If it is possible, Amsterdam seemed even more vibrant and welcoming this time around than during my trip 20 years ago. Maybe it was because I lucked out and had brilliant, sunny weather throughout my stay. Or, perhaps, the city seemed to embrace summer at every turn. Or, then again, it may have been because I had a couple of friends giving me their insider perspectives on the Dam.
Within hours of arrival, my new gal pal Jennifer was at the Hotel Vondel's door to pick me up. A former Brooklynite who originally hails from Curacao, she helms a cheeky food blog and was ready, willing and quite able to guide me through the city streets and onto some eating adventures.
Stay tuned for more on our snacking food tour of the city, but one dining memory I must share is a mindblowing Rijstafel dinner we enjoyed at an Indonesian hot spot called Restaurant Blauw. As is the custom, plate after plate of tongue-tingling, aromatic dishes were loaded on our table for the gorging, from Lamb in an Indonesian Curry and Coconut Sauce with Cinnamon to Fish in a Candlenut Sauce to Goat Sate Grilled on a skewer served in a Hot Soy Sauce, and so much more. Add rice, a sprinkle of toasted coconut on top and we were summarily heaven bound.
*In the non-food realm, Jennifer led me to one of the most tranquil spots in the city, an historic courtyard cut off from Amsterdam's bustle...
Called the Begijnhof, the idyllic square dates back to the 14th century and used to serve as a sanctuary.
*After experiencing the beauty of the the Begijnhof, Jennifer insisted that we travel a little further in time, to 1679 to be exact. She directed me to the tasting room of the Wynand Fockink Distillery...
...where we joined in the tradition of stooping over brimming glassfuls of potent Dutch liqueurs to take our first slurps. Centuries' old recipes with names like Bridal Kiss, The Walk In The Woods and Eau de Ma Tante were on the menu, but my choice was Abrikoos, an apricot liqueur that immediately brought a smile to my lips and a woozy rush to the rest of my body.
*Speaking of alcohol, as one might expect in the home of Heineken, beer was had. But have no fear, I bypassed that bland brew for a couple of local gems, including a dark malty Brouwerij't Ij Natte and fragrantly hoppy Brouwerij De Molen Amarillo.
*Art was given its due with a sojourn to the Rijksmuseum to ogle Rembrandts, Van Goghs and alike. I also visited a photography museum called FOAM to enjoy an eye-popping exhibition of Edward Steichen's fashion photography from the 20's and 30's.
*The best breakfast of the trip? It was had at lunch...
...when I tucked into a Dutch pancake with ham and cheese at the aptly named Pancakes! Amsterdam, located in one of the city's most charming shopping districts, The Nine Streets. Looking at the dish (pictured above), I couldn't decide if this delicacy was really pancake, a pizza or a crepe. One bite and I didn't care what it was. It was simply freakin' delicious.
*Later in the trip, my newly transplanted pal Amelia, who is staking claim in the Dam after years of living in Shanghai, directed me to some of the city's most intriguing modern design stores, including The Frozen Fountain and Moooi. Not my style, but definitely worth a look-see.
*But my favorite moment of all? I guess I'll have to say moments -- because I treated myself to not only one, but two separate canal tours that took my breath away...
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Hot Dam!