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Amsterdam (3/24-27)

March 27th, 2007 · No Comments

We spent a long weekend in Amsterdam visiting a good friend Sebastiaan, from both Stanford and Bain. It was a real treat to have a local show us around this beautiful city and surrounding countryside. Yes, canals, windmills, and pancakes it was! (Though we did also visit the Red Light District one afternoon.)

Kimberly

For photos, click here.

Amsterdam

We had been planning to visit Amsterdam for months. Dan had never been to the city, and I hadn’t been there since my first trip to Europe with my grandparents when I was 12. But the real treat was that we were visiting our good friend Sebastiaan, who I became very good friends with at Stanford and is also a Bain & Company consultant (for the Amsterdam office).

Sebastiaan lives in an adorable apartment just north of the Vondelpark in a quiet part of the city that is still full of character. In some ways the area reminded us of Lincoln Park in Chicago, probably because so many of the houses were brick. But a striking difference is that all the houses here have different gables on top. Needless to say, the entire city was rather picturesque.

Our first afternoon, Sebastiaan took us on a walking tour of the city and its various neighborhoods. Yes, we did venture into the Red-Light District…and yes, it was quite odd to see prostitutes standing in their windows advertising their services in the middle of the day. We had an amusing discussion wondering how exactly the process works…do you just negotiate? Is there a price-list?

The Netherlands has a tradition of “looking the other way.” They are an incredibly tolerant country, as long as they don’t see “it.” This tolerance applied not only to drugs, prostitutes, and Jews (during the 16th-19th centuries)—but also to Roman Catholics after the Reformation. Catholics were officially allowed to stay in the country, but they couldn’t practice openly or have cathedrals. Thus, the “Secret Church in the Attic,” which Sebastiaan took us to. This amazing little church is actually hidden on the upper floors of a canal house. It must have been an architectural feat to create such a large open space in such a small, old building.

On Sunday, Sebastiaan took us to the countryside south of Amsterdam to see a bit more of the country. We visited the Haarzuilens castle, which is the largest remaining castle in the country. The grounds are enormous too…and Zookie truly enjoyed himself wandering around them. And an added treat…Sebastiaan graciously taught Dan how to drive a stick-shift on his car in the parking lot of the Castle. I know it’s really silly that neither of us know how to drive a manual car, but we really have never had a chance to learn. Sebastiaan was a great teacher—so now, hopefully, we won’t have to pay extra to rent automatic cars anymore!
After our adventure at the castle (and in the parking lot), Sebastiaan took us to a favorite place from his childhood for Dutch pancakes! I can’t quite explain how they are different from American pancakes, but imagine something in between a pancake in the U.S. and a crepe in France. And then there are fillings that are baked into the batter. We had bacon, cheese, and apple pancakes… yummy! If you are in the Netherlands, you must try them!

On Monday, Sebastiaan had to work, but he sent us off with plenty of things to explore. We first visited the Van Gogh Museum, with its impressive collection of paintings by this amazing artist. I had completely forgotten that he was completely self-taught and painted for only ten years before he committed suicide at the age of 37. After an incredibly tasty lunch at Buffet van Odette & Yvette (see below), we set off for the Anne Frank House. Dan and I were both incredibly moved by physically being in this space where Anne wrote her famous diary. I hadn’t realized how influential her book was, that it inspired people like Nelson Mandella during his prison time on Robben Island, and that it had been translated into more than 50 languages.

We spent the rest of our time walking along the canals, admiring the quaint houses, and eating very well. We found the food in Amsterdam to be incredibly good…and cheap compared to Paris! (Really, I think Paris is about 25% more expensive for eating, and the food is often of significantly lower quality.) Any visitor here should definitely go to a bar for a drink and some Dutch snacks. Our favorites were Bitter Balls (kind of like a Spanish croquette…deep fried mashed potatoes and bits of meat and gravy), Cheese Sticks (again deep fried, but Gouda), and Applecake. Sebastiaan also made sure we had a traditional Dutch breakfast one morning, which consisted of slices of bread with either his favorite cheese (Zaanlander Extra Belegen—similar to a Gouda, but tastier!)

RESTAURANTS:

Villa Zeezicht (Torensteeg 3) –Great applecake! Also very good sandwiches.

Buffet van Odette & Yvette (Herengracht 309)—amazing sandwiches! Goatcheese, honey, and thyme…

Harkema (Nes 67 – 020 428 2222) –amazingly large restaurant that is a very stylish converted warehouse. Very trendy place for dinner.

Paso Doble (Westerstraat 86 – 020-4212670) http://www.dobson-uzcudun.com/tapas/pasodoble-en.htm Really good authentic Spanish Tapas.

De Bakkerswinkel (Warmoesstraat 69, Roelof Hartstraat 68, & Regulateurshuis 1, bij entree ophaalbrug Polonceaukade 1) http://www.debakkerswinkel.nl/ Amazing sandwiches and really tasty afternoon tea! come between 2-4pm, and then you can order off both the lunch and tea menus!

Brix (wolvenstraat 16 – 020 639 0351) – bar with great “tapas” style food (meaning small plates)…trendy scene with very global cuisine Live music many evenings

Viaamse Friethuis (Voetboogstraat33) – Famous for the best French fries in town (served with mayonnaise…or another sauce of your choice.)

Tags: Netherlands

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