Amsterdam – Burgers, Bitterballen & Beer

First of all, I have to apologize for being so delayed in writing on Basil, Meet Lime.  It’s been quite a whirlwind adventure, as of late.  First- I’ve done some traveling (yay), our first Oslo Soup event was a huge success (woohoo) and I got a full time job (hot damn).  All of these lovely experiences have happened since my last blog post.  As such,  I had to get my shit together and finally, I am back writing a blog post 🙂

One of the travel locations that I was lucky to visit was Amsterdam in the Netherlands. While I’ve been to the Netherlands before, I’ve never had the opportunity to see Amsterdam.  My previous Netherlands travel was limited.  For my honeymoon, my husband and I spent a night in Vlissingen by the water and had a lovely dinner with friends in Bergen op Zoom.  Amsterdam is definitely a different environment.  A mixture of old and new architecture with hipster crowds right and left, you’re not without something to see or gawk at. It has a lovely, manic feel with grungy, dark alleys, airy canals, and street art. I imagine Amsterdam can be quite intimidating to some as it is lively – and perhaps even loud at times.  All that said, it has it’s unique charm and I was lucky enough to visit it for a weekend.

My husband and I decided to rent an airbnb location for the first time.  We rented a nice apartment, from a lovely couple, which was located just off the Amstel River in the Plantage district.  We were about a 45 minute walk to downtown and an easily accessible underground train was just a few blocks away.  To me, it seemed to be an excellent location if you’re not looking for a wild and crazy experience.  We had the option to come back to the apartment and have a quiet night.

As we got in really late on Friday, we decided to stay in, drink wine and watch some television (some of my favorite late night things to do).  The next morning, we were aching for some breakfast and made our way over to the Coffee Bru in the Oosterparkbuurt neighborhood.  It was a hip cafe with really friendly staff and house-based goodies.  We opted for lattes (chai for me and mocha for my husband) and scones with jam and cream.  Delicious!  The neighborhood had a lovely funky feel and if we had more time, I think exploring it would have been a lot of fun.

After filling our bellies and caffeinating, we decided to make the trek downtown by foot.  The weather was chilly but comfortable and the sun was out – so a perfect time for a walk.   Each street seems to have its own character.  We also happened upon several coffee shops and cafes.  If you’re unaware of the difference in Amsterdam, I am here to help.  Cafes are your traditional location to sit down to have a coffee or tea and perhaps a sandwich or sweet bite.  Coffee shops (and they are labeled as such) are actually marijuana dispensaries.  As I’m not a smoker, I was a bit disappointed a few times when I was craving some caffeine but upon further inspection, realized that I was at the wrong place.  Regardless of this faux pas, I enjoyed Amsterdam’s charming architecture and unique metropolitan space.

Next, we headed for lunch.  As we often do, we stumbled upon a burger place.  This one was called Burgerjilk.  What’s interesting is that upon googling, the name the of restaurant actually means “civil” in Dutch.  Play on words perhaps?  The restaurant offered a set menu but you could also build your own burger.  My husband opted for an insane burger of cheese, bacon, mayo and a fried egg with all the trimmings.  I opted for a burger a little less insane (no egg or mayo) but still with cheese and bacon.  The flavor was spot on.  Really tasty but the more you ate… the more the top bun started to disintegrate.  Word to the wise – eat quick or be prepared to finish with a fork and knife. 🙂

As we only had a weekend in Amsterdam, we needed to get focused.  Enough wandering and eating – it was time to see a big attraction. We decided to visit the Riksmuseum.  It is the Dutch national art museum known for its expansive art collection including Rembrandt and artifacts from Dutch history and colonialism.  It’s huge.  Art museums are not generally my thing (I get overwhelmed by all the things to see) but we did really enjoy it.  You can do a quick 2 hour trip through the museum and see most of everything.  One helpful hint though – we bought our museum ticket at one of the tourism dealers in town.  We were then able to skip the purchase line and head straight into the museum.  It’s no more expensive than regular entry and saves you time.  We highly recommend it.  Outside of the Riksmuseum, there is the I (am)sterdam sign which is incredibly popular.  I’m not sure how anyone gets a photo with it alone as it was swarming with people but it’s something neat to see, take a photo and keep moving 🙂

What was interesting is that one of the fellows on the sign decided to do a bit of a strip tease.  Lucky for me, I was sitting in the cafe on the square nearby having a beer.  People do crazy things when they have an audience!

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Actually La Chouffe (not Heineken) – incredibly delicious & affordable here – 4 euros a pint!

I was craving a good steak and asked the waitress at the cafe where she would go in Amsterdam if she wanted the same.  She recommended Castell, an interesting place where people either eat at the bar or get seated around firepit (and where you must eat off a tray in your lap).  The only open space upon our arrival was the firepit so we decided to challenge ourselves (and our laps).  Lights were low and you were seated with other patrons so as you can imagine, it was a bit intimate.  When the steaks came, we were pretty happy.  The pricing was reasonable and the steaks good.  It’s not the best steak I’ve ever had but it was decent and hit the spot.  It my opinion – it could probably have used a tad bit more salt and pepper.  No photos, unfortunately, as the lighting in the restaurant prohibited capturing anything meaningful with my iPhone camera.

Afterwards, we headed to meet a friend for dessert at O’ Sole Mio.  From what I can see, this place is a hot spot for pizza as most of the tables ordered them.  My husband and I shared a tiramisu which was really simple and lovely.  Perfect treat for the end of a busy Saturday running around Amsterdam.

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We intended to try and visit the Anne Frank House on Saturday but did not do proper research.  The line was several blocks long (perhaps 1/2 mile or so) when we arrived on Saturday, mid-day.  We chatted with one of the tourist ticket offices and they recommended arriving the next morning about 8:00 am (they open at 9:00am) and waiting in line.  So that’s what I did and it was well worth it.  It was a chilly Sunday morning but, after waiting about a hour and being probably 30th in line,  I was able to get into the museum shortly after 9:00am and took my time seeing how life unfolded for the Frank family.  The experience was both heart breaking and inspiring.  After visiting the museum, I went into the cafe and sat down to a hot chocolate and croissant.  Seeing the sheer opulence of my selection, I felt a little guilty and began to reflect on everything I saw and experienced in the last hour at the Anne Frank House.  I wrote the following to friends and family on my personal Facebook and want to share it here as well…

“After just visiting the Anne Frank Museum this morning, I have a stark and sinking feeling about today’s environment. Particularly of that in the political process in the USA. It’s been there for some time but I think I did not want to admit it’s truth. Hatred and bigotry can move like wildfire when fear mongering is setting the torch. It makes me think about how I can position myself to help others and assist in extinguishing radical and hateful dialogue so that we don’t see it in action. We can’t sit idle and assume things will be fine… That concentration camps or internment camps are a thing of the past. Are they? Is not the current rhetoric eerily and frighteningly similar? I petition others to think on past history and what we can do to ensure it does not repeat itself.” – Tara Dolgner

Our trip to Amsterdam wrapped itself up on Sunday.  We were toting around luggage and decided to take advantage of the central train station’s luggage check.  As we were free to walk around without additional items, I was on a mission for bitterballen.  What is bitterballen?  Essentially, it is minced meet and roux (butter and flour) that is breaded and deep fried and served with mustard.  The inside is really creamy.  I’ve not seen them outside of the Netherlands so I wanted to get a quick fix of the Dutch delicacy.  We stumbled upon Cafe de Pool and were excited to see bitterballen on the menu.  We sat down enjoyed our lunch and had another (or two) La Chouffe beers.  On a side note, we had a friendly cat visitor come and check the place out while we were eating.

After that, we had to find the narrowest house in the world (or at least Amsterdam).  It is so narrow that we actually walked by it several times as we looked for house numbers.  It’s located on the canal and can be easily overlooked.  But as you can see in this picture, its the black door in the center to the left of the hotel.  The white building to the left is one establishment (a hotel) and brick building to the right is something else.  Focus now… its incredibly narrow.  It is the width of the door… no more.  I sure hope it opens up after you walk through the entrance or you’d have to lay off bitterballen and beer to live there.  And, who would want to do that?

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Finally, our last activity of the day was a canal trip.  Still chilly, the sun was shining and we got a last look of Amsterdam.  It worked out perfect for us to finish our weekend visit.  We had a nice view and received a short history of Amsterdam … all in about a hour.  Also, it drops you off at the train station so it was perfectly situated to grab our bags from the lockers and head out to the airport.

Amsterdam is an interesting city – rich with culture and art with a touch of grease and grime.  There is something beautiful about the latter, no?  Additionally, its the perfect city for people watching – of which, if they offered it, I would have a PhD.  One weekend is certainly not enough to view all of Amsterdam but we got a little taste and hope to go back again.

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