Amsterdam: A City Break

Amsterdam Canal at Night

Amsterdam Canal at Night

Hands down, my favorite part of living in Europe is the possibility for short city breaks to nearby countries. I’ve been able to visit a fair number of countries cheaply that normally, would merit full-scale planning and a lot more money. So, when we found cheap fares on Aer Lingus to go to Amsterdam for the weekend we jumped on it. We were able to stay at a friend’s apartment, making it a very affordable weekend.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I absolutely loved Amsterdam. We stayed in city center, overlooking one of the canals. The buildings lining the street adjacent to us were so perfectly Dutch, crammed tightly against one another with steep, pitching roofs in coordinated browns. Bicycles rule the streets, giving us a quick course in how not to walk to avoid collision.  And we walked, everywhere. The city is a huge sprawl, so with out limited time we stayed relatively close to the apartment, walking several miles a day. It felt like the sort of city you could spend forever exploring, constantly finding new places. We had two and a half days.

View From the Apartment

View From the Apartment

We started the trip getting lost. the mass of canals results in much of the city looking the same, mixed with confusing directions we wandered around central Amsterdam far longer than was necessary to find the apartment, on the shortest street, with only a few buildings. While wandering lost, several people approached us happy to help. On a stoop an English expat, in his 70’s was reading the newspaper from his doorway and offered his assistance. While he looked at a map he asked us inside to warm up. His warm, dimly lit home, smelling of dust was everything you’d imagine an old canal house to look like. Scattered around a large wooden drafting tables were books, atlases, and globes. He told us about living in Manhattan many years ago with his daughter with his nose inches from a map. Eventually, he found our street and pointed us in the right direction.

After finally finding our temporary home we set out for lunch at Van Kerkwijk, a small cafe, with a few tables, good house wine, and a rotating menu of sandwiches, soups, and meats. It is the sort of cafe that reminds me how much I love Europe. The patrons here in the early afternoon seemed as if they had been there for hours, or else, had been shopping and stopped in for soup and wine, to warm up for the rest of their day. It has that slow, languid pace you don’t get very often in the US.

Amsterdam Metro

Amsterdam Metro

On our two full days we spent our time wandering from cafes and food to shopping, museums (Anne Frank and Rijksmuseum- both worthwhile), buying hard to find Belgian beer (Westvleteran 12), and generally taking in the sights of this gorgeous city. We felt distinctly that there was so much to see and do, and that we’d only scratched the surface. Not only are there a plethora of activities, but you get the distinct notion of how different the city must feel to different travelers. It could be a vacation filled with art and fine dining, or a drug fueled blurry mess of a weekend. And while this is true of any city, generally, it’s particularly palpable here (not to mention the distinct cannabis smell on the streets). Our weekend was relatively tame, especially since my travel companion was struck with some sort of virus making walking around a highly strenuous activity. But it was a good balance, and though we didn’t get to see everything we wanted to, I know this is a city I’ll return to, and explore more throughly.

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum

Amsterdam also marked by 40th country, and I know, I know, it’s the experiences, not the number of countries that matters. But, it’s a pretty big deal for me, especially since I hadn’t ventured beyond Canada only seven years ago. I never would have guessed I’d see this much of the world by 27, and so, to me, it’s pretty exciting.

A short hour flight, and we were back in Dublin. It is still a cold, rainy winter here, but a short weekend break is all that’s needed to refresh this city, temporarily drowning  out the grey dreariness that blankets Dublin during this time of year. Of course, upon landing we search immediately for the next cheap flights to somewhere new, the possibilities are intriguing and exciting. I know, this I will miss dearly once we return to the US.

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