I’m writing to you from our adorable apartment in Munich as we reflect on our last week in Amsterdam and Strasbourg, two destinations as insanely beautiful as they are different.
We took a direct flight from Tampa to Zurich where we changed planes en route to Amsterdam. Due to the duration of our stay in Europe which will cover both hot and cold weather climates, we needed to check a bag with our cold weather apparel for the last leg of our travels. And, unfortunately, we arrived in Amsterdam to learn our checked-bag did not arrive with us. After a long wait in a very long line at the airport to report our missing bag, we were finally on our way to our VRBO apartment. If this should happen to you on your travels, be sure to get in line ASAP and have the necessary paperwork ready. This will shorten your time at the airport (hopefully). I’m happy to report our bag arrived the next morning at our rental.
We boarded the train at Schiphol and headed to Amsterdam Centraal where we grabbed an Uber to our flat. Our landlord, Emmy, was waiting for us despite the late hour (9PM) and once we had the tour and settled in, we set off to find food. Amsterdam is a vibrant city that is open all night, much like NYC, however, we struggled to find an open restaurant close to our apartment in Prinseneiland at that hour. We were able to find a lively bar that still had some bar snacks available, and had a meal of chicken nuggets, eggrolls and beer. Not the best, but good enough to tie us over until breakfast.
If you’ve never been to Amsterdam before, I want to offer some advice on selecting your neighborhood. The general “tourist area” of Amsterdam is shaped like a U, with the train station being at the top, or northern end and the Rijksmuseum being at the bottom. Most of the hotels are closer to the train station, but I find that area to be very crowded, incredibly touristy and loud. If you’ve been to New Orleans, imagine Bourbon Street.
The outer canal ring neighborhoods are quieter and more residential. There is no shortage of cafes, bars and restaurants, but the attitude is more mature and refined. On this particular trip we stayed on Prinseneiland which was VERY residential and quiet (and really lovely), but it was a hike to the nearest tram stop. Although walkable, you may want to consider locating the closets tram stop to your accommodations before you book.
In the morning we found our way to the Haarlemmerplein where we had a delicious healthy breakfast at The Breakfast Club, and completed our grocery shopping at the nearby AH. We unloaded at our apartment and set off to revisit some of the places in Amsterdam we most loved, as well as explore areas we had yet to visit. Amongst the most loved were the Herengracht and Prinsengracht canal rings, Tempo Doloe, our favorite Indonesian restaurant, the Waag and many of the quaint brown cafes. Of places newly discovered were the botanical gardens and a great Vietnamese place called O Mai. If you’re hankering for schnitzel and strudel, then make your way over to the Wurst & Schnitzelhuis for some crispy chicken schnitzel, sausages and of course, apfel strudel!
On previous trips we visited the Anne Frank Huis, the Van Gogh Museum and some of the other “must dos” for first timers. The Rijksmuseum is marvelous for a rainy day; the Dutch masters, period jewelry and the dollhouse were favorites of mine. If you’re very brave, you must rent a bike for a day but maybe stick to the outer canal rings where there are fewer people to limit the risk of an accident. If you’re a foody or a hipster (or both) you’ll want to spend some time eating your way through the Foodhallen. Where else can you get Vietnamese dumplings, a taco and bitterballen all in one place? For the best Dutch appeltaart you will ever eat, find your way to Cafe Winkel 43 for a warm slice with fresh whipped cream. Their recipe is top secret, but a great copy cat can be found here.
Lastly, a canal tour is a fun way to spend the day, and I the best way to see the canals is in your own vessel! There are outfits that rent small electric boats so you can explore at your own pace. Bring along a picnic of Dutch cheese, crusty bread, Stroopwafel and wine, and get ready to have one of your best days! Just be sure to pay close attention to the map as some of the canals are one-way.
One thing that was vastly different on this trip than others we’ve taken was the lack of urgency to get up and out early to maximize every hour of our trip. We will be traveling for months versus days/weeks so we were really able to slow down. We slept in, we took naps, we stayed up late… basically we languished and it was grand.
It was finally time to move to our next destination, Strasbourg, France. We had never been before and were really excited about discovering a new place. We took the train back to Schiphol and stored our big bag which we will retrieve when we come back to Amsterdam in late August. We got through security without too much hassle – Dave and I both had our belongings flagged for search, including Dave’s backpack being completely upended – and were headed to our gate when we realized Dave couldn’t find his passport. Naturally panic ensued and the security agents were all on board to assist. Finally after completely emptying his backpack he found his passport deep in the bottom and we were able to proceed to our gate. I only mention this because we were set to proceed to France without the passport under the assumption we would be able to get a replacement in France. Since we were coming from the EU we didn’t expect to go through passport control in France….wrong!!! We did have to go through passport control and it would have been a huge hassle had we not had Dave’s passport. If this happens to you, forget about making your flight…get your documentation in order before you leave the country!!
We took a cab to our hotel in Strasbourg since we didn’t have an internet connection to call Uber, and arrived in town about 20 minutes later. Our cab driver didn’t speak much English, and my French is sketchy, but we managed to communicate and have a nice discussion. We dropped our bags at the front desk and set out to explore Strasbourg. I’m not sure what we expected but we were both blown away by the beauty and quaintness of the town. Every street held a new delight – this town is a virtual feast for the eyes.
We spent our days eating and drinking about town… marveling at the tall, fluffy quiche at Jeannette et les Cycleux, the eye-popping architecture of the buildings & cathedrals, the richness of the cheeses and wines, and the warm hospitality of the French people. My French is not good but I tried, and we were rewarded time and time again with smiles and friendly, helpful locals. One afternoon we rented bicycles to explore the further edges of town, and after a very frustrating beginning, we finally had our bikes and whisked around town like we knew what we were doing (we didn’t).
Strasbourg is very walkable. Some of the highlights of our brief visit to Strasbourg include walking through le Petit France, eating fondue and raclette at La Cloche a Fromage, and enjoying Alsace staples of filet de beouf and meatballs with potatoes, accompanied by a carafe of fabulous French wine. We tested our French on numerous servers throughout our stay…sometimes with success! One steamy hot afternoon we stopped for a rest at a café and were treated to a show by the town’s oompah band. Although Strasbourg is in France, their proximity to Germany allows the Bavarian culture to mingle with the French in the most delightful way.
The week in Amsterdam and Strasbourg earns a solid A+ for enjoyment and cultural satisfaction and it’s an itinerary I would encourage amongst my fellow travelers…
Au Revoir and Vaarwel!! Check in soon to read about our time in Munich!
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