PB Travels… Amsterdam

With my upcoming surgery, I knew that I would be out of action for a few weeks – eating simple food and definitely no travelling! So a weekend break in Amsterdam before hand sounded like the right thing to do.

Eurostar now goes direct to Amsterdam from London – but only one way, the return is via a stop over in Brussels.  Wanting to experience the direct option, we booked our one way tickets.  It was effortless going through security at St Pancras, a complete change from airport security.  Word of advice – if you want any food and drinks – get them before going through security as the options once you’re inside are quite limited.  There was a lounge though – Eurostar’s own lounge.  My American Express credit card gave me free access – but a catch – it has to be an AMEX from Europe only, there were some Americans before me who got turned down as their card was issued in the US!  The lounge was a small space, usual breakfast items (i.e. nothing I could/wanted to eat), but I did enjoy an excellent Americano.

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But onto the train journey… whoo!  We had booked Standard Premier seats, which boasts spacious seats and a light meal.  The seats were indeed spacious, and the meal indeed light.  I had gone for the vegan version (love the fact that they offered it as a special meal when booking the tickets) fruit, a roll, spread, jam, soya milk for tea/coffee and a Doves Farm chocolate chip oat bar.  Now I haven’t come across this particular bar before, it was delicious!  Enough to fill me up before reaching Amsterdam… but it didn’t stop there.  An hour or so later, we also got offered another round of drinks (I went for a crisp beer) and a (large and tasty) packet of nuts.  Overall view?  A decent amount of food, good service, a super relaxed way to travel – we got into Amsterdam feeling refreshed and ready to rock and roll.

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Where am I staying?

We opted for an Airbnb, a 25 minute train ride from Amsterdam Centraal.  The honest truth?  I wasn’t impressed – I didn’t even take any pics.  It was advertised as a 2 bedroom cottage, erm, I don’t think so.  Not if you count a loft that has a mattress that you have to crawl around in a bedroom.  At least it was clean.  Even though we were just there for a few nights, the distance started to take it’s toll – if I go again, I would get a place closer to all the action.

What did I eat?

Amsterdam is like London – it has virtually every type of cuisine available.  I didn’t really get the impression that there is a cuisine/dish specific to the area, other than stroopwaffels, which were everywhere. What I ate though, I did enjoy.  I haven’t listed each and everything that I ate and drank, just a few of the most memorable restaurants and eats.

Sham 

So we made the classic tourist mistake of finding a restaurant on the main tourist strip.  In our defence, we wanted food and Tripadvisor did rate it highly.   It wasn’t the worst, but it wasn’t the best either.  What did I have? Red Lentil soup, which was OK, it needed a bit of lemon to jazz it up.  It went well with the fattoush salad, which was really moreish with the tangy pomegranate dressing.  I finished off with a mint tea and it gave me the fuel I needed for the rest of the afternoon.

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BLEU Bistro Brasserie

We walked past this place earlier in the day when and it was super packed and decided it would be a good place to eat at.  We tried our luck and lo and behold, after a 15 minute wait we got a table! To drink, Gin Mare with 1724 tonic water with basil and black pepper.  WHOA.  What a stunning combination of flavours – I loved this and I think I made that very clear (after every mouthful!).  There weren’t any dairy free vegetarian or vegan options on the menu, but they kindly agreed to make me a salad with white asparagus.  Well seasoned, fresh and tasty with soft white asparagus.  Yum! If you’re an omni I highly recommend this place – excellent food and service.

The Lobby, Hotel V Frederiksplein

I’ll tell you now – this meal gets a 10/10. One of the best meals I’ve had this year.  I called to reconfirm the booking and to make sure there were vegan options, and the lovely manager not only confirmed that they have them, but that I will be taken care of.  The Lobby is part of a Hotel V, a 10 minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal station.  The decor was just how I like it, exposed pipe work, quite masculine with pretty lights and candles.

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I had decided already that I’m going to have a 3 course meal here, kicking off with, yes of course, a G&T served in a heavy crystal tumbler.  And I got to try yet another stunning tonic water that I’ve never seen before. I must say, I have thoroughly enjoyed by G&Ts in Amsterdam!

Bread arrived next, with butter and olive oil, and a little dish of pickled onions. Yep.  This is how The Lobby rolls, adding their own touch to everything. Turmeric tinged pickled onions – who would have thought.  Subtle and crunchy and oh so tasty!

My starter was asparagus – green this time, accompanied with seaweed, cucumber, coriander seeds, hazelnuts with a light dressing.  So many flavours, all dancing with each other.  I LOVED IT. The plating, the colours, the taste, the texture. And it was a decent sized portion – bring on the next course!

The main course was just as substantial and just as pretty.  A square of potato cake was elevated to the heights of tastiness with charred leeks, tomatoes, watercress and this intense umami filled, thick, unctuous sauce.  How something so simple could taste so rich and fancy is beyond me.

