Tuesday morning came down on me like a carton anvil. Waking up in my own chilly room to the sound of a screeching alarm, packing my bag for my morning uni seminar and woefully longing for the huge bed, sweet smell of bakeries (and distant marijuana) and the promise of adventure that had we had awoken to each morning in Amsterdam.
While many may describe Amsterdam as seedy or crass, I enjoyed every minute of our stay in the Netherlands’ capital. In modern European style, the bustling main streets were splattered with huge retailers and tourist-driven souvenir shops but turn a corner, and you found yourself on a chic little canal-side road with sprinkles of boutiques, mini museums, and popular quality cafes and bakeries.
I also loved that despite the contrast between the red light district and other bar-laden areas, and the blissful coffee scented canal streets, this city doesn’t try to hide its nightlife or worldwide reputation. The streets aren’t alarmingly clean and polished, the service isn’t patronisingly friendly, and there are very few British or American pubs and eateries, Amsterdam knows what it is and what it likes and it’s staying that way. A maverick attitude to be admired. So here is a little summary of what we did, what we saw and what we ate in Amsterdam.
We arrived at lunch time on Friday, and after a brisk walk to our hotel through the busy main and side streets, we were keen to dump our heavy luggage and wander our way into somewhere that would feed our hungry mouths. We found ourselves at Cafe Het Paleis, greeted by a cheery waiter who thought we were locals (a compliment in our eyes) and after a short spell, fed some fresh and delicious food. The first of many open-sandwiches I ate during my stay (is that a Dutch thing?), my lunch was fresh wholegrain bread topped with lemon mayonnaise, shredded greens and a generous pile of smoked salmon. Sean opted for a burger and his first lager shandy of the weekend (girly but oh so refreshing!).
After a little time to chill and recuperate after our journey, we headed out to explore. Wandering for a few hours through streets and some interesting shops (one dedicated entirely to designer condoms…) we found ourselves in need of sugar. With bakeries and pancake houses on every other street, each piled high with fresh colourful pastries, doughnuts, waffles, muffins and chocolate dipped fruit sticks, we were spoiled for choice. One particular bakery caught our eye amongst the many, it was called Metropolitan, and the smell alone was enough to draw us in. It describes itself as a pastry room, dedicated to good quality chocolate treats.
We bought chocolate scented shower gel and packs of mini Stroopwafels (a local speciality), and then found our way to the main counter to purchase ourselves a sweet snack. Sean got himself a two-scoop cone of vanilla gelato and chocolate brownie gelato, studded with chunks of fresh baked chocolate brownies. I got myself a big hot waffle, smothered in incredibly delicious house made Nutella style sauce. I can’t even describe how good this waffle was. So fresh and so crispy even in the last few bites of chocolate hazelnut drenched goodness, I could it eat three times a day. Naturally, after tasting their own Nutella, I had to buy a jar!
Too full of sugar, and sleepy from our early morning travel, we just got ourselves a light room-service dinner in our gorgeous hotel and headed off to sleep a few hours later. Let me take a little minute to tell you about this hotel. THIS BEAUTIFUL HOTEL. The Hoxton made us feel like royalty, really friendly service with staff that spoke perfect English, great food and room service meals, and hipster chic decor that anyone with eyes would love. Here are some photos to give you an idea of how lovely this place was.
We were really glad to have picked such a central hotel too, it meant we were able to walk everywhere, soaking up all the sights and enjoying the vastly different transport methods that trams and bikes displayed compared to what we are used to back home.
Saturday was a welcomed lazier morning than Friday’s had been, and we meandered our way to the nearest pancake house to get a taste of traditional Dutch fare. Oh my word. These pancakes. The place in question was called Pancakes Amsterdam (ambiguous, eh?), and we were lucky enough to get the last table! We watched the chef prepare and expertly flip our pancakes, before they were served fresh and hot to our table. Sean in true Sean style had vanilla ice cream with his, and I got bananas and toasted almonds, we shared a little pot of hot chocolate sauce too.
Crispy edges, fluffy centres and not at all too sweet, these pancakes were absolutely perfect, as the ever-growing queue stretching its way out the door suggested! We washed them down with freshly squeezed pear juice and made our way out for another day of adventure. In the hours before dinner, we squeezed in the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, which was huge and full of great fun for people of any age, I’d really recommend it if you find yourself in Dam Square. We stopped for lunch at a cafe called Goodies, an unassuming looking place that turned out to be very popular and served great, fresh and affordable meals. I had an open-sandwich with goat’s cheese, apple and walnut pesto, and Sean had a slow-cooked curried chicken dish with wholegrain bread. Despite the fact we were short for time, we really enjoyed this meal.
