What to do with 3 days in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a pretty small city compared to other Western European capitals, but there’s a ton of sites to see.

A visit to the Red Light District does make for an amusing first time visit. Try not to be an asshole and take pictures, the ladies have protectors who are on the street observing and if you’re caught taking photos, your phone/camera WILL end up in a canal. There’s tons of little sex shops and sex shows everywhere (my personal favorite is laughing at all the cockamamie names of the porn).

Red Light District (away from the windows, so it's ok)

Red Light District (away from the windows, so it’s ok)

Fun fact: only 5% of the women are Dutch. Women of the same heritage are alongside each other in their windows. That’s right, you can stroll through the Latina women, Asian, African, Eastern European, you name it! My favorite is that De Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest church, is in a small square right across from where the Dominican prostitutes have their windows. Also look out for the blue lights, those are the transsexual ladies.

RLD by boat

RLD by boat

De Oude Kerk at night

De Oude Kerk at night

Check out Warmoesstraat! It’s my favorite street in Amsterdam! It’s exactly what you’d picture it to look like. It’s one of the oldest streets and it’s lined with art galleries, coffeeshops, leather bars, quick bites, and fetish shops. It’s very colorful and a great place to spend some time to enjoy the strange juxtapositions that make Amsterdam an amazing city.

Amsterdam Centraal is a marvelous piece of architecture, and unless you are flying in, will be the first place you find yourself in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Centraal

Amsterdam Centraal

In the center of Amsterdam you can walk along Damrak and eventually hit Amsterdam’s Dam Square (oh how I love that name), the biggest in the city. It has the National Monument and the ornate Dutch Royal Palace, and not surprisingly is filled with tourists. You may not be able to get a picture without anyone else in it, but the architecture is really impressive.

National Monument

National Monument

Dam Square & Royal Palace

Dam Square & Royal Palace

You’ll also find the Sex Museum, which is the first one in the world. It’s worth a quick visit; it’s informative and can easily be done in an hour. But the highlight to Amsterdam’s downtown to me is Begijnhof. It’s a quiet oasis in the middle of downtown, a tranquil little courtyard with a garden and tiny houses. Outside the entrance is a cute little square called Spui.

Beginjhof, my favorite spot in Amsterdam

Begijnhof, my favorite spot in Amsterdam

Beginjhof

Beginjhof

Spui square

Spui square

In the Western Canals there’s the Anne Frank Huis, where she hid captive for many years and of course where her diary was written. I went on my first visit, but I passed it this visit and the line was extremely long. I would recommend getting up early and being the first one there, it definitely is a great museum. Around the block along the canal there is the Homomonument which is a monument dedicated to the plight of LGBT individuals and their continued journey for equal rights worldwide. It may seem visually underwhelming, but it is the first of its kind! Brownie points to Amsterdam.

Western Canals

Western Canals

In the Southern Canals, there’s Rembrandtplein, a fairly large square where locals come to enjoy some sun in the summer, and where many of Amsterdam’s most popping nightclubs are. There’s also the Bloemenmarkt, which is Amsterdam’s flower market, very worthy of some colorful photos.

There is an array of museums that many visit that I’ve never gotten the chance to go which include:

The Van Gogh Museum & Rijkmuseum (where the famous Amsterdam sign is)

The Heineken Experience – a tour of the brewery and some free Heineken included

The Hash, Hemp & Marijuana Museum

The Amsterdam Dungeon (which has displays on all the various methods for medieval torture practiced in Europe)

Rembrandthuis (home to the artist Rembrandt)

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum

Lastly, Amsterdam has an amazing selection of food! Did you know that Maoz (really good Middle Eastern food and falafel) is from Amsterdam? Waffle stands are everywhere, the traditional Dutch way is to just have it with the caramelized sugar. Although many kebab shops and other places add colorful frosting to the waffles, it’s not traditional but it sure is tasty!

Enjoying the non-authentic waffles

Enjoying the non-authentic waffles

There are tons of Indonesian and Surinamese restaurants. Thanks to Dutch colonialism, these two cultures are very prevalent in Amsterdam. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to eat Indonesian, but I tried Surinamese at Kam Yin, which is very close to Amsterdam Centraal.