Oh. And dessert. Sweet, delicate dessert.  The base was a creamy coconut yoghurt with strawberries, honeycomb, micro basil and crunchy, sweet rhubarb chunks.  Classic flavours that go together and that sorbet completed the dish.  I think this would be my go to dessert at home – I might not be able to put it together with the same flair and finesse, but at least the flavours will be there (I’ll leave out the rhubarb as I just don’t know how they got to it be sweet yet crunchy yet yielding at the same time!).   I finished off this wonderful meal with an excellent cup of coffee.

The service from start to finish was excellent, super attentive and polite.   They even let me wander to the kitchen to give my thanks to the wonderfully modest chefs.  I’ve already decided… next time in Amsterdam? I’ll be staying in the hotel and eating in this restaurant every night!

A few other mentions – a quick lunch in Juice by Nature in between sightseeing.  I had an easy greens juice which hit the spot – very nice.  The hummus wrap had a great filling of spinach, fresh juicy tomatoes, sundried tomatoes and hummus.  I just found the wrap a bit too doughy.   I didn’t take a photo, but PLEASE go to Vegabond for their absolutely amazing, scrumptious donuts.  Soft and fluffy and super excellent.  YUM!

What did I do?

I’ll get it out of the way now – I didn’t go to the Anne Frank House.  I didn’t realise that we needed to book tickets in advance – as in – when we were in London!  Saying that though, we did have the option to queue and get evening tickets – but I wasn’t interested in waiting in line for hours to see a house full of other tourists.  I’ve read the book, and the house in my imagination is enough for me.   Other attractions I wanted to see? In terms of museums, due to the limited amount of time I wanted to be picky about where I went.  The list was long to begin with but I quickly had to whittle it down.  Rjiksmuseum was first on the list.  If you are short on time and want to have a good smack of culture and art under one roof – do not miss this place! We paid for the audio guides – another excellent choice and one that I think everyone should do.  They even had suggestions on routes around the museum.  We spent about half a day there, but could have easily been a day if I had more time.

Other than the classics, this was my absolute favourite painting.  A Windmill on a Polder Waterway, Known as ‘In the Month of July’ by Paul Joseph Constantin Gabriel.  I found it so calming and thought provoking.  Luckily for me, the museum shop had postcards, posters, bookmarks and mint tins all with this painting… naturally I bought them all!

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The other museum that I really enjoyed was one that was talked about on a walking tour.  Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder or ‘Our Lord in the Attic’ is a Church spread over the top three floors of a 17th century canal house in the middle of Amsterdam.  It was a clever way of the Catholics getting together to pray as they weren’t allowed to do so in public.  We got there an hour before closing – perfect! Why? It was virtually empty and an hour was long enough to go around the whole place.  Like with the Museum, get the audio guide – useful and informative.

Seeing Amsterdam from the water was also on the agenda – so one of the other activities we did was a canal cruise one afternoon  It actually turned out to be a semi private tour as we were just 4 people and a guide in a big boat.  For me, this tour was right for me – a relaxing way of seeing Amsterdam and definitely worth it. However if this doesn’t.. erm.. float your boat, there are literally hundreds of boat tours, including some that offer ‘free’ (cheap) booze.

Next activity? A couple of walking tours. We found a free walking tour. Every big city has these free tours, where the tour is free and you choose to tip how much you want to. I think they are so worth it and the company we chose, Freedam Tours, was excellent. The tour was the Absolutely Amsterdam Tour, covering everything from history, drug culture, red light district and the Royals. The guide was bubbly and full of personality. It was a nice way of learning about Amsterdam at a leisurely pace – the tour was about 3 hours. Thumbs up and a definite recommendation if you are there. We also went for an afternoon tour about the Red Light district with Red Light District Tours (apt company name, you know what you’re getting!). This was an afternoon tour – they do night tours, but we didn’t really want to be walking around the place on a Saturday night. The plus point – we got to see a few places that would normally be closed at night. This tour was good in its own way BUT there was a lot of overlap with the Freedam Tour AND this one was paid for. My opinion? Go with the free one!

My most favourite thing I did? Cycling!! I love me a bike ride and where better to ride a bike than in Amsterdam? I went with Mike’s Bike Tours, a company I’ve used before in Munich. I chose the countryside tour – a bit of the city, a lot of the countryside ticking all the tourists boxes – windmill, check. Working farm, check. Clog making, check. Cheese making, check. Stop for a cheeky beer, check. If you like cycling, this is another must do. It isn’t even cycling – all flat, super relaxed and a lot of fun. A few people We were a great group and our guide Patrick was a right laugh. I loved it and if I had more time I would definitely have hired a bike to explore more of Amsterdam.

Getting around Amsterdam was effortless, we walked everywhere and all the touristy bits are close to each other.  It was a great place to spend a few days.  The only downside? I could have spent a week here, effortlessly.  There are lots of places I want to visit (via a bike I’m going to hire :), more places to eat, and I want to experience the luxury of Hotel V too.  Can’t wait!