Sunday, August 25, 2013

I Heart Amsterdam

Hello friends! I apologize for this last installment of my Europe trip being so late. Things got crazy there at the end of summer and then school started and everything else took a backseat for a while! I was dying to find time to write these last trip posts!

 If you are interested in the preceding parts of this trip, my travel posts from England are here in part 1part 2part 3, and part 4 and Belgium in part 5

Making our way from Belgium to the Netherlands, I just had to share the beauty of the Antwerp train station, which was our transfer point.

Amazing! ( Sorry phone photo here.) This does not even show the gorgeous ceilings or the outside of this beauty. This station, built in 1895, was slated for demolition. After WWII, many of Europe's rail stations fell into disrepair and neglect with the advent of the evil car and lack of money. I cannot even imagine taking such a lovely place down. Luckily, it was saved and restored in the 1980s. On a related note, a fabulous flash mob of doing some Sound of Music was filmed here! If you haven't seen it, you can here. It gives me those warm fuzzies. I know I'm kind of a nerd like that.

Our itinerary was Bruges to Amsterdam by rail, but as we were checking our tickets booked online, we noticed we were given a 7 minute window to transfer trains in Antwerp. Hmm, probably not going to happen I thought. 

First of all, the Antwerp train station is four stories of trains! Secondly, Northern European trains are on time. (This is not Italy people. Just saying.) There was no way we were going to make that connection!  We actually hit the ground running with all of our stuff, kids backpacks, earphones, biscuits packages and jackets flying and got there just as the train pulled out... Lol.

Another bummer was this was the first day, (a Saturday) of the European summer vacation for schools. Madness! Everyone was off somewhere and all trains were previously booked....So, the train folks admitted their scheduling error and sympathetically let us ride in the bar car! Not so horrible for an hour.. A nice gentleman thought we were funny and took a photo of us..

Well, we made it there and it was worth all the hassle! 

The boys and I in front of the Rijkmuseum.

Did I mention this trip was cold? It was freezing cold by wimpy Californian standards. I packed at home in 95 degree heat and though my brain knew I should pack warmer clothes for late June, I didn't pack much- hence me wearing my pashmina/blanket thingy I usually keep for the airplane. I was happy to have it and wore it most days on top of my jacket. We only got warmer weather the last 2 days of the trip. It stayed in the 50s cool and windy and damp most of this trip. Let this be a tip if you go here in summer! Pack for warmth!

 Basically wearing a blanket. Not sure how chic that was, but I hate being cold!

Amsterdam is the land of the bicycle and don't you know it the second you hit town. We were first astounded at the 4-story parking structure at the train station that was just for bikes!! Bikes are everywhere and they have a sophisticated bike infrastructure with bike traffic lights and designated paths as well as many streets that are mainly for bikes. 

Amsterdam train station- google images.
If you forgot where you parked your bike you may never find it. This is just the train station and they are building more bike spots here.

 We were amazed by all the kids and families on bikes. Look how they fit the kids in these fun wheelbarrow contraptions or the Dutch call them, bakfiets! My kids would have loved these when they were small. Of course most Americans will cringe at the thought of their child not being strapped or sealed in!

Loved this guy and their little dog!

Cute couples seemed to be everywhere.

Most people had these generic black bikes and a milk crate wired to it. There are no fancy bikes anywhere and no helmets ever! People are amazing bikers here. They are fast and so used to it that couples even hold hands and bike side by side.

Don't you love both the men's bright pants here? People dressed beautifully in Amsterdam. It's a very stylish city.

 Families share bikes like this mother and her daughters going into the tunnels that run under the Rijksmuseum.

This was a grandmother with her daughter and granddaughter .

Amsterdam has 800,000 people and 880,000 bikes. It is estimated that 70% of all trips or errands are done on bicycle. It wasn't always this way. In the 1970s the country began to invest in biking. There was a really interesting article about how biking became so popular in the Netherlands here on BBC news magazine. The Dutch also believe there is safety in numbers, which I am sure is true.

 If they aren't on wheels than they are pushing them. I loved this stylish little gal and her dolly.

On every gate or fence or space a bike is chained to it. I'm not kidding about that.

As a bike rider myself, I would be quite intimidated to ride here as a tourist! Dutch biker speed is fast! You should see the corners they take, with kids as well! I saw quite a few near misses and you have to be careful not to walk on the bike paths.

Griffin running from under the Rijksmuseum tunnels. Sadly we did not get to the Rijksmuseum on this trip, but we stayed in this area called the museum district and it was a terrific location, close to the canals, shopping district and all the museums in this vicinity.

In front of the museum there are huge letters spelling Amsterdam that people love to pose on.

Much of Amsterdam reminded me of New York with it's leafy streets and tall brick houses.

It was just beautiful. I loved wandering here.

Flowers are grown where you least expect it.

Flower boxes are on most of the bridges!

So much to do here, but we only had two full days. We wandered the city and checked out the flower market, shops and restaurants.

The front of the Rijkmuseum.  This and the Van Gogh Museum are about a block apart.

The Amsterdam flower market was interesting and was huge.  Fun shopping here.  Grif was intrigued by the solar butterflies. They have Delftware for sale in the stands and nearby on the main shopping street, Kalverstraat, which is for pedestrians only.

They sell tiny pygmy orange trees in canisters here. Orange is the official color of the Netherlands and it makes a good little souvenir. You can bring it home and plant it. (Okay, mine's still in the can.)

This hammock store was pretty cool.

The cheese shops also line the flower market. Don't skip stopping here and sampling! We brought home a wonderful wheel of gouda.

These antique dealers enjoying the sun and some wine. We loved their vintage steam liner chairs!

The bathroom is a store. That's right. Hilarious to us.

Can you read this sign? Sure he did. :/

One of the best meals we had on this trip was here at Cafe Loetje. It's near the museum district and is a favorite of the locals.  Salads were huge and food was very good. Wonderful outdoor dining and fun bar. People were so nice!

They also have a cat. I think his name was Arthur. This family was trying to snap his photo as he sat on the chair with them He also sat next to me on the bar. Great fries here. Don't forget to have fries. I ate them every day - also beer. And waffles! Food is just a huge part of the fun experience here!!

Speaking of food, on the Kalverstraat shopping street, we stumbled across this gem just about lunch time. It's not far from the flower markets.

Behold the best grocery store I have ever entered, La Place. Just some of the samplings in the prepared food area. . .

 The foods you could bring home or eat there were amazing. They had soup stations, bread stations, an Asian wok station, and I could go on and on!

Focaccia by the foot!

Grab and go juices made in house.

We all picked something delicious and sat upstairs where it feels like you are in someone's home.
The lunch area has beautiful marble tables and furniture.

My lunch was this olive focaccia and a citron presse soda. If I could only have this near my home! 

Something that's a must in Amsterdam is the Anne Frank House. I have wanted to go since I was young.  Make sure you go online and make an appointment if you plan to do this. Booking online before,  you can go to a special door and walk right in. The lines go around the block and you may have to wait several hours if you don't make an appointment.

Visiting the Anne Frank House was one of the highlights of this trip. Words can't describe the impression it leaves on you. I think it's something everyone should do.  For my boys, ages 15 and 11, this was the right age to do this. I was hoping they would get some perspective and better understanding about what happened during the war from this. My oldest said that he felt this made it (in his words),  really, real- seeing her experience from her room. 

You do climb into the real rooms Anne and the others hid in and they are in their original shape, untouched after all this time. Anne's wall is still decorated with movie stars photos and other things that a young 15 year old girl would be obsessed with at the time. That really got to me as did seeing her diaries. The museum does a good job of keeping the dialogue going as you move through and eventually end up in a place where you can ask yourself if people in the world today are suffering the same way.

The one thing I did buy was a postcard of Anne at 15, her last photo. I keep this on my bulletin board so I will not forget.

Another must do is a canal ride. It's a great way to see more of Amsterdam. If you go on a Saturday or Friday afternoon and it's sunny, it's even more fun. When the sun shines here, everyone comes outdoors. I mean everyone. If they aren't on the canals in some floating form, then they are on every doorstep or canal edge with their own chairs and bottles of wine and food. It's a city-wide party when the sun is out and crazier still on the water!

Some interesting sightings....

Bridal shower boat?

Loved their wicker chairs! Looked like an after work float.

This cute couple rigged up their hammock near the canal edge.

You can see above the block party atmosphere starting. I wish I took a photo when we were trapped in boat gridlock so you could see all the watercraft and rafts! It was fun though. Everyone had music playing and it was like a huge party. I have to say, people here know how to enjoy life. It's also a great city to be young in. The water is like one big cruising area.

