Europe Forums

Post New Topic

Recent Activity

  • Announcement:
  • Come explore the new Fodor’s Forum
    by ibobi Fodor's Editor | Posted on Dec 4, 17 at 08:03 PM
View all Europe activity »
  1. 1 Trip Report Paris November 2017
  2. 2 2 week May trip with kids
  3. 3 Can only visit one (maybe two) cities. Which one?
  4. 4 Which Aran Island??
  5. 5 15 days honeymoon trip to Europe in February end and March
  6. 6 Overnight stop from Berlin to Paris
  7. 7 Planning a Trip from DC to Anywhere in Europe (Budget Friendly)
  8. 8 9 day trip to France
  9. 9 Help with Country House Hotel Christmas 2018
  10. 10 10 Days in May: Switzerland Itinerary Help
  11. 11 First time italy, 12 nights. What to do
  12. 12 5 nights in Spain, need help!
  13. 13 Arezzo - how much time?
  14. 14 Mid-May stay in Lauterbrunnen or Murren
  15. 15 Easter Week in Italy
  16. 16 Help me get excited about a week in Portugal
  17. 17 Airport Transfer
  18. 18 Cotswold - great food & ambience for lunch!
  19. 19 1st Birthday Party in Italy questions
  20. 20 Moscow Hotels
  21. 21 Santa Maria Novella products??
  22. 22 Lisbon stay - Olissippo Lapa Palace vs NH Collection Lisboa Liberdade
  23. 23 Trip Report Again, onboard robbery attempts on trains leaving Milano Centrale station
  24. 24 New Years in France
  25. 25 Barcelona tour option help please
View next 25 » Back to the top

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

Jump to last reply

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!

54 Replies |Back to top

Sign in to comment.