Practically Utopia: Amsterdam

I think that we loved Amsterdam before we even arrived.

Bridges and canals of Amsterdam

So, Amsterdam wasn’t on our original itinerary. We were actually meant to spend the month of July with a host in Germany. Unfortunately (or maybe not so unfortunately) our host emailed us while we were in Sweden to say that she had suffered a back injury while horseback riding and now she’d be bedridden for 8 weeks.

This bit of news kind of changed everything.

Essentially we had to make a new plan. We figured that we could go one of two ways. One: find a new host in Germany for July. Or two: change things up.

Our host seemed wonderful. We were very excited about staying with her. She had horses, a garden, and a small handmade soap business. Plus, via email she seemed like someone we could really be friends with. We were so bummed that we wouldn’t get to meet her.

She was even kind enough to give us the contact info of a friend that would, maybe, be able to host us. But when, after a few emails, he didn’t seem as wonderful and amazing as our original host… suddenly a month in Germany wasn’t so attractive anymore.

I mean, why did we want to spend all that time there in the first place? Did we really want to spend a whole month in Germany? Like, really?

IAmsterdam
Meta tourist photo.
Her email, this news, it was a sign. A sign that we didn’t need to spend so much time in Germany. A sign that we needed to see some other places. (Okay, it probably wasn’t a sign, rather, it was just an unfortunate event. But still, it was probably a sign.) In the end, we chose option number two and re-routed our travel course.

Now instead of staying in Germany, we decided to find a host in the Netherlands or Belgium and travel through Germany on our way to Hungary. This new path would allow us to visit Amsterdam and parts of Belgium – both of which were not included in our original plan.

(This is actually just the first of so many itinerary revisions… but I’ll tell you those stories later.)

Draw bridge Amsterdam

We flew in to Amsterdam from Stockholm late one Tuesday night. Usually, with our big backpacks, travel days are just awful. The bags get heavier with each passing minute. Since the bags are a bit on the large side, we just can’t move as easily. Public transportation can be nightmarish – “How will we squeeze on to this packed bus?” And traveling by plane with the weight restrictions and security lines. Oh, it’s the worst.

This day, though, this day was a piece of cake. We learned a bus hack in Stockholm, so we avoided paying an extra $20 or so. (Sometimes it pays to look like a confused tourist.) High luggage weight limits – so no need to shuffle and repack our checked bags. (Thank you, Norwegian Air!). No security line. (Did you know that they don’t make you take your shoes off in Europe?) It was such an efficient travel day that we even had time to watch an episode of Mad Men while waiting for our plane to board. Ah, it was so great.

It was a sign. We were meant to love Amsterdam.

graffiti amsterdam

So, basically, Amsterdam was the best before we even knew it was the best. The city is practically utopia. If our objective wasn’t to travel and see different parts of Europe, I think we may have stayed forever.

What makes Amsterdam so great? Well, here’s a list:

It’s so damn charming

I mean, the canals, the bridges, the houses, the boats, the flowers. It’s just so quaint. It’s easy to forget that you’re actually in a big city.

Crooked homes of Amsterdam

Not to mention the parks

Since we are big on packing a lunch, we usually need a place to picnic. So, in addition to saving money on lunch, we are basically forced to visit the parks of the city we’re visiting. It’s great system. We accidentally stumbled upon Amsterdam’s oldest petting zoo (free!) in Rembrandtpark. And (at the same park) we found the neatest kid’s playground. It was a mini-city made of scrap wood and with mountains of unused plywood about, it seemed like it could just keep expanding. Another day, we spent almost the entire afternoon people watching and wandering around Vondelpark. That’s just two of the parks in the city. Can you imagine if we had found more?

Amsterdam found object playground

Goat in Amsterdam

Freedom

Being able to buy pot from a legitimate business and smoke it over a cup of coffee is true freedom. And also quite the culture shock. (Of course we visited some coffee shops! “When in Rome…”) The coffee shops we enjoyed the most were Paradox (a Rick Steves suggestion – get a smoothie); Kashmir Lounge (good for hanging out and getting a drink); and Coffeeshop Club Media (good for getting work done, like people are wont to do in a cafe). Furthermore, each establishment we visited (coffee shop and otherwise) had free wifi. Every city should be like this.

On that note… It’s a stoner-friendly city.

Snack shops full of greasy food and sweet treats are open late into the night. Chris (the ashamed stoner) is holding frites and a kaassouffle (basically a cheese hot pocket) – a cheap cure for the munchies purchasable from many street vendors. Also, there are conveniently illustrated and easy to understand instructions, just in case you are too high to remember how to work the crossing signal.

Crossing the street

Food

In addition to the late night Snack Shops, there are a number of other delicious foods to try. We basically lived on falafel sandwiches and pastries from the nearby Turkish bakery. (That falafel below was the best falafel we’ve had so far. Of course we can’t remember where we found it, because… well, you know…)

munchies

Museums

People may spend a lot of time talking about all the fun extracurricular activities to choose from in Amsterdam, but there are also quite a few interesting museums. The Anne Frank House is very popular (so popular that we didn’t go because the line stretched around the block. It costs more, but it would be worth it to buy your tickets in advance online for this.) The Van Gogh Museum is also popular, but since we’re tracking our spending closely, we only budgeted for one art museum, so, we opted to visit the Rembrandthuis instead. The museum is actually the house that Rembrandt used to live and work in. Rembrandt went bankrupt before his death, so, his home and belongings were repossessed. Because of this, the house is full of his actual possessions. And because he kept such detailed notes and drawings of his abode, they were able to recreate each room to pretty much how it looked when he lived there. Below is a picture of his collection of art and objects from around the world. Rembrandt would use these objects as inspiration and models for his own artwork. It’s a really special museum – it feels like walking through history.

Rembrandt's House

Getting around is easy and beautiful

By far one of the most surprising and noteworthy aspects of Amsterdam is the transportation. The city literally has all forms of transportation in active use – buses, trams, bikes, boats, cars, pedestrians. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen more bikes on a city street than in Amsterdam. Everyone shares the road peaceably and without issue. It’s like watching a symphony of transportation – perfectly coordinated and beautiful to witness. It all just flows.

Playground Amsterdam

Amsterdam is basically an adult playground. Don’t be surprised if you see a post in a few months announcing our move to the Netherlands.

Click here to see more pix of our time in Amsterdam on Flickr.

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