I once visited Amsterdam as a student. My friend Max and I hitchiked there from Wolves Poly for a weekend. As the saying goes “the bits I can remember are unforgettable…” Those bits were, namely; tall, friendly, beautiful people, a hazy place called Café Goa and the 24 hour VendorBurger machine…
Fast forward to my next visit (more than) 25 years later as part of a longer road trip to Berlin and a mini odyssey with our friend Femke (whom we met in Spain, via Workaway).
I could say that we had a cultural journey taking in the Rembrandts at the world-renowned Rijksmuseum. That we toured in the footsteps of Van Gogh or visited the Anne Frank house, but anyone who knows us, will know this is unlikely…
This was a bespoke tour, taking in our host's highlights. First stop was Femke's beautiful loft apartment at the top of a traditional dutch townhouse in the heart of the “action”. Following a recovery beer, much needed after climbing the vertiginous wooden staircase to the 5th or was it 6thfloor (?), we were swiftly whisked off to Femke's friend's restaurant a few doors down the street.
This was the opulent circus themed Casablanca, with it's glamorous bustier-clad host, Astrid. Reminiscent of a Parisian nightclub from the Belle Epoque, with lots of red velvet, banquettes, faded posters and subdued lighting, it was a feast for the senses. I must admit, the meal, although good, was secondary to the hosting and the general bonhomie of this charming and unusual place on the canalside. At this point, I don't want to say too much (in case you ever make it there), but a real treat awaits between your main course and dessert as you are ushered upstairs to the tiny theatre….. for the cabaret show!
After show/dinner drinks with the cabaret artistes was followed by a visit to what we were asssured was Amsterdam's top LGBTQ bar, run by Femke's friend Robina. Im sorry but the name of the bar escapes me now, but suffice it to say, much dancing and frivolity ensued….
The next day I requested that we might see windmills, clogs, cheese etc (all the quintessential things I had missed first time round).
Femke took us to Zaanse Schans open air museum, a short drive away, where all my Netherlands based dreams were realised! Apparently over 1000 windmills used to line the banks of the river and this is a beautiful and interesting immersive experience where you can go inside windmillls, watch cheese being made, clogs being handcrafted, etc, etc.
After that we went to a small but charming seaside resort, Volendam, but our mission there was soley to eat the local speciality of raw herring. Mission accomplished – a little challenging, but went down ok with a large side of beer!
That night we saw another side of Amsterdam. A short walk out of the red light district led us to the leafy boulevards of de Plantage: a favourite of culture lovers… We entered the Artis Royal Zoo and botanical gardens to dine at the super stylish De Plantage Café & Restaurant. There we sat inside a massive, artfully lit, glass house and dined exquisitely from a spanish, french and north african influenced menu. The food was fabulous and the vibe was laid back and unpretentious (a lot like the dutch themselves). I cannot recommend this place highly enough, especially if you want to take a break from the melee….
The next day, Robina (from the bar) and assorted friends took us on the boat trip to end all boat trips. Robina “rolled up” in a beautiful, shiny, black wine-laden boat, that was reminiscent of a limousine. It was an 8 hour magical mystery tour. We wended our way through the numerous canals, marvelling at Amsterdam's amazing, contrasting architecture and picking up more friends en route. We saw some brave/crazy people on the “Over The Edge” swing at the top of the A'DAM building and headed out of the city. No high octane pursuits for us. We moored up and barbecued, some swam. But most of all we learnt a lot from our new friends about “torch songs”!
After this marathon day we finished our night (and our trip) quietly with amazing takeout from Femke's neighbourhood Thai street café, which she assured us was pretty much as authentic as you can get (and she should know, having lived in Thailand).
So that was our eclectic dutch immersion experience. Unforgettable. (By the way, my memory of the Dutch people was pretty accurate; tall, beautiful and friendly. The Vendor Burger machine still exists. Unfortunately no sign of Café Goa).
So it looks as though we will get to see those museums that we missed last time around, in the not too distant future, after all (there really is no excuse not to!).
Start your day as a real Bulgarian. Eat banitsa with ayryan for breakfast, taste delicious fresh fruits and finish the tour with the best baklava and boza in Sofia. See the main sites of Sofia – Alexander Nevski Cathedral, Hagia Sofia Church, Sofia University, the Parliament, King Liberator statue, Slaveikov square.