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Blonde in Amsterdam & Paris: Van Gogh, Gables & the Gare d'Orsay


Jun 16th, 2015, 08:36 PM
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Blonde in Amsterdam & Paris: Van Gogh, Gables & the Gare d'Orsay

There’s a saying that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. In this case, life (or rather, work) took me to Amsterdam for two days in late April, so I decided to make a vacation of it by tacking on another few days to enjoy Amsterdam and a brief taste of Paris. I had good company too, as my recently retired 50 year-old mother was just starting out on a 3-week European adventure of her own! That we had a great time came as no surprise to either of us . . . as they say, we blondes do have more fun!


Or maybe I should say Night One, since we met up in Amsterdam on a Thursday Night after I’d finished my meetings. Our meeting spot was a hotel called the Ambassade on Herrengracht, a lovely canal-ringing street in the heart of Amsterdam. The Ambassade was a wonderful choice and base for operations. If a little cozy by American standards, the room was spotlessly clean, had a fantastic shower (incredible water pressure!) and a great view overlooking the canal that goes by the same name as the street. And the staff was also sensational – very friendly, knowledgeable and welcoming. I would stay here again in a heartbeat.

As a traveler, I always enjoy trying out the local cuisine, which is why I was a bit surprised when the hotel staff directed us to a place called Kantjil & de Tiger which serves Indonesian food. But after I thought for a moment about Holland's long connections to Indonesia, it made perfect sense that this would be an important part of the local culinary landscape.

Located a few, quaint streets from the Ambassade, we could tell immediately from the festively buzzing interior and 45 minute wait for a table that this place was a local go-to. And when we were finally seated, it didn’t disappoint. We had been recommended to order a Rijstaffel (sp?) which roughly translates to rice table, which we did. And as a result, the waiters kept bringing out dish, after dish, after dish of various Indonesian delicacies. We thought it was all delicious (lots of wonderful peanut and papaya influences!), but Mom and I both required a few Bintang beers to handle the spice!

I was pretty tired after a manic work week and the jet-lag from California had Mom yawning, so we made our way back to the Ambassade and called it an early night. But not before stopping for a delicious stroopwafel on the way back! (If you have never had one, you must! – pure sugar, they are actually available at US supermarkets!). Try them now!


The next morning after a great night’s rest, I woke up at 7:45 to find Mom styling her hair, in her second hour of getting primped for the day. To think, I'd almost forgotten how much fun travelling with her is!

Once we were all put together, we made haste to the Anne Frank House. We got there at 9 o’clock and the line was already stretching down the street! As a rule, I have very little patience for lines, but if there was ever a worthwhile cause for waiting in one, this was it, and so we sucked it up. (Travel Hint: To avoid lines, I think you can buy tickets in advance – see their website for details).

I won’t really say too much about the Anne Frank House because my words don’t do it justice. It is a exceptionally necessary monument to a horrible time and stands as a reminder of true courage. Thank goodness it exists and thank goodness there are long lines to see it. Mom and I both felt that the Museum was perfectly displayed and were deeply encouraged by the masses of people, from all backgrounds and walks of life who made seeing it a priority on their itineraries. That was very uplifting.

We had not eaten before visiting the museum and in the course of strolling along another canal, Prinsengracht, came upon a place called The Pancake Bakery and decided to stop for an earlyish lunch. All I have to say is that the Dutch know how to do pancakes! You can get just about anything you want in them and they will be completely scrumptious. Yum! I was in vacation mode and looking to indulge my sweet tooth, so I made us order a banana and chocolate syrup pancake for dessert, which as a bonus came topped with abundant whipped cream! The Pancake Bakery is a great place to try Dutch pancakes and I think would probably be good for kids as well if you are travelling with them.

Mom and I are both fitness junkies, but with our limited time in Amsterdam we decided to make walking the city our workout for the day. And what a pretty walk it was. The day was a little overcast as we strolled from canal to canal, over picturesque little bridges, while tall, thin, blonde locals biked by, high in their bicycle saddles, frowning under the glasses they inevitably wore. The walk was pure architectural eye candy, with so much to see, and before we knew it, we were at the Museumplein to visit the Van Gogh Museum. Here we had booked our tickets in advance and thus were spared what would have been another terribly long wait in line.

If you want to know about Van Gogh, you could always read Wikipedia or an art book, but in my personal opinion (shared by most), the guy was nuts! How else could anyone paint like that – those vibrant, thick, swirling colors! Even if we hadn’t loved the artwork (which it is impossible not to), the building is magnificent too. This is a complete, 100% must see during any first time visit to Amsterdam! Also, while I don't usually love museum audio tours, this one was particularly good.