Although I was originally skeptical since it’s a Surinamese/Chinese restaurant, this was recommended to me by several Surinamese people that I met throughout my stay. The owner is from Suriname, the décor is Chinese. The Surinamese dishes are very Caribbean: seafood and rice heavy, but the Surinamese spices that are offered on your table are utterly delicious (not for the light-hearted!).

For a taste of Dutch, try Moeders (means mothers in Dutch, how precious). It’s an adorable establishment along a canal in Jordaan where it’s all home-cooked and hearty Dutch food. Inside there’s hundreds of pictures frames of customers and their mothers. If you bring your mother on her birthday, she eats for free and they arrange a special surprise for her. This restaurant was the highlight of Amsterdam and Dutch cuisine for us. The clientele were largely Amsterdam suburbanites who drive a good hour just for hearty homemade cuisine that reminds people of the holidays and the Dutch truly celebrating their culture, it’s a magnificent place to experience. I’ve included the names of what we ate, descriptions available here.

Moeder's

Moeder’s

View from outdoor table

View from outdoor table

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The appetizers! Above: Small egg in the meadow (most precious name ever) Below: Miss pumpkin

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The main course! Above: Hachée Below: Vegetarian Hotchpotch

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Dessert! Above: Dutch Delight Below: Chocolate party is possible (amazing name)

Van Dobben (website only in Dutch) near Rembrandtplein is another place to try Dutch food, specializing in Dutch meats. The meat croquettes are filling and delicious, they’re also open late to cater to drunk clientele.

For drinking, Roest is one of the hotspots with locals right now. Located in the Eastern Docklands of Amsterdam, Roest is set in converted industrial buildings which have outdoor picnic table seating for a nice day, and there’s live music a lot of the time. This is one of the best spots to meet locals in Amsterdam and to get more suggestions about where to go. A small disclaimer, if you arrive after 8pm you will have to take the long way around. There is a pedestrian bridge that closes after 8pm and if you start heading there to find it closed, the detour is about a 20 minute walk. Plan ahead.

Deals:

There is the I Amsterdam City Card which will give you unlimited transport (the trams are extremely efficient and convenient), free entry to many of Amsterdam’s attractions, city map, and access to special offers.

Where to stay:

Flying Pig Downtown – This is my all-time favorite hostel (and I’ve stayed in quite a few). Great location, great atmosphere, great staff and a great set up for the common areas. Rooms are clean and of good value.

Hotel Atlanta – Good value, some rooms overlook Rembrandtplein and very good location to sites in the Southern Canals.

Hotel V Fredericksplein – A little further out in a quiet area, but very sheik and modern looking hotel. Decent value, and breakfast is included and it’s pretty good.

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Amsterdam: History & Dutch Culture

A month ago I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Its name just oozes of revel for foreign tourists, and it’s the major cultural epicenter of Dutch culture.

As a New Yorker, I particularly think that Amsterdam is interesting since it’s getting a glimpse into the cultural beginnings of New York before the British came, and I can’t help but wonder how the USA would’ve been different if the Dutch were the major colonial power instead.

Amsterdam canal

Amsterdam canal

Pay a visit to West-Indisch Huis, the building that once housed the Dutch West India Company, which is one of the primary forces of how our world became what it was today. You’re also able to view the dock behind a residential building where Henry Hudson set sail across the Atlantic when he settled and founded modern day Manhattan.

It’s a pretty incredible city despite all that makes it touristy. Yes, there are the coffeeshops and the Red Light District; they are cool to take a gander on your first day in Amsterdam, but I urge that you explore other aspects of Amsterdam after.

Amsterdam's thinnest building

Amsterdam’s thinnest building

The novelty of these things has long worn off in Dutch culture, it’s so normalized that it’s not a big deal. From an outside perspective, Dutch culture is paradoxically a mix of the adorable and the “sin city” aspects. You have the windmills, clogs, tulips, stroopwafels, biking, sprinkles, and canals alongside the legal prostitution, rowdy sex clubs, and legalized soft drugs.

Stroopwafels

Stroopwafels

Clog boat on a canal!! I mean come on!!!

Clog boat on a canal!! I mean come on!!!

