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6 Things I Miss About Amsterdam

By alison - March 5, 2013

6 Things I Miss About Amsterdam

Ah Amsterdam, so much to miss…

If you dig way, way back in the CheeseWeb archives, you’ll find the saga of our arrival in Europe. Those days, CheeseWeb was simply a personal journal for my close friends and family, back home in Canada. You’ll find a lot of (badly written) posts about our time in Amsterdam, from 2004 and 2005, but since those days, I’ve written very little about one of my favourite cities in the world.

Despite the relatively short time we spent living there, (7 months in total) it still feels like home, when we visit. So today I’d like to share a bit of my Amsterdam with you, with six things I miss about Amsterdam.

Canals

Of course, Amsterdam’s canals are an obvious choice for any list about the best of Amsterdam. But for a water-sign like me, they kept me sane during my first move away from the ocean. Amsterdam’s canals shape the character of the city in so many ways: they keep it green and open, while limiting traffic; they are home to festivities like the insane and wonderful Gay Pride Parade; and they encourage residents and visitors alike to sit and watch the world pass slowly by.

Amsterdam's beautiful canals

Amsterdam’s beautiful canals in spring and autumn.

In fact, if I was to offer up my perfect day in Amsterdam it would include passing a few hours, on a sunny day, sitting in the shade of one of the gigantic trees canal-side, at my favourite café, watching boats, ducks and life pass by on the water below, with a coffee and a good friend.

The Gezellig Attitude

If you have any friends from the Netherlands, you’ve probably heard this untranslatable word before. The closest literal meaning, in English, is cozy, but gezellig is a state of being, much more than a single English word can embody.

Gezellig Amsterdam

Watching the world go by on the canals of gezellig amsterdam

A dinner in a cozy restaurant with a loved-one is gezellig, as is a drink with good friends in a pub. For me, gezellig is being curled up with a good book, a glass of Syrah and a cat on my lap, or the canal-side scenario I described above. Gezillig is also the ‘live and let live’ attitude Amsterdam is famous for. You can have a gezellig experience anywhere in the world, but to truly understand the term, you have to visit Amsterdam.

The Trams

Countless cities around the world have trams, but the trams of Amsterdam will always have a special place in my heart. Coming from the public-transportation-deprived East Coast of Canada, Amsterdam was the first place I lived that had trams. I instantly loved everything about them, from the electric buzzing sound they make to the dinging bell warning people to get the heck out of the way.

Trams, boats and bikes - green transportation in Amsterdam

Trams, boats and bikes – green transportation in Amsterdam

I particularly loved the conductors who announce all of the stop names. The route we took from our first flat in Amsterdam went right by the city zoo, Artis. There was one conductor on the route who was famous for rolling his ‘R’s. His announcement of the stop for the zoo went something like this: “Arrrrrrr-tis. Da Zoo.” It still makes me smile to think of it.

Ingenuity in Architecture

I love modern architecture and the Dutch are famous for their building and design innovation. The use of glass and natural light, the bold colours, and the quirky, organic shapes are all sights I enjoy when travelling around the outskirts of the old city centre. Whether it’s the NEMO Science Museum, shaped like a boat, or the ING Shoe Building, I love the originality.

The last place we lived in Amsterdam was Java Island, a long, narrow, man-made island, just behind the Centraal Station. It is still one of my favourite places in the city, partly because of its proximity to the city centre, but mostly because of its unique design.

Java Island and Nemo; modern architecture in Amsterdam

Java Island and Nemo; modern architecture in Amsterdam

Java Island was built from 1991-2000 and is a riot of colour and shapes while still keeping a human scale. The buildings line the outside edges of the island, while the interior is all park, and public spaces. I loved living there and it would be the first place I’d look for a flat if I could move back tomorrow.

Flowers and Gardens

Everyone knows the Netherlands are famous for tulips, and they are certainly among my favourite flowers. I remember the very first bunch of 50 tulips I purchased in Amsterdam for a mere €5. I was in awe. Even if it was possible to get such a huge bunch of tulips in Halifax (and trust me, it wasn’t) it would have cost as much as a dinner out. I always had flowers in our Amsterdam flats and a trip to the local garden centre, Intratuin, was better than an amusement park.

Tulips and gardens in Amsterdam

Tulips everywhere, and even the smallest garden allotment is beautiful in Amsterdam.

The Dutch are expert gardeners. Even the tiniest yard can sport a floral design masterwork. Heck, they don’t even need yards. Many of the houseboats, moored near our Java Island flat, had gardens more elaborate than our 3 acre Canadian yard. (Come to think of it though, I did not inherit my Mother’s green-thumb and am much better at photographing gardens than growing them.) From window-boxes to restaurant centerpieces, I have never seen flowers as abundant and striking as those in and around Amsterdam.

Food

If you’ve had the dubious pleasure of partaking in some traditional Dutch cuisine, you may be surprised to see food on my list. I’ll be the first to admit that stamppot (potatoes mashed with another vegetable) and maatjes (pickled herring) are not on my list of favourite foods. Dutch food traditionally consists of meat and potatoes and even our Dutch friends laughingly refer to it as ‘war food.’ But that doesn’t mean Amsterdam has nothing to offer the culinary visitor and yes, there are Dutch foods we actually miss.