We stopped for a cup of coffee and made our way over to the Rijksmuseum. I have to admit, that even for highly energetic, intrepid walkers like us, this was a lot of museums for one day. But I’ve always felt that if you are going to see a city or country, you have to hit the high points, and the Rijksmuseum is definitely one of them. The artwork spans a broad range of styles and periods, with a focus on the glory days of the Dutch Republic (Vermeer, Rembrandt, etc). If you’re an art aficionado, I suppose the collection is not to be missed, but that particular genre really isn’t my favorite. The famous “Night Watch” painting, however, is fantastic and huge (and prompted Mom to lean over and whisper sheepishly, “where’d they get such a big canvas?!”). In any event, I was very happy to check the museum off of my list and to see the interior architecture of what is a very beautiful and stately building. And ever the fashionista, Mom had plenty to say about the choices of attire of the rich old merchants depicted in the paintings of Holland’s glory days – “even if they didn’t have razors, they do look good in black!”

It was already the late afternoon turning to the early evening when we left the Museumplein. I believe that the best way to get to know a city (in addition to walking it) is to see all sides of it, so I had been working all day to break down Mom’s prudish opposition to visiting the famed "Red Light District". Finally, after hours of pleading, she agreed to go for a "quick visit" and we made our way in that general direction. We had walked a lot during the day (thank goodness we had opted for wedges instead of heels!) and were happy to come across the nicely appointed bar at the Café Americain to rest our tired legs and enjoy a well-earned drink. We both enjoyed a well-prepared, crisp Hendrix Martini and the libation definitely helped to relax Mom about the prospect of being in proximity to Amsterdam’s notorious bordellos!

The red light district is one of the strangest places I’ve ever been to. Think of a mixture of a shoddy roadside restaurant with neon red lighting, an aquarium, a fashion runway and a dermatologist’s office and you’ve pretty much captured it. We wandered past a venue hosting a show of interesting content and were none-too subtly eyed by two separate packs of teenage boys. Needless to say, I wasn’t at all surprised and didn’t object when Mom, who is fabulously prissy and who clearly felt out of place perfectly primped and crisp in her tucked in white collar shirt and pearls, abruptly suggested we go find some dinner!

We managed (by dumb luck) to find two free seats at the bar at the bustling Restaurant In De Waag, which is located in a really neat old building in the heart of the red light district. The bartender – wish I remembered his name – was extremely nice and accommodating and in response to Mom’s question about the strange ceramic bottles on the wall behind the bar, introduced us to Dutch gin, which he proudly explained is called Jenever and pronounced gen-E-ver. His English wasn’t great and I didn't completely follow his short explanation of how the stuff is made, but I did feel badly when Mom and I both puckered and reached immediately for our water glasses after our first taste!

Not to be deterred, the bartender brought out another ceramic bottle. “It gets better,” he said with a wink as he poured us each a second sample. I can’t say that I agree that the taste improves, but the spirit is quite pungent, and a few minutes later I could tell by Mom’s fiddling with her collar and cuffs, rosy cheeks and her increasingly giggly conversation with the lovely young Greek couple, Cristos and Sophia, next to us at the bar that she was beginning to feel pleasantly tickled from her drinks. A cheese plate, a shared generous piece of Venison, a conversation about Santorini and Rhodes, and three more rounds of Jenevers later, our appetites had been quenched and we were bidding goodbye to our new best friends!

The food at In De Waag was not spectacular and I wouldn’t go out of my way to find it again for dinner. But it did serve us well as a pleasant, civilized retreat from the madness of the Red Light District, so that fortified by a good meal and the local spirit, we readied ourselves for another pass at the Red Light District.

We didn’t go to any shows. We giggled at many of the sites we saw behind the street-facing glass doors (and at the people who opened them!). We turned down tons of offers of pot-hashish-coke from pushers. We saw lots of glowing red lights mixed in amongst lovely old architecture. And I have to admit that after several rounds of Jenever, the neon red lighting reminded me a little of the swirling Van Goghs we'd seen earlier in the day

I said it before, but I’ll say it again – Jenever is some pretty pungent stuff! And if you’ve read any of my prior trip reports about our limo adventures in Napa, you’ll know that Mom has a tendency to get a little silly after a few drinks. So it didn’t come as a shock to me when a short while later the bartender’s generosity caught up with Mom, who was by now a trifle unsteady on her feet and shaking with laughter as she whispered in my ear, “I thhhick theresaa lilll alllllkk-holllll in the jennnnifers”. Scuzzy as the Red Light district is, there were so many people around that we felt completely safe and it was, dare I say, quite entertaining to watch Mom, still impeccably crisp and polished in her white shirt and pearls even while quite intoxicated, jettison her prudish horror over her surroundings in order to focus her fullest efforts on asking locals and tourists alike in her best slurred speech where we could find a “sooofwapell”.

