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Third Day’s a Charming

So no sleeping in today: we had ground to cover.

First up was sustenance, and I needed a bloody Mary.  HWSNBN insisted I would never find one.  Seriously: he has no faith in my investigative prowess!

Camera in hand, we set off to the tram station (no directional errors this time) and headed to a neighborhood known as the Jordaan.  It’s very cute, full of shops and restaurants and kitsch.  I had found a restaurant called Gs, and we feasted. we got there just in time, as the tiny place filled up fast and a line formed.  We almost felt guilty, sitting in our little window seat, feasting and sipping.  I got the Dirty South: cheddar waffles, fried chicken and bacon with hot sauce, and a Hete Ketel bloody (served with spicy Ketel One vodka).  Actually, I didn’t feel guilty at all.  I felt content.  Fat and happy.  Ready to roam!

Next we searched for a cool shop I’d heard of, hoping to find a souvenir for the girl.  Rock Archive ( specializes in knock out concert photographs of iconic performers. I really wanted to buy a Led Zeppelin one, but they started at $600.  Seeing as my souvenir was a mug, I left the photos in the shop (but truly: check the place out if you are in town).

Now it was just time to explore and enjoy this beautiful city, from it’s quirky shop windows to it’s stunning architecture.

One cool thing about Amsterdam are the gevelstenen, or house plaques.  These were put on buildings before addresses were invented, and are ways for folks to find homes.  Some indicate the business of the building’s occupants, many are religious, and some convey philosophies or morals of the home owners.  Here are two I saw:


This gevelstenen could be from a banker — or an alchemist, turning silver into gold?


The gevelstenen in this picture is almost overshadowed by the fantastic paintings on the building.  The translation for the stone is “the green forest.”


We made our way to the oldest part of Amsterdam, and visited the Oude Kirk, or “old church.” It’s a huge space — and the oldest building in Amsterdam (built in 1213).  The irony of course is that t is now in Der Wallen, the red light district.  While touring, I had to nudge HWSNBN who was intently listening to his audio guide, and point out the view from the window — of a lovely lady proffering her wares from a window in the next door building!

Other snapshots of the city as we strolled around:


That night we decided to wing it.  We started out by wandering towards the Rijksmuseum, to see the famous outdoor ice skating rink (and get a drink, of course).

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As for dinner, we decided to grab food from street vendors and shops as we craved it.  Asian food is big there, so steaming hot noodles on the go in the chilly rain seemed perfect to start!IMG_4092

We wandered the Red Light District, admiring the views (the women were so much prettier than I expected!), catching a drink here and there, and noshing some more.  The Dutch are famous for waffles, and we had one dripping in molten milk chocolate that was to die for (we ate it so fast I forgot to get a picture!).

After the crazy weirdness of Der Wallen, I searched Trip Advisor for a nice bar near by, and we found an oasis: Bar the Tailor, inside the Hotel Krasnapolsky (  We had fancy cocktails, and a charcuterie plate, and sank into the plush cushions. IMG_4096  We had planned to head back to the hubbub, but we just kind of realized we were happy where we were.  We finished our drinks in happy silence, then headed back for our last sleep before heading home the next day.

On the Van Gogh

The nice thing about a vacation is getting to relax and set your own schedule.

The tough thing about a mini-vaca is that you are pressed for time and you want to fit everything in.

Those warring sentiments hit us in the face like a cold cup of much-needed coffee when we woke up for the first full day of our Amsterdam jaunt — at noon.  Dutch time.

We scrambled to focus and get ready for the day, wondering where we ought to be wandering. We had set evening plans, so our focus became quality, not quantity. I laced up my oh-so-appropriate sneakers and we headed off to the Van Gogh museum.


This was actually third on my list of museums to see, and the only one we actually made it to.  First was Anne Frank’s house, but a spur of the moment trip sometimes means not getting into sold out things.  Evidently you need to reserve months in advance.  We were told to stalk the website day of, and tried for both our full days in Amsterdam, but did not get in.  One of the many reasons for a return trip!

Second on the list was the Rijksmuseum, which is huge and has Vermeers, Rembrandts and more.  Next time (with more time)!

So the Van Gogh museum: we loved it (  Way better than I thought it would be. With the audio headphones on, we wandered and wondered, learned and admired and wondered.  Every few rooms we’d ask each other which were our favorite pieces (we both adored his “Almond Blossoms” the most!), but I was fascinated by the variety of his work.  So many different styles and subject matters.  I would’ve been hard pressed to ID some of them as his.  But when it was time to go, I took my fave piece of art with me:


(While learning about Van Gogh’s life, we came up with a great idea: planning a trip around the life of a famous person.  For example: for Van Gogh,  you would do Paris, Saint Remy, Brussels, London, Amsterdam and more.  Not a bad itinerary!)

After the museum we wandered through the rain in search of nourishment — both the food and liquid varieties. Found another great neighborhood bar, Cafe Gruter (, and greatly enjoyed the cozy respite from the elements.


That evening we were scheduled to do a boat tour of the canals, focusing on the light show.  The entire city is crazy with lights this time of year, and some of the displays are best seen from the water. For more about the festival, go to

I had booked a small boat tour, with just 8 of us aboard.  We thought we had plenty of time — and we would have, if I hadn’t screwed up the directions.

A word about the transportation system: the trams are the bomb.  No worries about if you are on the right train, or how to buy a ticket; unlike most cities, the system is not done without human interaction.  Each tram has attendants, and they are there to help.  Sadly, this time I thought I knew what I was doing, and didn’t ask for assistance. Instead, I relied on my Google Maps app.  It was right: take the tram towards Centraal Station.  But Is topped reading; while we were supposed to head that way, we were supposed to get off before we reached the station.  We didn’t.

So now we needed to backtrack, and we were going to be late  And it was raining. We ran in circles trying to get our bearings.  I called the boat — someone actually answered! They said no problem.  So stressful, as we new others were waiting on us.  We ended up being almost 20 minutes late!

Luckily the other guests were drinking wine and nibbling on snacks, so they were cool.  And the company was so gracious, they extended the tour so we all got our money’s worth.  I would totally recommend them! If you head to Amsterdam, be sure to book a canal cruise through Pure Boats (  They were wonderful!

The lights were stunning.

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After the tour, we paired up with two cousins who were also from the states, and found dinner at Restaurant Bleu ( The food was as delicious as the restaurant was stunning.

After awhile we realized the staff was waiting for us to leave so they could go home — always a good sign of a good time! We said goodbye to our new friends, and wandered back to the hotel for a night cap and some well needed rest. I warned HWSNBN that the next day, our last full one in Amsterdam, was gonna be busy, so he’d better be ready!



Going Dutch

HWSNBN has done a lot of European travel for work this past year. While not always great for either of us, we have decided to take full advantage of all those frequent flyer miles, and my flexible retirement schedule.  He recently mentioned he needed to go to Belgium for a trip, and would I like to tag along ad meet him in Amsterdam ?  So I checked my schedule for the least difficult weekend to bail on my responsibilities, and off we went!

I had been  to Amsterdam several times, but only in the airport (seems all flights from Minneapolis go through there). We had bandied about the idea of using Amsterdam as a departure for another location, as he didn’t think we could find enough to do there.  Silly man.  He still underestimates my epic planning skills! I knew we would never get it all done in the long weekend (Thursday-Sunday) we were there.  I was right (shocking, I know).

He arrived in Amsterdam on Wednesday, and had meetings through Thursday night, which meant I’d be on my own until he could escape from work.  He apologized, but I knew I’d be fine.  Pretty sure I could travel anywhere solo and find ways to entertain myself!

I arrived midday Thursday, and had arranged a one one one tour for myself through an AMAZING company called With Locals (  You should check them out (they are all over the world): you pick your own guide, based on little bios on the website.  Into fashion and shopping? Pick this guide! A foodie? This one’s for you! I chose mine based on my love of history and architecture.  Ente was fantastic.  We spent three hours wandering, discussing how the city evolved with the political and economic changes of the times.  Every time we turned a corner (and there were many — old cities built around canals have lots of corners), he pointed out something new about a building or a location, pulling out old maps and drawings to show context.  Some folks might’ve been bored; I was fascinated.

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Sometimes you gotta look up to find local color

Afterwards I moseyed back towards the Museumplain, or museum district, where our charming hotel was.  We were staying at the Hotel Vondel (  Holiday lights and shop window decorations always delight me.  Whether whimsical or charming or just plain head-shaking, I think they are often a glimpse into a city’s personality.

HWSNBN being still in a dinner meeting,  I wandered the misty streets, looking for a cozy brown bar to have a beer and dinner.  A brown bar or cafe is an old place with lots of wood and smoke tinted walls — no, they don’t smell gross and dirty.  They just feel old and welcoming!  A quick Trip Advisor app search (smart phones are saviors, lemme tell ya) led me to Gollem’s Proeflokkal (, where I cozied up to a beer and bitteballen, a traditional Dutch snack of deep fried dough and ground meat.

Perfect for enjoying the happy sounds of a neighborhood bar, while watching the world pass by.  HWSNBN finished his meeting and met me, and we enjoyed more food and drink as we planned our attack on the next few days!


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