We woke up in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on Day 5 of our trip. The night before, we'd arrived into the city late and it was dark and rainy. Andi and I were both a little disoriented having never been there before. The serious party scene in our Dam Square neighborhood didn't help; it felt like the European version of the Las Vegas outside our rented airbnb apartment.
The dawn of a new day brought a new perspective though. The sun shined brightly on this cold, December day and Andi and I were excited to go out and explore all the city had to offer. We got dressed and packed a small carry bag for the day, and then descended the steep four flights of stairs to the city street below. It looked much different - much quieter - than it had the evening before. A very intoxicated guy fumbled his way down our narrow street, bouncing between brick walls like a rubber ball. Shop owners were busy setting up for business, and a cheese shop across from us looked gorgeous with rows and row of cheese wheels lining its windows.
Andi and I set out to find breakfast; first walking several blocks to The Pancake Bakery by recommendation of his sister, Lindsay. As we walked, we talked, and really enjoyed the quietness of the city on a Sunday morning. The canal areas outside Dam Square are very quaint and neighborhood-y; like somewhere you'd want to live.
We rounded the corner of The Pancake Bakery to find a long line of people standing outside its doorway. Eh, we weren't into waiting. Andi pulled up Yelp! on his phone and we found another brunch spot called Gs a few blocks away. I suppose Sunday mid-morning is a tough time to score a table for breakfast as this place was packed with people, too, but fortunately we were able to snag two bar stools in the front window. Andi and I are belly-up-to-the-counter type diners anyway, so this spot suited us fine.
Gs had a hip, trendy vibe. Our server handed us menus printed on vinyl records, and its food seemed very L.A. Andi ordered a cappucchino, I got a coffee, and we agreed to share a cup of Brunch Dip on Crack and the Avo Bae which was a sesame bagel topped with avocado and tomato. The sesame bagel left some to be desired, in my opinion, but the crack dip was amazingly warm and flavorful.
After brunch, Andi and I walked through the canal neighborhoods of Amsterdam. The city is historically beautiful, and very "Dutch" - as I'd envisioned it, at least - with row houses, wooden shutters and canal boats lining the streets.
Eventually, we stumbled upon a Christmas Market being set up along one street. Andi and I took our time wandering by the stands and stopped in a few stores to see what they had to offer. A pop-up band began to play Christmas carols on the sidewalk, and I couldn't help to think how wonderful of a time the holidays are to visit Europe. Sure, the weather could be better, but the magic of the holidays all around was something to remember.
Andi wandered into a store along the market street called Ibericus for a snack. This meat shop was all about the ham! The ceilings and walls were lined with parts of the pig and legs displayed neatly in glass countertop cases, ready for the slicing. Andi ordered a paper cone filled with sliced meat to-go. The freshly sliced ham on a baguette also looked amazing.
Andi mumbled about the wonderfulness of the meat for this shop as he stuffed bites in his mouth. "Some of the best I've had," he declared. We continued to walk along the Christmas Market for a bit more, and stopped in another neighborhood cheese shop to buy raclette cheeses for our Christmas celebration back in the States. Andi's mom had suggested the idea, and it was surprisingly easy to do so. The cheese shop helped us to select a few different cheese for raclette, and then vacuum-sealed them right in the store for us to travel with.
Next, we then decided to take an Uber to another market across town Andi had read about online. Uber was another easy way to get around in Amsterdam, specifically traveling outside the canal areas. We hopped in an Uber car and drove about 15 minutes from the city center. Outside the tourist area, Amsterdam looked different: bigger, more everyday life. It was Sunday, so people were walking their dogs and riding bicycles with groceries in a basket. The car arrived to the designated address but there wasn't a market going on after all, so we asked the Uber driver to take us back to the city center again. He did, and we enjoyed the ride back as we observed a part of Amsterdam we likely wouldn't have seen otherwise.
Back in the canal districts, Andi and I walked to the well-known Vondelpark in Amsterdam. This large city park would be the perfect place to lay out a blanket under the sunshine or have a picnic in the warmer months. A beautiful creek ran though the center with ducks floating along. Given the time of year we visited, Andi and I just walked along the park paths and talked. It was still a really nice place to see, even if the weather was colder.
Continuing on our walk, Andi and I came across the Sunday Market we'd been looking for earlier. This market happens every Sunday, and features various handmade items including jewelry, fashion, art, and food. This place was so neat! Andi and I had a fabulous time wandering through the different buildings looking at all the items for sale. I bought Tory a pair of white lamb earmuffs from one vendor, as she'd been asking for some to match her little friend at school. There were so many things I would've loved to buy there actually. The Sunday Market was the perfect way to spend our afternoon.
Andi and I realized we hadn't eaten lunch yet, so we set off to find a place. It was around 4:00pm, so we decided to eat something small to tide us over for a nicer dinner later that evening. I can't remember the name of the place we stopped; probably because it's wasn't much to remember. Our waitress was busy setting up for their dinner service, so she half-forgot about us as Andi and I shared a plate of roasted veggie bruschetta with wine. We ate, and left shortly afterwards.
We headed back to our rented airbnb apartment to hang out for a bit before our scheduled tour of Amsterdam's famous Red Light District. Andi and I both wanted to see the Red Light District and learn more about its history without subjecting ourselves to the experience with a big tour group, so he hired a private tour guide to show us around. Our tour guide met us in Dam Square at 8:00pm, and led us through the various streets to tell us more about this iconic part of Amsterdam.
The Red Light District walking tour was interesting. Our tour guide was very familiar with the industry and shared many stories about sex workers he's come to know. He also told us about legislation and regulation on the industry, and how it's changed over the years. As professional as the tour was, it was hard to escape the fact that Andi and I were walking along (and talking about!) sex workers standing before us in floor-length windows. It felt awkward, no matter how much I reminded myself this was a chosen profession by these women.
Unfortunately, most restaurants were closed by the time our tour of the Red Light District ended around 10:00pm. Andi and I were both hungry since we'd hardly eaten anything during the day, so we opted for Belgium waffles from one of the neon-lit stores on our Vegas-like street in Dam Square. I think Andi got a few fried foods selections from FEBO as well.
We ended our first full day in Amsterdam having a better understanding of this great city we were visiting. One final day of exploration in Amsterdam tomorrow!