The Netherlands: Amsterdam

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Netherlands? Tulips? Yellow clogs and windmills? Now what’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Amsterdam? Most likely, the Red Light District or “coffeeshops” everywhere, right? Well, Drew and I decided to spend a week in this famous city to dig a little deeper…or as deep as you can go for a mostly rainy week in the city. I had no idea it rained so much in this country. I thought that by July it’d be mostly sunny, but no. Come to find out, it’s rainy season. Oh well…at least it wasn’t for the entire week. There would be times throughout the day when the rain let up and there were peeks of sunshine that come through the clouds. It’s still a fun city to explore, despite the rainy weather. And yes, after a week in Amsterdam, we fell in love with this city too and wondered about what it would be like to live here – during the sunnier, drier season of course.

We rented an apartment in De Pijp (The Pipe) district from, though you can also go directly to their site here. It was a great apartment for the two of us, space wise.

We arrived early in the morning and were let in by the manager and shown around the place. A balcony and rooftop deck? Nice! Breads, cheeses, prosciutto, fresh fruit, OJ, coffee, tea, and fresh cut flowers in the kitchen and living room. Awesome. God knows how many flights of steep, narrow, winding stairs? Um, I’ll let Drew comment on that one, especially since he had to carry our luggage up and down all those steps. What a super duper hubby!

One of the reasons why we stayed in De Pijp was because we wanted to be out of the main hubbub and pretend to live in an actual neighborhood. Very close to our place (well, everything in Amsterdam is practically walking distance, especially if you have the time) is the Albert Cuypmarkt street market. With over 300 stalls lining both sides of the streets, it’s hard not to walk away with something.

Note: Those strawberries on the top right were the BEST strawberries we’ve had in decades!!! They had so much flavor & were super juicy and sweet. Please American farmers, can you try to make our strawberries taste like strawberries again?

So the one thing we HAD to try while we were in Holland was their raw herring served with pickles and onion. At the Albert Cuypmarkt, we found just the place to try this Hollandse Nieuwe.

The typical way to eat it is to take the slender raw herring by the tail and let it slide into your mouth. The wimps that we are, we opted for the alternative: Broodje Haring, which is the herring, pickle, and onions served in a hot dog bun.

The verdict? Since the herring was especially fresh during this time of year, it was delicious! Though a bit weird since we’ve never had such an interesting combination. Maybe if we had some hot sauce, we’d both eat it again.

On to more explorations. Since it rained so much, I didn’t carry my DSLR half the time (and a bit out of laziness for not wanting to lug heavy equipment with me everywhere I go), so the next best thing was my iPhone! Not really museum people, we visited only two museums during the week: the Anne Frank house, which I had to drag Drew to see since he had been there once before and thought it was depressing. No photos inside the place, so I got this one shot of the awesome clouds reflected off the window.

If you’re in Amsterdam, I would definitely go see this piece of living history. It’s sad, but so interesting.

The other museum we hit was the Van Gogh museum. I LOVE this man’s work. Nuff said. We actually went on a non-rainy day so the clouds were in full bloom. Here’s what it looked like at Museumplein (Museum Square) that day.

And of course, no trip to Amsterdam would be complete without going to the Red Light District. It’s not just a place for men to wander anymore since it’s become a huge tourist attraction and you can see tour groups of all races and ages gaping at the women in the windows. Funny that out of all the areas we wandered around (and we really wandered around this city), the Red Light District was the most packed!

It was a little weird to see a few men going in and out of the doors (in broad daylight!) where the girls were standing. Really? You couldn’t wait til it was a little darker out so that I can’t see your face?

Though prostitution was legalized in the Netherlands in 2000 to protect the women by giving them permits, allowing them to be their own bosses, making sure they’re regularly tested, etc., it has turned to something else in the past decade, and not in a good way. Recently, the Dutch government has closed a number of brothels and is trying to regulate it more due to, unfortunately, human trafficking. Many girls, especially from Eastern European countries, are lured over by promises of a good education or job, only to find themselves being abused and doing sex work. Hopefully the Dutch government will be able to go back to their original vision of protecting these women who choose this oldest profession in the world, and helping the ones who did not choose this for themselves.

On a lighter note, the rest of our days and nights in Amsterdam were spent wandering around different neighborhoods, popping in and out of restaurants, bars, and shops. I don’t think the Dutch are known for making great beers (their claim to fame is Heineken-not one of my favorites), but since they’re situated right next to Belgium, there was a plethora of outstanding Belgian beers to choose from anywhere we went. Yummo! Whenever we were out and about and it started to rain, we’d just hop into a bar for a drink and hope that the rain would stop after we were done. Not a bad way to kill some time.

The typical scene in Amsterdam can be summarized in this one photo: Rain, sun, bike, tram, flowers.
Man do they have a TON of bikes over there! I think Holland is probably the most bike friendly country in the world. There are more bikes than people. And of course, at least one of your bikes better be a crappy looking one so that it doesn’t get stolen. The good one stays in the house! Here’s a look at a few bikes around town.

That sign obviously works well here.

If you want to be sure that your bike doesn’t get stolen, do what this person did.

Cuz otherwise, it’s too easy…

Note the beautiful crochet work covering the rails.
So of course, when the sun came out, we headed straight for Vondelpark (Amsterdam’s version of Central Park) for a bike ride.

Oh Vondelpark, it’s a must see, but really, there’s not that much TO see since it’s a fairly small park compared to New York’s Central Park or Vancouver’s Stanley Park. I think we biked around the whole park in 15 minutes, so we went around twice!

I love how the Dutch put their kids in plastic crates here. We Americans are way too cautious. (And yes, Drew was my decoy for this pic!)

There’s still more to share of our week here, but I think this is a good point to stop for today. The rest of Amsterdam week in the next post!

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