In Amsterdam, get away from the damn Damrak!

13 Sep
13 September 2017.
Katerina, Deb, and Catherine will be sad to hear I really did not care for Amsterdam: at least until we got away from the damn Damrak. Our first day wandering this bastion of all things commercial I was almost sorry we came to The Netherlands. The Damrak was crowded with trams, buses, bicycles, cars, and clueless pedestrians maneuvering helter-skelter around one another. It is a wonder more people are not taken out by cyclists. The mayor is now actively discouraging tourism and suggesting people go to Rotterdam instead.

Sunday by the Canal, Amsterdam. Locals kick back with coffee and a newspaper.

Amsterdam, awash in tourists and their trappings, does have quiet sectors where one can appreciate the history, the beauty, and the determination of the Dutch. Like other great cities, one must leave the main arterials funneling tourists who have not done their homework and find the neighborhoods where dogs are walked and Sunday papers are read on sunny benches along quiet canals.

Love the old tile work in the Haarlem station. “Washroom First Class.” 

We stayed in Haarlem, which is quite charming and untouristed as far as we could tell this first week of September. At least the only English we heard was from the Dutch who can switch languages in mid-sentence, so used they are to dealing with non-Dutch speakers. We were quite flattered to be mistaken for Dutch a couple of times having used a rudimentary “Morgen” or “Guten Abend,” in greeting. Even Utrecht, a day trip destination for us, seemed to harbor more travelers than Haarlem. It also harbored a terrific railroad museum where we whiled away a couple of rainy hours.

Haarlem is much more laid back. Even cyclists are less intense.

Most mornings, we traveled the 15 minutes to Amsterdam from Haarlem via commuter train with students and workers who had parked their bikes in front of the station in confusing swarms. In the evenings, we traveled “home” with the same crowd, enjoying the feeling of being temporary locals who lived in the small town of Haarlem.
We could walk a few minutes to the Albert Heijn market and try to decipher labels to stock our kitchen. We wandered the back streets of Haarlem and took in the history thanks to an obscure book of walking tours I found. The cafes and restaurants of Haarlem were excellent and frequented by the Dutch, not our own ilk. This endeared us to The Netherlands.
The Van Gogh Museum, though lovely and certainly with an incredible collection of the master’s works, was horribly crowded even on Friday night at dinner time. (My introverted and crowd-avoiding self specifically booked tickets for an evening opening that was said to be less crowded.) To our amazement, the museum was not full of English speakers, but mostly Dutch, with some German and Italian sprinkled in. I guess the American kids hanging around Dam Square had little interest in Vincent.

Rijksmuseum before the masses descend. If you go, get a ticket in advance. I cannot believe how many people miss this simple trick at museums all over Europe.

By contrast, the Rijksmuseum at opening on a Monday morning was accessible. We almost skipped it based on our Van Gogh evening. Proving again that getting out early pays, we sailed in shortly after 9:00 and after a highlights tour returned to the main hall to find a rising tide of people as 10:30 approached. The line for those without advanced tickets was a block long outside when we left at 11:30.
We found the Joordan neighborhood as well as the area around the Stopera and Zoo to be peaceful places to roam on a Sunday morning. Re-emerging in central Amsterdam after wandering the Joordan was startling. Much like walking the Champs Elysees in Paris or making the march from San Marco to the Rialto in Venice, if you do not leave the Damrak, Spui, or Leidseplein, you miss the character of Amsterdam, and getting completely out of Amsterdam allows at least a  glimpse into how people live.

This is half of our Indonesian Rijsttafel.

I did not have high expectations for food. Outside of Italy, it can be a struggle for us to be truly happy with meals, so I must comment on some of our best meals here.
  • We were stunned to discover a truly Italian pizza in Haarlem at Pizzeria Back-to-Basics . The owner, Francesco, is a Neapolitan who came to Haarlem 30 years ago. He produces masterpieces from a tiny wood-fired oven and kibitzed with me in Italian. Even the wine was a good Italian negroamaro. (More on that soon at
  • Another night we experienced the Indonesian rijsttafel, an experience we’ve not had prior and would not mind repeating. At Restaurant Flamboyant, an array of 12 dishes was not unlike a Lebanese mezza. Each dish presented a different flavor palate from mild to spicy, from sweet to savory. Deep-fried tofu, stewed lamb, tender braised chicken, fried bananas, coconut vegetables, zippy sautéed eggplant: too many to name and each a bit of heaven on the tongue.
  • On a stormy night, we arrived soaking wet and found a cozy yet trendy interior and non-traditional menu at Popocatepetl. Pollo asado was served with sweet potato fries (side of mayo, of course!) and Ric’s birria, a lamb stew, was something we’d not seen before on a Mexican menu. The playlist varied from jazz to Mexican and the hang-out factor was huge. No wonder the place is always crowded with the young Dutch.

Happened upon a wedding party celebrating in a little side street.

We did not get to see as many places in The Netherlands as we had hoped. The weather was terribly unsettled and wet for much of our stay so we did not venture to some of the other spots on my list of possibilities. Funny that we timed this trip so we’d have some warm late summer weather in Northern Europe. September is usually amazing. But watching what happened with hurricanes in the U.S. and downpours flooding Italy, we are feeling pretty darn lucky.
Off to München!

Can you tell why this train is called a “dognose?”

I love the little sheep. If I had room in my luggage I’d place one in our yard at home.

13 Responses to “In Amsterdam, get away from the damn Damrak!”

  1. Derek October 12, 2017 at 21:45 #

    I did warn you to go to the Van Gogh Museum early like I did, but of course you wouldn’t listen to me having been there and all 😀


    • Laurel Barton October 12, 2017 at 21:50 #

      Well the guide book said late Friday was the way to go. And that is where it fit in our schedule. Mea culpa!


  2. Will McAllister September 13, 2017 at 20:44 #

    Gracia and I also stayed in Haarlem and trained into the city each day with the locals going to work or school. If you get back, another really good (kinda small) museum in Haarlem features the works of Frans Hals. It was near our apartment.


    • Laurel Barton September 13, 2017 at 20:50 #

      We were going to go there but it was not open when we stopped at 10:15 or so. Most open at 11:00 which seems so late! Did you just love the variety of cuisines?


  3. Dan Kellermeyer September 13, 2017 at 15:55 #

    Haarlem sounds like our kinda place! We love being able to blend in a bit, even if we are Americans 🙂


    • Laurel Barton September 13, 2017 at 20:47 #

      We had a funny encounter with the waiter at Popocatepetl when we said we would pay cash for dinner. “Most Americans use a credit card!” he said. Just trying to blend in…


  4. Marcia September 13, 2017 at 14:54 #

    I just live that dognise pic.

    And the pizza sounded wonderful.

    I would love the Van Gogh and the Rij etc museums but not the crowds for sure.

    Dang about the weather!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marcia September 13, 2017 at 14:55 #

      I meant dognose🐶

      Liked by 1 person

    • Laurel Barton September 13, 2017 at 20:45 #

      Dang indeed! Luckily we are still getting enough walking in to (somewhat) counter the food, wine, and beer consumed! Love the European lifestyle without a car!


  5. Carl Hitt September 13, 2017 at 12:16 #

    Glad you were able to find some good in AMS. I find it a wonderful city to walk in (once you figure out where you can walk without being hit by buses, cars, bikes, motorcycles). We did all the main museums. We did have rijsttafel meal while in AMS. We had previously had this experience a few times at a short-lived restaurant on Hawthorne that was in the space currently occupied by Apizza Scholls. Looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip! Enjoy!


    • Laurel Barton September 13, 2017 at 20:48 #

      Thanks for stopping by, Carl! Good to hear from you! Sorry we missed the Indonesian food experience in Portland!


  6. Catherine P Rich September 13, 2017 at 08:27 #

    Sounds about right to me! Amsterdam has lots of nooks and crannies and the Damrak is a horrible place to spend much time. I love the Joordan area very much. It is where I stayed the last couple of years. Wandering out into the northern parts of the Netherlands by bus or bike was very pleasing for me. I do love the Amsterdam train station. Masses of humanity if you love people watching, which I do!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laurel Barton September 13, 2017 at 09:26 #

      Wish we could have done more outside of the city, Haarlem, and Utrecht. Horrible weather and rail line work made it impossible. But we made the most of it!


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