Being Dutch means that very little shocks you; they’ve grown to be world famous for their tolerance and embracing of diversity, including immigrants from all over the world and the acceptance of the gay community from very early on (the first to pass same-sex marriage in 2001). If you find yourself here in early August, Amsterdam hosts the only gay pride parade in the world that the floats are on boats!

Although, allegedly some Dutch people do go to coffeeshops in the more local area of Jordaan; regarded by locals as the best area of Amsterdam. There’s also a lesser known Red Light District in the De Pijp area of Amsterdam.

That being said, this was my second visit to Amsterdam so I already knew some things about it. This was my first time in the summer so I really got to enjoy it a lot more. I’ll discuss the sites more in depth in my next post about Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is really meant to be enjoyed at a slow pace. Choose a canal and just stroll down it leisurely (some nice ones include Singel, Herengracht, and Brouwersgracht). One of my favorite things about the city is that its beauty is very different in the daylight and in the nighttime.

Daytime canal

Daytime canal

Nighttime canal vibe

Nighttime canal vibe

Another way to view Amsterdam is through its charming canals. Amsterdam’s canals are an official UNESCO world heritage site, and it’s a completely different outlook of the city. I found it interesting to tour by canal after orienting myself to the city by foot. Certain canals gain a lot of traffic due to small and tight overpasses, in areas you wouldn’t expect.

Something else somewhat unique to Amsterdam is the number of house boats that people live on. They range in how dingy or luxurious they can be. I didn’t get a chance to visit any, but I would imagine it’s rather cold to live on one in the winter!!

AMS by canal boat

House boats

Canal perspective

Canal perspective

Canal ride through Red Light District

Canal ride through Red Light District

I did my canal tour with a Couchsurfer who owned his own boat and gave us a free canal tour, although there’s many canal cruises offered all over the city.

Lastly, you gotta love how diverse Amsterdam is! If Amsterdam were 100 people: 49 people would be Dutch, 16 from other European countries, 9 from Suriname, 9 from Morocco, 5 from Turkey, and 12 would be from elsewhere (thank you LonelyPlanet).

I will post about what to do & see in Amsterdam tomorrow.

Have you been to Amsterdam? What are some of your favorite things about the city?

San Francisco – my favorite city in the USA!

Pardon me for the lack of posts, the summer weather has been very distracting and I’ve taken two separate week long trips to Europe recently, there will be many posts and pictures to post soon. Hope that everyone is having a nice summer so far (if you’re in the northern hemisphere that is). Last month I revisited one of my second homes for the first time in a few years: San Francisco.

Landing in SFO

Landing in SFO

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Hubby in front of a cute house in Cow Hollow

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Magnificent colors of San Francisco

We arrived the weekend before pride weekend so the vibe was getting really hyped for that, in fact in San Francisco they have dubbed the entire month of June “pride month”. Its reputation as the gay Mecca is so felt that you almost can’t tell the difference since every day feels like a part of pride month.

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Street art in the Mission

Rekindling with some of my favorite things in San Francisco was a true joy after years of absence. Some of those things include the nightlife, the stunning architecture, the scenic walks, the beautiful parks, and of course….the food. Some of my favorite spots in the city from previous visits include Japantown, the Castro and the Mission. In Japantown you can enjoy the architecture in the peace plaza, a video store with hundreds of Japanese anime selections, delicious sushi places including a cute place where little sushi boats pass by seats at the sushi bar (beware, it gets addicting and the bill adds up), and even Japanese crepes! The Castro has great gay bars and restaurants and the famous Castro theatre. The Mission has great places to sample Mexican and Salvadorian food, go to brunch along Valencia, and sun tanning in Mission Dolores Park is a must-see for anyone on their first visit.

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Mission Dolores Park aka “gay beach”

On this visit, I got to see some of my friends whom I haven’t seen in years! My friend Christian who recently moved from New York picked us up at the airport and showed us his area called Visitacion Valley, owing to San Francisco’s Spanish influence. It’s a quiet area in the southern part of the city filled with Chinese families, quaint houses, and scenic views at McLaren Park.

