Our first day in Amsterdam involved a lot of getting lost, getting wet from the ridiculous wind and pouring rain, and dodging a million tourists while walking in circles. Our hotel turned out to be in a heavily touristy area surrounded by many shops selling wooden clogs, weed, and women. That aspect of Amsterdam was overwhelming and quite nasty and we were glad to escape that and find some nicer parts of the city because it is truly a beautiful place with the old canal houses, the canals, and everybody cruising around on bikes. The biking aspect reminded me of being in Fort Collins and maybe that is why I felt like Amsterdam was extra enjoyable.
For dinner that night, we met up with a friend of my friend Christine, with whom I studied in France. His name is Jonathan and he has lived in Amsterdam for about 10 years and so it was great to meet a “local.” We went to a GREAT restaurant that had a set menu and was really good and crazy expensive. Courtney and I informed him about our dietary restrictions that she is vegan and kosher, and that I have a gluten allergy, a peanut allergy and that all food I eat must be Halal. Amazing that a restaurant was able to accommodate all of those requests, isn’t it? Ha ha. I can tell I’m coming off of a visit with Court because we spend most of our time just making stuff up. It is awesome!
Jonathan then took us to a very local Dutch bar where we were the only tourists. People were surprised that we had found it, which is funny because really, it was like a 10-minute walk from the tourist area. They had great beers on tap and Dutch people are super-friendly and speak English better than most native speakers! In striking up a conversation with the guys next to us crammed into this tiny bar (it was impossible not be involved with the people around us because it was so smashed and crowded), we learned that one of them was a Count…like his dad is Baron and he is a Count…WHAT? Oh, and, he was a dentist. Hilarious. Count Dentist. Oh, and, he’d recently been to Omaha which was extra funny since Courtney is from Omaha. A Dutch Count Dentist in Omaha…it doesn’t get much more random than that!
The next day we went to the Anne Frank house, which was extremely moving and VERY powerful. When the rooms were cleared out, her father decided that it should be a museum the way it was, not a recreation of the furniture they’d had in the years they had spent in the annex. It is much smaller than I ever imagined and the population density is so high in Amsterdam that it is truly remarkable that they weren’t detected for so long. While there, I became especially enraged that the “Rachel’s Challenge” people (a program in schools in the US to deter violence in schools based on the student, Rachel Scott, who was killed in the Columbine massacre) have compared her to Anne Frank. When you actually see the annex next to pictures of concentration camps and realize that Anne Frank died of typhus in a concentration camp after hiding for years with her family, it is shocking that someone had the audacity to compare the “plight” of a suburban high school teenager (though tragically killed) to that of Anne Frank. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.
Bitterballen and Beer. Yum.
Really, the best part of Amsterdam is just hanging out in cafes, bars, and people watching. So, we spent a lot of our time sampling Dutch beer and eating yummy food. One of the most common Dutch bar foods is called Bitterballen…it is some sort of fried meat stew contraption. I know that sounds gross (Courtney thought it was) but I thought they were awesome. I mean really, how can deep-fat fried things served with beer not be a magical combination?
We arrived in Brussels just before dark but still got to see some beautiful countryside between there and Amsterdam. Tim was a great host and walked us all over the historic area of Brussels and then we went to a traditional Belgian brasserie for dinner. It has definitely been reinforced to me that I have sunk so low in my French speaking skills that I am worse than a deaf chimp. I need to brush up.
Tim took us out for a night on the town in Brussels (bars don't have a closing time so suddenly, you're like..oops, it is 4 am.) and then the next day we went on a driving tour of Gent and Bruge which were so incredibly beautiful!