Oh my goodness, y'all — that's it, I'm going Dutch. And no, I don't mean I'm going to split bills at restaurants (though I already do that anyway). I mean I'm going to grow 5 inches, become a fantastic gardener and ride my bike like a queen.
OK, so maybe most of those things are ridiculous and mostly-unobtainable pipe dreams, thanks to my black thumb, inability to get taller at my current age, and my terrible balance (especially on a bike), but one trip to Holland has me ~in love~ with this country.
I had a fabulous springtime weekend in Amsterdam thanks to my super sweet Dutch friend, Wendy, and her boyfriend, Tim, who were amazing hosts, and my fantastic trooper of a friend, Delaney, who said yes to everything. Especially brunch. And I can't wait to tell you all about it!
The absolute number one reason we even booked a trip to Amsterdam was to see the tulips at Keukenhof Gardens and frolic among the rows upon rows of flowers there. I'd seen blog posts from designlovefest about it and plenty of other super gorgeous images on Pinterest of the Dutch countryside in the spring. Disappointingly enough, we were a bit early for tulips (talk about a letdown!), but the daffodils welcomed up and made up for the late bloomers. So we really couldn't be too upset.
We spent the first few days wandering the canals of Amsterdam, popping into totally beautiful shops and stopping frequently at cafes just to people watch and stare into the wide open windows of the colorful row houses that characterize the city. The city was chill and adorable and surprisingly clean for how much you hear about the Red Light District (which we were not fans of, as much as we tried to be) and drug culture. I will say, though, that most of it smells like weed or flowers — though is that necessarily a bad thing? It's definitely a city where there's a lot to do, but you could also just show up and have no plan and totally enjoy yourself by just soaking up the vibes, especially if you're on a bike and armed with a pot brownie. Hint: coffee shops are not just coffee shops — they sell weed there.
However, I was totally surprised how much more I enjoyed the Dutch countryside when we were fortunate enough to hook up with Wendy & Tim, who totally embraced the role of tour guide and really showed us what they love about their home country. We stared at windmill after windmill, plenty of wetlands and "seaside" towns and taunted Tim with requests for more selfies in the flower fields.
So definitely make it over to Holland, whether you go to Amsterdam or just head straight for the flower villages and cheese towns. There's so much more to the Netherlands than just Amsterdam, and once you get out of the big city, where you'll be much less jostled by tourists, you can get a good feel for the way of life there. Plus, the country seriously isn't large – I think we were told that you could drive from one end to the other in like three hours. So, make it happen!
I feel like I say this about everywhere, but I definitely plan to make it back to visit the Dutch. And maybe by that time I'll know the difference between saying Holland and the Netherlands.
THINGS WE DID:
- Brunched on the canal: Seriously guys, one of my favorite things we did in Amsterdam was hop on G's Brunch Boat. You literally eat breakfast while you take a two-hour cruise through the Dutch canals and don't worry — there are alcoholic drinks included. And the guys who ran the boat were so incredibly nice! Make sure to make reservations beforehand (it gets really popular on weekends) so you can see Amsterdam the alternative way.
- Shopped our way through the Nine Streets: The Nine Streets are a seriously adorable area that you can't miss if you love window shopping. The area, which is in the posh Jordaan district, is a collection of boutiques, cafes and specialty shops that will having you wishing your luggage was twice as big. One of my favorites was a store called Pluk (yeah, the one with the cat) that had adorable pastel home decor and also a cafe with delicious pastries and super fresh juices.
- Frolicked through the flower fields outside of Keukenhof gardens: The tulips were literally the reason we came to the Netherlands, but unfortunately we were there just a tad early to see them bloom (second weekend in April). Luckily, other things were popping up, like hyacinth and daffodils, and I don't discriminate as long as things are floral and colorful. I was actually a little underwhelmed by the Keukenhof gardens, which I had heard so many wonderful things about — it may have been due to it being a bit crowded, though. I had way more fun exploring the nearby fields and towns, like Noordwijkerhout and Lisse, and taking a million selfies as we frolicked through the insane rows of flowers (something that I thought was in the Keukenhof but totally isn't!). Do yourself a favor, take a bus to the Keukenhof, and then instead of going in, just rent a bike from outside (there's a vendor with some fun orange bikes) and just take off into the nearby fields. It's way more picturesque, in my humble opinion.
- Explored small seaside villages: Our amazing Dutch hosts took us to Monnickendam, a beautiful (former) seaside village in northern Holland, not far from the Keukenhof. We had a lovely and inexpensive lunch (complete with a ton of cheese and bagels — how can you go wrong?) inside Da Piera, though they also had quite the collection of outdoor seating.
- Took advantage of all the shopping: I don't typically shop when I'm on vacation — I'm not a big souvenir person, and my luggage is usually packed to the brim as it is. But Amsterdam had some pretty great shopping districts, so I couldn't resist. I made a beeline to my favorite Danish store, Søstrene Grene, which I wrote about when I went to Copenhagen and is full is adorable, super cheap Scandinavian home decor and party supplies. My friend and I also enjoyed the gift and stationary selection from HEMA, an inexpensive Dutch retailer that also has a grocery store, cafe, clothing selection, and just about anything you might need. We also fauned over everything in the well-priced Sissy Boy, another Dutch retailer, that had a bunch of beautiful gold home decor and minimalist clothing.
MORE THINGS WE DID:
- Discovered the sweetness of Dutch cuisine: My Dutch friend was not happy when I admitted that everything that I thought was Dutch cuisine (waffles, fries) was actually Belgian — apparently they have a bit of a rivalry. But she set me straight quickly and I'll never forget the magic of stroopwaffels (thin waffle wafers with caramel on the inside), hagelslag (literally just chocolate sprinkles on bread) and speculaas (a shortbread biscuit similar to gingerbread that, okay, is also Belgian). You can find fresh versions of stroopwaffels around the city, and we also found a stroopwaffel ice cream, which was a huge hit. I suggest you try them all. Also Dutch cheese (gouda is one).
- Cycled our way through Vondelpark: Requirement — you have to cycle when you're in Amsterdam, or you're not doing it right. It's an incredibly small city and it's so easy to get from one place to another in the easy bike lines. Rent a bike from literally anywhere (there are bike rental shops everywhere and it's dirt cheap) and see the city the proper way, stopping as often as you like! We loved riding through Vondelpark, which a large park near the museum district that becomes quite lively in warm weather. It's perfect for people watching! Just please keep your wits about you while bike riding and stay to the right to let those more experienced, far chic-er Dutch cyclists get to work without crashing into you.
- Shopped secondhand and got some pub grub on Utrechstraat: Utrechtstraat is a great street to wander your way into some secondhand shops, and also peer into the windows of some pretty upscale boutiques. There are also loads of beautiful cafes lining the canals that can be quite crowded in warm weather. We actually popped into an unassuming pub, Cafe Onder de Ooievaar, because we were starving and because all the other places were packed, and it ended up being one of our most memorable meals. Apparently it's quite a well-known spot amongst locals, as our friend told us later. The pub is known for their very down-home cuisine, and we drooled over the giant, savory meatballs they were serving. We also stuffed our faces with their surprisingly good hummus, a fantastic goat cheese, apple and walnut sandwich, and a hamburger that was basically a meatball on a bun.
- Skipped the Heineken experience for some craft beer: Though we heard decent things about the Heineken brewery tour, we opted for the smaller-scale operations at Brouwerij't IJ, a small craft brewery near the zoo district that had people literally lounging on the sidewalks when the weather was nice. And yeah, the brewery also is connected to a windmill, so you can have that super Dutch experience too. Take a stroll through the Artis district once you're done and see if you can get a peak at the flamingos in the zoo!
Photos and text © Katie Currid, 2016. All rights reserved.