Advertisements
Tag Archives: Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, get away from the damn Damrak!

13 Sep
13 September 2017.
Katerina, Deb, and Catherine will be sad to hear I really did not care for Amsterdam: at least until we got away from the damn Damrak. Our first day wandering this bastion of all things commercial I was almost sorry we came to The Netherlands. The Damrak was crowded with trams, buses, bicycles, cars, and clueless pedestrians maneuvering helter-skelter around one another. It is a wonder more people are not taken out by cyclists. The mayor is now actively discouraging tourism and suggesting people go to Rotterdam instead.

Sunday by the Canal, Amsterdam. Locals kick back with coffee and a newspaper.

Amsterdam, awash in tourists and their trappings, does have quiet sectors where one can appreciate the history, the beauty, and the determination of the Dutch. Like other great cities, one must leave the main arterials funneling tourists who have not done their homework and find the neighborhoods where dogs are walked and Sunday papers are read on sunny benches along quiet canals.

Love the old tile work in the Haarlem station. “Washroom First Class.” 

We stayed in Haarlem, which is quite charming and untouristed as far as we could tell this first week of September. At least the only English we heard was from the Dutch who can switch languages in mid-sentence, so used they are to dealing with non-Dutch speakers. We were quite flattered to be mistaken for Dutch a couple of times having used a rudimentary “Morgen” or “Guten Abend,” in greeting. Even Utrecht, a day trip destination for us, seemed to harbor more travelers than Haarlem. It also harbored a terrific railroad museum where we whiled away a couple of rainy hours.

Haarlem is much more laid back. Even cyclists are less intense.

Most mornings, we traveled the 15 minutes to Amsterdam from Haarlem via commuter train with students and workers who had parked their bikes in front of the station in confusing swarms. In the evenings, we traveled “home” with the same crowd, enjoying the feeling of being temporary locals who lived in the small town of Haarlem.
We could walk a few minutes to the Albert Heijn market and try to decipher labels to stock our kitchen. We wandered the back streets of Haarlem and took in the history thanks to an obscure book of walking tours I found. The cafes and restaurants of Haarlem were excellent and frequented by the Dutch, not our own ilk. This endeared us to The Netherlands.
The Van Gogh Museum, though lovely and certainly with an incredible collection of the master’s works, was horribly crowded even on Friday night at dinner time. (My introverted and crowd-avoiding self specifically booked tickets for an evening opening that was said to be less crowded.) To our amazement, the museum was not full of English speakers, but mostly Dutch, with some German and Italian sprinkled in. I guess the American kids hanging around Dam Square had little interest in Vincent.

Rijksmuseum before the masses descend. If you go, get a ticket in advance. I cannot believe how many people miss this simple trick at museums all over Europe.

By contrast, the Rijksmuseum at opening on a Monday morning was accessible. We almost skipped it based on our Van Gogh evening. Proving again that getting out early pays, we sailed in shortly after 9:00 and after a highlights tour returned to the main hall to find a rising tide of people as 10:30 approached. The line for those without advanced tickets was a block long outside when we left at 11:30.
We found the Joordan neighborhood as well as the area around the Stopera and Zoo to be peaceful places to roam on a Sunday morning. Re-emerging in central Amsterdam after wandering the Joordan was startling. Much like walking the Champs Elysees in Paris or making the march from San Marco to the Rialto in Venice, if you do not leave the Damrak, Spui, or Leidseplein, you miss the character of Amsterdam, and getting completely out of Amsterdam allows at least a  glimpse into how people live.

This is half of our Indonesian Rijsttafel.

I did not have high expectations for food. Outside of Italy, it can be a struggle for us to be truly happy with meals, so I must comment on some of our best meals here.
  • We were stunned to discover a truly Italian pizza in Haarlem at Pizzeria Back-to-Basics . The owner, Francesco, is a Neapolitan who came to Haarlem 30 years ago. He produces masterpieces from a tiny wood-fired oven and kibitzed with me in Italian. Even the wine was a good Italian negroamaro. (More on that soon at www.OurWeeklyPizza.com.)
  • Another night we experienced the Indonesian rijsttafel, an experience we’ve not had prior and would not mind repeating. At Restaurant Flamboyant, an array of 12 dishes was not unlike a Lebanese mezza. Each dish presented a different flavor palate from mild to spicy, from sweet to savory. Deep-fried tofu, stewed lamb, tender braised chicken, fried bananas, coconut vegetables, zippy sautéed eggplant: too many to name and each a bit of heaven on the tongue.
  • On a stormy night, we arrived soaking wet and found a cozy yet trendy interior and non-traditional menu at Popocatepetl. Pollo asado was served with sweet potato fries (side of mayo, of course!) and Ric’s birria, a lamb stew, was something we’d not seen before on a Mexican menu. The playlist varied from jazz to Mexican and the hang-out factor was huge. No wonder the place is always crowded with the young Dutch.

