Amsterdam

(part 3 of our Edinburgh, Yorkshire and Amsterdam trip, Nov 2017)

Leeds to Amsterdam

The buses to most towns and the airport run very frequently from the station. The one to Leeds-Bradford Airport took about half an hour or so and we passed through a lot of countryside. In fact, even the airport itself is in the countryside, and there was a former air base in the war on the site. The airport is very compact and easy. Whilst waiting at the gate, only the Vilnius plane was ready to go. For our budget Jet2 flight we had to walk onto the tarmac and up steps onto the plane, so very old fashioned!  We liked Jet2 and it had been a bargain compared to KLM.

We landed a bit early, but the passport queue took quite a while at Schipol in Amsterdam and then when we got to the Baggage Claim the belt was empty of any bags! We almost panicked but finally two lone bags came around – ours – and we grabbed them gratefully.

My brother Martyn was waiting for us, as promised, and we greeted and got the 197 bus to the area where our hotel was, the beautiful Leidesplein area near to museums and lots of bars and restaurants.  It was very attractive at night, with Christmas lights. Raining, but no matter at all. 

Martyn showed us our hotel and waited in the lobby whilst we went to check in (he said the chap on reception had been talking non-stop).  We were very happy with the hotel and our room, which had giant windows over the very tasteful, quiet street below.

We went back out to Leidesplein to check out restaurants. ‘Players’ was closed on Tuesday, but another one Martyn and I had noted looked ideal, and we wanted proper Dutch food: Blauwe Holland.  Martyn had veal liver, and Marie and I shared a “stompot”, German-style sausage and mash with saurkraut built in.  Martyn had a zatte beer (a “biological triple”, according to the menu!) and an IPA,  and myself a natte, a double.   We all had a fine first night.

Day 11 –

We’d made a plan to meet Martyn at a bar near the Anne Frank House early afternoon, but when Marie and I were getting ready (sat on the hotel bed) she found out through the tinternet that you have to book online well in advance to get tickets! She was feeling a little depressed and upset, as she’d been looking forward to the AFH a lot and was one of her main reasons for coming. 

At least on the way down we saw the hotel cat (asleep on the sofa), which cheered us up a bit after breakfast.  

We made for the direction of the AFH anyway, and decided to meet Martyn at the arranged time.

On the way, we passed offices selling canal tour tickets and since we wanted to do that anyway, we paid and jumped in. It was just about to leave!  We got headsets. Marie’s wasn’t working at first, adding to the frustration, but finally it did and we had a very easygoing and lolling cruise for an hour and a half. A nice way to pass the morning. Disembarking, we strolled along the Prinzengracht alongside a canal and stopped in one or two shops etc, and I took a load more snaps. Amsterdam is great for photography. Cyclists also enhance a photo. ‘Oh look, there’s a cyclist” I thought, though you see thousands a day! Crossing the street requires focus, as you have to look out for trams, fast moving cycles, mopeds, cars and pedestrians, often all of them at once!

We stopped at Ice Bakery and had a couple of delicious little but quite pricey doughnut balls (one stuffed with nutella). We also passed a cheese shop but just glanced in, as that could wait.

It was quite a long walk to the AFH area. We also passed the street where we would be having savoury Dutch pancakes for lunch later, and we had a quick look.

When at the AFH Marie overheard one of the staff tell someone that more tickets will be released for 5pm! She seized the opportunity and got us two tickets for 5.15pm. A big relief!

We realised it was just a few minutes before meeting Martyn in the bar opposite the church nearby. He was in there, a fine looking brown bar called Cafe Kalkhoven and we had drinks there and then moved on to the pancake house. The ones we chose included bacon, banana, spinach, goat cheese, tomato and ham but I only vaguely remember which went with which! They were very good though. Marie especially loved them. I had mint tea, which I remember liking in Morocco many years ago. No sugar needed here though, just fresh leaves and a drop of honey in hot water was so simple and so good.

They gave us little clog keyrings for free, with the name of the pancake house on them.

A bit of culture next, and we had plenty of time to kill until our Anne Frank visit. Martyn took us to a courtyard haven, Begijnhof, hidden away from the action. It’s easiest if I type a little from the information board leading to the courtyard: “from 1578 to 1795 Roman Catholics in Amsterdam were not allowed to openly practise their religion….but the Beijnen were left in peace because the houses were their personal property. Hence the Begijnhof became a Roman Catholic enclave in predominantly protestant Amsterdam for more than 200 years”. You would never guess you were in the heart of a busy area nearby!

Then once back near the AFH, Martyn went into a different bar across the canal, as Marie and I waited our turn to go in to the museum and house.

