This morning started out ridiculously early. We woke up at 4:15 to get ready, packed up and down to the lobby by 5:00 for the shuttle bus to pick us up. It was pitch dark outside when we woke and no lighter when we left, which made it really difficult to get going. The hotel shuttle took us to the Fly Bus station where we bought our tickets and boarded the Fly Bus to the airport.
Three stops and about an hour later, we arrived at Keflavik to find a riiiiiiidiculous line to check-in for our flight. The airport has this super efficient procedure where all of the departing flights for the day leave around the same time. After standing in line for what felt like hours, just to do the self check-in, and then standing in line again to check our luggage, we finally made it through security and to our gate just in time to grab some water and walk right onto the plane. I managed to stay awake for takeoff, but not much longer before crashing hard until we hit the gate at Schiphol.
We landed in Amsterdam at 1:00, got some cash out of an ATM (much better exchange and lower fees than the money exchange), claimed our bags (both of them made it this time!) and went through “customs.” Again, I use the term “customs” lightly because there wasn’t much for customs in Amsterdam. We didn’t even have our passports inspected since Iceland is a Schengen country. We literally just walked out of the airport without so much as a look from anyone in security, got in a cab and were on our way to Linnaeus Suite – our home in Amsterdam.
After a 20-ish minute cab ride, we pulled onto a private street, lined with row houses, each with a double entrance, bright flowers spilling out of the small fenced boxes out front, and at least one bicycle chained to each fence. About 3/4 of the way along, we stopped in front of #25.
I found this apartment on Trip Advisor and booked based on the outstanding reviews and amazing pictures on the website, and we really couldn’t have been happier with our choice. This apartment was spectacular! The location was great for us – off a private street about 15 min from the bustle of downtown. There were good restaurants nearby, a tram stop only steps from the front door and many more/much better amenities at a lower cost compared to staying in Dam Square or somewhere else in the downtown area.
We were greeted at the door by the wonderful owner, Lidy. She led us up an extremely narrow, spiral staircase, across the second floor landing and up another narrow staircase to the third floor apartment. On the third floor, the stairway opened onto a large landing with several doors – one to the living room, one to the bedroom, one to the bathroom and one to a kitchenette.
The living room area was quite large with modern furniture, a small TV, a large collection of Amsterdam guide books and a table and chairs – complete with a complimentary bottle of champagne and a few snacks.
The bathroom was huge with amazing tile work, a large glass shower and an over-sized bathtub. The bedroom had a plush, comfy king-sized bed (seriously, so fluffy and cozy it was like lying on a pile of baby ducks) and a window that opened to overlook the neighborhood and the beautiful church across the street. One of my favorite things was the old-school skeleton key for the bedroom door.
Tucked away in a small closet at the top of the stairs was a kitchenette with a sink, refrigerator and espresso maker as well as a full set of dishes, flatware and glasses. The best part by far is the small patio out back with a steep wooden ladder leading up to the gorgeous, spacious rooftop terrace. (Click the link up top for more photos.)
Lidy showed us around the apartment and provided us with a binder full of information on Amsterdam – restaurants, transportation, parks, markets, even laundromats in the immediate area. We paid and finalize the check-in and she left us, letting us know that she and her family live on the ground floor and we can knock any time if we need anything at all. I felt a little uneasy at first about the family being downstairs, but so far we can’t even tell they’re down there. (Hopefully they think the same of us.)
After check-in we drained our bottle of champagne and scarfed the snacks while we looked over a map trying to figure out where we were in relation to downtown and all the places we wanted to see. While I flipped through a few guidebooks, K washed some clothes in the (enormous) bathtub and hung them to dry. (Isn’t that a gorgeous, modern bathroom? Minus the clothes littering the place, of course.)
By this point, neither of us had had anything to eat all day and each of us had half a bottle of champagne in our stomachs, so we decided to save the guidebook stuff for tomorrow and just get out and find somewhere – anywhere – to eat. We walked a couple of short blocks up to the tram stop and headed downtown with no particular destination in mind. As the tram slowed to a stop at Dam Square, we decided it was as good a place as any to start, so we hopped off and started wandering.
Side Note: The tram is super easy to use and navigate here. Unlike home where we have to go to a station and buy tickets ahead of time and base our fare on how far we’re going, here we just go to a stop, hop on and pay for our tickets at the driver’s booth at the front of the tram car. Each ride is a flat fee, or you can purchase a daily pass, which we found to be more cost effective since we took the tram two or more times a day. At each stop, there are easy-to-read maps that detail where each stop is and where you can cross over to different lines.
We crossed the square and wandered down a street along the back side, unbeknownst to us, into the Red Light District. Since it was still daylight, it wasn’t as easy to tell that we were in the RLD. We wandered around for a bit just taking in our surroundings – the charming canals and bridges, the diversity of people wandering around – from young backpackers to elderly tour groups – the artsy facades of coffee shops and smart shops, the incessant pleading of restaurant servers trying to lure you inside, the outdoor cafes where people watching is a sport, the souvenir shops where you can find nearly anything your heart desires in a penis shape. The city is a much different type of atmosphere from anywhere I’ve been. I’m amazed that in the middle of the sex and drug mecca that I’ve found charm and a strange sense of romance.
Italiaans Restaurant La Madonna:
After a bit of wandering, we finally caved to a server at a pizzeria trying his darndest to lure us in. We were shown to a table right in the front window at a cozy wooden table. We started off with a couple of beers (Heinken, not Amstel. Blech.) and some bread, which we devoured in about 0.3927 seconds flat! We settled on salad and pepperoni pizza for dinner. It was okay, but nothing to write home about. We were more interested in the seedy-looking, Jim Morrison-graffitied coffee shop across the street than the pizza and salad in front of us. So we finished scarfing our dinner, downed our beers and headed across the street.
