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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.