Some final bits and pieces about my trip to Amsterdam.
Hotel. I stayed at the Max Brown Hotel located in the canal district (they also have one near the major museums), a fun and somewhat funky hotel. Situated on the Herengracht canal, the Max Brown is an easy five minute walk from the train station and makes an ideal “home” for a stay in Amsterdam since nearly every major site is within walking distance or reachable via the train. I stayed in one of their smallest rooms and saved some money by passing on a canal view, but found the room to be very nice – clean and very comfortable with an ensuite bathroom. The hotel is made up of three historic canal houses which means the stairs are very steep and narrow. My room was, thankfully, only one story up but that was enough! I counted 20 steep steps for my climb (no elevator of course) in a stairway that was barely wider than my shoulders! All part of the adventure!
Besides the excellent location, another bonus of staying here was that breakfast was included. Served buffet style, it consisted of 2-3 kinds of ham and cheeses, bread, juices, fruit, yogurt and excellent coffee.
Dutch Food. One thing that I feel I somewhat failed at during this trip was experiencing authentic Dutch food. While not as renowned for their cuisine as France or Italy, the Netherlands does have several unique dishes. Unfortunately I didn’t find many (and admittedly avoided the street vendor I passed selling raw herring). Don’t worry, I ate lots of excellent food, but I stuck mainly to museum cafes, where I felt more comfortable, for meals and snacks.
One authentic Dutch snack I did have was poffertjes, which are tiny, pillowy pancakes, drizzled with melted butter and powdered sugar and nearly worth the trip to Amsterdam alone. Yum!
Another treat was Dutch fries which look and taste suspiciously like French fries. One difference, although I know many non-Dutch people also do this, is that they’re served with mayonnaise. Ketchup is an extra 10 cents!
The museum cafes not only have excellent food, they’re often situated in beautiful rooms and with beautiful views. At the Museum of Bags and Purses the cafe overlooked a charming courtyard. The cafe at the Van Gogh Museum was decorated with stylish modern furniture and looked out on the Museumplein. At Kuekenhof the outdoor seating was shaded by blooming crabapple trees. And at the Rijkesmuseum, the cafe is located in their impressive entrance hall.
My favorite meal/snack though wasn’t Dutch at all; it was an authentic English cream tea that I enjoyed at a small cafe located on Singl canal. Now, American scones are quite good and tasty, but they can’t compare to English scones. American scones are filled with spices and fruits and chocolate chips and all sorts of nonsense. English scones are quite plain, flaky and tender and slightly sweet, smothered with lashings of clotted cream and strawberry jam and served with a hot pot of tea. Heavenly!
People. In my experience, the Dutch people were soft spoken, unfailingly polite, rather tall, seem very healthy (all that biking!) and speak English fluently. English is so prevelent that almost all signs are in English, including most of the descriptive signs at the museums. When I ate lunch at the Rijksmuseum cafe it was quite busy and I was asked if they could seat another person at my table. She was very interesting – a native of Peru, she was now a U.S. citizen and married to an American. They were living in the Netherlands for three years for his work and she had stopped for lunch before going to her Dutch conversation group meeting. She explained to me that it’s very difficult to get the Dutch to speak Dutch to you, that as soon as they realize you speak English, they switch to flawless English themselves and indeed, when she tried to order her food in Dutch, the waiter responded in English. It’s not unusual for people to ask you what country you’re from since their English is so unaccented and so effortless, it’s not always apparent if you’re a native speaker or not!
Weather. I had incredibly beautiful weather throughout my stay – sunny blue skies with just a few puffy white clouds, cool but not cold, light breezes. Somehow I timed my visit for a three day golden window since it rained early the day I arrived and was cloudy the day I left. Spring can be tricky but the risk is entirely worth it for the spring blooms and, when the weather is good, it’s spectacular. I feel very, very lucky.
On the Approach to Schiphol Airport. As my flight began its descent into Amsterdam, blue skies began to break through dramatic grey rain clouds. The plane turned to make its final approach, leaving the vast ocean to the left, then a strip of sandy beach and then field after field of tulips and flowers, tiny rectangles of yellow and red and orange. Welcome to Amsterdam.