The other day I was picking up groceries when I bumped into a Mermaid. I mentioned that I was interested in seeing Amsterdam but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make it a family or a solo trip.
“I wouldn’t mind splashing my fins in the canals again”, she sighed as she plucked a piece of seaweed from her hair.
Hmm a girls trip would be a nice break from the stress of planning and guiding my minions through another busy city. What could be more magical than a unicorn and a mermaid wandering the streets of Amsterdam? Little did I know I would end up carrying 30 gallons of water to keep my Mermaid friend hydrated.
My experience of Amsterdam is as place full of individual personality being expressed at every opportunity. At the same time it is not flamboyant. Wear what you like to wear. Do what you what you like but be respectful of others. This is a city where a tourist can be a tourist. Dining, sightseeing, museums, walking the canals, and shopping-whatever your pleasure you can find it here. The only thing missing was an amusement park!
Shopping and Travel Tips:
For our shopping adventure, we found the best place to start was Nieuwendijk. I am slightly ashamed to say I did more shopping then I intended. On this street I found several of my favorite stores with the best selection and deals! The best place for souvenirs was Patrick Souvenirs at Leidsetraat 110. Not only were the souvenirs classy but they had the best personal walking tour and guidebook. The ‘Your Amsterdam Guide’ by WPublishing was not only informative with cultural and travel tips for Amsterdam, but I think it doubles as a beautiful keepsake. Come here if you are looking for snow globes and nice souvenirs, but keep it also in mind if you are looking for a better map to help you get around.
Biggest Cultural Shock:
I was informed that I shouldn’t confuse coffee cafes with coffee houses. What I didn’t expect was windows opening up to a lounge! I learned that if I needed fresh air to move to the streets along the canals. I was also told that Amsterdam was a walking city. No, not really. Yes, you can walk all of it, but the bikers and mopeds is where it is at… and they don’t always look picturesque when they are about to run you down. By the second day we were able to figure out who the new biker riders were. They were the ones who used brakes or tried to dodge you. No, amateur that is not how it is done. Come right at me.
It doesn’t matter how many times you look both ways, there always seems to be a bike coming full speed at you. At one point we were crossing a street and a biker came up behind us, politely informed us we were in the wrong crossing and whizzed past us before we knew what happened. With construction and cafes spilling out onto the sidewalks it was hard finding a safe place to walk. I really tried to do the right thing whenever possible but I had so many close calls that I every time we had to cross the street I did so with a comical urgency while screaming “I don’t want to die!” When I opened my eyes and found we had survived another near death encounter, I felt like I had won the lottery and placed my imaginary stamp on the spot. I really appreciated having the city workers control the flow of the traffic at some of the busier intersections where the signal wasn’t working. They have a crazy job and I was happy knowing I didn’t have to drop any stamps when they were around!
Best Part of this Trip:
Hands down it had to be the beautiful boat we stayed on. I was inspired by an article that talked about staying on a houseboat for an authentic experience. I liked the idea until I realized that some of these houseboats didn’t have the amenities for a comfortable stay. I turned to Booking.com and found Kapitein Anna, a 1911 Paddle steam boat, to be a far more enticing option!
Since it was my first time sleeping on a boat, I was unprepared for the land sickness effect. While wandering Amsterdam we would occasionally feel loopy. Was there too much weed in the air? Was Amsterdam secretly a floating island? Nope. It was us. We were the crazy ones. Thankfully the effect wasn’t bad but it does explain why the ginger lemon tea was so popular with those on board!
Best Places to Eat:
I like to avoid the touristy places. In Amsterdam avoiding the crowd can’t be altogether avoided but I’m happy we found places where we didn’t feel rushed, used fresh ingredients, and were fairly priced. With so many options there was no clear winner.
Pancakes Amsterdam on Berenstraat 38 was a pleasure and we didn’t have to wait long to be seated. While we came across Dwaze Zaken near the train station and had a good Dutch style breakfast, we feel it would be better suited for a future lunch or dinner. While waiting for our canal cruise we found Casa Di Sergio at Leidsedwarsstraat 83a, a friendly Italian place where we enjoyed a pizza made with fresh ingredients. Here we found we enjoyed being seated outside without feeling like we were fighting for space with the people walking by. Luden amazed us with the best strawberry daiquiri and Falafel Burger. Dante Kitchen & Bar offered an Italian menu but I was torn between the steak and the sea bass. Both places were easy to find on Spuistraat. Shabu to Go Sushi & Grill near Rembrandtplein at Reguliersbreestraat 20 offered fresh sushi, poke bowls, and hot plates for a reasonable price. Next door was the Albert Heijn (AH) with a nice selection for the budget traveler and those on the go. All over town we found plenty of bakeries offering freshly made stroopwafels, but I feel the best can be found at van Wonderen Stroopwafels over on Kalverstraat!
Best Museums to Visit:
The only museum I had to see while in town was the Verzetsmuseum (Dutch Resistance Museum). I highly recommend a visit but if you don’t have the time, stop in the gift shop and pickup with the museum’s book to read about the exhibits later. I thought about the various art museums Amsterdam is famous for but I don’t like standing in long lines. Although I was tempted to purchase the Museum card that would allow me immediate entry, I decided to pass. Instead we found ourselves in the Red Light District with lots of questions. Thankfully there was the Museum of Prostitution which provided us an eye-opening experience! Although afterwards I mistakenly thought the city was making a statement by putting sexual symbols on everything. A tour later I realized the Amsterdammertjes (barrier street poles) and the triple X flags hanging from the windows and the mast of houseboats, actually represented the city’s coat of arms.
I had a good time because I didn’t feel pressured to seek out a specific experience in Amsterdam. I simply put my worries and the stress of an upcoming move aside and allowed myself to get to know the city. Of course with all the water my friend made sure I was drinking and all the sprints across streets we were doing, I came away in better shape than I imagined.
Here are a few of my favorite moments captured by either myself or my Mermaid companion. Enjoy!