salmon? It was just a short but rainy walk up Dam Square, which the Royal Palace of Amsterdam overlooks. Originally built as a city hall in the 17th century, it eventually housed King Louis Napoleon (the first king of the Netherlands). I’m a sucker for gorgeously appointed rooms and lavish furnishings, so the palace did me well. Most impressive was the Citizen’s Hall, with its soaring ceiling and ornate carvings.
They were already starting to set up for the Sinterklaas parade in Dam Square. His helpers, Zwarte Pieten, are typically portrayed in blackface, a matter of some controversy. But there were plenty of them wandering about, handing out candy to children and repelling down buildings. I had toyed with staying to watch some of the parade, but ultimately it was a bit too cold and windy for me to stick around for a glimpse of Sinterklaas. I hopped on the metro, which has a stop right next to the Nationale Opera and Ballet theatre. I still had an hour to kill, so I stopped in to Café Langereis across the street. I lingered over my prosecco and sizable cheese plate, watching the busy traffic controllers directing a steady stream of cars and bikes. Various road closures, no doubt because of the parade, made things particularly hectic.
I hopped over to the theatre to see the matinee showing of Giselle, their last show of the run. It was a beautiful performance–gorgeous and melancholic. The Wilis (spirits of women who were jilted by their lovers) were particularly haunting, row upon row of women clad in white romantic tutus and long veils. (see them here on the company’s website), bourrée-ing eerily across the stage. There’s nothing like watching a ballet to transport you out of the insanity of your own life into another world. I had left my overnight bag at the train station for the day, so it was easy enough to catch the train back to Nijmegen. I left the city to a gorgeous sunset behind the skyline. Dank je wel, Amsterdam, for a lovely visit. Methinks we’ll meet again.