We Left Our Hearts in…Amsterdam?

Posted by on Sep 14, 2011 in General Travel, Netherlands, Running | No Comments

We really, really love Amsterdam. Like, we want to move there. Now.

We’ve had a thing for Holland for a while, I suppose. Even though we rooted for Spain in last year’s World Cup final, we got to watch the Netherlands play Slovakia in a Round of 16 game in Durban. We decided to join the majority of the crowd and decorate ourselves in orange (though, admittedly, not as much orange as our neighbors):

At the game. That lady next to me spoke to me in Dutch. Guess I looked the part, eh?

At the game. That lady next to me spoke to me in Dutch. Guess I looked the part, eh? Or, maybe it was the orange earplugs.

This year, we realized we loved Amsterdam so much that we came back three times. What was originally a departure point for the Africa leg of our journey turned into our home base. We just couldn’t get enough (and still haven’t — how did I miss out on eating stroopwafels?! I must go back immediately).

Apart from the obvious fun stuff that the city has to offer, which we aren’t saying anything about, here are some reasons why we love, love, love Amsterdam and the Netherlands as a whole:

1. There is no excuse for not being in amazing shape. In my post about Ile Sainte Marie, I mentioned how commonplace it is for people in Amsterdam to be out running. And why not? The city is flat, cool, and filled with beautiful and interesting running routes. Leafy parks just made for runs are everywhere. Running is such a big thing that Asics decided to put its flagship store in Amsterdam, next to the Vondelpark (also known as running heaven).

The Amstel river is lined with boathouses, and crews are out training no matter what the conditions.¬†And cycling? Duh. Bikes rule here. Everyone has to yield to them, and everyone rides them. Bike paths not only cover all of Amsterdam, but all of the Netherlands — the whole country! Entire families, including the dog (who sits in a big basket on the front of the bike), head out for rides together, and women have mastered the art of riding in skirts and heels while texting and holding an umbrella. It is amazing.

Bikes outside Amstelstation.

Bikes outside Amstelstation.

2. Delicious and varied cuisine. Yeah, they do good pancakes and cheese, but the best part of Dutch food is the non-Dutch food. We had excellent Indian, Turkish, Thai, Ethiopian, even Mexican food in Amsterdam (yes, they do real California-style burritos now!). The best meal of all, though, was the enormous Indonesian rijstaffel (“rice table”) we had in July. They brought an unbelievably huge selection of yummy ingredients to add to our rice, even catering to my request for only vegetarian, extra-spicy stuff. We were in heaven.

The rijstaffel, before.

The rijstaffel, before.

The remains of the rijstaffel, after.

The remains of the rijstaffel, after.

3. Bier! Heineken isn’t made in Amsterdam anymore (though you can still visit the museum), but plenty of other good stuff is. Like the beers at Brouwerij ‘t IJ (pronounced something like “het eye”), which is in an old windmill next to a canal. The beer is especially great for washing down a plate of Gouda cheese or special cheese from sheep that eat the malt dregs left over from the brewing process.

The Brouwerij.

The Brouwerij.

Pierre, his beer, and 100 (at least) bottles of beer on the wall.

Pierre, his beer, and 100 (at least) bottles of beer on the wall.

4. It’s really pretty. Everything looks like a postcard. Tall, skinny, crooked buildings; tree-lined canals; houseboats; green fields; windmills. It’s easier to breathe in the Netherlands. One afternoon we found ourselves in what is probably the roughest neighborhood in Amsterdam, and you know what’s right next door? A forest, and horses.

Just one of a gazillion canals.

Just one of a gazillion canals.

See if you can find the heart-shaped cutout in one of the windows here.

See if you can find the heart-shaped cutout in one of the windows.

5. The people are progressive, but not annoying. California, especially the Bay Area, is often the first to do something radical in the U.S., like ban smoking in bars or introduce electric cars. Californians are (rightfully, I think, because I’m a Californian) proud of this trend, and like to talk about it. Dutch people, on the other hand, don’t seem to think it’s a big deal that they were among the first, if not the first, to legalize pot, prostitution, euthanasia, and gay marriage. That’s just the way it is. As for electric cars? They’ve got those too.

Pierre checks out an electric car charging station on an Amsterdam street.

Pierre checks out an electric car charging station on an Amsterdam street.

6. The ABC and the HHH. Since I refuse on moral grounds to read books on an electronic device, I had almost gone through my second stack of books by the time we got back from Africa and it was time to replenish. When I searched for English-language bookstores in Amsterdam, I found several. That in itself made me feel warm and fuzzy. But words cannot describe my joy when I set foot inside the American Book Center (or ABC). This three-story book heaven has an entire wall of Lonely Planet guides in English, a section containing every magazine I’ve ever seen, shelves of used books, kids’ books, foreign language dictionaries, classics… Let’s just say I spent enough money on books there that I got a free snazzy reuseable bag and a discount card for a year.

As for the HHH, we finally had an opportunity to join a non-US Hash House Harriers group for a run on our last afternoon in Amsterdam. We have been trying to join up with hashers everywhere we’ve gone, but our timing has been terrible; we kept leaving a place the day before the hash, or arriving a day too late. This was my second hash, Pierre’s third, and we both had a blast. In case you haven’t heard of this phenomenon, Pierre will explain more in a future post, but essentially hashing involves running after a “hare” (someone in the group who sets the course ahead of time), drinking a lot of beer, and doing a lot of trash-talking. This particular run was out in a sketchier part of town (as mentioned in number 4, above), and concluded with the group going out to a fun dinner. Great company, great run, and a great way to say goodbye to Amsterdam… for now, at least!

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