If the clutch of my friends permanently leaving Europe over the next couple of months had any reservations about doing so, spring has certainly sent her blessings. Up until ten days ago, signs of the floral season were masked by the persistent flurry, the daily downpour and temperatures that barely climbed above 40°F. You can tell that most of Europe has been dangerously sun-deprived when even a passing mention of open-toe weather sends us all into fits of euphoria.
But for my friends in Amsterdam, that bliss is too fleeting. The winters too long, too bitter. Negotiating cultural differences too wearying. Not even those bi-annual weekends in Paris were enough of a draw for them to stay put. Their expat chapter was ending. Time to pack up and decamp to California where weather and opportunity seem to operate in tandem.
So off we went to a city we first discovered five years ago (with tourist goggles and mini guide books) to spend a weekend with a couple as food obsessed as we are. Save for my coffee inquiry - what's the Amsterdam equivalent to Télescope? - we didn't plan a thing. We improvised, relied on their sharp recommendations and let whim guide us. With crisp blue skies and cooperating weather gods, luck was unquestionably on our side. "It's never like this", our friends reminded us when we began our stream of oohs and aahs. But as sedate as the city feels, even in the most densely packed areas on the grimmest of days, it vibrates with life. We ate, we drank, we cycled and we parted even more charmed by Holland's largest city than the first time.
|| A few Amsterdam favorites ||
Cycling the canals
Cyclists command the streets here which means if you're not getting around by bike, you're missing part of the experience. An ineffable sense of peace washed over me as we rode along the canals, cruised by houseboats lined in serried ranks and passed couples ambling along and ducking into art galleries and vintage shops. It was spectacular riding as the late afternoon sun cast its light across the cobblestone and then again just after dusk when the stars emerge and the twinkle lights along the canals switch on. The rare moments when I was able to fully let go of my preoccupations was on that bike. It's an amazing the amount of a good a long bike ride can do for the psyche.
We rented bikes from de Stadsfiets, 10€/day. Click here for a few other options.
Two for Joy
An artisanal coffee shop (French press, filter or syphon) with excellent little sandwiches and cakes. A spacious nook in the back with armchairs and couches makes it suitable for work but I recommend snatching the spot in the front by the window which gets devastatingly good light.
Restaurant De Kas
A repurposed old greenhouse formerly owned by Amsterdam's municipal nursery houses what is likely the city's top restaurant. The menu is carte blanche, changes daily and composed largely of ingredients harvested on-site or in a large field just outside of the city. It wasn't just the exquisite dining room that bolstered the experience but each, exacting element of the evening from service to flavor and comfortable seating. Next time, I'm booking a spot in the kitchen (as should you but plan far in advance).
Small World Catering
The affable Australian owner of this tiny sandwich shop and deli is part of what keeps locals coming round for sandwiches, salads, fresh juices and superior coffee at all times of the day. On our late afternoon visit, approaching customers didn't bristle at the long line or wait time. One bite into my sandy and I understood the fanfare. Snag a spot on one of the benches or cushions outside or take your goods to the canal.
Critics are on the fence about the full menu at this café-restaurant overlooking the Amstel river but it's a terrific spot to work or read over coffee during the day and socialize with wine, beer and small plates in the evening. Prime people-watching guaranteed on the spacious terrace.
Brown bread and aged gouda. Enough said.
We picked up ours at the Albert Cuypmarkt, the city's largest open-air market.
What are your Amsterdam highlights?
[Click here for more Amsterdam photos]