It’s almost embarrassing to admit that it took us over a year to make the short two hour drive from Brussels to Amsterdam for a weekend visit – the centrality of Belgium is hard to beat. I had visited the city in 2013 and then Dan and I passed through Amsterdam briefly on our first trip to Belgium in April 2018, but we stayed quite far outside of the central city and didn’t have time to enjoy the canals.
Amsterdam is well known for being an expensive city when you’re in search of accommodations for the night. We figured we’d save some money by driving up on early Saturday morning and returning Sunday afternoon, thereby spending almost two full days in the city but only one night. Our first stop of the trip was for breakfast in the town of Delft, which is about 45 minutes outside of Amsterdam. The city of Delft is known for their world-renowned blue earthenware that has been produced here since the 17th century (and also inspired the blue and white style of azulejos in Portugal per my previous post). We parked our car along the canal just outside city center, especially mindful of the absence of a guardrail that would prevent cars from coming to rest in the canal. Cortado Cafe was our destination for a delicious breakfast with a view of the Saturday flower market. While no porcelain was purchased, a quick canal photo shoot was necessary before we were back in the car and headed to Amsterdam.
Finding a spot to park our car in Amsterdam wasn’t an issue, but the fee for parking on the street was not cheap – to be expected in a city known for their bikes. Our Airbnb balcony looked out on the Kostverlorenvaart Canal in the West Amsterdam neighborhood which was an ideal spot for our visit as it was less congested and yet still conveniently located by foot, bike, or transit to city center and notable attractions. Plus there were some excellent breakfast spots nearby that we discovered the next day.
We headed out along the canals stopping for stroopwafels, the Dutch rival of our Belgian waffles, and enjoying the excellent late October weather.
Embracing another border battle, this one involving beer, we embarked on the Heineken Experience tour which would be a strong contender for the most touristy attraction in Amsterdam. I recalled a different experience from my previous tour six years ago. Most recently it was hard to escape the feeling that the tour was all one big advertising gimmick that culminated in a fraternity basement party – sticky floors and colored lighting included with your two free Heineken samples. The highlight of the tour was the rugby game simulator in which you had three attempts to kick a field goal.
Having determined that our Belgian beer was still the clear victor, we made our way from the Heineken Experience towards the Jordaan neighborhood for our canal tour. Our one hour canal tour with Flagship Amsterdam was a highlight of the visit for me as our guides were knowledgeable, witty, and capable boat captains. They navigated us along the Herengracht and Prinsengracht Canals, and the city’s namesake, Amstel River. Supplying information on the origination of the canals for trading purposes through their present day setting of some prestigious real estate, we also learned the origination of the deceivingly slender style of homes distinctly associated with Amsterdam. Innovative residents built their homes to have narrow facades but deep interiors at the time when a wider width of home was correlated to a higher taxation. If you could afford the higher taxes though, you may have also displayed this to your neighbors by increasing the number of steps to your front door. Imposing taxes based on the height of the entryway stairs was another means by which the city could collect money from the wealthiest of merchants. Is this the derivation of the phrase “one-upping”?
A brief glimpse into our tour by boat
Good thing you can save some money nowadays by shopping the bike “black market” of Amsterdam. Our guides informed us that this is what residents turn to when their own bike is stolen, is thrown into the canal after a tourist’s wild night of partying, or suffers from a flat tire that is more expensive to replace than buying a “second-hand” bike.
Dan once again leveraged his skill for unearthing unique spots for refreshments and navigated us to Café Gollem Raamsteeg in time for a beer each before dinner. An authentic Dutch dinner at The Pantry was in order and we feasted on bitterballen, meatball zuurkoolstamppot (Kaitlan’s main), and Dutch ham (Dan’s main which was one of his favorite meals ever) before calling it a night on our walk back in the rain.
No surprise here, but our next day started with a run along the canal to the lovely Vondelpark where we joined the hordes of other active locals and internationals making the loop around the waterways. Eager for breakfast, we settled on a restaurant in the neighborhood called Local Hero and were not at all disappointed by our meals, smoothie, and coffee. Another beautiful fall day ahead of us, we decided to forego our original plan for a museum visit and instead spent some time wandering around the Jordaan neighborhood in search of the most picturesque canal (more my mission than Dan’s) before seeking out the famous Melly’s Cookie Bar shortbread stuffed dulce de leche treats.
We headed back to Brussels in the afternoon, happy to have had a fall visit to the canals of Amsterdam. It was a short visit and because we didn’t plan too far in advance, we were unable to get tickets to the Anne Frank House – an important museum adjoined to the secret annex where the Frank family and four others hid from the Nazis until their discovery and arrest in 1944. An excellent museum, tickets are purchased in advance online and sell out fast so we were unable to visit this time but will plan ahead on our next visit so we don’t miss this or the other well-known art and history museums in the city.
Although we have no intention of spending a small fortune on a beautiful but tilted canal home, the aura of effortless cool exuded by Amsterdam certainly convinced us that putting up with the chaotic tour groups and some steep apartment stairs would be worth it just for a room with a canal view. The city offers a multi-cultural atmosphere, an active lifestyle (just don’t get too attached to your bike), and food for every palate – it’s easy to like this place. We’ll be back and I’ll have more to share next time, maybe even with stories from behind a set of bike handlebars.