The front window and door both bore the warning, “Under 18 No Entre — And Don’t Fuck Around.”
As we ducked in the door, I wasn’t sure exactly what we were going to find on the other side. It was such a strange feeling – like I should be checking over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching, even though in this glorious city, the already lax rules were not being broken.
We walked in to find a small dive-ish bar. The first thing I noticed were the curtains of artfully decorated currency hanging from the ceiling. There were bills from all over the world signed and decorated by the patrons who spent them, stuck the the mirror behind the bar or taped together and suspended from the ceiling. The space was long and narrow with a large, solid wood bar to the left, and a row of windows to the right with a small bar and several stools lining the perimeter along the windows. In the back were a couple of tables and a small TV. Aside from the curtains of currency, the space was decorated with large murals of Jim Morrison and Bob Marley – fitting, I suppose. The music filling our ears was exactly what we would have expected in a place like this – though cliche it may be – Bob Marley, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, The Cream, etc.
We hopped up at the bar and sat down, staring (trying not to gawk like naive American tourists) in amazement at all of the paraphernalia lining the shelves on the walls – rolling papers, grinders, lighters, small pipes, etc. The bar in front of us had a soda tap in place of the beer taps and several delicious snacks (rice krispie treats, chocolate bars, chips) to entice those falling victim to the evil munchies. I grabbed the menu tucked between the soda tap and an ashtray and prepared myself for what I was about to see. Instead of cheeseburgers and fries or Amstel and Heineken, I was looking at a menu with items like Purple Haze, K2, AK47, White Widow and Bubblegum – each with a description of the type and degree of high and an emoticon face to go with it. They also had “space cakes” and other ganja treats, as well as hash. After much deliberation, we decided that Jimi Hendrix wouldn’t lead us wrong with the Purple Haze.
As we sat there, I was half a world away in a daze, staring at the money on the wall and the drawings all over it, enjoying the music and the feeling of not having anywhere to rush to. I thought I might fall off my bar stool, while K sat next to me denying that he felt anything. After a few minutes of hanging out, we decided to get out and explore while it was still light outside, so off we went into the drizzle that had started outside.
We had literally walked about 4 steps from the door before K started to flip out, “WE’RE LOST! How are we ever going to get back?!” prompting me to immediately burst into a fit of uncontrollable giggles and pull him along behind me as I bolted up the alley, content to wander and be lost for the moment. We dazedly explored in the rain, meandering up one canal, across a bridge and along the other side of the canal; down narrow alleys that opened into larger streets and squares and disappearing down another alley on the other side. After about 30 minutes of wandering, we were severely lost, and K was really starting to get paranoid that we were going to roam the city all night. I calmly started giggling at him again, as I dragged him in the direction of Central Station where all the trams terminate/begin again.
As we neared the station, we came upon another surprising sight – a multi-tiered parking garage for bicycles. I have never seen so many bicycles in one place in my entire life. I also wonder how in the hell you find your bike again after you leave it here. (All you other people who walk through the parking garage pushing the button and listening for the beep know exactly what I’m talking about!)
These people are serious about their biking. Since arriving, we have seen women with up to three children on their bike with them, families biking together, men trailing other men on their bikes, wheelbarrow-like contraptions on the front of bikes with kids piled inside, and multiple other combinations. I’m in love with the 0ld-school, classic-looking Wizard of Oz-ish bicycles – they have so much more character than the modern road bikes and mountain bikes. The majority of bikes are customized by adding stickers, colored and patterned fabric over the seats, adorning the handlebars with bells and baskets, adding child seats to the front and back. I want one. Badly.
A few steps further and we’d made it to Central Station – and the #9 tram line. At last, K could rest easy, assured that we would, in fact, find our way home and not be relegated to wander the city, lost all night. We walked past Central Station and followed the #9 line back down Damrak, stopping to browse in a few gift shops and lazily making our way back in the direction of our apartment, then hopped the tram in Dam Square and headed back home.
As we stepped off the tram at Hogeweg, Elsa’s Cafe was still open. The door was propped open, and as we approached, we could see the dim light spilling out and hear the chatter from inside. There were tables outside under the awning, but everyone was huddled inside trying to avoid the cold drizzle. We were pretty full, but Lidy highly recommended this place, so we decided to stop in and have a couple of Amstels.
We climbed up at the bar on the old fashioned, worn wooden stools and ordered our first round. We chatted with the bartender a bit as we enjoyed a couple of pints and took in the rowdy pods of friend-filled tables enveloping us. I was amused watching the bartenders pouring Amstels and using dedicated ruler-looking sticks to swipe the extra head away before refilling the empty space. The bartender asked why we were traveling, and when he found out it was our honeymoon, he wadded up our receipt and threw it out – congratulatory drinks on the house! (Looks like we should have had dinner here!)
It was still drizzling as we stepped back into the darkness several Amstels later and headed to our apartment. We only had a few short blocks from Elsa’s to Linnaeus Suite. As we walked along, I almost got the feeling that I was home. I love the little road that we’re tucked back on; it’s very quiet and very typically Dutch. I feel like I belong here already.
We ended the first busy day watching some TV. Thankfully there are sill several English channels, so we curled up in the floor and watched the Discovery Channel. Off to sleep now – who knows what big adventures tomorrow has in store…