A journey of familiarity – my love affair with Amsterdam

My love affair with Amsterdam

This week, we have had to make an unexpected and sad visit home, to the Netherlands. Under the circumstances, I was feeling a bit unadventurous about our adventure in Japan.

Instead, I found myself focusing on the price tag of being an expatriate, so far away from home. Less than three months after leaving for Tokyo, I am touching back down in Europe.

In the midst of feeling gloomy and unmotivated, I found myself with one free day to spend in Amsterdam, a city that is a part of me as my own skin. I began feeling rejuvenated and a bit bouncy…

My love affair with Amsterdam began in 2002. I had just moved from New York to London, when Johan and I travelled to Holland for a weekend break and the wedding of a friend. We stayed, and still stay, in the centre, on the Prinsengracht. From this landing pad, we are free to walk, cycle and boat around the town.

The easiest and most local way to navigate through the city is, of course op de fiets (on a bicycle). But, if you only have a few hours to spare, I suggest that you stay in the centre and go on foot. You will see, arguably, the best the city has to offer – as least according to me!

In any city, one of my absolute favourite things to do is to awake before the city does. I get up early, put on my running shoes and explore.


In Amsterdam, I have a favourite running path. Almost always, I run along the Prinsengracht towards the Amstel. Once I hit the Amstel I turn left and run until I hit the Singel. The Singel is not considered the most beautiful of the canals in Amsterdam. You can easily run down the Keizergracht or the Herengracht. But, there is something about the “grit” that I love on the Singel. I run to the end, to either the Brouwersgracht or the Haarlemerstraat where I turn left and then back down the Prinsengracht, to my starting point, in total about a 5K run. I love looking at the houses, noticing new restaurants and shops and noting which I want to check out later. I find a waking city both romantic and full of promise.

This run is also incredible in the evening, after the sun has set and all the lights are on in the canal houses. The Dutch rarely pull curtains and peeking into the homes to admire decoration and style is something I love to do!

Before going back home, I hit the Utrechtsestraat and stop at Loekie for a broodje (sandwich). I always order a Filet Américain (steak tartare) with butter on bruin brodt (brown bread) orosseworst (an Amsterdam original raw beef sausage) with the same. If you like cheese, try the oude kaas (old cheese), delicious. For a typical Dutch breakfast, the sandwich should be accompanied by a glass of cold milk!

Of all the sandwich shops in Amsterdam, I  always choose Loekie. This dates back to the year before my wedding when I studied here. Because the Dutch are all extremely proficient in English, it was no easy task to practice my Dutch. Everyone kindly reverted to English for me. But, at Loekie, they would always, very seriously, speak to me in Dutch, even as I was making a mess of the whole thing. 

After breakfast and a shower, I am off again. The early morning is the best time for a museum visit. If you are short on time, The Anne Frank museum is a must for anyone visiting for the first time. The museum is built in the actual house and annex where Anne Frank and her family hid for years. It is a wonderfully humbling experience. Be absolutely sure to book ahead, on line, or you will find yourself cueing for hours.

In the case of this trip, it was a Monday. And, for me, Monday morning in Amsterdam is synonymous with the Noordermarkt. The market is a mish-mosh of vintage clothes and accessories, furniture, fabrics, produce, meat, cheeses and so much more. You can easily start your day there, grab a freshly squeezed orange juice, walk around and feel a little part of the old Dutch merchant place that is Amsterdam.

I spent hours trolling the lanes of  the Noordermarkt in the months before our wedding. On a tight budget, I found buttons for the bridesmaid dresses, little gifts for the guests and even my wedding handbag here.

Just behind the market, I always walk thru de Weldaad, a shop with lovely old and new furniture and accessories. The team that run the shop are all super friendly and will ship anything anywhere you like!

After the Noordermarkt, I head to the Prinsenstraat. This street is home to one of the best children’s shoe shops I have found in Europe, Spikes. The two-sister team, Leonie and Claudia can suit up your little ones in good quality, great looking shoes that you won’t see coming and going at home. After you’ve made your purchase, the little guy or girl is given a token to use in the bubble gum style vending machines by the door, for a little thank you treat.

I spend some time weaving up and down the Prinsenstraat and the Herenstraat. The little shops here tend to come and go often, but are all unique and full of charm.

