Amsterdam – Blake’s 30th Part III

tulip field

We had one more day in the city before our tulip adventure which we spent paddle-boating on the canals, eating kassoufles from Febo, sampling the greatest chocolate milk I have ever and likely will ever have in my LIFE… Chocomel… and squeezing in a fantastic Indonesian meal at Aneka Rasa. We shared a meal and an apple pie at Winkel 43,which, I hate to proclaim yet another ‘best in my life’ within the space of two sentences, but it was truly the best apple pie I have ever had. Even Blake ate and enjoyed it, and he doesn’t even like apple pie. By the way, who doesn’t like apple pie? Madness.

We also managed to meet up with a highschool buddy and her college amiga and do some exploring with them too.

Which leads me to the main event which was our experience travelling to Haarlem, hiring bikes and riding aimlessly into the general direction of what we thought might be some tulip fields. I had never really done aimless exploring in a foreign place before. Usually I like to plan activities and directions in so much detail that it’s a bit scary, and I never, ever just go off without knowing where I am on a map. In this instance we did pull out google a couple of times, one of which was when we realised we had somehow gone in a complete circle and were actually riding on the same stretch we had already ridden but in the opposite direction, but we were pretty much just riding wherever the roads happened to take us and seeing where we landed. We did this for about 5 hours and it was unbelievable. We knew we wanted to eventually reach a place called ‘Lisse’ if we could which we had read was tulip-field-central but were prepared to not end up getting there and just enjoying the day out.

Here are some pics of our journey along the way.

Hey! A tulip field!

After a couple of hours of solid riding we stumbled upon a beautiful diner-esque restaurant. We had gone so far out of Amsterdam that signs and menus were no longer in English, and waiters didn’t assume you were tourists and address you in English. Consequently, we didn’t really know what we were ordering and kind of mumbled something about something… and to our great surprise and satisfaction were presented with this beast of a cheese and meat platter for lunch. It was unbelieeeeeevably good.

And lo and behold…. another tulip field!

When we realised we had actually made it to Lisse there was a great sense of accomplishment all-round. And then we set ourselves another challenge… visiting the Keukenhof gardens. We were exhausted and knew that visiting Europe’s largest garden was probably going to be a tiring experience but powered on and made it there and boy am I glad that we did.

Check these out! I had never seen anything like it. Firstly, there were literally thousands and thousands of people there. It felt like a theme park or Disneyland except everyone was there to see flowers which is kind of a bizarre thing. The flowers were stunning and the displays were amazing. I don’t even like flowers that much and I was enthralled! We were really lucky to see it as it is actually only open two months in every year.

More pics!

The variety of colours and the artistry in actually arranging the bulbs to grow in the way that they did was phenomenal. Because we were so tired we could only handle an hour or two in the park but if you haven’t cycled for 5 hours prior to arriving, you could easily spend a full day tiptoeing through the tulips. It rounded up our entire Dutch experience perfectly. Happy 30th birthday, B! xxx

Amsterdam – Blake’s 30th Part II

After the most luxurious/decadent meal of our lives we jumped on a flight across the channel to Amsterdam… I know, I know, what kind of a life are we leading in which eating at The Fat Duck and flying to Amsterdam occur in one day?! (A life on a really tight budget for months so that we can afford stuff like this, that’s what!) As it was just the two of us in this big ole country that we are calling home, no families to have dinner or celebrate his 30th birthday with, we decided to really do something nice. And nice things we did.

I. Love. Amsterdam. I would live there if I could!

We arrived quite late in Amsterdam and somehow navigated our way to our apartment with dubious instructions, just in time to go straight to sleep in order to conquer the following day. It was a lovely surprise waking up in our apartment and looking out the window to survey our neighbourhood. I was immediately struck by how beautiful Amsterdam is. We were lucky enough to have a rooftop terrace which we spent a bit of time on across our five days in Holland and although the view wasn’t a conventionally nice one, it’s a really great indication of what Amsterdam is like.

I had feared that it might be trashy or tacky given the reputation, and wasn’t prepared for how truly stunning and romantic it is. The endless canals are beautiful, with boats constantly streaming past, their passengers waving at passers by. We didn’t hire bikes in Amsterdam as we chose to do it all on foot, but it’s totally refreshing to see the majority of the city travelling by bike.  It’s a nice contrast to London which seems to be constantly packed with cars and buses and smoggy air. The air in Amsterdam felt clean and was so easy to take a huge gulp. It’s lovely to see all the bikes in all different shapes, colours and sizes – some with little baskets, most with milk crates attached, people really use them like you would a car, somehow manoevering home with bags of groceries and shopping and everything you could think of!

Our first task of the day was to find our way over to the museumplein and survey the crowds/queues and how much in advance we were going to have to line up for our intended activities. The lines were ridiculous, in case you’re wondering. Though being the Easter long-weekend, we expected as much. So we made a stop-off at the very cute Bagels & Beans for some… bagels… which were super delicious and fresh.

Next up was the Van Gosh museum which was brilliant. It’s a good idea to pre-purchase tickets to this if you can, but you’ll need to do so several weeks in advance. We ended up lining up for just over an hour in order to get in, but it was well worth it. I was blown away but the sheer number of works there. The exhibit traced his evolution as an artist, and although we accidentally followed it backwards, it was very well laid-out and felt like a very true insight into his life and work. Definitely a must-do for anyone, art-aficionado or not.

Sadly I didn’t get any photos there because I was way too engulfed in what was going on. But I DID get some photos of pancakes post-Van Gogh… #priorities

After yet another queue – which seemed to be a running theme across the weekend – we had some insaaaaaanely delicious pancakes at the aptly named Pancakes! cafe. Apple and bacon was my choice, and it was a good’un, whereas Blake stuck to a savoury cheese pancake. It’s a tiny little store packed with people and service wasn’t fast but after hours of queing and traversing the city we didn’t mind the opportunity to sit down for a little while.

We had been advised by several friends to take the Heineken brewery tour, which Blake was pretty excited about. The building no longer functions as a brewery but rather explains the process. It was a bit of a product placement experience and there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between rooms filled with posters to rooms filled with not very much at all. It wasn’t the greatest thing I’ve done in my life, though it was quite interesting to see how the beer is made. There was also a hilarious ‘4D ride’ within the tour in which is always good fun. Overall the tour is worth it for a beer or a Heineken fanatic, but not being either of those I could have given it a miss and not felt too much regret.

Just to tie into another running theme – eating – we couldn’t resist trying the famous Dutch frites (chips with mayonnaise) which are available in little hole-in-the-wall stores dotted around the city. They were really very good…

Another sight we couldn’t skip was the Rijksmuseum, which we had purchased tickets for in advance. That was a great idea, definitely do that. With the main building having been closed since 2003 and reopening mid-2013, we got to see this Dutch national museum/gallery in its full glory. It has something like 8000 pieces of art and history on display and we barely scratched the surface before we heard the 10 minute warning of the museum’s closure. It had to be the most impressive museum I have ever been to. It is truly stunning. We saw so many marvelous things, paintings that I didn’t even know that I knew but recognised from various facets of life instantly. It is a really special place that I honestly think about daily and am so grateful to have been able to experience first-hand.

Oh yeah, and we had MORE pancakes at The Pancake Bakery, which was good, but not as good as Pancakes! Amsterdam.

<< Blake discovered the window from our little Eyewitness guide to Amsterdam which helped us out along the way. This was a very exciting moment for him. >>

Anyway, so that rounds up part one, there are so many more things to talk about that I’m just going to have to split it up for another post… Like how we cycled from Haarlem to the most insane tulip fields in the whole wide world…. Now that was amazing…