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

image1

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

image2

The main course! Above: Hachée Below: Vegetarian Hotchpotch

IMG_3678

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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Saint Patrick’s Day in Savannah

Wow what a blast! Hailing from New York and attending Saint Patrick’s Day in Rockaway, NY (a very very Irish neighborhood) almost every year, I thought I knew all about the wonders of Irish-American shenanigans. But boy was my mind expanded. Savannah Saint Patrick’s Day was in a complete league of its own. Unfortunately I attended during a road trip and wasn’t able to get there in time for the parade, so that was a miss. But the party was still going really strong at 4pm when I arrived, and throughout the whole night.

Getting ready for Savannah Saint Patrick's Day

Getting ready for Savannah Saint Patrick’s Day

There’s music everywhere, people wandering the streets making new friends, and just general good fun going on. The activity was revolving around the street right along the river and also in Savannah’s plethora of squares (I’ve never seen so many squares outside of a European city). The city is absolutely beautiful and everyone is having a great time, and the best part is you can drink openly on the streets legally just as long as it’s not in a glass bottle and it’s contained to a 16 oz cup (but that doesn’t mean you can’t have more supplies in a small knapsack as well).

Monument in one of Savannah's squares

Monument in one of Savannah’s squares

River street in Savannah

River street in Savannah

The festival has a lot of great dancing, people-watching, and food (the shrimp gumbo!!) but above all the people were really friendly and fantastic to meet. None of the bars had covers, and I found that the drinks were pretty cheap also. It definitely lives up to the hype, and I would dare to say that it’s more fun than the ones here in New York City.

Keeping it classy in a kilt

Keeping it classy in a kilt

Has anyone ever been to Savannah for Saint Patrick’s Day before? I would highly recommend keeping it in mind for next year.

Myth-busting Mississippi

Mississippi may not be very high on most traveler’s itineraries, but all you need for a trip is a little curiosity. And I certainly am a curious person. I have the good fortune of having a friend from New York who lives down in Vicksburg, Mississippi who I spent a long weekend with recently.

Mississippi is a land of perseverance if there ever was any. The weather was beautiful in the winter when I visited but it’s oppressively hot and mosquito ridden the rest of the year. The threat of the mighty Mississippi River is a real one since the Mississippi Delta received the USA’s most damaging recorded flood in the past century back in 2011. Not only that, but Mississippi is also where hurricane territory meets tornado territory. Mississippi suffered significant damage from Hurricane Katrina.

Evening light on the Mississippi River

Mississippi is both a shocking and surprisingly marvelous state. It’s very informative to visit and experience first hand. Since many parts of Mississippi are impoverished, many buildings are re-purposed or used in duality. In many cities in the northern USA you’ll just see them completely abandoned, even if they appear usable. In Mississippi, you’ll find a hospital that has a 5 star restaurant in it, a country style restaurant doubling as a knickknack store, a gas station that became a restaurant, and a school that became an area for shopping. Nothing goes to waste there. People hold on to possessions for life “just in case they ever need it”. People fix things, instead of throwing it away. Mississippians adjust to their circumstances.

Mississippi is also filled with surprises. I had the pleasure of visiting Natchez, which in the 1850s had the most millionaires than in any other city in the country, and Mississippi being one of the 10 richest states at the time. Thanks to this, Natchez and the state of Mississippi have impressive architecture. It is also worth noting how colorful many of the buildings are also. Natchez has beautiful antebellum mansions in every corner of the town and many have become museums that are open for visitors. It is a town located on a bluff over the Mississippi River giving it amazing scenic views looking at Louisiana on the other side.

Monmouth Plantation

Monmouth Plantation gardens

Finally, you’ll be surprised by how great the food is. You get a mix of southern food and Creole food that comes up the river from southern Louisiana. In Vicksburg, there’sT’Beaux’s Restaurant for delicious shrimp étouffée, gumbo, red beans, and pretty much everything else Creole. And on the road from Vicksburg to Natchez there’s the Old Country Store in Lorman that serves up the best fried chicken and southern food you can imagine in a very hospitable environment. Also, it’s worth mentioning that it’s been featured on the Food Network. In Jackson you can even get delicious French pastries and other baked good in the cute Fondren District. La Brioche has great gelato and macaroons.

Mississippi may have many factors that proceed to give it a bad reputation, but when you have low expectations most of the time that just leaves more room for you to be impressed. There are no absolutes when it comes to good and bad destinations to explore. Happy wandering.

Pretty architecture in downtown Jackson

Long Island Gold Coast Part 2

Sticking to the Gold Coast theme, I also had the pleasure of visiting Oheka Castle about a month ago in Huntington, NY. It is the second largest private residency in the United States at an impressive 115,000 square footage. It is no longer a residency, and is now converted into an upscale hotel and as a site to host special events such as weddings (Kevin Jonas and Joey Fatone both had their weddings here). Scandalously enough, I learned after my visit that the owner of the castle, Gary Melius, was shot 3 times in the parking lot a mere 3 days before my visit.

I have lived on Long Island for the majority of my life, and have been around the area of these 2 estates several times, but never made it. Now I’m glad that I was able to put aside some time to explore my area more, which enriches my understanding of the history of Long Island and how it forms such a unique culture. Long Island is in the shadow of New York City, yet life remains very suburban and simple despite its proximity to the city. The island is massively overcrowded and traffic is an accepted reality of everyday life. The population is steadily on the rise, and in a place so starved for space it’s interesting to see the wide open acreage of estates such as this.  

 

I am the Wanderlust Guru

Welcome to the Wanderlust Guru blog. My name is Nicholas Dragone and my life has been completely shaped by travel. Nothing fulfills and exhilarates me more than discovering new places, meeting new people and making connections, learning about new cultures, and having adventures grand or small. If these are things that you are interested in as well, you’ve found a new home in this blog.

I’ve been urged for years to create a travel blog; most recently was this past Easter Sunday by a distant relative to document my travels better. So I will discuss my overall impressions, give recommendations, and just generally hope to inspire people to travel more such as I have with my friends, relatives, and acquaintances. 

Happy travels! 

Get lost,

The Wanderlust Guru