Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Amsterdam II.

After a quick flu hiatus, I'm back! And I forgot to previously mention that I got to Amsterdam via regional train from Belgium, which was a first for me (versus flying). It was pretty quick and painless, including the quick stop at Antwerp Central Station to change trains. That station is actually known for its incredibly beautiful architecture, and it's not uncommon to see as many photographers as travelers there. Here's why:

She's a beauty, right?

Tip: It's worth it to upgrade to first class on a train. It's not nearly as expensive as a plane upgrade - don't worry. (81 EUR or so from Belgium to Amsterdam?) There weren't many people in my train car compared to others, which were jam-packed. There were pick-pocket alerts sounding over the intercoms every now and then, but I was told there was nothing to worry about in my train car. Perks of first class? (Not sure how true that is but it was nice to hear, being alone and all.) I did feel comfortable enough to doze off for a bit though, and two-ish hours later, I was in Amsterdam.


I-heart-amsterdam is what this should read, because I loved it that much. I had to get up super early to get this shot without tourists crowding and climbing the letters and throwing elbows for photo opportunities, which I learned after two attempted visits. So there's an immediate tip for ya: If you want this touristy shot sans tourists, get there before 8AM. (Those circles around me? They're from the early morning street sweepers, cleaning and prepping the space for tourists soon to come.)

I actually asked the concierge from my hotel in Begium where this place was after I'd seen it on Instagram (shocker), and I was lucky enough to have a list of "What to Do in Amsterdam" tips written out for me. The guy who wrote them was actually from Holland and he took the train to Bruges every day for work, so I trusted he knew what he was talking about:
  1. Visit "De Jordaan" 
  2. Soak up some culture in "Museumplein"
  3. Take a canal cruise
  4. Try herring from a herring court
  5. Visit Anne Frank House
  6. Go beer tasting at a windmill
  7. Walk around in "het Vondelpark"
  8. Join the cool crowd in "De Pup"
  9. Catch the ferry to Amsterdam North
  10. Discover a secret courtyard in the heart of the city
I missed numbers 4, 6, 8-10, which gives me all the more reason to go back. And per usual, here are my suggestions, below!


Amsterdam fries, French fries, whatever-you-want-to-call-them fries - eat 'em. The "it" spot for these bad boys in a cone was super close to my hotel (woot!), called Manneken Pis, known in particular for its insane selection of toppings. I was going to go with some kind of cheese sauce, but I decided to be adventurous and get what was considered most popular: peanut butter sauce(?!). It was more like peanut curry, which I wasn't expecting, but hey, I tried something new!

(Bacon-apple) Pancakes / Pannenokek
Topping my list of best eats in Amsterdam? Pancakes. I'd would have never thought I'd get that excited about pancakes (I don't think I've ever ordered them for breakfast), but here I would easily do so for any meal. They're crepe-like thin and still taste like pancakes. But even better. Then throw bacon in 'em. Better than even better.

(Top from Pancakes! Amsterdam (my favorite); bottom from The Alley.)


Head to Museumplein to get your culture on! As the name suggests, there are a bunch of museums here you shouldn't miss.

Van Gogh Museum
Naturally, this place holds the world's most extensive collection of Van Gogh! No photography is allowed here, which is more than fine with me; you get to really experience the artwork that way. I'm not going to lie, I even got teary-eyed from viewing a couple of paintings. I swear at one point I even felt dizzy from looking at the art. Apparently I'm not the only one, because I then came across three wooden "mobile clinics," specifically for taking a breather should Van Gogh's artwork overwhelm you. (They look like wooden boxes with a seat so you can just chill for a bit.) Crazy, right?

Tip: Several works by Edvard Munch (a new favorite of mine) and Claude Monet are on display here as well, so be sure not to miss them!

The Rijksmuseum
They actually do allow photography here - despite what the photo below may be depicting. (It threw me off at least.) The Rijksmuseum is vastly different than the Van Gogh Musuem, from it's size and Neo-gothic architecture (compared to its modern/Japanese neighbor, Van Gogh), to its extensive possession of Dutch and world art "masterpieces" like The Night Watch, by Rembrandt. (Look at the crowd in front of that piece, below!)
    Tip: If you are carrying an over-sized bag, or more than one bag, they will make you consolidate or check your belongings upon entry.

