I didn’t need to go back to Amsterdam. I’ve been there before.
But there’s more to Amsterdam than the Van Gogh museum, more to the area than windmills and tulip gardens. Two of the things that made it extra special over this particular weekend were a couple of good friends from San Francisco.
I hadn’t seen either of them in awhile, so I hopped on the Eurostar on Friday afternoon and made my way to Brussels. After a couple hours of revisiting my favorite places in the city and eating a heart-healthy cone of ketchup-smothered fries, I took an ill-fated bus to Amsterdam.
‘A bus?’ you ask. Yes, a bus. In a moment of Pinot Noir-induced insanity during the planning stages of my trip, I convinced myself that paying seven euros for a bus to Amsterdam would result in a positive travel experience.
It didn’t. The bus failed to show up until fifteen minutes after the scheduled departure time. Then I spent four hours and fifteen minutes listening to the driver’s loud Reggae, watching Michael Jackson’s This is It on the overhead TV, and witnessing an unrehearsed sing-along when Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” came on.
After all the regular stops and one unscheduled stop at a rest station on the side of the road, I staggered off the bus at Amstel station in Amsterdam 45 minutes late.
From there I met my friends at a bar called ‘t Dokertje for a much needed drink. Well, drinks. Between Belgian, Dutch, and even a few American beers, we went from bar to bar sampling the local genever and everyone’s least favorite shot, Jager.
It goes without saying that we slept in on Saturday morning. I was staying with one of my friends who is in business school in Amsterdam, and when we finally got going in the morning she took me across the city center to a brunch place she thought I would like.
On the way, I re-discovered another brunch place. My boyfriend had taken me there for breakfast on my birthday in Amsterdam two years ago. We had long forgotten both the name and location of Puccini, but hadn’t forgotten its amazing food. I was glad to have found it again.
Ironically, when we reached our brunch destination on this Saturday morning I realized that my boyfriend had also taken me there on the same weekend we went to Puccini. It was called Pancakes! In both cases we went there to eat pancakes.
Last time I dove into American-style pancakes, but this time I went for the Dutch variety. The thin plate-sized crispy pancake was filled with onions, cheese, and bacon. Despite a long wait for the food I couldn’t have asked for a more delicious breakfast in Amsterdam.
When we finished eating we walked through the funky Jordaan district. My friend was taking me to the Noordermarkt, where there was reportedly a man that made while-you-wait stroopwaffles. I was in no way hungry, but my dessert stomach was agitating for the thin caramel-filled waffles, and I couldn’t tell it no.
The market was large and featured row after row of tantalizing culinary goods, including mountains of Dutch cheeses, breads, and herring. (Okay, so the herring only tantalized the locals and the visiting Scandinavians, but the rest of it looked good to me.)
Further along we discovered market stalls selling everything from wasabi peanuts to wrinkled textiles. Among this mish mash of market mongers we found our stroopwaffel man. He smothered caramel between two freshly made waffle halves, and we savored the sweet sticky warmth until it was no more.
Moving on from the market, we headed south to the Vondelpark. A huge expanse of green space that always reminds me of the more manicured bits of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, the lawns were packed with picnickers, bikers, and even wedding parties smiling up at the sun.
After a glass of rosé at the Blue Teahouse in the Vondelpark, we headed north up the busy canals to Oosterdokseiland. Along the way a cold rain started falling, and by the time we got to the Amsterdam Public Library we were using my friend’s pink Pashmina as an umbrella.
The building was a contemporary construction with interiors reminiscent of Rem Koolhaus’ Seattle Public Library. Modern and future-forward in every facet from the facade to the free WI FI, the Amsterdam Public Library was the perfect place to escape the plundering rain. On the seventh floor there was a cafe, and we sat sipping mint tea as we admired the views of Amsterdam through the downpour.
Braving the rain again, met up with the rest of our group from the previous evening at the NH Schiller hotel bar in Rembrandtplein. We caught up and dried off over a glass of claret, then walked down the street to dinner.
In another instance of culinary deja vu, our dinner was at Tempo Doeloe, an Indonesian restaurant that my boyfriend had taken me to for a surprise Rijsttafel dinner on our last trip to Amsterdam. I had suggested it to my friend visiting from Atlanta, who is a fellow foodie. She was convinced, and so we found ourselves at a table for seven with twenty five delicious plates in front of us.
Two hours later we were stuffed full of an array of diverse dishes that ranged from mild vegetables in peanut sauce to punishingly spicy chicken with hot yellow peppers. Despite a bottle of amazingly disappointing wine, we enjoyed every small portion on the table.
The next morning was my third and final foodie redux. Having shared with my friends my excitement about rediscovering Puccini, we decided to meet up there for Sunday brunch.
After getting thoroughly soaked by the rain on the way to the cafe, six of us gathered around a table in the small whitewashed room. There we holed up for two hours enjoying one of the best brunches I’ve had in a long time.
I started with a hot chocolate that consisted of a glass of steamed milk and a one inch cube of solid Belgian chocolate on a stick. I stirred the creamy cocoa goodness into the cup to make my own delicious drink, and finished every sip before I even ordered my food.
Breakfast was scrambeled eggs with toast and some of the most flavorful smoked salmon I’ve ever tasted. Having eyed the giant strawberry tarts in the window when I arrived, I split the meal with my friend so as to save room for dessert. As I savored each soft bite of fresh strawberry-marzipan goodness, I was glad I did.
When we finally forced ourselves up from the table it was already time for me to travel by bus back to Brussels. Unfortunately my bus didn’t feel much like cooperating. It arrived an hour and fifteen minutes late, leaving me very worried that I would miss my connection to the last Eurostar of the night from Brussels to London.
Between the long wait, the depressing waiting room, the rain, and the incredibly hostile Eurolines staff at Amstel station, the phrase “you get what you pay for” repeated loudly in my head.
When the bus finally arrived, the driver took his time getting us out of Amsterdam. We finally got underway as he talked loudly to himself and swigged soda while swerving onto the shoulder of the highway. The further we got from Amsterdam, the increasingly unnerved and disconcerted I felt by the whole terrible Eurolines bus experience.
Then, after going 110kph through pouring rain and completely skipping a scheduled stop, the driver had us in Brussels a mere six (6!) minutes after our stated arrival time. I don’t know who draws up the Eurolines bus timetables, but I will assume they are at least as crazy as the people the company puts behind the wheel.
With two hours in Brussels before my Eurostar to London, I walked from the Gare du Nord to the Gare du Midi. I stopped off at a few shops along the way to pick up a gift for my boyfriend, who was celebrating his birthday the next day and who was very relieved to hear that I wouldn’t have to spend half of it in Brussels.
When I finally made it to the Gare du Midi I flashed my Carte Blanche and collapsed into a sleek orange-and-gray chair in the lounge. With me came a glass of too-young red wine and a heaping plate of olives and peanuts that I would call my dinner.
It was my first meal of the trip that wasn’t a repeat of my last visit to Amsterdam. Although I don’t have a pressing need to return to the lovely Dutch city anytime soon, a bad final dinner is a good enough reason if an opportunity presents itself.
Just remind me not to take the bus to Amsterdam next time.