Thursday, April 24, 2014

Amsterdam Photo Essay

Our trip to Amsterdam was a bit different than our previous vacations, as we didn't really make a ton of plans. Well, I had a lot that I wanted to do and see, but once I saw the lines, it was time for Plan B. Because of that, I feel like my pictures are just a random assortment of sights and whatnot. So I'm just throwing them on the blog with a caption or two. Sorry if it seems like the order doesn't make sense! 

We stayed in one of THE best flats ever with airbnb...beautiful exposed wood beams, lots of light, and just enough old world charm. I cannot give airbnb enough praise. It's much less expensive than a hotel and you get a better space! 
The only problem was we stayed by this church with a loud bell tower. And it chimes (beautifully) ever 15 minutes, along with an echoing song, except for a few hours at night, when it has its performance once an hour. Woke us up every time! Thankfully we travel with ear plugs. 
 We truthfully spent most of our trip just walking along the different canals and admiring the architecture. 
We enjoyed picking out our favorite crooked homes. It was a tough choice to make and I think we changed our favorite every few minutes! 
 The buildings are tall and narrow, yet surprisingly deep. Back in the old days, you paid for how wide your house was, making most houses very skinny. I think some, you could stand in with your arms open wide and nearly touch both walls.  

 Of course, Amsterdam ain't Amsterdam without its infamous coffee shops. They actually seemed to be pretty low key and similar to a bar, except pot is on the menu instead of beer (along with coffee and juice). 

 We went to the museum area, and were pretty bummed out to learn that the line for the Van Gogh museum was nearly 2 hours long! We thankfully bought tickets online for the next day so we could skip the queue, but it was still annoying. 
 I think we were there during Amsterdam's high season. So many tourists! 

We stopped and got some really strong coffee at one of the brown cafes in the Jordaan area. Brown cafes are like an English pub. The walls are brown from all of the cigarette smoking that has gone on in there! Side note- I think Amsterdam consistently had the best coffee of all European cities we've been to.

My favorite beer we tried there- Chouffee. A strong Belgium pale ale. Delicious! But I read it is only available in Belgium, France, and The Netherlands. Sad Day!  

Yes, Amsterdam is known for being naughty. That would be different condoms displayed in the window. 

It's impossible walking through Amsterdam and not seeing a prostitute. It's strange and depressing. Prostitutes are all in their little windows, some trying to get your attention, dressed in bikinis and little else. Others look disinterested and are playing on their cell phones or talking to the hooker in the window next door. I just felt bad for them. I didn't see any men try and pick one up, it's more like a tourist attraction. Groups of guys would pass a prostitute and basically give her a thumbs up or thumbs down based on her appearance. So demeaning. 

 Happier things- Delft pottery! This stuff was the good stuff and a little to pricey for me, but I still enjoyed looking at it! 
Bikes truly are everywhere in the city. Amsterdam has fantastic bike lanes, but I still worried for the bikers. It was impossible to know who had the right of way- cars, bikes, or people. Cyclists seemed to not even care if their light was red and would zoom past it, even if a car was coming. And don't get me started on all of the tourists I saw trying to take a selfie while riding their bike.We almost got hit one too many times. I was also very surprised that I didn't see one cyclist wearing a helmet. Tsk tsk! 

 This was part of the line for the Anne Frank House. Because of this, we did not even try to go in, which is a shame because we were staying right next to it. But waiting in line for 3 hours is not my cup of tea! We actually tried several times throughout our stay to get in line- both mornings we were there, and late at night before it closed. No luck! Definitely buy tickets in advance online if you want to go. I tried a week in advance and they were already sold out of online tickets. 

Central Station and where we took our train back to the airport from! 

I liked Amsterdam. Parts of it are dodgy, but we felt safe the whole time there. I would be interested in going back during their low season- too many rowdy bachelor parties and ridiculously stoned 18 year old backpackers kind of left a sour taste in my mouth. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ode to Tulips

OK, I know I should save the best of Amsterdam for last, but this post just excites me too much and I cannot wait to share pictures with you!

Amsterdam was number one on my list of cities I needed to explore once moving to London last July BUT I wanted us to wait to see the infamous city until springtime. Around late March to early May, you have a 3 week window to experience the world renowned tulips bloom in Holland. It's all really hard to plan out and dependent on so many factors (rainfall, temperature) so I knew this could be like the Northen Lights in Iceland- something I really wanted to see, but really difficult to control. In December, I booked our trip for Easter weekend in hopes that maybe we could see the legendary site with our own two eyes. Now I have a check off my bucket list and some colorful cell phone pics to share! 

Although you can go to the Keukenhof Gardens by public transport, I read too many horror stories about waiting for the bus for hours and standing in long queues to get tickets, so I booked with a tour company. It was a little pricey but worth not being stressed out or having to wait. 

The bus ride took a little over an hour, and you know you're nearly there when you start to see the rows upon rows of brightly colored tulips. 

I literally gasped when we drove past this patch of tulips. So pretty!!! And to think- all of this hard work, just for a few weeks of beauty. 

The garden itself was very crowded, but not so crowded that we couldn't soak in all of the spectacular colors and smells. 

 Y'all, these were not your run of the mill, grocery store tulips. They were brilliantly massive- some as tall as my hips! And the flower was larger than my face. And don't even get my started on all of the colors.... innocent lavendar, blushing pink, hot coral, sunshiney yellow, deep blood red....
 ...speckled orange, striped pink, ombre peach. And no, I don't know why I'm cradling our water bottle in half these pictures. Don't question my awkwardness-I was too happy to care! 

 And the petals. Fringed, pointed, curved. Two petalled, six petalled, or twelve. Some as large as a wine glass, some as dainty as a thimble. Some closed tight, others opened wide like the palm of a hand about to give a high five.
 There were some azaleas, daffodils, and hyacinths thrown into the mix, but they paled in the tulip's spotlight. 

Even Daniel found this to be incredibly impressive, which made me happy, because frolicking in the flowers is usually not his "thing". We brought along a bottle of wine, some Dutch cheese and these Dutch caramel waffle cookies and had ourself a lil picnic amongst the tulips. 

Why do I love tulips so much? I feel like it's cliché and can be characterized with the similar stereotypes of women loving chocolate, Sex and the City, and long walks on the beach. But there's something so cute, so sweet, so delicate and dainty about this flower. Maybe it's because tulips, with their pointy triangle tops and curved bottoms, were one the first images I was able to draw. Maybe it's because they are one of the signs that spring is here. I can't really explain why they make me so happy, but they do. Yes, along with chocolate and other girly things. 

It just makes me in awe of the gardeners. I appreciate the months and months of hard work that goes into such a short timeline of beauty, before the flowers are all beheaded and fed to the animals (true story!). I think there's something so extraordinarily beautiful in this- every year, going back to the same spot, replanting the bulbs, knowing that it won't last- it's futile. The beauty will die. But the gardeners still do it. Year after year. The handful of glorious, vibrant, spectacular weeks of yellows, oranges, reds, and pinks make it all worth it. 

This is the Delft tulip vase I bought while at the gardens, now showcasing some plain old tulips from my neighborhood flower stand...not the same as the gigantic, possible steroid induced tulips from Keukenhof, but they still make me smile and think of our Easter in the gardens. 


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