Happened upon a wedding party celebrating in a little side street.

We did not get to see as many places in The Netherlands as we had hoped. The weather was terribly unsettled and wet for much of our stay so we did not venture to some of the other spots on my list of possibilities. Funny that we timed this trip so we’d have some warm late summer weather in Northern Europe. September is usually amazing. But watching what happened with hurricanes in the U.S. and downpours flooding Italy, we are feeling pretty darn lucky.
Off to München!

Can you tell why this train is called a “dognose?”

I love the little sheep. If I had room in my luggage I’d place one in our yard at home.

Advertisements

Tourists again

29 Aug
29 August 2017. One of our favorite things about living in Roma was telling people we lived there. When we traveled we felt just a little Continental. We could take a trip with minimal planning: except for needing cat sitters, we could be quite extemporaneous. Trains were easy and we didn’t obsess over packing perhaps because we were so at home in Europe.
We loved being able to go to Tuscany for the weekend or to stay for an entire week somewhere because we weren’t in a rush. We loved vacationing as Italians do, passing a summer month in the cool beauty of the Dolomites.
Now we will be American Tourists again. We’re going back!
One of our dreams for life-after-Roma has been to return and do long trips with long stays throughout Europe. We will go back to favorite places and visit some new-to-us places. Cat-and-house sitters are lined up for September and October. (Read about our sitters, Dan & Tracy, at their blog, Sitters on Tour.
This time it feels like mounting an expedition. We’ve never done a two-month trip before. We are committed to packing light: the same amount of stuff for 2 months as for a week, 21-inch-roll-aboard plus a day pack. And we will experience temps (based on averages) as warm as 73F/23C and as cool as 43F/6C. A packing challenge, for certain.
Where will we be?
Amsterdam, Munich, Ortisei, Venezia, Assisi, Roma (naturally), Paris, and London. We plan to fan out on day trips in many places.
Amsterdam: We have five full days and figure we will spend three in the city and take a couple of day trips, perhaps Leiden, Delft, Hoorn, and Enkhuizen. We are staying in Haarlem.
Munich: Only two nights to break up the trip to Ortisei. I was there when I was 19 and most of my memories revolve around beer gardens. We plan on a private tour to see some city highlights.
Venezia: We know the city well after eight (or is it nine?) visits and will have five full days this time. What new experiences should we add?   I am thinking of  Bassano del Grappa and maybe Chioggia.
Assisi: We visited Umbria in 2011 and want to revisit some favorites (Spello), do some hiking, and see some new towns (Norcia perhaps). We will be here for five nights, four full days, and have a full day of travel (naturally by train) between Venice and Assisi.
Roma: Planning to reconnect with the city, friends, and favorite restaurants.
With our three stops in Italy, we will overdose on the Italian food (pizza!) we’ve missed so much.
Paris: We’ve been five times for 2-to-7-night visits in the past 2 1/2 years, but the only forays beyond central Paris have been to Versailles and Giverny. I am thinking about Chartres this time. We’ll have 7 nights, 6 full days. (Never enough.)
London: Wrapping up with two weeks in London, we are staying in Westminster. We love just walking around London and will try to hit sights and sites we missed on our last three trips but we also want to do some day trips. Bletchley Park is on the list, and maybe Bath and Stonehenge with Canterbury and Dover in mind as well.
I will try to be a good little blogger and post regularly. General travel insights and experiences at www.GoodDayRome.com, pizza eating at www.OurWeeklyPizza.com, and hiking (Assisi, Ortisei) at www.ProjectEasyHiker.com. If you are not signed up for all three, consider giving me a follow on them.
“See” you from the continent!

 

 

%d bloggers like this: