“An introduction, a slogan, a statement of inclusion, and a physical icon – I amsterdam is the city and its resident’s collective catch cry”.
We all know Amsterdam is the capital and largest city of the Netherlands but wait till I tell you this. I have never visited our northern neighbour until early last week! After residing for more than 15 years in Belgium, I decided to make a trip up north with my other half and 2 boys. I have read a lot (I thought!) about Amsterdam. The sad truth about what you have read may or may not depict the entire picture of the city, as with a million and one things you read in the newspapers everyday! Drugs, Red Light City, Skinhead, Homosexuals – all rather perverse or negative syllabuses typifying the city of Amsterdam. These are, but, mere fraction of the truth…
By the way, have you seen this movie, “Good Will Hunting”? One of my favourites. Here’s one of the best quotes of all time from the film coming out from the mouth of Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) to Will Hunting (Matt Damon).
Quote, “So, if I asked you about art, you’d probably give me the skinny…on every art book ever written. Michaelangelo? You know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations. Him and the pope. Sexual orientation. The whole works, right? I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You never actually stood there and looked up at the beautiful ceiling…Do you think that I’d know the first thing about how hard your life has been – how you feel, who you are – because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally, I don’t give a shit about all that, because – you know what? I can’t learn anything from you… I can’t read in some fuckin’book. Unless you wanna talk about you, who you are. And I’m fascinated. I’m in” Unquote.
Seeing is believing. You have to be there first hand to experience the truth, and let the truth be told…
Canals and bridges
Amsterdam has been called the “Venice of the North” for it’s more than one hundred kilometers of canals. We stayed at the 111-room Rembrandt Classic Hotel which was located along one of the major canals, the Herengracht, an excellent location to exploring Amsterdam in 3 days!
We had a generous breakfast – English plus Continental breakfasts all-in-one of omelette, sausages, bacon, baked beans, cold cuts, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, cereals, mini pancakes, breads and buns, tea, coffee and juices, cakes and apple pie – à volonté, of course 😛
A Hearty and Healthy Breakfast which came in handy as great energy boosters!
Bicycle, Bicycle, I want to ride my Bicycle!
Forget your car. Leave it at home, or let it park somewhere stationary for as long as you are (still) in Amsterdam! Rent a bike or better still, WALK, like us 😉 We explored more of Amsterdam walking during our 3 days there. After all, the Netherlands is a rather flat country. “Nether” means low, hence, “Netherland” is literally translated as ‘low country’. Walking is easy peasy, free and of course, a healthier option! If you rent a bicycle, you need to park your bike somewhere. The railings or banisters along the canals and bridges are common resting places for bicycles. The bicycles came in all forms, sizes, colours. Here were some of the many examples of how the bicycles were parked in Amsterdam.
Here’s a bicycle parking area. I’ve never seen anything like this before and it all happened in Amsterdam, just outside the Amsterdam Central Station.
A Canta, anyone ?
I have never seen a Canta in Belgium, so seeing a closed-up of one was an odd and unexpected treat. You see these mini cars a lot around Amsterdam. Let’s picture this. Statistically, the tallest people in the world, as measured by country, are the Dutch, so imagine a Dutch driving in this teeny-weeny ‘bean’ mean machine. A geek or a genius? You decide. This little car was initially manufactured for the less abled people, but more and more abled “Amsterdamers” are driving these “genius cars” around every nook and cranny of the little one-way streets in the city centre.
By the way, the Canta is manufactured in the Netherlands by a small company called Waaijenberg.
Here were two of the many Canta’s we saw – the red and the white.
Besides renting a bike or walk or drive a Canta in Amsterdam, the next popular mode of travel in the city is the metro. Normal cars and trams crisscrossed the same roads. Hmmm…. not my cup of tea, I’m afraid.
To exemplify our stay at the Rembrandt Classic Hotel, a visit to the Rembrandt Square was a must.
The Rembrandt Square was originally known as the Botermarkt (Butter Market). As the name suggests, the square was initially used as a dairy market, but as years went by, hotels, restaurants and shops burgeoned with entertainment and bustling activity. In homage of the famous Dutch painter, Rembrandt, the square was named after him – the Rembrandt Square.
I have always associated cheese with the Netherlands (or Holland as she used to be called). But, lo and behold, it took us almost the entire day to discover the first cheese shop. What disappointment as the Kaaskamer van Amsterdam (Cheese Room of Amsterdam) were displaying imported cheeses, from Italy – the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
We did find another cheese shop on our third and last day in Amsterdam! I was so excited with the display of the many varieties of the shaved try-me-out cheeses. I believe I must have tried every single cheese, or rather, cheeses, on every platter, with the embarrassment of my other half and my boys! LOL! What did you expect? They – I mean, the shaved cheeses – were simply DELICIOUS: natural, herbed, spiced, curried, chillied, smoked, barbecued. You name it – I tasted ‘em all 😉
Well, of course, we did not leave the cheese shop empty handed. We bought the goat Gouda, a smooth, velvety and tasty cheese. I’m not a big fan of goat’s cheese, but this one was a winner.