Of course, it was not hard to find a purveyor of said stroopwafels and, apart from being supremely delicious, I took several hilarious pictures of prissy Mom posing with her new best friend, the Stroopwafel maker! He didn’t speak very good English, but did know enough to ask her what her favorite things were in Amsterdam. He nodded approvingly when Mom enthusiastically replied, “Soofwappels!”, but looked completely confused when she added a moment later, “annnn Jennnnnifer!” I made a drinking motion with my hand, at which point he smiled, winked at Mom and declared, “ahhhh, Gen-E-ver!”

After a wobbly and laughter-filled stroll through Dam Square, we made our way back to the Ambassade to call it a night.

More soon including the remainder of our brief visit to Amsterdam & our jaunt to Paris!
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Jun 16th, 2015, 08:47 PM
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Love this! Will be in Paris then Amsterdam in September, so can't wait for rest of trip report!
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Jun 16th, 2015, 09:23 PM
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Stroopwaffles are so delicious, especially when made fresh for you. Trader Joe's Joe's Caramel Bites will have to do until I get back to The Netherlands.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 04:02 AM
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Classic, your mother sounds great! I haven't been to Amsterdam in decades but it's very close to the top of my list for a revisit.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 04:33 AM
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You crack me up! I can totally picture your mom, and as my first trip to Amsterdam is coming up in September, I am going to have my husband read this so we can be sure to try some "soofwappels" and "Jennnnifers!"
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Jun 17th, 2015, 04:50 AM
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@Italynovice - Thanks for the kind feedback. September is probably a wonderful time to visit Amsterdam! I can confirm that April is too More trip report coming soon!

@HappyTrvlr - I agree, SW's are the greatest! Strangely, I've been able to find them occasionally in random corner grocery stores . . . in which case I always buy them out!

@Wellltraveledbrit - Thanks for your feedback. I'm loving reading your "ongoing trip report"!

And, yes, traveling with Mom is great. She's one of those young-at-heart fabulous 50 year-olds who stays in shape and is wayyyy too enthusiastic about fashion, especially when it involves heels, handbags, collars and pearls. As you probably deduced, she enjoys a good tipple, but since she isn't too masterful at holding her drinks, we've been known to end up in some giggly situations (cue the Red Light District!).

Did you visit the Van Gogh Museum when you last went to Amsterdam? If not, make sure to next time! Just wonderful. I can't wait to compare the building with the Tate in London later this year!
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Jun 17th, 2015, 08:23 AM
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Hi again Blondie!

As always, I loved your report! We are deciding between a trip to Japan or Europe later this year, so your reviews are very helpful!

Your evening in the red light district was hilarious! As my boyfriend will attest, I've been known to have a little trouble with my words too after a few glasses of wine, so I actually laughed so hard this morning I woke him up when I read Mom's declaration that “I thhhick theresaa lilll alllllkk-holllll in the jennnnifers”! Did she have any other memorable musings during your wanderings in the red light district? She sounds like a fun drinking buddy!

Did you give any thought to traveling to any of the other nearby cities in Holland - The Hague, Delft, Leiden? We are, but we may need to pass if we're short on time. Curious to know your thoughts.

Can't wait to read the next installment. Collars & Pearls Forever!
- Cait
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Jun 17th, 2015, 09:43 AM
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Haha, Blondie! I love your mom - and I'm sure my daughters would think she has a lot in common with me.

More importantly, how wonderful to travel with your mother - and really enjoy it. You obviously have a special relationship and I'm sure you both treasure it.

Looking forward to more of your adventures.

(Oh, and I was along on your Napa adventure as well - such fun!)
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Jun 17th, 2015, 10:20 AM
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Great report. I know hardly anybody who doesn't find the red light district hilarious except for church ladies and serious customers.

But frankly my biggest discovery on my first trip to Amsterdam (which I have visited more than 20 times since then over the years) was the herring trucks. And when it is the season of "new herring" it is pure ecstasy. Well, maybe not for everybody.

I may be unconventional, because I am also a huge fan of the Febo automats.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 01:04 PM
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Yay! Another Blondie trip report!! A big hello to you from me and Hubbie . . . how is everything?

Loved the first installment . . . we are big fans of Indonesian food, and I can just imagine the spice! We also had a drink at the Cafe Americain a few years ago when we were in Amsterdam . . . nice place!

After bumping into you gals in Napa two years ago, I can only imagine how giggly Mom must have been after all of the Genever . . . hehe She is so much fun!!! Actually . . . Hubbie and I are thinking about a trip to Greece . . . someday in the near future . . . and to see some islands. Would love to know if Cristos and Sophia had any good suggestions that you and Mom remember and care to pass on . . .

Can't wait for more of this trip report! Cheers!

@Kerouac . . . we loved Febo too!!
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Jun 17th, 2015, 01:11 PM
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Oh . . . and Hubbie insists I ask . . . did you gals get Jenever collar? Any different from the famous "wine collar" you were laughing so hard about that far off day in Napa?
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Jun 17th, 2015, 01:41 PM
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Your wonderful report brings back memories of adventures in travel with my late mother. It's a joy to have had those great times together.