What can I tell you about the Anne Frank House? Everyone knows the tragic story, and have probably seen it on travel shows…the book case that hid the secret passage to the hiding, and perhaps the photos of celebrities than Anne had pasted onto her bedroom wall.  I think we both expected the “museum” to be quite humble. It’s a big operation now, with a modern glass museum building containing the house within. It was heartbreaking and sometimes heartwarming to hear extracts from the diary as you went around the museum. The only thing is that it’s nearly all information on light boxes. The hideaway is very bare, but you can still see the photos on Anne’s bedroom wall. The only survivor, her father, had preferred the hideout to be stripped of most remaining items after the Nazis found it, but a recreation of the bedroom would have made it more evocative.  We would say we were glad we visited it, but I imagine reading the diaries is the best insight of all. There’s also an Anne Frank historic walk which might be worth doing some day.

It took a long time. We met Martyn back at the bar, then we went to an absolute classic of a small brown bar that I hadn’t been to since at least 2002: Gollem. We squeezed in upstairs! I had a Kwak beer in that wonderfully peculiar wooden glass holder.  Martyn loves IPAs and chose one, whilst Marie mostly drank water on the holiday.

For our evening meal we had earlier booked a table at Kantjil for a rijstaffel.  Indonesia was a Dutch colony and Amsterdam is the best place outside of Indonesia to try the cuisine.  You can sample many small dishes, called a Rijstaffel.  We managed to get through most and would certainly try the one Indonesian restaurant we’ve found at home too, in Brooklyn!

Then finally off to smoke a spliff!  We selected a small Kadinsky (they have a few) and shared one. Martyn is quite seasoned and Marie used to smoke cigarettes when younger so they inhaled much more effectively than me. They also both got a better kick from it!  Marie duly snacked on a lot of chocolate once back at the hotel (it’s famous for making you hungry) and maybe Martyn did too when he got home to Zaandam!

We were loving our time in Amsterdam so far.

Day 12 –

photo by Adam Hardy

This morning Marie and I wanted to look at the food markets.  We would be meeting Martyn at a bar opposite the Heineken Brewery afterwards.

I imagined the markets would be on a square but they’re on a long street, most of them an extension of the shops and they run six days a week.  I bought an Amsterdam cycle t-shirt (which I love and wore yesterday, back home in NY). There’s a lot of Amsterdam t-shirts featuring the classic bicycle silhouette but this one was especially cool, I think.

We then bought a small portion of poffertjes, which we’d both wanted to try. They’re one of the traditional Dutch finger foods, tiny little pancakes dusted in powder sugar. You can get toppings but we went for the classic (with a knob of butter) and delicious they were!

photo by Adam Hardy

After meeting up with Martyn at Cafe Berkhout, Marie wanted to see Dam Square – the big touristy area with department stores and a lot more going on. There had been a local singer and also acrobat performing, so quite a bit of vibrant hoopla going on and we moseyed on around the square.

For lunch Martyn took us by tram to a big food court area he likes in a different part of town. Lots of amazing choices, we went for Vietnamese and Indian.

With Martyn we got the tram back to near our hotel so Marie and I could rest and re-group.

We went back out to meet Martyn at Balie bar at 4pm.  On our way out of the hotel lobby, Marie and I talked to the jolly character on hotel reception that we liked a lot, and asked him what his favourite dining places were around the Leidesplein. His recommendation was to forget the busy tourist area, and instead turn left at our hotel, take a right opposite Vondel Park and he said there’s a terrific Indian place, and opposite a very nice Italian gaff.   With Martyn, we decided to try the Italian, Trattoria Toto.   It was wonderful, friendly, very cosy, real Italian fare and amazing quality (Marie said she heard the staff talking in Italian, and said “this is the real deal!”).  Martyn had the meatballs and orrechiate… special, and Marie and I shared a bolognese and a pizza.   What had seemed a low ebb late afternoon – as Marie had been feeling under the weather but was now feeling better – had turned into a hugely enjoyable evening.  The (Italian) waitress had lived in Philly by the way!

Back out on the street, night time and still heavy rain, we got a bit turned around but found our way back to our Owl Hotel.

Day 13 – Leiden/Amsterdam

We’d also intended to take a side trip out of Amsterdam with Martyn, and we’d all chosen Leiden in the end. Martyn used to live in Leiden and I had vague memories of being in a waterside restaurant there many years ago. Leiden is a fair sized city with a big student population, but a lot smaller than Amsterdam and would make a nice contrast.  I’d looked it up on Lonely Planet online, and found that it was the birthplace of Rembrandt, that Einstein had taught at the university and that the pilgrims to America had leased the Mayflower from Leiden.