Many of the boats are houseboats and have their own gardens! Love the boxwood and black paint here.

Boxwood is popular all over the city.

I  also adored the lacquered doors that are everywhere.

Another boxwood adorned and more modern canal home below.

 Unique to Amsterdam is the very narrow canal houses. A long time ago, homeowners were taxed according to the width of their homes, so home were built as narrow and tall as possible.

The narrowness of these homes is the reason you will see that all houses have a hook on the top to pull furniture through the windows! Many of the canal houses were built in the 17th century and the canal house area is now a Unesco World Heritage site.

I hated leaving Amsterdam. There was so much to still see. I feel like we barely scratched the surface. I also adored the Dutch people who were so kind and friendly. 

Getting this far across the world, I like to take a few things home with me to remember my trip. One thing I bought that I really love was this Delftware tile. The blue and white pottery that is original to the Delft region of Holland is everywhere. So beautiful.


 It sits in my kitchen window now and it makes me think of our trip.

The shop where I bought it tied these tiny Dutch shoes on my package and I love these!

I popped into H&M while I was there and I couldn't help being attracted to this tunic. It so reminded me of all the beautiful Delft all over the city. I had to buy it.

Of course we also brought home stroopwaffles and Dutch cookies. A wonderful place to get these is right at their own grocery, Albert Heijn. They are less expensive plus I just love browsing foreign grocery stores. Always interesting to see what they have.

Next door to our hotel was a fancy designer end shopping district, PC Hooftstraat. My husband and I went one afternoon to check it out. It was disappointing to see Cartier, Gucci, Tiffany, LV and the like.   The last thing I want to buy on my travels is something from the mall at home.

 It's so much more fun to scope out things original to the area you are visiting. We were just about to leave the street when I spied a cute store called Lifestyles. It was like a Pottery Barn with a Dutch flair. I loved it! They had wonderful candles, woven accessories, table linens and even tunics and scarves and totes. I bought a pretty candle and another tunic at the summer sale. I was thrilled to get items that were totally unique for me.  Do you not agree about that when shopping abroad?

Thanks for patiently sticking with this blog during my slow month!  I'm back up to speed and my final trip installment with Germany is still to come! Thanks for reading!



  1. Wow Kim! Amazing trip and photos! The Anne Frank tour sounds chilling.. one of those tours that leaves you a bit haunted. The bikes! I do recall seeing them lined up like that in Belgium. Such a different life style. Your train story was fun and I we had stories to tell about our transportation too;) Sounds like you had a great trip and I'm sure it feels nice to get back into the groove.

    Happy Monday! xxL

  2. Awesome post!
    You made me fall in love with Amsterdam!
    The bikes are amazing!!!!
    I can't imagine how one finds their own?!

  3. Kim you know I adore your travel posts... this one was no exception! I must say... the flash mob had me in a puddle of beautiful soulful tears.

    You have a true talent for capturing the large and small of a city... the broad, and the intimate. It's truly my perfect way to travel! Thank you so for sharing your wonderful adventures!

  4. Wow what a fabulous tour!!! You did so much. I once went to Amsterdam but in no way did I do all the things you did. ! love that pic of you and the boys - and you look tres chic in your purple wrap - love it. Those cute bicycle-riding couples are like something out of the best of Pinterest, they are adorable - love that one with the guy with green trousers! And what a great buy that delft (sp) pattern tunic was!

  5. What a wonderful post Kim. I love Amsterdam and had a ball reading and following in your footsteps, so exciting to see where you will take us next. I think it's amazing how much you managed to cram into a couple of days. How on earth did you get that wheel of cheese home girl!

  6. For some reason, I almost missed this wonderful post. (I'm not sure the link appeared on my blogroll) I've said before how much I enjoy your travel posts and here we have another where once again you have captured all the little details as well as the main attractions. I loved all the photos of the people on bikes and your boys sitting on the giant letter. The tiny Dutch clogs on your packaging would really have appealed to me too - so cute! (The tunic really is like the pottery) Interesting about the narrow houses and how they were taxed according to width. You see I always come away from your blog having learnt something!

  7. What a wonderful visit to Amsterdam. You made the city look so beautiful. I would like to visit again.

  8. I love Amsterdam as well! But the weather is always iffy but your pashmina was still glamorous!x

  9. Love it!! Great photos, I wanna go back! When were you there? I was there last june/july. Isn't the Antwerp station amazing? xx, Tiffany |