    Way down at the bottom of the Rijksmuseum Research Library you could see people studying. You could hear a pin drop, it was so quiet. (This wound up being one of my favorite shots of the trip.)

    Anne Frank Huis
    Incredibly moving, is all I can say. I must have been ten years old when I first read the Diary of Anne Frank, and I never would have thought I'd one day be standing in her home - which was much bigger than I had expected, by the way! No photography allowed here either, which makes sense. I'd almost feel as though I was being disrespectful to her, snapping photos of her pain for my pleasure, or something. Truly incredible.

    Tip: Buy tickets online way in advance, or chance it and wait in line at the museum itself, like I did. I was told by my hotel that tickets were sold out and I was so, so disappointed; however, I walked by and noticed there was a line to buy tickets and just hopped right on in. I waited for over an hour or so, but it honestly moved faster than I thought it would and before I knew it, I was inside. 

    Stroll through Vondelpark!
    This public park also serves as an open-air theater in the warmer months, and has endless grassy fields, bike paths and playgrounds. It was pretty chilly when I was there so I didn't stay too long, but I imagine it's beautiful (and crowded!) in the spring/summer.

    Go Antiquing!
    For the life of me I can't remember the name of the gentleman who runs Antiquariaat Hoogkamp, but I adored him. (He even made me a customized souvenir!) We spoke for quite some time about travel, literature, and his beautiful antique map collection. I refrained from buying an expensive map of Massachusetts, and instead bought a more economical black and white etching of Amsterdam. (I went back the next day to buy little prints of Amsterdam for my family, and his son was working at the store. He's actually the one who told me that pancakes are no big thang to the Dutch folk!)


    Ready for it? Take a good 'ole canal tour.
    I couldn't get enough of these tours while I was abroad, and for good reason. You really get a different perspective of wherever you're visiting, and there's something calming about checking it all out over water. Plus, it's nice to give your feet and legs a break from running around town trying to see every single tourist attraction you can.

    Tip: Find a coupon book for tourists either online or at your hotel. You'll find discounted rates for canal tours and other tourist attractions.

    Some more pretty photos (and one of me), below!

    (Taken by a photography student!)
    I want to live here, please.

    And to park my boat here, please.

    (Love this shot.)

    Monday, February 8, 2016

    Must Make: Cashew Milk

    I haven't done a "Must Make" in easily a year, so I figured if I'm going to throw one into the mix, it better be a good one. (IMHO, it's a really really good one.)

    I love cashew milk, which came as a surprise because I was never a die-hard fan of almond milk. Ellie made a batch of cashew milk around this time last year and was kind enough to fill up a mason jar with this fresh, nutty milk for me to try, and I've been hooked ever since. Then I insisted all of my friends make it, too. (A funny note: after I passed the recipe along to a few girls, they all took to Facebook to post photos and OMG I made milk! whatnots - and then realized a few other girls on their news feed had done the same. It was funny being on the receiving end of all those texts: You gave the recipe to Rachel too, didn't you! And Sophia!)

    The original recipe is here, which I haven't really tweaked, I just use less water because I think it can get too watered down using all 4 cups of water (and I prefer nonfat milk versus creamier milk, just for reference). I use raw maple as my sweetener of choice and a pinch more of cinnamon, too.

    Cashew Milk

    • 1 cup raw cashews
    • 4 cups water, divided (I use about 3)
    • 1-2 TBSP raw maple syrup (or honey/agave)
    • 2 TSP vanilla extract
    • Dash sea salt
    • Pinch (or two!) of cinnamon

    Soak cashews in water for at least 4 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator. Drain/rinse until the water runs clear. Add cashews and 2 cups of water to a blender and pulverize, 2 minutes or so. Blend in remaining water, sweetener, vanilla, sea salt and cinnamon; strain through cheese cloth. Voila, milk! Keeps 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

    Tuesday, February 2, 2016