It was our first sunny day, and that’s just what you want for a scenic city!

We met Martyn in the morning at Centraal Station, at Little Delerium bar (by the waterfront) where Martyn also wanted to wish a bartender friend well, as his wife was having a baby and it was his last day working at the bar. Seemed a very nice bloke (Italian I think Martyn said).  

A train ride of about half an hour or so, and we were in Leiden. The first thing Marie and I had said we wanted to do was the old windmill/museum near to the train station.  There was construction work going on around it but it was open.  We paid 4 euros each to the cheerful lady, and had a look around the interior.  De Valk windmill was rebuilt a few times but the current one standing is from 1743.  The last inhabitant died in 1964 and it’s been a museum since 1966. It’s the only windmill with its original interior (the ground floor is used as a home too) and it’s also a fully functioning mill. Thanks wikipedia! We enjoyed looking around. We went up some fairly steep wooden steps to the next level.  Uhm, nice. Oh, there’s some more steep wooden steps to the next level, and the next.  We ventured out on to the ‘stage’ of the windmill and took photos. Then more wooden steps and more…I think we only missed out on the very top ones.  Marie was nervous about coming back down, as she’s afraid of heights plus you have to hold onto a door or anything else before the bannisters 2 or 3 steps down of each flight. She made it though!

my brother Martyn, atop the windmill

At the bottom a chap with a white beard came over to us, very enthusiastic and genial. He explained his love for windmills. I asked if he would like to live in a windmill and he replied, “oh no, it’s just my hobby!”.

I think we’d spent almost an hour there.

Then into town. Leiden is really beautiful. I couldn’t stop taking photos. 

And there’s the restaurant I remember going to in the 1990s with Martyn once!  We walked quite a lot though, as it was proper nippy and we needed to find somewhere to sit down, Eventually we settled in a great place called Snijers, from 1829, a pastry – “banketbakkerij” – and confectionery shop with a restaurant at the side.   Martyn had a Dutch special ham and eggs dish, and Marie and I ciabatta brie and honey and a cheese and pineapple toastie on dark bread.

We went walking again, to where Martyn said was very pretty with courtyards.  We saw our first giant poem on a wall in an alley. Since 1992 a Walls Poems project was privately funded from EE Cummings to Shakespeare to Yeats. There are 101 in the city.

Then we did pass through some beautiful little squares and naturally came to Leiden “Castle”, really a fortress up some steps.  We saw a ginger cat that delighted Marie. At the top we took more photos.

Slowly heading on back along the gorgeous streets and canals again. There’s enough to do. It’s quieter but still buzzing and Martyn said he’d consider living in Leiden again. I was excited about photographs – even Marie and Martyn were taking quite a few.

We stopped for hot chocolate at the Chocolate Company.  It’s a very clever idea; you pick a kind of bar of chocolate on a wooden spoon, then you’re served a mud of hot foamy milk and you put the chocolate in til it melts. You can even just buy the chocolate on spoons to make at home.  It was very popular though and we didn’t think we’d get a seat. We squeezed in on window stools, but then a table opened up. Really good, you could tell it must be a chain!

And then back to Amsterdam.

Martyn was going to take us to where the free ferry takes you a very short journey across the north of the city.  Ferries are frequent, and cyclists, small disabled cars and pedestrians jostled to get onboard. Night time, and this part of the city is modern and quite different.  Martyn took us to The Eye, a very large exhibition centre with a bar, cafe, theatre and a whole lot going on.  The Eye is quite striking, and we got seats and had drinks (fine ales, mint tea for Marie). A very relaxing and classy way to finish the day.

Day 14 –

photo by Adam Hardy

The last day, sadly, but the holiday had been long and beyond expectations. It seemed quite a time since our first day in Scotland two weeks ago!

Today Marie and I would be doing our own thing until 4pm, then meeting Martyn at the Windmill Brewery.  For lunch we wanted to have another pancake meal. We’d passed one with Martyn that was a circular restaurant built around an old funfair carousel so we thought that would be fun to go to.

First up, we thought we’d visit another cultural site. Marie asked me if I’d like to go to the Rijskmuseum gallery, but I said that I’d rather do the Rembrandt House.  I’m not as much into darker toned, pre mid-19th century art though seeing the house Rembrandt lived in was much more appealling.

Breakfast at the hotel again, then we skirted Vondel Park again. A walk by the Rijsmuseum, we wanted to pass the giant “I (heart) Amsterdam” letters, and there were loads of mostly young tourists posing for photos.

