Emmy and Lewis wanted to experience living abroad on a somewhat extended basis. Amsterdam seemed the perfect place: it’s perfect for the bicycling obsessed, has a wonderful progressive culture, and we’ve been welcomed by just about the most friendly city people in the world. Most people speak English and a sincere “dank je vel” goes a long way, even if that is your only shred of Dutch.
Cities are laid out differently in the Netherlands than in the US.
First, the Dutch have made a virtue of living with density. For them, it’s better. It’s gezellig (see other post: ). Most houses are small and share outer walls. In cities with canals, such as Amsterdam, Haarlem, and, well, most Dutch cities, canal houses are 3 or 4 stories high and only 6 meters wide. Think of “brownstones” in Brooklyn or “walk-ups” in Boston, but much more compact. In the Netherlands, it’s not just a city or two–it’s nearly the entire country.
Because the center of the city is often historic, there are restrictions on demolition and reconstruction. The city should preserve its historic character. And there is nothing more charming than a city of canals. As a result, the center of the city is where many people prefer to live. Shops, restaurants, and cafes that people need for comfortable daily life are nearby. A few businesses that can use small home-sized offices also exist in the city.
Factories and office buildings are built around the perimeter of the old central city. The highway ring around Amsterdam is the A10. Along the A10 are skyscrapers (sort of–the Dutch don’t like anything to be too high because it might lose its top in the wind), oddly shaped mid-rise office buildings cantilevered over empty space because–well, because it’s possible, and huge entirely modern factories. This is where people work.
Finally, some Dutch people seem to grow weary of gezellig. They want the ceilings to be a bit further above their heads and they want staircases that don’t require human body compression to use. They want their kids in their own rooms. Out in the country and beyond the city center, you do see detached single family homes. In a lot of towns, these are quite small and often built with shared exterior side walls (see Edam: ). But, in parts of the countryside and in the affluent areas of Haarlem, there are very large duplexes and large separate single family homes. In fact, in Haarlem some suburban and quite substantial homes have thatched roofs.
The result of this is a nicer pattern to urban living. People live in compact places close by their favorite restaurant-cafe and cozy shopping street with small shops that provide the essentials. They go out of the city to work via the tram, the train, possibly by car or motorbike, and if not too far, by bike.
Compare this to American-style living. The ideal–except in places like Manhattan or San Francisco–is to avoid density. Space is the ultimate freedom and fulfillment of the American dream: a single family home surrounded by some patch of personal greenery. As a result, cars are essential to get to work and to forage for the necessities of life. Never mind, for a moment, the environmental impact. Just consider the stress of car trips, parking, and the time involved. Neighborliness is almost a thing of the past.
From an environmental standpoint, the paradox is that a dense city is more environmental than a spread out city. Less land is used. Electricity, water, gas, cable (for internet or TV) all run shorter distances. Multiple family buildings are less expensive to heat and cool. There are many fewer car trips needed for day-to-day life. Networks of trams or buses become convenient because they connect many more people to the destinations people want to reach with only a very short walk and a short trip.
What’s remarkable about Dutch cities is that density is pleasant and often beautiful. In the US, density often implies dilapidation or urban crime. Less so in the Netherlands. Many, many places are extraordinarily pleasant. Of course, not all Dutch are rich and not all places are quaint. But, even extensive low-rise buildings designed for less affluent families are close to shopping, schools, and recreation. This seems to be a conscious choice made by Dutch city planners who have adapted the coziness of historic cities and towns to accommodate more people and a modern economy.
Bluespoon in the Andaz Hotel
One of the reasons I am writing about this restaurant is that it isn’t in any of the guide books we are using.
Coming home from a dinner out along the Prinsengracht canal, we ran into an attractive elderly couple out walking their wired haired dachshund. Trusting their taste, we asked them what their favorite restaurant in Amsterdam was. Smiling at each other, they responded, “The Bluespoon.”
High end, expensive, and modern sophisticated (the exact opposite of Wally) , the Bluespoon turned out to be the perfect restaurant to take my parents, sister and our brother-in-law. We had an elegant, delicious dinner and the wine was perfect.
Attached to the Pullizer Hotel with its entrance on the Keizersgracht, this hotel was another hit with our parents. We had a delicious lunch here after spending the morning at the Rijkmuseum. The full wall mural that makes fun of the huge golden age Dutch paintings is an example of typical Dutch humor. They love to make fun of themselves.
Our first overnight bike trip to the north of Amsterdam was to the town of Edam. This little place was, in a Dutch word, charmant. We spent the night at a charmant hotel called the Fortuna and rode home, via Marken Island, the next day.
- Dinner at Fortuna (best dinner yet! Cheers to the cook.)
- Ferry ride to Marken Island
- Cheese Museum in Volendam
- Tasting the water on either side of the dike to see if it was fresh or salt… answer: fresh leaning to brackish on both sides because the former ZuiderZee has been enclosed as the IJsselmeer.
- Walking around Edam, beers at the Dam Hotel
The fabulous Hermitage Museum has a branch in Amsterdam. It’s the only museum open on Mondays. They have works from the Hermitage collection on tour. The presentation of the collection is stunning.
Cido and Rob are our amazing landlords. They invited us for drinks and we had a lovely time. Susie took the picture.
They answered our questions:
1, The canal house right next to ours went for 1.5 million euros (2 million dollars approx.)! It is very expensive to live right in the city especially along the three historic canals.
2. Kids start biking as soon as they have graduated from the trike. It is a great place for kids as they gain the independence. They are able to go all over Amsterdam at a young age… And no helmets… We haven’t seen a single one.
3. Almost everyone sends their kids to public school and almost no one sends their kids to boarding school.
4. Cido was a dentist before she was a VRBO landlord.
5. Many Dutch have work experience or have traveled to other countries. Ever since the V.O.C. (Dutch East India Company by its Dutch initials), the Dutch have been a very enterprising people.
Food, Atmos., Svc.
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See Review in this blog
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Cafe de Jaren
Simple, Dutch, apple pie
Brown cafe, outdoor tables
Spacious, canal views, wireless
Caual, simple, sit by window, wireless
Casual, simple, sit outside, people watch
See review this blog
Indonesian, food amazing
Today, Emmy and I took our daughters Susie and Ellie to the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum (our son Jay is slaving away at school). It was a beautiful day in the high teens and the world was enjoying museums and cafes.
Here are Susie, Ellie, and Vincent:
On the way across the field, it was necessary to pose on the “I Amsterdam” letters (what is a “sterdam”?)
After an exhausting day of museum hopping, we had to join the hordes basking in the sunshine of the Leidseplein for lunch. Here, Ellie samples her first beer (ever, honest) with appropriate adult supervision.
Wally is our dog back in the US of A. Wally happens to be a poorly behaved, but personable wire-haired dachshund. There are more wire-haired dachshunds in Amsterdam than any other dog… as far as we can tell. Here are some of the ones we made friends with:
This fellow was out for a Sunday afternoon stroll on the Prinsengracht with his owners: