12.07.2013

Ianna goes to Europe: to Amsterdam!

amsterdam, netherlands

Wednesday morning, Ren walked us to the station to say goodbye (and to make sure the German language barrier didn't result in us getting on the wrong train). By the time we had to transfer trains, we were in the English-friendly Netherlands.

Our first order of business upon arrival at Centraal Station was to purchase 72-hour metro passes. Next, Ian popped into Starbucks for wifi to call Boaz, the owner of the apartment we rented via VRBO. We lugged our suitcases out to the metro platforms, then huddled under our umbrella in an attempt to avoid the downpour until we were safely seated on the dry tram.

We met Boaz at the door of the apartment so he could hand off the keys and give us a quick tour of the space (pointing out thing like the "weefee" password and extra blankets). The rain paused as we got settled, but started up again when we headed out for dinner.

amsterdam, the netherlands

We walked to a nearby restaurant recommended by our Lonely Planet guide, only to discover it was closed for the evening. Our next choice was also closed, and the rain began to pick up. A pit stop at a hotel lobby resulted in a recommendation for a nearby Italian restaurant, after being advised that traditional Dutch food wasn't very exciting. The food was decent, and Ian had his opportunity to try Jenever, a traditional Dutch spirit recommended by a coworker. Ian didn't mind it, but I can't imagine how anyone enjoys it.

By the time we finished dinner, it seemed the rain had stopped for good, and we took a stroll around the city before heading back to the apartment. Amsterdam is well known for it's bicycle culture, but it's an entirely different experience to see the infrastructure and the number and variety of people whose use it as their main form of transportation: men in expensive suits, moms with toddlers in trailers, punked out teenagers, little kids. We imagined what it would be like if Boston could someday attain an equally successful bike culture (currently an initiative in the city).

The next day seemed to have the best chance for clear skies (or at least no rain), so we dedicated it to Ian's landscape architecture sightseeing. To make the day more interesting for me, I decided to photobomb as many of his photos as possible.

amsterdam, netherlands
amsterdam, netherlands

The first park we visited was Westergasfabriek. Ian analyzed different aspects of the park, while I enjoyed attempting to read Dutch (and successfully photobombing Ian). We stopped at De Bakkerswinkel, and discovered that Dutch food is actually quite delicious, contrary to the warning we received the previous night.

amsterdam, the netherlands

We headed back towards downtown, and took a stroll down Haarlemmerstraat, recommended by the store owner when we picked up breakfast that morning. Apparently it's a popular shopping street for young and hip people (and we tell ourselves we're hip).

amsterdam, netherlands

We also continued to be fascinated by the amount of bicycles everywhere, filling multi-level bicycle garages, rolling along separate lanes with bicycle stoplights, and locked to every inch of railings along the canals.

amsterdam, netherlands

We walked back to Centraal and hopped on a tram that took us to the Borneo-Sporenburg housing district and it's iconic bridges. We may have snuck into The Whale, an apartment building, so Ian could take photos of the interior courtyard.

amsterdam, netherlands
borneo-sporenburg, amsterdam

Our next and final landscape destination was Funenpark. Each of the 16 residential buildings in the new urban quarter were designed by different architects, the wide variety of shapes, sizes, and materials unified by a single, continuous landscape. Ian's excitement led to a couple epic photobombs, but I also was happy to serve as a size reference in his photos.

amsterdam, netherlands
amsterdam, netherlands

By the time we finished Ian was ready for a snack, and he couldn't pass up the pickled herring. Like Jenever, Ian enjoyed it while I was less than enthused.

amsterdam, the netherlands

On our way back to the apartment, we noticed the line for the Anne Frank House was considerably shorter than it had been in the morning, and we jumped on the opportunity. It's one of the best museums we've ever visited. Anne is so well known, but the museum manages to expand her story even further. I learned so much, and have a much fuller picture of Anne, her family, and what they went through. After the war Anne's father, Otto, not only published her diary, but devoted his life to educate others on the dangers of racism and discrimination, and the importance of freedom and equal rights. One of the most thought provoking exhibits shows quick current events stories dealing with issues of freedom and equality—and then gives visitors the opportunity to vote on the question and see how those answers compared to other visitors. It is a powerful reminder that when human rights and freedoms conflict, there are no simple answers. We must find balance and "understand that no right is unlimited."

We headed back to our apartment, stopping by Bilder & de Clercq to pick up ingredients for dinner. We had a chance to speak to the owner. It's a fairly new store, and unique in concept. They have ten recipes at a time, which rotate every few weeks. At each station are all the ingredients measured out to make the recipe for two people: no leftover ingredients you have to use up or throw out. All of the recipes look delicious, and include local ingredients (still a newer movement in Amsterdam). The goal is to make homemade weeknight meals easy, particularly for singles and young families. We loved the idea, the store is brilliantly designed—although that's no surprise in Amsterdam—and the products and recipes are delicious. We hope they do well enough they can open up a second store in Boston...

amsterdam, the netherlands
amsterdam, the netherlands

We dedicated our last full day in Amsterdam to museums. We started at the van Gogh Museum, making our decision based on current line length. My appreciation for van Gogh has definitely grown thanks to seeing so much of his artwork in person. It is so much more captivating to see his brush strokes in three dimensions, and to know more about the way he worked and why he painted. (My favorite is Wheatfield under thunderclouds, 1890.) But we were less than impressed with the current exhibition. It starts on the first floor, and winds up to finish on the third. We realized only when we reached the end of the exhibit that by going up the stairs instead of the elevator, we were starting each floor halfway through the narrative. And while much of the information next to each painting was interesting, it quickly became repetitive. Thankfully, the flaws in the exhibition layout (and arguably building design) didn't make van Gogh's work any less impressive.

amsterdam, the netherlands

By the time we finished, we realized we wouldn't be able to squeeze in a visit to the Rijksmuseum before our tour appointment at UNStudio, an architecture firm our office has worked with in the past. So instead, we took a walking tour of the city via Rick Steves audio tour, reliably educational and entertaining.

amsterdam, netherlands
amsterdam, netherlands

One of our coworkers had connected us to one of the principals at the UNStudio office, who was kind enough to take time out of his day to show us the office and some of their current projects. Ian was especially intrigued by their model shop and 3D printers, and I enjoyed seeing how another design firm operates.

amsterdam, netherlands

That night, Ren showed up to see us one last time (and then take an impromptu educational trip that included the Anne Frank House). We ate dinner from Bilder & de Clercq while packing and watching Dutch television (the Dutch language reminds us so much of the Swedish chef, and it's interesting to think that if European colonial expansion had gone a little differently, we could all be speaking Dutch).

amsterdam, netherlands

The next morning we headed back to Centraal to take a train to the airport. After 30 minutes of panic that we didn't arrive early enough to make it to our gate in time, we realized their airport was backwards from American airports: waiting in long lines to print tickets and check baggage, with short security lines at the gates.

All too soon, our bucket list European vacation was over, and we were left with a large pile of laundry, a delayed checked bag, and a mean case of jet lag. We decided to make the best of being wide awake way too early Sunday morning while waiting for our bag delivery, and headed to the Paris that doesn't require a passport. I'm hoping a fairly regular stream of crêpe nutella noix de coco et croissants will tide me over until we have the opportunity to revisit the City of Light.

See all our photos from Paris on Flickr, and catch up on our trip posts.

*We turned our celebrity couple name, bestowed by my brother Caleb, into an Instagram hashtag (#iannagoestoeurope) and now it's virtually impossible to refer to our trip in any other way.
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