Part 1 - Amsterdam / by Adam Stern

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Off to Amsterdam. A spectacular overnight flight on KLM, first time on this wonderful airline. Comfortable, great service/hospitality, a few “Flying Dutchman” signature cocktails. Before leaving the aircraft we were presented a gift: we could each choose one miniature version of a storied Dutch building, filled with Bols Jenever (Dutch Gin). Each building has a number on the back, corresponding to an online catalog that shows the actual building and its history. Our trip was off to an excellent start.

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We landed in Amsterdam a little over nine hours later, with very little sleep under our belts in spite of the comfortable flight. Ah well, off to Amsterdam Central train station.

Every time we’re in Europe it’s painfully obvious how much better the train system is than anything we have here. We hopped a “Sprinter” from the airport which took us to the Central station in about twenty minutes. Once we arrived, it took us a few minutes to get our bearings - but then quickly realized we could see our hotel directly across the water from where we were standing. 

The A'DAM Tower and EYE Film Museum.

We hopped a free three minute ferry across the river to Amsterdam-Noord and the A’DAM tower, where our hotel, the Sir A’DAM awaited us. A revitalized office tower that once housed the corporate offices of Royal Dutch Shell, it’s now a hip multifunctional tower including offices, cafes, restaurants, and our amazing home for the next few days. 

 

A’DAM is the iconic tower that many Amsterdammers immediately recognize as part of their city. It’s a catalyst for the regeneration of the Overhoeks area – and Amsterdam North is becoming a definitive part of the city. Not long ago, the New York Times called the region the “red-hot art neighborhood” and Amsterdam’s new creative center.The name A’DAM stands for ‘Amsterdam Dance and Music’, which reflects the business of the owners and main tenants: ID&T, AIR Events and MassiveMusic” - from http://adamtoren.nl/about/

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Time to head to our room. "Why write about this", you ask? "Why waste my time reading about elevators"? Because, Dear Reader, these were no ordinary elevators. Each one had its own theme — one based on David Bowie’s iconic Major Tom, one a more psychedelic affair, and our home for the next minute or so - a full-on disco including lit-up coloured square dance floor and mirrored disco ball. Playing "Le Freak". Deb was in heaven.

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We landed on the seventh floor, after considering another elevator ride (but we needed a nap, stat). Our room was comfortable, decked out with music paraphernalia (including a jade-green Gibson Les Paul mounted on one wall), and… it came with our very own turntable and a selection of vinyl! We put on some Meatloaf, Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello, and more. After a nap that is. 

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Awake after a few hours of needed rest, it was time for our initial exploration of the city. We ferried back across the river to stroll the canals in the Amsterdam evening. I fell in love with the city almost instantly - beautiful, creative, liberal, diverse, seemingly accepting of all.  And a place that truly looks like the best of the postcards of travel blogs/vlogs/sites — beautiful, quirky homes lining peaceful canals, holding houseboats and various watercraft (yes, including the odd party-boat… more on that later).

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We stopped at a random outdoor restaurant on one of the canals and had a delicious dinner, including our introduction to Bitterballen - falafel-sized fried finger food, storing some type of delicious concoction (meat? Cheese? Other?) that we dipped in mustard and happily munched on, washing it down with a Kriek (Sour cherry beer) or two.

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Now THAT’S a day one.

Amsterdam Day 2

GREAT sleep after being awake for 24 hours yesterday! Woke up to a sunny morning and grabbed breakfast downstairs in the hotel. Funky, soulful music at the Sir A'dam all the time, which made it extra enjoyable. Then out to meet up with the “Dam Boat Guys” for a tour of the canals.

We wandered the streets gazing at the architecture and canals and beautiful vistas everywhere. Had a coffee at our meeting spot and were VERY thankful we didn’t end up sharing a boat with the group of obnoxious American teenagers at the next table who were also waiting for a tour.

The Dam Boat Guys tours operate boats with a maximum of 10 people at a time (much more preferable than the large boats crammed with dozens of people we saw otherwise). We cruised around the canals getting pieces of historical information and facts about the city:

The Dam Boat Guys Canal Tour.

Fun Facts:

-The centre of the city is a Historical Site, so the architecture cannot be changed - which is why it remains so charming.

-Cycling is the main form of transportation. There are 60% more bikes than cars and dedicated bike lanes everywhere. It is extremely safe to cycle here - you truly don't need helmets and there aren't altercations between cyclists and cars (very different from Vancouver).

Bicycles. Everywhere.

-Bicycles are stolen an average of 4x over ones’ lifetime.

-Many of the houses were painted oxblood centuries ago, which identified them as being affected by the Black Plague. Home owners today aren't permitted to change the colour of the original paint.

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-12000 bicycles are pulled out of the canals each year.

-The canals used to be filled with sewage until 1987, when they were completely cleaned out. Now they are clean enough to swim in, and the Queen actually joins in once per year on the “Amsterdam City Swim” - held to raise awareness and money for ALS.

-Amsterdam is currently experiencing a drought with no rain since April. This has resulted in the water level dropping in the canals to such an extent that seawater needs to be pumped in to accommodate.

-“Love Bridge” is dedicated to all the victims of AIDS. Legend has it that if you kiss you partner while passing underneath, your love will last forever.

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We enjoyed the tour overall. We were pretty hungry when we finished and went in search of food, ending up at a smoothie place where the server was literally adding one mint leaf AT A TIME to a customer's order, only after weighing them. We left. Found another place for lunch, and then came across The Cheese Museum!!

Lots of delicious samples, including truffle gouda (I watched Deb's head explode - A.) and aged smoked gouda ... which were unbelievable.

Time for dinner. Following a suggestion from the hotel concierge, we walked to "Springaren", a lovely canal-side restaurant, and sat outside for an excellent dinner -  multiple small dishes served on a wooden plank with delicious rye bread.

Time to call it a night. Back to the hotel for sunset and drinks along the water.

Impression of Day 2 overall: WE WANT TO LIVE HERE.

Day 3: Museums and Sea Bass:

Started  off the day with a nice breakfast at the hotel and headed out for a day of museums. First, The Anne Frank House. Really hard to put into words… just an incredible exhibit combined with walking through the actual house. Sobering. Bought a copy of her diary for the kids to read when we get back.

We then headed to Museumplein which is a public space surrounded by three museums and a concert hall, and home to the (in)famous IAmsterdam sign.

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Had a bite to eat and went to Rijksmuseum. Didn’t do the audio tour, but saw some original Vermeers, Rembrandts and Van Goghs. It’s a huge museum and a bit overwhelming. Hung out for a bit in the park and rested before our late afternoon booking at the Van Gogh museum. Did the audio tour and it was really, really fantastic. Very well laid out and the tour made it feel like a personal experience. 

We were pretty “museumed-out”, tired, and hungry - and decided to try another one of the restaurants recommended to us by the concierge - Pesca. Amazing. Super cool concept where you check in, they give you either some prosecco and a beer - then you move along to what is essentially an open fish and seafood market.

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Each item is prepared differently and you choose whatever you like in whatever amounts - you just pay by weight. Then you go to a wine and beverage person who helps pick out drinks. The fish and sides are prepared and you're notified with a pager when each dish is ready.

The food was outstanding. We had the house specialty, a salt roasted sea bass which was to die for. Picked it clean!!!

Wandered back to the hotel really full - but still enough room for a drink and waffle with ice cream on the deck of the hotel.

Did we mention we WANT TO LIVE HERE?