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View of Visitacion Valley

McLaren Park

McLaren Park

Even though I spent a whole month in 2011 exploring the city, I still hadn’t seen everything so I decided to get a new orientation for the city. San Francisco is pretty easy to circumnavigate by foot or bus, but some things are just out there are hard to get to. Thanks to Christian, we were able to visit some of San Francisco’s harder to reach points. We started with the gorgeous Twin Peaks, arguably the best scenic view of San Francisco. It’s located in the southern part of the city, and affords panoramic views of multiple angles of the city. You have to fight your way through some tourists to get a good picture, but it’s well worth it.

Christian & I with a view from Twin Peaks

Christian & I with a view from Twin Peaks

For lunch, we met with my friend Katie who is an Oakland native and checked out the cleverly named SoMa SteEat Food Park, where you can get really fresh food of any sort of ethnic variety at a reasonable price from the numerous food carts or a few sit-down places. I tried the paella spot and the Burmese cuisine, both very good choices.

Stack of logs for the brick oven pizza spot, now that's fresh!

Stack of logs for the brick oven pizza spot, now that’s fresh!

We proceeded to check out the Richmond District, where there isn’t much to see per se, but along Geary Blvd there’s some nice architecture in the form of Russian churches and dozens of restaurants and coffee shops. We got a refreshing bubble tea at Infini Tea, which has a wide variety of flavors of milk tea spanning from quirky to conventional. They even have a happy hour for discounted teas and quick snack foods. Afterwards, we made our way to Sutro Baths at the end of the Outer Richmond District along the Pacific Ocean. In its heyday in the 1890s, Sutro Baths was the largest indoor swimming complex in the world, with natural pools of salt water that were fed by the ocean during high tide. There were also many cultural exhibits, and the creator of the baths even made a railway to increase visitation to the baths due to its isolated location along the sea. It was wildly successful up until the Great Depression and after years of decline it was mysteriously burnt down, arousing conspiracy theories. The ruins remain beautiful and protected by the National Park Service, and it’s a great way to spend a few hours exploring the sea caves, walking along the ruins of the baths, and hiking up the trails with incredible views of the Golden Gate Bridge by the cliff sides.

Christian was a bubble tea virgin!

Christian was a bubble tea virgin!

Sutro Baths from above

Sutro Baths from above

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Ocean views from Sutro Baths

My friends Juan & Kevin hosted us for the weekend in their apartment in Nob Hill, and they showed us some cute little spots in the neighborhood. We had dinner at the Bell Tower, which was very good considering that I usually don’t go for bar food. Also, the staff is beyond friendly and the service was excellent. Another amazing place we ate at that weekend was the Pancho Villa Taqueria right on 16th Street down the block from the BART station in the Mission District. The lines are really long, but the authenticity of the food and the quality of the ingredients are unbeatable, even to Mission standards.

Cute houses in Nob Hill

Cute houses in Nob Hill

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Kevin, me, Juan and hubby at The Bell Tower

Kevin, me, Juan and hubby at The Bell Tower

Juan & Kevin & Mexican food <3

Juan & Kevin & Mexican food ❤

Also while I was in town I had the pleasure of seeing Beach Blanket Babylon, a San Francisco staple. It’s the longest running musical revue in the world complete with an over the top performance with highly extravagant and detailed costumes and wigs. I’m lucky enough that my host is in charge of the entire wigs department so not only did he hook us up, but he gave us a tour backstage and a behind the scenes look of the wardrobe department, where we got to meet some of the actors before the performance. It’s an experience definitely not to be missed as the show is highly entertaining and extremely unique.

Back stage at BBB

Back stage at BBB

Wardrobe at BBB

Wardrobe at BBB

The remainder of the trip was spent just leisurely strolling the streets for beautiful houses and buildings in the gorgeous areas of the Nob Hill, Cow Hollow, Telegraph Hill, and North Beach. I’d definitely recommend doing most of San Francisco by foot since you’ll pass by so many unexpected treasures that way. The buildings are ornate, detailed, and colorful, and every street looks different. And of course, the San Francisco hills, fog, street cars and view of the bay add to the dramatic effect of this gorgeous one-of-a-kind city.

Coit Tower

Coit Tower

Old theater in the Mission

Old theater in the Mission

Street art in the Mission

Street art in the Mission

More street art in the Mission

More street art in the Mission

Have you ever been to San Francisco? What are some of your favorite experiences you’ve had here?