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Three Days in Amsterdam: Part 2

April 4, 2010

[…continues on from the previous post]

Day two was cold and rainy and with L’s workload piling up, we decided to park ourselves at a café with wifi for the better part of the day. Finding one wasn’t as easy as we’d thought, but Google finally came through and pointed us in the direction of the Coffee Company on Haarlemmerdijk. We ordered our coffees and turned to find ourselves somewhere to sit. A quick glance around the little shop, however, made it perfectly clear that we weren’t the only ones who’d had the hunker-down-at-café idea. Down both sides of the long wooden table (that takes up the bulk of the café’s space) strangers squeezed into seats between other strangers; each of them with a hot cup of their caffeinated beverage of choice beside them and eyes firmly glued to the laptops before them. It took a little manoeuvring, but we finally got in and set up our ‘office’ for the afternoon. The weather continued along its dismal path alternating between heavy showers, light showers and flashes of just plain overcast. Perfect laze-in-bed weather… sigh. After a few hours (and more than our fair share of coffee) we decided to go elsewhere… all the way across the street, in fact, to a hotel/pub called Ramenas Hotel. On a side note: this was the first time we’d been to Haarlemmerdijk and I really like it. There are some great looking bars, cafés and restaurants, as well as a good sprinkling of fun, quirky shops. I will have to come back and wander… I think it’d definitely be an area I’d enjoy living in if we were to move back to Amsterdam. And that… that was pretty much our day.

Today is day three and it’s Easter Sunday. I just love holidays and festivals. It’s the coming-together of people and the old stories and the traditions that I really enjoy. Neither of my parents are religious in the slightest. As far as they are concerned: so long as you are a good person, that’s all that matters. It’s a great mentality, I think, but it has meant losing out a bit in the whole celebration department. Well, it’s that and the fact that I’m a third culture kid whose parents have very different backgrounds: culturally, geographically, religiously and ethnically. Come to think of it, I don’t think any of their festivities overlap beyond celebrating birthdays. Still, I’m not sure why they chose to not celebrate their different holidays and customs… perhaps it’s a generational thing? We did celebrate the big 3 (Christmas, birthdays and New Year’s Eve [the western one]), but I guess without the infusion of culture, personal meaning or religion they didn’t pack quite the same punch. Well, except for Christmas… nothing can ruin Christmas! I do love being mixed race. I do. But I sometimes envy those with a deep personal connection to their ancestry… I would love to have those strong roots and that unwavering sense of cultural heritage and belonging. I’ve been trying to learn more about my parents’ backgrounds and cultures over the last few years. I wish I’d started sooner or that they’d shared more with me as a child. I love the stories. When I have a family of my own, my children are going to have traditions to look forward to and multiple cultural markers that they can hold on to. And what we don’t have a tradition for, heck, we’ll make our own!

Whoops, I think I may have gone off on a tangent….

Back to day three, ahem! We opened Easter Sunday with a visit to The Pancake Bakery; self-proclaimed home of “the best pancakes in town”. The line was ridiculous and while no one likes to wait, you get to thinking that this place must either be a major tourist spot or home to some amazing pancakes. Once inside, we were relieved to hear Dutch being spoken at the tables around us – whew! Not a tourist trap. Things were looking up. The interior was warm and cozy and amidst the hectic shuffle of pannekoeken-toting waitstaff was the most interesting mix of aromas. A glance at the menu and all became clear; there are pancakes here for everyone. Whether you’re after something sweet, savoury, salty, spicy, sour, tangy, protein-laden, fruit-filled, stuffed, topped… they’ve got it. In fact, they have over 75 different pancakes and omelettes! Seventy-five!? The hard part was deciding on just one pancake. Thank goodness I had company! We decided to share two of the ‘International Pancakes’: the Greek and the Chilean. The Chilean was just okay, nothing special and rather uninspiring. The Greek, on the other hand, was delicious! It was moreish and filling and just what the doctor ordered. As tempted as I had been to try a sweet pancake as well, by the time we finished our pancakes we were beyond needing anything to round-off our meal (or our swollen bellies). Bugger. Next time!

From The Pancake Bakery we took the scenic route from Jordaan towards Dam; past Darth Vader, a dancing Easter Bunny and The Mask. We strolled until we found what we were looking for: the Wynand Fockink tasting room. Wynand Fockink have been producing liquers and jenevers for over 300 years and so it was high time we paid them a visit… or so went our excuse anyway. We rounded a corner and found ourselves faced by this tiny storefront, inside which we found a quaint little room filled with antique bottles and vintage posters. The old wooden floors creak below your feet and you feel as if the past is amongst us. I have to admit rather abashedly that I did go a little shutter-happy with my camera. Whoops.

