Shortly after checking in at the fabulous Hotel New Amsterdam (check out my online review of the hotel here), we made our way out into the city, heading towards the “Shenkin-like” Jordaan neighborhood, with its funky shops and trendy restaurants and cafes. We walked and walked, wandering into little shops and ethnic food markets. We bought jewelry from a lovely Afghani man, who told us that his shop would be closed for the next two days because he was off to Germany to meet up with a friend whom he hadn’t seen in twenty years, a man who had taught German in Kabul. Our Afghani friend pointed us in the direction of an excellent Persian restaurant, after we asked him whether or not there were any Afghani restaurants in Amsterdam (he claimed that not only were there no Afghani restaurants in Amsterdam, but he didn’t know of any in all of Holland). We made our way to the Persian restaurant – called Didar, if I remember correctly, stopping to browse in different shops along the way, enjoying the weather and the fact that we were together in Amsterdam.
I won’t bore you with the moment-by-moment description of our three days in this fabulous city, but I will share some of the highlights and more amusing anecdotes.
Museums. We had intended to go to a number of museums, but given how perfect the weather was, we opted to spend as much time as possible outside. We did go to the Anne Frank House and the Dutch Resistance Museum, and while both were quite sobering, if I had to make a decision about which left a greater impact, I would have to say the latter. I was already quite familiar with the story of Anne Frank, and as incredible and moving as her story is, I think I was more impressed by the stories from the Dutch resistance, stories that provided inspiration and hope, stories of great daring and personal risk in order to defy the Nazis. We also went to the Hollandsche Schouwburg theater memorial, stumbling across it after leaving the resistance museum. In the 19th century, this was a regular Dutch theater, located in the Old Jewish Quarter. When the Nazis came to power, they turned it into a Jews-only theater, and it later became the point to which all Amsterdam Jews were brought prior to being deported to concentration camps. The majority of the structure no longer stands, and it has been turned into a memorial to those Jews who were deported from the site, with a listing of names and an eternal memorial flame. This memorial left a greater impact on me than either of the other two museums, and during our unplanned visit, I found myself returning over and over to stare at the names on the wall and to read the Hebrew inscription.
Food. Wherever we went to eat, the food was simply outstanding. In addition to the Persian food at Didar, we went Italian (though I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, located on Haarlemerstraat), Spanish (Centra, located in the heart of the Red Light District – excellent paella, and I discovered a fondness for sangria), and Japanese (if you’re in Amsterdam and you feel like Japanese food, you must, I repeat must, go to Akitsu, located on the outskirts of the Jordaan neighborhood on Rozengracht. We both agreed that it was, quite possibly, the best sushi we’ve ever eaten). For our remaining two lunches, we went the café route and weren’t disappointed. Our first café was the Café de Jaren, and we sat on the second floor overlooking the Amstel. The other café was a small street café in the Jordaan. As I sit here, thinking about the sandwiches with warm goat cheese and honey (among other things, including walnut pesto), I am trying very hard not to drool. Words cannot adequately describe this heavenly combination of tastes that come together in a positively orgasmic culinary explosion. I’m definitely going to have to find the right goat cheese and try this one at home. Don’t even get me started on the Dutch syrup cookies, which I must find out where they can be purchased locally (Bert?)…
Shopping. Between street markets (especially the one in the Waterlooplein) and the shops, we managed to fill our expandable suitcases to overflowing, laying across them to work the zipper (okay, that was just me), and both of us carrying shopping bags onto the plane, because there just wasn’t any more room. We bought books at the American Book Center, toys at Gone with the Wind (if you want to buy toys in Amsterdam, come here first. Not only did they have a great selection of unique wooden toys and mobiles, but the service was outstanding), jewelry at Kabulistan, and a number of ponchos, jackets and scarves from various Nepalis working in shops and markets throughout the city.
People. Without fail, nearly every individual who crossed our path was friendly, helpful, and quite often, highly amusing, whether it was a hotel staff member, a salesperson, restaurant wait staff, etc. There was Pierre, the friendly French shop owner, who, upon finding out that I was from Israel, told us how most of the items in his shop came from Israeli suppliers and any money spent there would end up in a bank in Tel Aviv. Pierre decided to “put me in the mood” by putting on a Meir Banai CD, and explained why buying a poncho for the little one wasn’t necessary. I would be hard-pressed to remember the speech verbatim (nrg?), though it did have something to do with the fact that he is so young that he would never remember whether or not I bought him said poncho. I liked Pierre well enough to buy the funky poncho that he recommended for the husband, though.
Then there was this young Nepali chap. Friendly as can be, but couldn’t speak English to save his life. I decided, far too late in our trip, that I had to get a poncho for the little one (Pierre’s attempts to convince me otherwise fell on deaf Mommy ears). We happened upon one shop where our Nepali was working, selling a veritable plethora of items from (where else?) Nepal. When we questioned him about a poncho, he responded that he did not have any in that particular store, but that he would be working in another store later on that did have the ponchos. We asked our new friend for the shop’s name and location, and received an intelligible answer. We asked him to spell it out and mark it on our map for us. He couldn’t spell, and simply put the letter “B” on the outside of the map, and tried to explain. It was this brief exchange that had us wandering through the side streets off the Damrak and into Chinatown looking for a shop called “Bilibev”. We looked high and low; we asked earnestly in other shops (Bilibev bilibev bilibev). We laughed, we despaired. Finally, while walking down one of the main roads in Chinatown, we hit upon a store called “Believe”. We peered inside, and lo and behold, our Nepali friend was there. Somehow, “Believe” had become “Bilibev”, and it would seem that we were quite lucky to have found it at all, given that he’d mispronounced both the name of his own store (!) and the road that it was on, and had neglected to mention that it was in Chinatown. Thanks to nrg’s bargaining skills (seriously, this is a person you want to have with you for all of your haggling needs), we managed to knock 10 euros of the price, and I triumphantly carried my purchase out of the store.
I could go on and on about this trip, how perfect it was from every standpoint (the company, the location, the weather, the activities, etc), and indeed, looking back over the length of this post, I have. Although it is already quickly turning into a distant memory, I’m still floating from the excitement of having been away on such an incredible weekend. Can’t wait for the next time…