Amsterdam ex pats

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.

The Red Light District

Lewis and I have taken two tours through the Red Light District.

1. Last year, 2013, we took the Saturday 5pm tour offered through the Prostitution Information Center (PIC). Mariska who now runs PIC was a prostitute and she gave us an informative one hour tour. She’s serious about this age old business and we learned a lot. If you are traveling with your parents, your kids or someone you don’t know very well, we recommend this one.   2. This year we found Mark Law, a quirky, fun tour guide to take us through again.  His tours are usually two hours long though we cut it down to one and a half. With Mark we saw more of the underbelly of the Red Light District, and he successfully took us out of our comfort zone. He also did a good job answering the questions around legalizing prostitution. You have to schedule tours with him by calling him or using his website. Also important to note: he doesn’t just do tours of the Red Light District. Phone: 0031 (0) 6272 69604  or I stole this picture from his website: 

That Dam Guide on the right with the two oldest prostitutes in the Red Light District

That Dam Guide on the right with the two oldest prostitutes in the Red Light District

Patterns of Urban Settlement

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.

Dad’s 80th: A Day of Flowers


Rodman Ward Sr. born April 8th, 1934: Happy Birthday, Dad!

Flower Auction in Aalsmeer: World’s largest flower auction.  We were so glad we got up early and went out of our way to visit this huge spectacle. We rented a minivan for the day through xxx.  We were told that about 90 million flowers and plants change hands every day at this auction. There is even a special trolley line that takes carts and carts of flowers out of the auction house straight to the airport.

Inside the Warehouse

Inside the Warehouse

Kuekenhof: The Netherland’s famous bulb garden.  Kueken means kitchen and hof means garden. Gigi, my sister, said, “That’s gotta be the biggest kitchen garden in the world.”  The flowers were out in all their colorful splendor though the weather wasn’t as cooperative. Despite the intermittent rain, we had umbrellas and it was April, the only real month to go.

Kuekenhof Gardens

Kuekenhof Gardens

Private Canal Boat to our dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel’s La Rive Restaurant

Restaurant Notes

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.


Keizersgracht 238

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.


The Cute Little Town of Edam

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.

Our Route To Edam

Our Route To Edam

Delightful De Fortuna, built in 1654

Delightful De Fortuna, built in 1654


  • 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
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Fietspad (bike path) on the top of a dike

Walking Bridge (Brug)

Walking Bridge (Brug)

Canal as reflecting pool

Canal as reflecting pool

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Approaching Marken Island (return trip to Amsterdam)


Hermitage Museum

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.

Last one in the caravan only has 1 hump!

Last one in the caravan only has 1 hump!

Cido and Rob

Cido and Rob are our amazing landlords. They invited us for drinks and we had a lovely time. Susie took the picture.

Cido and Rob

Cido and Rob

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.

Restaurants for Dinner


Brasserie Vlaming


De Belhamel

Golden Temple

Ko Chang

Proeverij 274


La Oliva





Prinsengracht 193a

Singel 498

Brouwersgracht 60

Utrechtsestraat 126

Westerstraat 91

Prinsengracht 274

Prinsengracht 587

Egelantiersstraat 122

Anjeliersdwarsstraat 14









Fresh Dutch

modern Dutch



Food, Atmos., Svc.

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See Review in this blog

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