Hi! We returned yesterday from our second long-weekend trip, this time to Paris and Euro Disney. I’ll give a report on that soon, but first I wanted to write my promised second post on Amsterdam.
Here’s a fun fact that you might not have known: Amsterdam’s city code is XXX. As a result, you can see these three letters stamped on the city’s garbage cans, lamp posts, sewer grates and so on. Thinking that you might not believe me on this, I snapped the following picture of one of the city’s maintenance trucks:
Okay, so why? It is because the city is so enamoured with all things pornographic, or so proud of its reputation for sexual permissiveness?
No — in fact it’s the opposite. The three Xs are derived from the three St. Andrew’s crosses on the city’s coat of arms, which dates back to the 15th century. And according to the guide of a walking tour that we took the last time we were in the city, because some early pornography was manufactured in Amsterdam, when it was shipped to other locales it bore the city’s code – XXX – and quickly these three letters became associated with that type of entertainment. Interesting, no?
However, I do also think that the city somewhat enjoys its reputation for raunchiness. Why else would they install little red lights at an entrance to the Vondelpark, which is situated across the city from the world-famous red-light district?
Of all the European cities I’ve visited over the years, Amsterdam is my favourite. Some reasons why: it’s a manageable size, it’s immensely walkable, and it doesn’t feel at all chaotic or crowded. It is full of trees and parks and bridges and water, so that a scene begs to be photographed every few paces. Its food is excellent but not at all pretentious — nothing about Amsterdam is pretentious. The dress code is casual and the locals are friendly. And everywhere you go, people of all ages are zipping past you on their rusty old bicycles, unaware of the whimsical beauty they’re creating. Finally, wherever your opinion of the red light district and the coffee shop falls, these things are really not in your face when you’re out and about in the city — they are pretty much segregated, so that you have to go looking for them if you want to find them.
After our race was over on the Sunday, Stelian and I headed for the Vondelpark — the city’s largest and probably loveliest park — it is how I imagine Central Park in New York to look (but obviously smaller-scale). The odd trampled sponge or expended gel packet reminded us that this had been part of the half-marathon and marathon route, but most of the detritus had been swept away by that time, and the park had been reclaimed by ordinary weekend joggers and people walking their dogs. As we made our way through the park, we passed an accordion player who lent a bit of a Parisian feel to the scene. Then we exited the park and entered the Leidseplein district, where we went on a mission to find a restaurant that we’d dined at during our first visit to the city, in 2008. We were delighted to find that it was just where we left it, and that the hotchpotch was as good as ever. This dish is a sort of deconstructed shepherd’s pie, with potatoes, onions and carrots all mixed together. Stelian’s was topped with beef, while I ordered the vegetarian version, which came with cheese croquettes, or fried cubes of the best cheese I have ever tasted in my life. Sorry, Switzerland, but that’s the truth. I love Dutch cheese. If anyone is making plans to go to Amsterdam anytime (and as a reminder to my future self), this is the restaurant. Like Amsterdam itself, it is unassuming but wholly enjoyable. I wish there was something in Zurich that I liked this much. On second thought…that might not be a good thing.
We ate so much, in fact, that there was no room for dessert (sadly, because I was wanting to try the traditional poffertjes). But we walked around later that night and encountered a Hallowe’en fun fair, where many types of fried goodness were on offer, and where a very delicious cherry pannekoek was consumed. Stelian also shot a bow and arrow for the first time at this fair, and has not stopped talking about his love of archery ever since.
Enough words…here are some more pictures from our time in the city. And, in case I haven’t managed to communicate this in the 800 words above: you should go!