Watch where you step. Look both ways. And under no circumstances whatsoever, wander aimlessly into the bike path. If you do, there’s a good chance you’ll collide with a very fast, basket laden bicycle. Or, at a minimum, you’ll have a tall, beautiful, and perfectly multi-lingual Dutchman or woman ring a loud bell and politely shout to get the ‘f’ out of the way. Cycling is a cornerstone of the culture in Amsterdam - just as much as canals, museums and coffee shops - and thousands of bikes cruise around the city during every season and at every hour of the day. It’s just one of the things that makes this gorgeous, creative, liberal, historical, free-thinking city unlike anywhere else in the world.
It’s a bit hard to come to terms with the fact that we’re sitting in the urban center of a capital city. It’s late spring. We’re perched at an outdoor cafe table with a cold local microbrew, as the sun streams through giant, leafy trees and boats slowly glide by. Sounds of acoustic guitar flood from the nearby street corner which is lined with rows of brightly colored tulips - past their prime, but still remarkable. It’s downright peaceful and we could easily spend the next two days sitting in this very spot. But there’s far too much to do, see, and experience in Amsterdam, and with limited time, we’ve planned wisely.
First things first, we’ve registered for tickets to the Anne Frank House. This step is imperative to experience what both of us consider to be one of the most eye-opening and unique museums in the world, located in the actual house where Anne hid from the Nazis during the occupation of the Netherlands. Tickets must be purchased online (they are available two months in advance) for a specific time slot. The personal accounts of the harrowing and atrocious history that occured here, and across Europe, force us to think about the bravery, strength and incredible perseverance of so many individuals. It is, without a doubt, a must-visit. Unfortunately our time is limited and we don’t have time to explore the city’s other famous museums, but the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and the Moco Museum (to see the permanent Banksy exhibit) are at the top of our list for our next trip.
We check in to our room at Hotel Van de Vijsel, one of the many hip, design-forward boutique hotels in the city center. It’s located in a building that was used in the timber trade during the 19th century and is covered with planks of reclaimed wood, creating a trendy urban treehouse kinda feeling. Before the trip, we spent a ridiculous amount of time browsing hotel photo galleries and narrowing down options - there are just too many amazing and unique boutique luxury hotels to choose from here. (We’ve also booked clients at the Conscious Hotel Westerpark, just outside the Jordaan district). We’re rewarded with the location of our choice when we meander through a corner of the nearby 100-acre Vondelpark before dinner. Although it’s chilly, the late afternoon sun is shining and locals are laying flat on their backs on blankets. We have a laugh that Spaniards would be wearing turtlenecks and hats right about now and continue on.
It’s no surprise that Amsterdam also has an abundance of incredible restaurants, with various cuisines at every price point. Our list of restaurants is longer than our list of hotel considerations, so we select each meal carefully. We head in the direction of the trendy Jordaan District, which is home to many of the places on our list, including Long Pura - Indonesian led by a Balinese chef and Gs Jordaan, the place for a proper weekend brunch. We land on La Perla Pizzeria, which turns out to be the perfect relaxed locale to meet some friends who are visiting from Boston.
Parting ways after a delicious dinner of Neapolitan-style pizza and craft beer, we have a serious mid-30’s moment, debating heading back to the room for an early night (I mean, we’ve been traveling at a fast pace and are pretty tired), or going out on the town. We discuss. We argue both sides. And then we come to the realization that we’re here, in Amsterdam and frankly, we’re not too old to push through the tiredness and have a fun night. So, out we go. First stop, a local coffee shop for the quintessential Amsterdam experience. We smoke our joint on the bank of a canal, taking in our surroundings and feeling very cool and free before starting to laugh uncontrollably like tourists who can’t handle their weed. Suddenly we’re hungry again and head to a local supermarket for snacks and cold beers. It’s getting pretty late now as we wander the city center, sipping our beers along the way. Well past midnight, we wind up on the edge of the famous Red Light District, before turning back to the hotel to Google the average earnings and government benefits for local prostitutes. The buzz has faded, and as we discuss the pros and cons of legalized prostituttion, we find that we’re most certainly still in our mid(ish) 30’s. Damnit.
Not surprisingly, we wake up late the next morning, swinging by Koffie Academie for a rich, robust and decently sized cup of coffee before heading out to explore. Regrettably, we don’t make it to Foodhallen, located in a former Dutch train hall and selling every type of international street food you can imagine. However, before hopping on the train to the airport, we swing by Thrill Grill, a popular local burger joint with four locations in the city, for incredible salmon and falafel burgers that curb our hunger for the journey home.
Amsterdam is a unique city. A place where creativity rules, where art and design are being pushed to the max and where freedom and acceptance is unquestionably celebrated. It’s a place where nature effortlessly melds with an urban environment, with lazy canals and large parks utilized daily. A place that no matter where you’re from, how old or how young you are, whether you’re there for nightlife or museums, you belong. And that’s why we’re already counting the days until we can go back.
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