That afternoon we also visited the Anne Frank House museum, a very harrowing but heartfelt tour around the annexe which she shared with 7 others before she was taken to Auschwitz. We both felt that despite its sadness, it was very tastefully done, and seeing the empty tiny rooms they all shared seemed to have a big impact on all the tourists. I’d recommend visiting it, though if you do, you should definitely book tickets ahead of time as the queues can be really long otherwise. We followed this activity with something a little more light-hearted, a trip to the Xtracold Ice Bar, a bar that serves drinks in glasses made of ice in a room that sits at around -10 degrees Celsius (14 Fahrenheit). Sounds crazy, and it is really, but it’s really a lot of fun. The bar don’t serve mixers to go with your drinks, so it’s beer or straight spirits on offer! We had shots of vanilla and chocolate nut vodka, both of which were strong but really tasty. 20 minutes was long enough in the freezing cold, but it was worth the visit!
After a long pleasant walk back to the hotel through our favourite canal streets, and a few hours to chill and dress ourselves up a little, we made our way to Cannibale Royale for dinner. This place is so cool, dimly lit and decorated with antique clocks, dolls and saws, it gives a real creepy but fun feel to the place. They specialise in red meats, and so we couldn’t exactly order anything else! Sean got himself a steak and some buttery corn, and I was amazed to be served an entire rack of slow-cooked pork ribs slathered in their own BBQ sauce for just €14. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and so full of flavour, Sean really enjoyed his steak too. I’d really recommend this place for anyone who loves a meaty meal at a good price!
We spent an hour or so touring the red light district after dinner, I couldn’t believe how busy it was at just 9pm, and it wasn’t as seedy as I expected. Obviously live porn shows and beautiful semi-naked girls in windows will attract some less tasteful clientele but I found all the neon signs and the carefree atmosphere quite fun. Knowing that selling sex is legal and regulated made it all a little more comfortable too, it’s no place for kids, but if you’re in the area it’s worth a look just for an insight into different and liberal culture.
Sunday morning found us in The Pancake Bakery, an older pancake house that had a huge selection of toppings and fillings, and is open late into the evening. We both ordered sweet pancakes; Sean’s with chocolate, ice cream and whipped cream, mine with banana, nuts, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. On reflection the whipped cream was a little too much but otherwise, just like they had been the day before, the pancakes themselves were delicious. Huge Dutch pancakes with crisp edges, fluffy middles and plenty toppings for your money, we were beyond satisfied.
A trip to the NEMO science museum was our first activity on Sunday, and we spent around 2 hours in there like delighted little kids being entertained and educated by hundreds of different experiments and displays. We’re nerds, ok? A long walk in the sun later, we had some lunch (more tasty open sandwiches!) and stopped by the I Amsterdam sign outside the famous Rijksmuseum. No photos inside the letters for us, we saved that for all the clambering kids!
We bought some souvenirs (and far too much Dutch cheese) on the way back to the hotel, where we relaxed after our busy day and enjoyed a late dinner. Sean had a ½ roast chicken with butter, rosemary and some chips, and I had some grilled skate on an incredible white bean cassoulet. The dim lighting didn’t make for great photos, but the meal itself was really fancy and delicious, we felt very European! After a cup of tea in our room and some glum packing, we went to sleep, not looking forward to leaving the following morning.
The Hoxton provided us with the perfect send-off breakfast. Sean had sourdough toast with beans, smoked sausages and whipped butter (whipped butter!). I went full on fancy for our last meal, ordering sourdough toast with avocado, smoked salmon, poached eggs and caviar Hollandaise sauce. Caviar Hollandaise, so posh! It’s probably the fanciest meal I’ve ever eaten, and it was absolutely delicious. So much rich flavour, and everything was so fresh, if only we could eat like that every morning!
The journey home was full of mixed emotions, we were so disheartened to be leaving but we were also still in a state of bliss, and really pleased that we’d made the trip. We’ve both agreed we’d love to return soon, and want to plan nice little weekend breaks in Europe as often as we can afford to because we enjoyed it so much. I’d really recommend Amsterdam, even if you’re not into the lax drug and sex culture available in some areas, it’s a beautiful city full of people from all over the world that offers so many things to do, and of course so many delicious things to eat!
Thanks for taking the time to skim over all this joyful reminiscent musing, even if you just looked at the pictures! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to enjoy my Dutch cheese and Stroopwafels while I prep for uni work and start writing some more great recipes for all you lovely people. Hope you’re all having a good week!
What’s your favourite European city?
What foods did you most enjoy on your last trip?