Read my lips: “This is NOT the usual kopitiam we know of in Malaysia and Singapore or anywhere else in South East Asia”
You will not find your favourite menu of kaya toast and a cup of kopi O, or kopi peng. The “menu” in a Dutch coffee shop is er… quite something else. Although I have never been to one (and probably, never will), I have heard about a fair bit of what is being served there.
I am sure you will have heard or read of Vincent Willem van Gogh and his iconic Sunflowers, and that he cut off part of his own ear with a straight razor during a fit of madness. However, a team of German historians has published a book arguing that the whole tale was untrue. According to the historians, the story of van Gogh’s madness was part of a cover up by none other than van Gogh’s friend and fellow artist, Paul Gaugin.
Well, I’m not going to delve into all these arguments. Whatever happened, let us all remember that Vincent van Gogh was little appreciated during his lifetime but he left us his gift of great paintings years after his death.
A visit to the Van Gogh’s museum helped us understand and appreciate the master’s works, a huge transformation from when he first started his early paintings and sketches.
From a dark, dreary and somber earth tones, “The Potato Eaters”
To a more vibrant and colourful self portrait of the master himself –
During one of our many trips to the South of France, we visited Saint Paul de Mausole at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, originally a monastery, but was transformed into a mental asylum, where Vincent van Gogh incarcerated himself from May 1889 until June 1890, just before his death. It was here that Van Gogh painted the beautiful “The Starry Night”, which was made popular by the American singer-songwriter, Don McLean. Here’s McLean’s version of “Vincent”.
Anne Frank’s House
Do not leave Amsterdam without visiting Anne Frank’s House. Anne Frank’s House was just a stone’s throw from our hotel.
One disappointment though. We were not allowed to take any pictures in the house. I managed to take just this one.
Annelies Marie “Anne” Frank was a renowned and most discussed Jewish victim of the Holocaust. Her legacy was her diary, which documented her experiences hiding in the “Secret Annexe” (Achterhuis) during World War II with her family and family friends.
We visited Anne Frank’s room where she shared with Frtiz Pfeffer, a dentist and family friend of the Frank family.
Here was where it all started, where the diary of Anne Frank became a classic tale of the life and times of the teenaged Jewish girl.
There were more than enough restaurants to choose from; however, I noticed the influx of Argentinean restaurants and many Spanish-speaking tourists in Amsterdam. Could Princess Maxima be the reason for this thriving success?
I was really excited when I found Wagamama! I have heard so much of this eatery from fellow bloggers to the point that I promised myself that should this noodle bar crossed my path; I would just stampede into the restaurant. Yep, that desperate! I was NOT disappointed with this action at all.
I was not the only one; my three guys thumbed up to Wagamama! LOL!
I had the Chilli Beef Ramen. Absolutely gorgeous! Yum yum!!
The Seafood Ramen was doubly superb.
My younger son chose the chicken katsu curry from the kids’ menu. He literally licked his platter clean, a great effort for a small eater. He must be very hungry from all the walks…
The desserts at Wagamama were very limited. Only 5 on the menu card, but if you chose the correct dessert, it’s like winning the jackpot.
My dessert was a winner. I had the banana katsu served with yuzu (deep-fried banana coated with crispy breadcrumbs served with Japanese vanilla and orange ice-cream). It was absolutely divine.
The guys had the wagamama moist chocolate fudge cake served with vanilla ice-cream and chocolate sauce.
Wagamama = positive eating + positive living!
Memories of China at Mr Tong’s
We had our “last supper” in Amsterdam at Mr Tong’s. One thing we noticed in Amsterdam was that the restaurants came to live from 3pm onwards. None of the eateries were opened at noon, at least in the Leidesplein area. Very Spanish, we thought, with the siesta et al.. ??
When the clock struck 3 in the afternoon, we stood outside the entrance door of Mr Tong’s. We were lucky to be there at that hour as it was the Happy Hour with a 20% discount 😉
As we did not have lunch, we were famished. We chose the menu “Memories of China” of mushroom soup, roasted duck, sweet and sour chicken, spicy crispy beef, Shanghai prawns and roasted pork.
And desserts of Java Dream, which turned out to be “pisang goreng” (banana fritters) served with vanilla ice-cream. Frankly speaking, I preferred the one from Wagamama.
Something Flemish. Something Belgian…
Only in the Netherlands, are the fries called “Vlaamse Friet” (Flemish Fries)
Then there’s the Belgian Beer, the Kriek (Cherry Beer).
Basking in the Sun
We were lucky with the weather, id est, no rain, but the northern winds were extremely chilly. Here were some of the pictures of the guys basking in the sun, with their coats on! This is to give you an idea of how weak the sun was…
I’ll be back…
Hasta la vista!