Here is my long lost post from Amsterdam! I had started writing it on April 17, 2016 and, as it normally takes me a few days to write a proper post, I had left it up on my computer. Then, on April 22, my dad passed away suddenly so I abandoned this particular post for a little while and it sat incomplete in my drafts. I do have to say that it's interesting to look back on something that I had started writing almost a year ago (wait, wait?). So now, finally, is the Amsterdam post.
As many of you know, Justin and I traveled to Amsterdam in March for our last -big- trip while we're in Doha. And, as many of you know, we can't just go the next 2 1/2 months without going on just oooonnnneeee last wee trip. So, Justin and I are going to Abu Dhabi for his birthday next month because we can't leave the Middle East (update: we went to Abu Dhabi and it was crazy too hot to do anything. Although we did like Abu Dhabi better than Doha and we basically took naps and ate shawarma the entire time. Also, we got a speeding ticket. So, yeah.) and have not gone to both Dubai AND Abu Dhabi. Also, we need to add another cup to our Starbucks collection.....#we'reoldpeople. We also need to add an Amsterdam cup to our Starbucks collection #oldpeopletimestwo. (Update: we broke the Amsterdam cup and it was really sad.)
I feel like the proper thing is just to put a massive bunch of photos to properly describe Amsterdam. We stayed for a week in Amsterdam Noord (North) in a circus wagon at this place called Campsterdam which I guess you could call a commune-ish thing. There were several other caravans and a lot of people coming and going to various electronic music festivals and whatnot. There was also a main barn area where the kitchen and the toilets/showers were located.
Now Amsterdam Noord was it's own thing entirely. You feel almost as if it's an entirely different town. It has a decidedly different feel to it as it's mostly industrial, quiet (except for the massive EDM festivals) and a bit strange in it's narrow canals, gently rocking houseboats and pretty much empty streets and sidewalks. We would walk about a mile from Campsterdam over a little bridge, down a neighborhood walking path, past loads of houseboats, cross some construction and on to the free ferry that would get you from one place to the other. This was a place of converted hangars turned restaurants and storage cubes turned into trendy apartments. A steady beaming sign stating "A Place Beyond Belief" greets you when you troll up to the dock. To me, Amsterdam Noord was what I think of when I think of a cold night in a European city. Standing by the canal outside of our wagon, having a beer and listening to the cliche' ambulance sounds mixed together with the rhythmic beat of electronica getting caught up in the wind and brought in from the distance was exactly what I wanted and needed it to be. A little pocket of quiet away from the buzzing energy that is Amsterdam.
Being that we were in a cutesy lil wagon, it obviously didn't have water, showers or toilets so we would retreat to the large and strange conglomeration of bric-a-brac of a barn for showers and then run back in the 30 F weather back to our warm wagon with towels flapping and boots splashing through the puddles and mud. Now, when I say "showers" what I really mean is that it was some plywood put together to form a room around something that resembled a portable shower. It was totally the kind of thing I dig. I think if someone told me that they found a hut in the woods with no electricity and no toilet, I'd go there and stay for a week. Oh, wait. That is happening in three weeks. I'm looking at you, Norway.
But on to this glorious town of excess and history.
Amsterdam is exactly what you think it is. It is a town of in your face liberal excess with this energy of creative and hedonistic freedom you would expect from a town who has legalized nearly all the things. AND on top of all of that it is one of the more truly beautiful cities I have ever seen. You know when you go to Disney World and you look around and think to yourself, "oh, everything is so quaint and adorable but it's all fake". Well, Amsterdam is like that but everything is real and OLD. It's like a dollhouse that has been brought to life. Tiny, narrow staircases lead to tiny, little restaurants with three tables and tea cups hanging from the ceiling. Bikes are everywhere and will run you over basically no matter where you stand. The buildings are all unique, tall figures standing shoulder to shoulder down the canals. The streets are legitimately cobblestoned and bricked. Not like, fake cobblestoned or some strange brick facades like those weird, planned towns where people ride around in golf carts. (no offense to you golf cart enthusiasts or weird town live-in-ers).
Amsterdam has been around for hundreds of years and has many bars that all lay claim to being the oldest. Many of them, called "brown cafes", were constructed around the 1700's. There was definitely something very humbling about sitting in the bar In 't Aepjen ("in the monkeys") that has been around since 1475 and realizing that your own country is younger than this wall you're looking at or this floor you're walking on. Now, this place is called 'in the monkeys' because you used to be able to -pay- with monkeys! Real or non-real. Nowadays they prefer cash to the monkeys. They drink too much.
We also realized that perhaps our ancestry was Northern European (duh, right?) as nearly every moment we went into a restaurant, strolled into a life-changing FEBO or got a drink, we were met with Dutch. Now, the people who live in The Netherlands speak fluent and perfect English. They speak it so well and with such a convincing North American accent that you'd think they were American and then they start cursing someone out in Dutch and you're amazed. And jealous.
Speaking of FEBO, if someone took this idea and built it directly next to a college campus, they would be millionaires. Wait, strike that. Ignore that. That's my retirement plan.
Okay, so let me break this down for you. It is essentially a "restaurant" that has a wall of these windows. You put in between 1.20-3.00 euros (it's cheap), open the little door and out comes this fried, glorious log of beautiful something. Everything was in Dutch (like most things in The Netherlands) so, being pretty adventurous foodies, we just started shoving money into these windows and putting all of these fried versions of dreams into our faces. So, what is it? Well, I looked it up and mostly it's various versions of fried gravy. Okay, wait. Let me say that again. IT.IS.FRIED.GRAVY. Take that, America. I don't think I have to tell you that it was crazy good and addictive. I'm almost sure that we visited every single FEBO in Amsterdam. Now, you'd think we would come back with some lbs (kgs) on us but my phone said we walked 23,911 steps nearly everyday we were there so..balance.
Speaking of walking, it is an extremely walkable town and I felt like we had made the rounds of Amsterdam numerous times at the end of our week. It's a place where not everyone has a car and people will walk to go lounge about on the edges of the canals, have lunch in Vondelpark and bike from bar to bar.
Also, there are more bikes in Amsterdam than there are people. The city is held up by stilts and hundreds and hundreds of bikes are pulled out of the canals every year. Just some trivia for you so you can win your next quiz night.
There were a lot of nights we spent in Amsterdam wandering the alleys, discovering little hidden treasures behind buildings and eating takeaway Chinese food with our legs dangling over the edges of canals. My favorite memory was watching the sky change colors as the sun went down over the Amstel (the river, not the beer) and listening to the hundreds of years old church toll it's bell while the cold canal wind swept up leaves around us.
There were many times while we were in Amsterdam that I kept thinking to myself, "stop what you're doing and look at this. Look and listen to this old city work". It was astounding to be a part of this living museum full of culture, life and appreciation for it's own history. Being another ancient brick that made up that city, even just temporarily, was an important experience every road hungry traveler should add to their shortlist.
Also, go get that FEBO.
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