Holland Offers More Than Just Amsterdam

If by some chance, you find yourself in Holland amidst the endless stream of bicyclists, multi-ethnic food, canals, and cobblestones, I hope you venture outside of Amsterdam to see what else there is to offer. With a landmass of 41,543 square kilometers and an insanely efficient public transportation system, Holland is easy to move around in. I spent five months living in a quaint college town, Leiden, which is just a 30-minute train ride (16 Euros) from the international hubbub of Amsterdam. Continue reading “Holland Offers More Than Just Amsterdam”

Amsterdam eats

I learned that citizens from 180 nationalities call Amsterdam home. That explains the variety of cuisines you can find here. On a single street there are restaurants from India, Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, Japan, Brazil, China and more! The culture here has always been freedom of expression and will, which explains why Amsterdam is a true cosmopolitan city where people enjoy food from around the world. One point to be noted is you will always find fresh (not frozen) ingredients at almost all establishments.

Streets in Amsterdam offering all cuisines

One of the first experiences in the city is the aroma coming from bakeries baking fresh baked breads, croissants and pastries. Living true to European heritage, there are a number of places where you can grab a cappuccino and warm chocolate croissant for under 3 Euros. Sit down places will be more expensive. Bread is a staple food at all meals and can be found in various shapes and sizes. You can even get a loaf to go while transiting at Schiphol airport. Don’t forget to take a box of stroopwafel, distinct Dutch waffle cookie made from two thin layers of baked batter with a caramel-like syrup filling in the middle. It is served with tea and coffee anytime of the day. Dutch pancakes are delicious thin small pancakes eaten for breakfast and dessert. They can be served with syrup or filled with fruit or meat like crepes.

Tempting bakeries

Perhaps the most native food to Amsterdam is Haring, served raw, salted and pickled. Think of it as the Dutch sushi. There are also street vendors and hole in the wall joints that fry the haring and other fishes and serve it with french fries. Try Vishandel, a one room family run seafood place since 1938 with only take-out. You chose the fish and they cook it right there in front of you, while standing in the kitchen. Talking about fries, it’s a popular snack served in a paper boat with a sauce of your choice. You will spot people eating it with a fork while walking around or conducting business. Try Flemish Manneken Pis voted number 1 in Holland that offers 21 sauces (from curry to ketchup) to chose from.

Best fries in Holland

There are several cheese stores near the flower market that offer tastings and education on the Dutch sheep and cow cheese. You can get a young, aged or flavored with garlic, herbs, spicy, etc. Also, buy your cheese graters and condiments to go along. The most popular one from this area is Gouda.Cheese right from the makers

While in Netherlands, beer is to be drunk like water. The Dutch as proud of Heineken, the world’s third-largest brewer of beer and can be spotted drinking leisurely in cafe’s pretty much any time of the day. It’s easier to get a beer than coffee here!

Try not to mistake a cafe for a coffee shop. A coffee shop in Amsterdam served much more than coffee, legalized drugs in single dozes. I did not bother entering one of such places (even for travel writer curiosity) but managed to get a glimpse of the menu. Just make a selection based on your mood or desire of one (literally).

Coffee shop menuChina Town, located near the touristy red light district also seems to be a popular place to eat. There are Chinese grocery stores, dim sum restaurants, and other fares from Asia. I was told some of the best restaurants in the city can be found here. Does the picture below tell you something?

Sign in front of a Chinese restaurant in China Town

Amsterdam in eight

Windmills use to be the basic source of pumping water beforeOn my return from New Delhi to Atlanta this past week, I had a 11 hours layover in Amsterdam. In a way, I was glad about it. I have traveled extensively in Europe but never had the opportunity to visit Holland (or Netherlands). I was very close to moving there once in 2008 while working at ING as a Portfolio Analyst (long story).

My flight arrived at 5:45 am at Schiphol international airport. It was pitch dark outside but inside the airport, life was bustling. In fact, one can easily spend a whole day at the airport itself. There are showers, spa, casino, library, museum, beer tasting, numerous cafes and what seems like a larger than a mall complex for shopping for everything from fresh flowers, cheeses, and souvenirs to electronics, cosmetics, brand name clothes, watches and accessories.

Anne Frank's statueSince it was pretty early to go outside, I decided to refresh myself at the KLM airline lounge. I had already been on the plane for over eight hours and needed to maintain my hygiene. The lounge also offered some breakfast and really good cafe au lait and Dutch pancakes.

Once the basics were taken care of, I found a tour desk at the airport that offered Amsterdam land and water tours ranging from 2-4 hours. For 59 Euros, I booked myself a two hour bus tour that would show me the historic landmarks of Amsterdam as well as a one hour canal tour around the city. The tour included airport transfers and some time to myself. There are lockers at every terminal at the airport available for 5 Euros but the tour office can also store luggage for free.

Houseboats in the canalsAt 9 am when it was finally light out, off we went in the minibus, first visiting the countryside, charming bungalows by the waterways, each with their own canoes and boats, vast green pastures with cows and sheep and windmills – it was so picturesque that I could live here (in the summers). Next, we drove past the 18th century homes, Jews quarters and saw some great Renaissance architecture that is quite novel and unique to this area. I saw the house were Anne Frank lived and hid as well as the church she mentions in her book (which left a deep impression on all of us girls in middle school).

After getting a good orientation of the city, I found it easy to stroll around, taking pictures and enjoying the great views of the canals against the backdrop of the row of historic townhouses. I walked around Central Station, Dam Square, Flower Market, Red Light District and China Town. The flower market was my favorite. Holland is known as an international flower trading center and it was lovely to see fresh cut flowers, bonsai and plants that I had never seen before. I bought some bulbs, cheese and cookies to take back home.

Amsterdam is a great place to just walk or bike around, soaking in the views and people watching. It has a nice, friendly vibe to it. The city is small, clean, yet offers a lot to do. If I had more time, I would have visited Van Gogh’s museum and watched a show. After a relaxed lunch at De Roode Leeuw brassiere I took the train back to the airport, just in time for my departure back to USA. I would say I made the most of my eight hours in Amsterdam.