And... speaking of genever, I have six of those little Delft houses KLM gives to their business class passengers. They contain Bols genever and have never been opened since I got them in the 80s or 90s. I've often wondered if the genever would still be drinkable. Anyone know?
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Jun 17th, 2015, 01:47 PM
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Hard liquor never goes bad.
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Jun 17th, 2015, 03:56 PM
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@Joan - Thanks for your nice note! (And hello to your husband!).

If you are picturing a 5'-8", slender, fifty year old blonde, tottering through the red light district in cobalt blue slacks, a black skinny belt and a tucked in crisp white shirt, giggling and starry-eyed as she asks for directions in her best slurred speech, then you're right, you can picture Mom perfectly!

But, yes, it was pretty priceless to watch Mom repeatedly calling Stroopwafels "soofwappels" and to see the confused look on the face of a fellow American tourist when she grabbed on to his shoulder for balance and proudly declared "sorrry! issss the Jennnnifers!" Actually, I'll be curious to know if people know what you're talking about when you ask for "soofwappels" and "Jennnnifers" during your trip -- Mom did talk to an awful lot of people that night! (Kidding, Kidding!)

That's so great that you're going to Amsterdam in the fall! We had a splendid time -- there's so much to see. Do you have your itinerary set yet?
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Jun 17th, 2015, 04:16 PM
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Hi @CCC! Great to hear from you again! How is everything?

You're not alone -- I was also laughing uncontrollably at Mom's “I thhhick theresaa lilll alllllkk-holllll in the jennnnifers” comment in the moment.

She did have some other good slurred speech musings, but I can't really remember any good ones off hand. (Probably b/c I'd had my fair share of Jenever too!) But the funniest thing of all was how suddenly the Jenever caught up with her out of nowhere. She was definitely giggly and getting drunker during our time at In De Waag, but then, whammo! It was like somewhere along the line she forgot how to speak English! In any event, you're right that she's a great drinking buddy and always happy as a clam

I would have loved to go to some other towns, but we really barely had enough time for Amsterdam as it was. Leiden is definitely on my list of places to get back to though -- I had a college professor from there once and he loved it!

Japan and Europe! Wow, that's two totally different directions! I think you have to pick one or the other first and then drill down. But either way will be great. Europe is magnificent and since I've never been to Japan, for me that's the stuff of legends!

Collars & Pearls Forever!
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Jun 17th, 2015, 07:39 PM
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@LCBoniti - Thanks for your kind words. I love my Mom too! -- and I'm sure that if folks haven't met her (and assuredly everyone except for Kendra hasn't!) she's as amusing a read as she is a companion

But in all seriousness, I think you hit the nail on the head. I can't think of any relationship that is more special than the Mom-Daughter dynamic and I'm SO lucky to have a great one. The truth of the matter is, with her unique sense of style and youthful outlook, I have more fun with her and share more with her than I do most of my contemporaries. I think it's very rare to have someone like that in your life whom you can confide in, travel with and loosen up with!

How are things on your end? Any good travel adventures coming up?

(Also, glad you got a kick out of our latest jaunt to Napa. We had a great time! We're trying to figure out what to do for her 51st, but it's so hard to coordinate everyone's calendars these days!)

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Jun 18th, 2015, 02:25 AM
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@Kerouac – Thanks for your nice note! I totally agree with you about the red light district – it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Mom is generally quite proper and reserved, so it didn't surprise me that I had to talk her into visiting. In any event, during our post-Jenever walkthrough, she too was ready to laugh!

And BTW, you totally foreshadowed my next installment, in which both herring and febo make brief cameos!
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Jun 18th, 2015, 04:54 AM
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What fun! Amsterdam has long been on my places to visit and I enjoyed your take on it.
How lucky you are to have such great adventures with your mom.
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Jun 18th, 2015, 08:47 AM
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Hi Blondie,

Thanks for your thoughts! Too bad you didn't have any time to go to other cities in Holland. Maybe next time. If we end up going to Holland, I think we'd do Leiden too... and maybe The Haag, since my boyfriend is a human rights lawyer and never shuts up about that place!

So funny your description of how the Jenever just caught up with her... happens to me too sometimes, with very silly results. Although I've never tried Jenever Please let Mom know she's not alone and we all still love her!

Can't wait to hear more about your trip, especially Paris!! After your bubbly 50th Napa wine tour, I hope you made certain to toast your visit with some champagne!
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Jun 18th, 2015, 02:16 PM
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CountryClubCaitlinn . . . I went to Delft, Leiden and The Haag . . . go to Leiden . . . great University charm!

Blondie, your audience is waiting . . . !
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