Chronicles of a writer abroad

Amicable Amsterdam


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:

I wonder if his uniform also says XXX somewhere on it. 'Cause that would be kinda funny.

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?

Just a reminder: we have red lights here.

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!

An interesting "kinetic statue" near our hotel that made infernal screeching noises during its five-minute period of activity each hour.

Lovely houses. The blue one bears a hook of the type used to get furniture in through windows.

Stelian and somebody's dog in the Vondelpark


7 thoughts on “Amicable Amsterdam

  1. Ok, now fess up. How hard are you working to *craft* your writing for us, because it is seemingly effortlessly elegant. I mean: “…unaware of the whimsical beauty they’re creating…” and then this: “We were delighted to find that it was just where we left it, and that the hotchpotch was as good as ever.” Good lord, girl. You’re charming the pants off us colonials. Each sentence is like one of your cheese croquettes… We keep coming back for more. Lovely and lovely. Thank you.

    • Aw, shucks — thank you for the compliment! I usually take a somewhat “fast and loose” approach to drafting these posts, but I do hope that since I spend my days doing creative writing (which certainly has some relation to blog-writing), I am becoming a better writer overall. Thanks so much for continuing to read!

  2. It is many a long year (1965) since Boppy and I visited Amsterdam and I can’t even remember the name of the hotel we stayed at. We are delighted to see the city again through your word pictures and photographs.
    I’m so glad you were able to find your favourite restaurant again. Amsterdam was our first introduction to ristaffel (sp?) which we ate with some help identifying the dishes from our table partners who fortunately spoke English! The natives are indeed friendly.

  3. I was there for all of 24 hours this past July on my to Passau Germany for a riverboat cruise. I liked the city so much & returning with Laura, Fergus, Kristin and some other friends for a week! We’ve rented a flat and are planning to have a stunning time bringing in the new year. It really is a great city.

  4. Memory takes a while when you are an old person lol: name of the hotel is Grand Krasnopolsky on Dam Square. Our particular memory is of the bathtub – it was at least six feet long and nearly three feet deep! And the reason we wound up there was that Boppy was going on a course with Philips who booked us in – nice company.

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