Exploring the Canals - Amsterdam, Netherlands
I had some extra vacation days rolled over from last year and was feeling antsy so naturally I pulled up flight prices. One of my very best friends, Kevin, also had some flexibility to run away for a bit. So we booked a great deal to Amsterdam and took off!
Winter isn't the best time to explore parts of Europe, but it's certainly the cheapest! And luckily Amsterdam is stunning year round.
We stashed our luggage at our wonderful hotel, Mr. Jordaan, and signed up for a free walking tour. In 15 degree (F) weather. For 2 hours. Our wonderful guide, Dennis, led us around on a private tour and we heard all about the history of Amsterdam, specifically the neighborhood we would call home for 4 days, Jordaan. This trendy area is packed with fun bars and restaurants. It also gives off more of the residential vibe. (People watching the locals in foreign places is key.) This was our first time in the city, and we were happy to find lots to do just within 20 minutes walking distance from our hotel.
Side note: I found that Airbnb's are pricey in Amsterdam. Book early.
This is Westerkerk, a Protestant church built around 1620. It's just steps from the Anne Frank House.
The canals weren't quite yet frozen on our arrival day, but cold enough for these large chunks of ice to float around.
Every single bridge has a lovely view. And the architecture here is so unique! The crooked houses you see are a combination of rotting wood foundations, modern renovations on top of the old, and residents just liking the way it looks and deciding to keep the crookedness.
Still fighting jet lag our first day, we went on a canal boat tour. But it probably wasn't the best move as the gentle rocking of the water threatened to put us to sleep. Silver lining: This was the only day during our stay when the canals were thawed enough for boats to travel.
A stop for pizza at La Perla is a must if you're ever in the area. Plus you can see the pizza oven of my dreams.
We woke up to a frozen wonderland. I was made fun of for being one of 3 people who watched the winter olympics, but one thing I learned is that speed skating is THE national pastime of the Netherlands. And the Dutch came out in crowds with their skates to zip past us.
Now I know that food in Europe is generally fantastic, but Amsterdam really blew me away! One of my new favorite carbs is poffertjes. They're basically balls of dough with toppings. I preferred mine with just the traditional powdered sugar, and Kev asked for lots of caramel sauce with his.
The city is also known for its Dutch pancakes, which are basically crepes. We sampled lots of cheese, bitterballen (like a croquette), and stroopwafles. I think we went to the local grocery store every day to pick up lots of snacks. I only came home with food souvenirs this trip.
But it's all about balance, right? Even though calories don't count on vacation, we rented bikes to warm up our legs and blend in with the locals.
Fun facts: There are four times more bicycles than cars in Amsterdam. Most people own two bikes; one that's not in great condition for city riding, and a nicer speed bike to ride around the outlying towns. Around 10,000 bikes are collected from the canals each year.
And stopped in Vondelpark for a rest and to watch more ice skating. (I'm telling y'all... it's huge here.) We did help a child who fell through the ice near the melted edge, so it's not all fun and games.
I could've stared at these houses for hours. Some of the oldest ones date back to the early 1600s. We learned that those little hooks at the top of most homes are to help lift furniture inside through the upper level windows!
Advice: Book tickets to the Anne Frank House as soon as you confirm your Amsterdam plans. They will sell out. We managed to snag two tickets for the final evening entry on our last night in town. Photography is prohibited, so I don't have any photos to share. But I think that's a reasonable ask of the museum for such a special place. Definitely make it one of your top priorities while in the city.
We spent about 4 days here before catching the train to our next destination. This was the perfect amount of time to spend in the city, but would have loved to add on a couple days to explore some nearby Dutch towns.
Before leaving we had to do the tourist thing and battle for a photo in front of the city's iconic monument.
The food is incredible, the streets are charming, and the people are so friendly. I'll definitely be back in a warmer month.