Merry Birthday Happy Christmas: Amsterdam!

By Megan Hulshizer

It’s been a whirlwind of travel the past three weeks so I’ll do my best to try to remember all of the places I’ve seen and the things I’ve done!

My boyfriend Brian came to visit me for my birthday / Christmas / our one year anniversary / New Year’s Eve. We call it “best week ever + 1.” He flew in to Hamburg on Thursday and Friday night we were off to explore Amsterdam. He’s such a trooper. Jet lag, crazy trains and an over-enthusiastic girlfriend who doesn’t have to teach for three weeks.

We landed in Amsterdam and tried to take the train from the airport to our hotel. It should have been a straight shot, one train, no changes, no problems. Of course there had been some sort of incident that required us to take one train to one station, then switch, pay for a completely new ticket, and then finally make it. But made it we did, and we were greeted at our beautiful hotel with free drink vouchers for my birthday and warm cookies. Who can stay grumpy when cookies and a SkyBar await? We also took the time to wander around and hit up a Bohemian bar called Cafe Belgique – so cute, so tiny! We wandered through the streets before heading back pretty late, but we had a big day ahead of us the next day: my birthday!

For my birthday we had made reservations to visit the Anne Frank House which was such a great experience. Everyone recommended to get tickets ahead of time, as there can be really long lines. It was pretty busy but such an incredible museum and a wonderful way to step back into time to get a real sense of what she and her family went through.

Also for my birthday, Brian made special dinner reservations. We went to a lovely restaurant called Guts + Glory (yes the name is a little strange) with a great five-course meal! They rotate their menus and each time they are called a Chapter. When we went, it was “Chapter 7: Latin America.” It was so delicious, every dish brought out was amazing. Tiny tacos, ceviche, empanadas, pre-dessert, actual dessert… I might need to go back to Amsterdam to sample this month’s chapter, French food!

On Christmas, we visited the Rjiksmuseum. It was HUGE and beautiful! We gazed at Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer, and so many more. We spent hours wandering the halls. It was also surprisingly busy on a holiday, but we had no wait to get in which was nice! Of course, after being artsy and whatnot, it was time for some sustenance. We stopped at a cute little cafe we just stumbled upon for a delicious lunch, and walked through the cute canals of Amsterdam. We stopped for refreshments and I convinced Brian to get fancy daiquiris with fun fruity decorations on them, which he admitted were delicious. But then, it was time for our Christmas light show tour! Every year, the city puts on the Amsterdam Light Show which you can see by boat or walking. So we booked tickets to take a night canal tour. It was our way of looking at Christmas lights since we aren’t in the States. After our canal tour, we visited the Holland Casino to try our luck (I have a 10 cent voucher proving my enormous winnings), had some surprisingly tasty pizza for dinner, and yes, visited the infamous de Wallen, also known as the Red Light District.

The next morning we indulged in delicious pancakes for breakfast/lunch at the cutest little restaurant, De Carrousel Pannenkoeken, which looks like a little carousel. After stuffing ourselves silly it was time to walk it off, so we wandered over to Vondelpark, a beautiful huge park full of runners and joggers whose sole intent was to make us feel guilty for our lack of athleticism. We also visited the Flower Market and picked up some great souvenirs and trinkets to remind us of our journey.

That night we hit up the Brouwerij’t IJ, a brewery in a windmill! It was a popular spot, and we got to try some of the local brews. We had seen the beers all around Amsterdam, and a bartender had recommended visiting the place where the magic happens, and I’m so glad we did. How often can you say you had beers in a windmill?

Finally, on our last night in Amsterdam, we happened to go to a place recommended to us as having lots of great beer options. We originally sat in a corner area that was fine, but sort of out of the way, and moved down closer to the bar. And we were glad we did – browsing through the list on the wall of beers offered, I spotted it: the Westvletern Abbey 12. Brewed in an abbey by monks, it has been ranked as one of the best beers in the world, and one of the hardest to find. The waitress had to go down to a special storeroom to pull out a bottle, and only had one special glass to pour it in (people steal the glasses). The beer was delicious, and we were so happy to have found it! We also started chatting with another couple traveling. They had been to Brussels, an upcoming stop for us, and recommended some great places that we ended up hitting up and loving! It was a good decision to change seats in the bar. Amsterdam was a dream, but now it was time for our next stop: The Hague!

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