Amsterdam is widely known as one of the coolest cities in the world. But I hadn’t really put it at the top of my list because of its racy reputation. What convinced me was that my friend Nichole, a fellow vegan, world traveler, and blogger behind Green or Die, said it was her favorite city in the world. Within a few hours of touching down, I definitely understood why–and became utterly charmed by Amsterdam myself, from sustainable jeans to avocado toast, to tulips and art. The best part of this city isn’t the Red Light District or marijuana cafes; naturally, those are not the places that Amsterdammers themselves frequent, just as New Yorkers don’t hang out in Times Square. The real Amsterdam is historic, modern, beautiful, and extremely cool yet down-to-earth. Amsterdam is a place that is defined by equal parts ingenuity and charm–and you might also catch yourself saying, “yes, I can imagine myself living here.”
Day 1. I realize something is off when I’m trying to find the right tram to my AirBnB, and an older gentleman stays with me for about 15 minutes, just waiting and chatting until I get on the correct one. The truth is, New Yorkers will always help you find directions, but they won’t spend more than 1 minute doing so. Even though Amsterdammers have seen their share of tourists, they are still so welcoming and cheerful.
I check into my AirBnB and get this surprise from Nichole in honor of my birthday! Stroopwaffels, dark chocolate, organic red, white, and sparkling wine?! Wut-wut? It is literally the best thing ever. <3
We head out to walk around the city and just get our bearings. Our apartment is right next to Vondelpark, the largest park in Amsterdam. It’s not as sprawling or hilly as Central Park, and feels more manicured and engineered, but in a good way. Apparently, the entire park has to go through renovation every 30 years because the park ground is constantly sinking. I definitely get the feel that Amsterdam is all about the built-environment, and they do it with intelligence and sensibility. The park grounds are bordered with picture-perfect townhouses and mansions, and cars that are plugged into sidewalk electric charging stations like giant iPhones. Urban planning–they have it down pat.
Near the edge of the park, we strike up the funniest conversation with a random dad about how dangerous Dutch kids’ jungle gyms are compared to American ones, and I’m just shocked at how open and friendly Amsterdammers are (again). For example, I love the Luxembourg Garden in Paris, but Parisians go to their parks to relax, read, or people-watch in near-frosty solitude, or with close friends–definitely not to talk with strangers.
Here, every public space seems to brim with the possibility of connection and sociability. In fact, later on, I tell my Dutch ex about how beautifully decorated our AirBnB apartment is, and he tells me to peek inside other apartments as we walk around the city, because that’s definitely a normal thing in this culture. How intriguing!!
For a birthday dinner, we head to Meatless District and share a tempeh-tofu cheeseburger and the gnocchi with v-mozzarella and balsamic reduction. Isn’t it the best thing ever when your friend is also vegan and you can eat everything together?! I’m just sayin’.
We decide to spend the morning at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam’s preeminent art institution. Even the ticket clerk here is super nice and we actually have a lovely conversation–something you wouldn’t do at the Met Museum, or any other big museum I’ve ever been to. What is it up with these people? Is it the stroopwaffels?!
Rijksmuseum is unique in that it focuses almost entirely on Dutch art. One of the paintings that made an impression on me was this piece by van Ruisdael. Evidently, Benthelm Castle is still there, but the mountain in the painting is not: van Ruisdael made a dozen paintings of the castle, each with a different mountain. As I mentioned before, the Dutch don’t seem to look at nature as an untamable, untouchable wilderness, but as something to be molded according to their ideas.
After the museum, we stop for lunch at Avocado Show, a restaurant so hot that its opening was covered by the Eater and Conde Nast Traveler in NYC. It’s an all-avocado restaurant and very Instagram-friendly…but I wasn’t over the moon about my Avocado Rose toast with wasabi avocado, TBH.
Next, we’re ready for some sustainable shopping. De Pijp is a super cute area with lots of charming indie boutiques. Charlie + Mary stocks quite decently priced sustainably-made clothes. Right next door, I get a beautiful gold cuff bracelet at All the Luck in the World. Also, Amsterdam is the sustainable denim capital of the world! G-Star Raw, which uses organic and recycled cotton as well as recycled water bottles, is an Amsterdam-based brand. Other noteworthy sustainable jeans brands to check out: MUD jeans, Kuyichi, and Kings of Indigo.
After a quick dinner, it’s time for cocktails. We get a lot of recommendations from our Dutch friends and Henry’s Bar is on everyone’s lists. It faces the lush Oosterpark on the east side of Amsterdam, and the murals are inspired by Charles Bukowski. For a place that’s so well-known around Amsterdam, the vibe is super chill and relaxed, like Brooklyn. No one is wearing heels and a dress, for example, which is what women wear to go out in Manhattan. I, too, am super dressed down, compared to normal. When in
Day 3. We get up early to catch the bus to Keukenhof, the self-proclaimed “most beautiful spring garden in the world.”
Keukenhof’s self-proclamation isn’t an exaggeration. It’s absolutely breathtaking, acres and acres of meticulously planned tulips and other flowers in so many countless varietals. It also reinforces the impression of the Dutch aesthetics of artificiality–or rather, ingenuity. On the bus ride to Keukenhof, we’d passed by wide open, quite boring fields with no remarkable beauty–and that’s the nature that’s described in Dutch paintings, as well. If you count natural gifts, the Netherlands is probably not in the top ten in Europe, but it’s all about what humans can do here. What I really appreciate about Amsterdam was this sense of optimism, creativity, and enthusiasm in building a society that’s as beautiful as it is forward-thinking.
One last quick bite at this cute, organic cafe/grocery store Stach. (This avocado toast is actually fantastic, and a lot better than Avocado Show’s! And only half the price. Just trust me! 😉 ) And then I’m back on the tram to Shipold airport, and en route to Oslo…
Have you been to the enchanting city of Amsterdam?
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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling