Front porch canals. Cobblestone streets. Beach cruisers on every corner. If there's any one word to describe Amsterdam, it's charming. The colorful shoulder-to-shoulder homes, pub-like "coffee shops," and romantic foot bridges combine seventeenth century allure with a touch of urban modern pizzaz. The whole look and feel of this easygoing place swept me off of my feet within an hour of our arrival. As this was my first trip to the Netherlands, I really didn't know what to expect from the so-called Venice of the North... But what I found was straight out of a fairy-tale.
By nightfall, as one might suspect, the city turns a darker shade of charming. Seductive, even. The Red Light District is home to a handful of sexy shows, stores, and museums -- all of which I'm sure would make for an unforgettable night, and a few hours worth of jaw-dropping stories to tell at the next family reunion. (Joking.) While the majority of our tour group members were daring enough to check out one of the District's sex shows, Kristen and I sought out a sinful indulgence of a different nature: that of the sugary persuasion. Villa Zeezicht, a little cafe in the heart of the city, offered the most delectable apple pie, cinnamon ice cream, and chocolate mousse that our taste buds could handle. Bitter-smooth café crèmes pushed us over the edge, and we both left the restaurant in a state of euphoria (which turned into an intense sugar coma not too long after).
The following morning was spent in the little town of Edam, a few miles north of Amsterdam, where the residents are famous for their wooden shoes and gourmet cheeses. (This stuff should seriously win awards.) Aside from the cheese tasting, my favorite part of this little side trip was our leisurely bike tour through the neighborhood. There was a refreshing breeze coming off the water, and the crisp air resembled that of early autumn as we rode underneath a canopy of trees. Our tour guide was a quirky woman with an adorable accent and a love for animal prints. She led us to a traditional windmill (which was under construction, unfortunately) and then to the village dam to give us a brief history of each landmark. By the tour's end, I was sold on staying forever.
Once back in Amsterdam, a few of us girls ducked into a pub for some lunch (see above: my glorious brie, pear, & honey sandwich on multigrain bread) before hitting up the Heineken Museum. If you know me at all, you know that I'm not the biggest beer drinker (bring on the hard cider!), but I enjoyed it regardless. The fun, interactive experience reminded me of a similar place I toured when I visited Edinburgh in 2012.
To walk off our buzz, Kristen and I wandered through a little garden, stopping to snack on a stroopwafel and to snap a photo of the "I amsterdam" sign. We wanted to take our time during our last day in Holland, soaking up all of the sights, smells, and sounds. Little did we know that we'd spend the next hour and a half trying to find our way back to the group meeting spot, where the bus driver would pick us up and return us to the hotel before dinner. I can't tell you if Amsterdam is just a super complicated city or if it was just our inexperience with foreign places to blame, but the map we were given didn't help much at all, and we ended up missing the bus after what seemed like an eternity of walking. However, I'm proud to say that we managed to navigate our way home on a different bus, just in time for dinner with our fellow Contiki travelers.
While our seafood dinner in Volendam was pleasant enough, I specifically remember the canal cruise later in the evening. Texas has some pretty amazing summer sunsets, I must say, but there was something spectacular about the one we witnessed on the boat that night. It was the cherry on top of our stay in Amsterdam, the sweetest farewell for the time being and a rather enticing invitation to hurry on back.
Next stop on my tour? Beautiful Berlin!