Amsterdam
 

I’m happy to say that we had a much more positive experience in Amsterdam than we did in Brussels. It helped that we redeemed some Hilton points and stayed in an actual hotel. I think both of us really needed that break from hostel life; being able to relax and recharge hugely improved our moods and helped us get back into a more positive mindset. We’re starting to learn more about our own strengths and weaknesses as travelers and how we adapt to change, and we’re learning that it’s okay to admit we need a break sometimes. I know it sounds silly: we’re literally on vacation for a year and we need a break? But as we’re not exactly staying in luxury hotels or traveling first-class, it can be pretty draining going from place to place not knowing if your hostel is going to be incredible or gross (and reviews aren’t always helpful). Sometimes the familiarity of a Hampton Inn is all you need.

A typical street in the city center of Amsterdam

A typical street in the city center of Amsterdam

Amsterdam turned out to be a fantastic place to take it easy for a few days. We walked all around the city and managed to fit in quite a lot of activity without putting pressure on ourselves to squeeze in every last thing. Our first order of business in the city - and something we would highly recommend to anyone planning a visit - was to purchase the I Amsterdam pass. It’s not cheap - we paid almost 80 euros per person for a three-day pass - but in our experience it was worth it, because it includes free access to almost every museum in the city (and discounted entry to the Rijksmuseum) plus a free canal tour, food and merch discounts, and most importantly unlimited use of public transport. That in itself made the pass worth it for us, as Amsterdam has a fairly extensive network of buses, trains and trams that is easy to navigate if you use Google Maps to plan a route. It’s way easier to mindlessly slap your pass against the card reader than have to fumble with change or worry about a ticket expiring. We weren’t too fussed about the cost because we did not have to pay for lodging, but even if we had I think we still would have bought them for sheer convenience. 

Two artists drawing sketches in the Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam

Two artists drawing sketches in the Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam

One thing we were not expecting was how awesome Amsterdam’s food scene is. In Belgium we had been eating a lot of traditional food, which is delicious but extremely hearty and fattening, and I physically did not think I was capable of eating even one more bite of stew. We hadn’t done a ton of research before arriving in Amsterdam but soon found out that it’s a great city for foodies, offering tons of diverse international cuisines. Chief among those is Indonesian food, which makes sense given that the Dutch colonized Indonesia for centuries. Alex and I had actually never eaten Indonesian food before, but after gorging on it for two of our three dinners in Amsterdam (including one place that was combination Indonesian and Indian…aka heaven for us), we’re hooked and more stoked than ever to visit Indonesia later on our trip. We also found a trendy Middle Eastern-inspired restaurant, Hummus Bistro D&A, that wouldn’t have felt out of place in Chicago’s West Loop. They served incredibly fluffy, fresh pita bread that I’m still daydreaming about. 

Of course, we would have to be crazy not to try at least a couple Dutch specialties while in the Netherlands, so we hit up a grocery store to scope out some treats. Visiting local grocery stores is one of my favorite things to do when I visit a new country. Call me crazy, but to me it offers a little glimpse into everyday life in an unfamiliar place: there are recognizable brands on the shelf next to products I’ve never seen before, and I love seeing what kind of foods are popular with locals. I could spend hours wandering the aisles and finding new things to try. Dutch supermarkets in particular were a multisensory adventure: a million kinds of cheeses, more meats than you could ever eat, prepackaged tapas galore, and all kinds of fresh baked goods and snacks including that king of all desserts: the Stroopwafel. If you’ve never heard of this little piece of heaven before, let me introduce you. A Stroopwafel consists of two wafer-thin waffle cookies with a thin layer of caramel spread in between. You can buy them fresh from a vendor, or do what we did and buy an entire packet in the grocery store, visit one of Amsterdam’s ubiquitous ‘coffeeshops’ (hi parents and former coworkers!) and proceed to eat the entire container in one sitting. Do calories still count on vacation? 

Reypenaer Cheese, excellent food & wine tasting here for only about $18

Reypenaer Cheese, excellent food & wine tasting here for only about $18

When we weren’t busy eating everything in sight, we did manage to squeeze in a few cultural endeavors as well. The Rijksmuseum is Amsterdam’s premier art museum and for good reason: we got absolutely lost in there for most of the day, and it was awe-inspiring to see so many Rembrandts and Van Goghs as well as the infamous Battle of Waterloo, a massive floor-to-ceiling painting that we could have stared at for hours. Sadly, we were not able to fit in the Van Gogh museum, but we felt that the Rijksmuseum gave us more than enough art to try to digest. Add in an amusing canal tour, a wine and cheese tasting, and plenty of wandering around the city’s many scenic canals, and we felt that we got the perfect amount of culture in our visit. 

Exhibit at the Rijksmuseum, their presentation of everything from tapestries, sculptures, paintings and murals was top notch

Exhibit at the Rijksmuseum, their presentation of everything from tapestries, sculptures, paintings and murals was top notch

We almost wish we could stay longer, although I can see Amsterdam being kind of like Vegas in that it’s really, really fun to go all out for a few days and take advantage of the city’s many ‘unique’ offerings, but like Vegas, after a few days you feel a little run down and much, much poorer than you were when you arrived. I can definitively say that we will be back someday, but for now, we’re grateful to have had a charming, relaxing, yet active few days taking in everything Amsterdam has to offer.