Back in my magazine editor days I worked on a travel essay about Amsterdam. My girls were young at that point — probably four and five — and I remember the writer talking about what an impression the city made on her when she was a kid. That it was magical, that it was like living inside a dollhouse, and that it was the first time she had that “otherworldly, faraway” feeling you get when you travel somewhere new. Having just returned (it was my first time, too) I can say it delivered on all counts. (Not to mention the Fault in Our Stars count — the girls, of course, made a pilgrimage to “the bench.”) We’ve been back almost a week and when I scroll through these pics, even I wonder if it was all just a dream. I thought you’d like to hear a little about the trip.
There are a lot of photos in this post, but the one you are looking at here is probably the only one that really gets to the heart of what we did all day, all week. We walked. And walked. And walked. And as anyone who has been to Amsterdam knows, this city was made for walking. Our favorite neighborhood for wandering was Jordaan — we somehow always found ourselves on or around Prinsengracht — but we logged miles all over town (more on that below) fueling up with treats and meals along the way. Phoebe got really into a health app on her phone that tracks how many steps you take in a day (sort of like the FitBit) and one day she announced we got to 28,000 steps. I think that’s a family record.
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in the canal district (between the Keizersgracht and Herengracht canals). This was our first time using Airbnb and it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who’s been reading this blog (or our latest Bon Appetit column) that we are completely sold on the concept. The truth is, we’ve pretty much always vacationed this way anyway — mooching off friends who live in nice cities and crashing their apartments, camps, guest-houses, etc. My favorite part of the day has to be what you’re looking at here — the kids hanging at home after a long day walking (and walking and walking!) while we put together something simple for dinner a few yards away. You don’t get that kind of vibe in hotels. (Which maybe isn’t the worst thing for a lot of people out there.)
Here’s Andy putting together one of those dinners in our cute loft-like kitchen.
Because we had a kitchen, we spent a lot of time at the local supermarket — there was a Marqt right on our block (think Amsterdam’s answer to Whole Foods) and in the seafood section they sold these beautiful little sweet shrimp in packages fully cooked. For whatever reason, we became addicted to them. They girls ate them by the handful. One night, for a simple dinner, we had them on toast with cucumbers. (PS: Notice what neighborhood is crossed out on our map? I realize we were a little conservative with the x-ing.)
Vacation kitchen essentials: Mustard and mayonnaise. (I really just wanted to show off a few Dutch labels. Why is it so fun shopping in other country’s supermarkets?)
We made salmon with yogurt-mustard-dill sauce, a recipe that has been in the arsenal forever (it’s in Dinner: A Love Story), and that somehow never gets old. Especially on vacation when we have access to decent salmon (as we did in Amsterdam). You can grill or roast at 400°F for 15 minutes (brush with olive oil, s & p) and while it roasts, whisk together plain yogurt with a little Dijon, fresh dill, salt and pepper. I love it because it doesn’t involve buying a hundred things you’re going to throw away in the next week.
It wasn’t all cooking in. We did the requisite Indonesian rice bowls at a place called Tempo Doeloe right in our neighborhood (reservations essential) and another night, at a friend’s recommendation, we hit Lucius, a fish restaurant, on Spuisstraat. They specialized in fish and we went off on these peel-and-eat Dutch shrimp. They were teeny-tiny, but yielded the most flavorful bites.
Here’s a happy social media story for you: About two days into the trip, I posted a photo from Amsterdam on instagram and a follower (who lived on the actual street where the shot was taken) responded with this nice message: “I live here! Can I help you with recommendations for food or things to do?!” (How nice are people?) She told us to take the NDSM Werf ferry (free, behind Amsterdam Centraal Station) to check out the industrial artist community and urban beach temporarily set up across the bay. And while we were there we should definitely have lunch at Cafe Pllek, which is what you’re looking at above. We do as we are told! Thank you @jaertsams!!
This is Cafe Pllek’s backyard — the urban beach. (And that is Abby dipping her feet in the water.)
Sorry I had to. (Spotted at a fun little postcard shop — I think it was called Art Unlimited — on Keizerstraat.)
As to be expected, our walks were fueled all along the way by treats. We grabbed strawberries at a market set up in a square between Prinsengracht and Kerkstraat….
We must’ve gone to Yscuypje (Prinsengracht and Wolvenstraat) a hundred times.
One night after dinner we decided to walk two miles for dessert at Winkel. When we showed up, the waitress asked, “Apple cake, right?” (How did she know?) I guess it’s a thing. And P.S. Everyone speaks perfect English. It’s really incredible.
Another great suggestion from my instagram friend: We walked the entire length of Haarlemmerdijk and Haarlemmerstraat where there were (in her words) “tons of foodie specialty stores: jambon iberico, olive oil, jewish bakeries, arab butchers, portugese snacks, tapas, kitchen equipment, etc.” For a morning snack, we split the world’s greatest iberico ham sandwich from this store you see above.
There were also tons of design stores along Haarlemerdijk. A place called Klevering was my favorite.
For a day trip, we took a twenty-minute commuter train to Haarlem, which was like a mini Amsterdam, complete with canals and medieval churches, and rode our bikes through the national park to the beach on the North Shore. The biking in Amsterdam proper was a little intense for the girls, but here, off the grid a bit, we felt better about it. We rented bikes right outside the train station at a place called Rent-a-Bike, and then spent the day exploring. Gorgeous.
Waffles with nutella, naturally.
Note to self: Next time book Anne Frank House tickets waaaaay in advance. We lasted on line about a half hour before we heard that there was still three hours to go. (Please see tip in comments for how do address this if you find yourself in a similar situation.) We did, however manage to hit the Van Gogh museum, and as far as vacations with kids go, I think one museum every eleven days is just about the right ratio.