We spent almost two hours at the Rembrandt House, and really got a lot out of it! More so than the Anne Frank House really.   It’s beautifully done, and quite humble. Rembrandt was getting a lot of commissions and doing really well, so bought the very expensive and lavish (for the time) townhouse in 1639, but didn’t keep up payments and moved to somewhere cheaper in 1658. A lot of his possessions were being auctioned off, but those that were already part of the house and not belonging to him were kept.  It’s still full of original items, and is pretty much as it was in the 17th century.  The museum puts the spotlight on his two pupils as much as Rembrandt himself, and states that Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck eventually even surpassed his talent and were later more successful. But after his death Rembrandt became a more prominent name again and his pupils relatively forgotten.

Something else that was surprising was that during most of his life Rembrandt was known mostly for his etchings, not so much his painting.  We watched a woman give an etching demonstration using a copy of one of his plates (a cottage scene).  I did etching classes in 1990, and the whole very traditional, tactile process took me back!

On other floors there were lots of original canvases by Rembrandt and many others of the era, and it was very unassumingly done.   

We also liked seeing his original rooms, where he received clients, the kitchen, his original studio and where he mixed oil paints and so on. A fascinating and understated museum really.

We were quite a way from the carousel pancake house, and had spent longer at the RH than we thought. Instead, Marie checked on her phone where the other nearest ones were.  One called Pancake Upstairs sounded good. It’s in a 17th century house. It was amazing, and later we found out it was where Anthony Bourdain went on his Amsterdam Layover episode!  You have to climb very steep and narrow stairs, and the restaurant is very tiny. Just 4 small tables, and barely room to swing a spider!

It was 2.35pm, the nice staff told us that there was a table available til 3pm but would that be long enough for us to eat? We said yes, and they didn’t rush us anyway. People came in and we’re told to try back tomorrow, with it being such a popular and wee place. Marie had a brie and honey pancake, me bacon and apple. Both really good.

Next pit-stop, and we got a tram to an area which felt a bit more suburban with wider canals, to meet Martyn at one of his favourite watering holes: the Windmill Brewery.  There’s even a Lonely Planet entry on this online:

Can you get more Dutch than drinking an organic beer beneath the creaking sails of the 1725-built De Gooyer Windmill? This is Amsterdam’s leading organic microbrewery with delicious standard, seasonal and limited-edition brews; try the fragrant, hoppy house brew, Plzeň. There’s the tiled tasting room, lined by an amazing bottle collection, or the plane tree–shaded terrace.

It was great but very packed!  We got there before Martyn, and somehow managed to get three places at a wooden bench.  Martyn arrived, cleaning the rain from his glasses and I’d already bought him a flight of sample beers. He bought me a delicious beer back.  

An enjoyable time there then, we still had quite a lot of time before our 8pm reservation at Haesje Claes. We changed the reservation to 7pm and had drinks in a fine old bar called Cafe de Zwart nearby, then made for the restaurant which was to be a real treat and the ultimate meal of the trip.

I looked up more about Haesje Claes. It was opened in 1974 by Andre Duves but in a very old space that was a former place called Tingel Tangel. It’s an amazing interior and full of character. This is from its website:

 …these have been converted into a number of dining rooms, which are connected together with small halls, stairs and corridors. In addition, André had a passion for art, monumental building materials and antiques. With his collection, he single handedly began to decorate, and has transformed this beautiful restaurant into this stylish Amsterdam”s wonderland that it is today.The interior consists of pictures, mirrors, famous Delft tiles, glass lead windows, astonishing art work, gold leather wallpaper and oak wood panelling, each telling their own story.

A wonderful meal, Martyn had steak, Marie a multi-meat stampot and myself liver. We finished with Dutch gin shots! 

We were planning on paying for Martyn, but he’d planned the same for us. We relented to let Martyn pay, and thanks again Martyn for a perfect last hurrah meal! It had also been terrific to see a good deal of Martyn these past few days too.

A couple of people over here asked us which we enjoyed the most: Scotland, Yorkshire or Amsterdam but really on all three visits we had an equally brilliant time. Of course for most of the holiday we were zipping around so two weeks was just about right. We’d do it all again next week though if we could!

Published by heathgrip

An Englishman in New York for around 15 years, I met a wonderful, beautiful, cannily smart and talented girl from Flushing, Queens whilst I was living in Manchester, UK, through the internet in 2005 and we married in Spring 2006! We both have a passion for travel, restaurants, history, music, all kinds of fun events. Who doesn't? I'm an artist and photographer, and also love to write. Anything creative really (you can keep your science and technology!). I've sent journals back home to family and friends for many years and they've often suggested I start a blog with writings pasted from my journals. So here it is!

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