From here, if you are feeling adventurous, it is always a trip to walk through the old red light district. No matter how many times I visit, the so-called “oldest profession in the world” still mesmerizes me. Walk along the Blauwburgwal, across the Singel and weave in and out of the Spuistraat to the Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal. You will get a small taste of the action!

I usually like to zigzag my way towards the Pulitzer Hotel by lunchtime, where I find a seat in the inner garden. Of course, on a sunny day, lunch on the gracht (canal) is alluring, but I prefer the peaceful sanctuary of the courtyard inside – and of course the bitterballen (a deep-fried croquette-type snack). Don’t be shy – order at least one portion per person. These tasty little balls are best when still hot and dipped in mustard. A glass of the Sauvignon Blanc goes well with the lunch.

After lunch, I continue with an exploration of the Negen Straatjes (nine little streets). Surrounding the Pulitzer Hotel. These 9 little streets offer tons of little shops, cafes and restaurants to keep the afternoon in full swing. Here are some of my recommendations:

  • I love Antonia’s for clogs. The owner, Yvette, has a very small shop, but an amazing selection of wooden delights. She is closed Sunday and doesn’t open until the afternoon on Monday, so plan accordingly and don’t miss her.
  • Poke around the Frozen Fountain for imaginative and clever objects. They have a large space, which is gallery-like and can be sneakily substituted for a museum trip.
  • I never miss the chance to look around the Dekunstboer for gifts for the young and old on my shopping list. I can never resist those little cats with really big eyes. Pencil cases, make up bags, extremely cute clothes, it’s a must for the kids.
  • My daughters always drag me into the La Savonnerie to spell their names in the little cubes of soap. For .90 euros per letter, wrapped sweetly in cellophane with bows, they also make a great gift.
  • And, of course, I always take some Dutch cheese back home with me. I recommend De Kaaskamer for both the selection and the service. Be sure to ask for everything vacuum packed and keep it in your refrigerator for weeks.
  • It is almost mandatory to have a speculaas (spiced cookie, similar to a ginger snap) ice cream at Ijscuypje, especially if you are with children!
  • At lunchtime, if we are more in the mood for a pancake or “breakfast”, we stop at Koffiehuis De Hoek. The staff is super friendly and the food is yummy.

As the perfect afternoon unfolds into evening, it is best spent sitting on a canal with a beer and some Dutch “delicacies”. On the way to my favourite watering hole, I make two stops.

First to one of my favourite shops, run by a mother-daughter team, Nummer 9. They carry a fab assortment of Dutch and Scandinavian designers, priced just right. Priscilla’s sense of fashion is top and it is lovely to let her guide you through the assortment.

Lastly, a visit to the Amsterdam Tulip Museum. Perhaps I am a bit biased (as my favourite flower was the tulip even before marrying Johan) but a trip to this town is not complete without a visit here. Once you step inside you will see why. You can buy any sort of tulip bulb under the sun from “fringed” to “parrot” to the Darwin Hybrid.

For our wedding, we bought USDA approved bulbs with a certificate of inspection so our guests could take them home and remember their trip for years to come.

And, to end the day, a glass and a portie osseworst. Just as I did as a student with all of my books and notes, I grab a seat on the water at Café te Smalle. For me, this is the perfect place to let the city pass by. Iconic Amsterdam.

Off to the airport, I highly recommend Schiphol Taxi Transfer taxi service. Run by two brothers (and sometimes with their father), they are lovely and the cars clean and safe. UBER is also very easy to use in Amsterdam, but I have often been disappointed with the lack of professionalism here, as opposed to in other cities. I will always check the UBER rate and then call Schiphol Taxi transfer about their best offer (which they normally beat without me asking). Ring them at +31 642 04 56 79 – they accept all credit cards too.

In the midst of a rather sad trip home, one where the cost of being so far away is high and the pay off seems momentarily low, we had another kind of adventure. It was the kind of journey that heals and soothes with its familiarity.

My love affair with Amsterdam is a very central one. These are my favourite haunts for a full day in the centre of town. If you are staying for dinner, have time to venture outside of the three main canals or just want to talk about your favourite spots, get in touch!

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