Bitterballen: crispy fried balls of meat and potatoes in batter, a bit like round croquettes; the perfect pub food.

Stroopwafel: Yes we can get these in Belgium. But these gooey, wafer treats will always be synonymous with Amsterdam for me and it feels almost sacrilegious to eat them anywhere else.

Poffertjes: Puffy little mini pancakes, swimming in butter and dusted with icing sugar. Heaven.

Poffertjes - mini pancake goodness

Poffertjes – mini pancake goodness (photo via wiki)

Pannenkoek: For that matter, the full-sized Dutch pancakes, close to a crepe, are delicious too. I love the savory versions with lots of melted gouda cheese.

Besides these typical Dutch treats, Amsterdam is home to spectacular Indonesian cuisine. Imported from the former Dutch colonies in the East Indies, no trip to Amsterdam is complete without trying a belly-busting Indonesian rijsttafel, or ‘rice table.’ It’s like a combination plate on speed and can include anywhere from 6-15+ dishes.

And of course, if you stopped by CheeseWeb last week, you know that we really (REALLY) miss Mexican food in Amsterdam, from Los Pilones.

I love Belgium, and I have no desire to leave, but I also wouldn’t hesitate to move back to Amsterdam if the opportunity arose. It was my first home in Europe and I am always excited when I can go back for a city-break and indulge in some of the things I miss.

If you have the opportunity to visit Amsterdam, do enjoy some of the list above and if you want more insider-secrets of Amsterdam, make sure to check out our Now What Amsterdam ebook, which includes things to do and see, places to shop, stay, and eat and all the details to create your own perfect escape to Amsterdam.

Now What Amsterdam-Buy the ebook now

 

Want more Amsterdam goodness? Check out Netherlands Tourism’s article Things to do in Amsterdam – The Ultimate Top 50!

Alison

Alison

Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu She landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about this quirky little country. She loves to discover Belgium's hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She loves to travel the world with her husband, Andrew, and spend quiet nights reading with her cats and a glass of red wine. You can also follow her work on Google+

13 comments

  1. Comment by MIchelle

    MIchelle March 5, 2013 at 14:09

    Ah, man! Alison! Just when I was resigned to not fitting everything into our year abroad that I had envisioned, you went and added another city I must visit to the pot. I never wanted to visit Amsterdam before, and now I simply must.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison March 5, 2013 at 14:21

      You’re just going to have to plan another year abroad 😉

  2. Comment by Amy

    Amy March 5, 2013 at 16:11

    A lot of those things are what I love about visiting Amsterdam too! Especially the poffertjes. :) I am really missing our yearly spring visits to buy tulips too.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison March 6, 2013 at 12:02

      Yes, just the thought of flower prices in Canada make me shudder now :) I haven’t had profferjes or pancakes in ages!

  3. Comment by Caroline @ Traveling 9 to 5

    Caroline @ Traveling 9 to 5 March 5, 2013 at 18:46

    Amsterdam is one of my favorite cities – The canals and architecture are stunning!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison March 6, 2013 at 10:29

      We totally agree Caroline!

  4. Comment by Bessie

    Bessie March 7, 2013 at 00:12

    Looks lovely! We’ve long wanted to visit Amsterdam, but now you’re doing this weird thing of really making me want to come to northern Europe. Oh, work-related risks! Or at least that’s where I’ll put the blame. 😉

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison March 7, 2013 at 10:54

      Haha, I have those same work related travel risks every day. “Hello. My Name is Alison and I am a travel addict.”I hope we can welcome you here someday soon!

  5. Comment by Ann

    Ann March 7, 2013 at 15:43

    I’d like to point out that ‘maatjes’ are not pickled herring, but young immature, freshly caught herring (before the breeding season) that is brined, i.e. put in oak barrels with a mild solution of water and little salt. This ripening process makes them mild and soft. Whereas pickled herring (in a solution of vinegar and herbs, and usually stuffed with gherkin or onion) are called ‘rolmops’. Both techniques stem from the Middle Ages.
    If you get these mixed up in a discussion with a Dutch person, you may find yourself in a bit of a pickle. 😉

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison March 7, 2013 at 15:55

      My bad Ann! I you can tell, I’m not a herring fan either way although I’m willing to be converted :)

      • Comment by ShadyPops

        ShadyPops March 8, 2013 at 20:29

        We could start with some solomon gundy next time you are back in the land of the bluenosers … traditional and tasty! Thanks for the stroll back through some of the treats of Amsterdam, a very special place.

        • Comment by Alison

          Alison March 9, 2013 at 10:25

          I eat all sorts of weird things these days. Maybe I need to broaden my herring horizons.

  6. Pingback: Our Favourite Photos of Copenhagen, Denmark | Expat Life in Belgium, Travel and Photography | CheeseWeb

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