A little background first: jenever is a highly alcoholic, juniper-flavoured liquor. It is a popular beverage in both Belgium and in The Netherlands, whence it originated. It is actually from jenever that gin was developed. The big difference between them lies in their base spirit; while jenever is made from malt wine, gin is made from a neutral grain vodka. Not being a huge fan of drinking gin neat, I didn’t have high hopes that I would take to jenever, but it was actually really nice! The oude jenever (old jenever) was smooth, malty and rather viscous with a distinct juniper flavour. I also tried a coffee flavoured liquor which I could have drank all night long. Delicious! They have an incredible assortment to pick from and with so many options, it can be hard to know what to pick first. Thankfully, the staff are friendly, informative and happy to suggest a starting point if you tell them what you normally enjoy and/or what flavour profiles you prefer. If you happen to be in Amsterdam on the second Sunday of the month, they offer a liquer-making workshop! We were there on the first Sunday, so we had to make do with buying a bottle of that gorgeous coffee liquor instead. Yum!

Walking towards Centraal, we saw Manneke Pis. Seeing as how we had dinner reservations at Los Pilones in Jordaan in an hour, we knew we shouldn’t, but…’oh, what the hell!’ we figured. We’d passed Manneke Pis (voted Holland’s best fries) without giving them a try just one too many times. Plus, there was the issue of the jenever sitting in our stomachs waiting on something naughty and deep-fried to get soaked up in. Verdict: okay, but not amazing. Loved the cones and the generous saucing though.

Los Pilones had been on our list of must-try’s for a few months, so it was an easy choice for where to have our last dinner in Amsterdam. Since we were closer to their Jordaan restaurant than the original in Leidseplein, we had booked a table there. The decor both inside and out was great; Mexican without the kitschy feeling that so often comes with the territory. We both ordered the tacos (soft) and though it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t great either. It felt a bit half-hearted with flavours that perhaps were aiming for subtle, but were more in the vicinity of bland. Having read some great reviews of the place, perhaps we simply expected too much? L, who adores Mexican food, was as disappointed as I was. I don’t know… perhaps the original restaurant is better, perhaps the chef was having an off-night, perhaps the chef was off, perhaps that’s just how they roll… ah well. They did, however, have a nice selection of cocktails, tequilas and Mexican beers (including two types of Dos Equis, Pacifico, Negra Modelo, Tecate, Bohemia, Michelada and, of course, Corona).

From there, it was back to our hotel. We have the train trip back to Switzerland tomorrow and, well, we still have to pack. I think we’ll be hopping off the train in Basel for a few hours to have a look around. We’ve done a bit of research and there are lockers at the Hauptbahnhof (central station) for us to leave our bags in. We’ll see….

 

INFO

The 100 Highlights cruise

Price: €13.00

Duration: 1 hour

Meeting point: Holland International Dock, Prins Hendrikkade 331 (in front of Amsterdam Centraal/Central Station).

Times: In summer, the cruise is daily with departures every 15 minutes between 9am – 6pm and every 30 minutes from 6pm – 10pm. In winter, the cruise is also daily, but departs every 30 minutes from 10am – 6pm.

Other: tours are available in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. Pre-booking is not necessary, you can buy the tickets there. Try and be there 15 minutes before the start of the cruise.

The Coffee Company

Website: www.coffeecompany.nl

Locations: The one we visited was on 62 Haarlemmerdijk. They have over twenty-five other branches in Amsterdam plus others around the country. Check their website for one close to you.

Hours: Almost all branches are open 7 days a week, but opening times vary from store to store (again, see their website for more info).

The Pancake Bakery

Address: Prinsengracht 191 (Jordaan)

Hours: open daily from 11am to 9:30pm

Website: www.pancake.nl (Dutch) or www.pancake.nl/indexeng.php (English)

Other: they do take reservations and there is apparently a lovely view from the 1st floor (the floor above street level). Oh, and they accept most credit cards (check beforehand!).

Wynand Fockink

Address: Pijlsteeg 43 (close to Dam)

Hours: Daily from 3pm until 9pm

Website: www.wynand-fockink.nl

Los Pilones

Address: 1e Anjeliersdwarsstraat 6 (Jordaan) and Kerkstraat 63 (Leidseplein)

Website: www.lospilones.com – flash needed… also… it’s all in Spanish

Other: I read on one website (not theirs; theirs doesn’t have this sort of info) that they take most credit cards, but we were told when we arrived that this was not the case.

 

N

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