Flowers for Days at the Keukenhof

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

The first time I visited The Netherlands, something occurred to me just as I was leaving the country: I hadn’t seen any tulips. This, of course, made perfect sense, as I had visited in the summertime, well past the peak flower season. Still, you think Holland, and you think tulips, preferably fields and fields of them, straight out of some Pinterest-inspired vacation fantasy dream. Or, at least, that’s what I think of.

Suffice it to say, I always knew I wanted to return to The Netherlands sometime in the spring, if for no other reason than the tulips. So, when I found myself planning a trip to Amsterdam for Easter weekend, I knew seeing as many tulips as humanly possible was paramount. And when it comes to seeing tulips, it’s seems there is one place that’s a must: the Keukenhof.

Keukenhof2

The Keukenhof Gardens are located in Lisse, about a half hour southwest of Amsterdam, and are open from mid-March to mid-May each year. To get there, I grabbed a train from Amsterdam Centraal Station and headed to Schipol Airport, where I then caught a shuttle bus to the Keukenhof. I visited on Easter Sunday, and the crowds both at Schipol and the Keukenhof itself were fairly insane. Everyone, it seemed, thought that roaming among the flowers was the perfect way to spend Easter.

Despite the crowds – which, to be honest, were a little soul-crushing at times – the Keukenhof was worth the hassle. The gardens are enormous and the variety of flowers is incredible; there were tulips in more colors and varieties than I could have ever imagined, and certainly more than I could ever count. Predictably, I loved everything about the gardens, as is probably obvious from the amount of pictures in this post. I wanted to photograph every blossom at the Keukenhof, and the snapshots you see here are only a fraction of the pictures I actually took. Needless to say, then, if you’re planning a trip to The Netherlands in the springtime, I would consider the Keukenhoff is a must.

Just make sure your memory card has a lot of space.

Keukenhof10

Keukenhof25

Keukenhof21

Keukenhof26

Keukenhof18

Keukenhof19

 

Amsterdam: The Delights of the Floating Flower Market

I, like most people probably are, am a creature of habit. I order the same dishes at my favorite restaurants, I follow the same routine every morning, and I’m guilty of listening to certain songs on repeat until I become sick of them. It’s no surprise, then, that I fall into predictable patterns while traveling.

Among my classic travel moves, I count the following: taking pleasure in lingering for a looooong time in art museums, eating gelato on the theory that “I’ve walked a lot today,” buying postcards I never get around to sending, and signing up for food tours in most every city I visit. And here’s another big one: taking pictures of flowers, everywhere I go.

If you looked through every travel picture I have taken over the last decade, I would be willing to bet that my number one most-photographed subject would be flowers. It only made sense, then, that visiting the Bloemenmarkt, or flower market, was high on my to-do list while in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam’s floating flower market, located on the Singel canal, is a feast for the eyes. Above all, it’s home to tulips in every shade imaginable, just as one would expect in Holland. It also has a variety of other plants and flowers, plus gardening supplies, kitschy gifts, and a healthy helping of tourists.

I wasn’t in the market for any tulip bulbs on this trip, but that didn’t mean I didn’t thoroughly enjoy browsing the market. It’s a beautiful, lively place, and as far as I’m concerned, a can’t-miss for any trip to Amsterdam – even if you’re not quite as obsessed with flowers as I am.

 

 

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 122

The weekly-ish roundup of internet finds:

  1. I would totally go to this: Adult Sleepover at American Museum of Natural History.
  2. My kind of guy: Man Buys 23 Burger King Apple Pies to Spite a Small Child.
  3. On point: What I Instagrammed vs. What Was Really Happening, or My Entire Life is a Lie.
  4. Also on point: WomanAgainstFeminism.
  5. We all have our favorite Robin Williams movies, and Good Will Hunting happens to be mine. That’s why this is my favorite Robin Williams tribute so far: See a Moving Robin Williams Salute at the Good Will Hunting Bench.
  6. As someone who has done a good bit of solo travel this year, I love this article: Yes, Please. Party of One.
  7. I love the letter, and I love that Lands’ End actually responded to it: Lands’ End Announces Science-Themed Tees for Girls After Mom’s Letter Goes Viral.
  8. The most palatable Fifty Shades of Grey trailer I’ve seen thus far: Fifty Shades of Frozen.
  9. Awesome: This Girl and Her Illustrated Mirror Selfies Are Upping the Instagram Game.
  10. Love these gorgeous literary benches by Books About Town.

(Image via)

Amsterdam: Fries, Pancakes, and Cheese, Glorious Cheese

I’ve written a lot about the rainy mishaps from my first trip to Amsterdam, but one thing I never touched on was the food. Here’s why: we didn’t really eat any of the classic Dutch staples during that trip. Fries? Nope. Pancakes? Not even. Herring? Sorry, but no.

In all fairness, we had our reasons. I had just come off three years of near-constant work travel, which means one thing: Marriott points. This in turn meant that, while our 2011 trip was usually more on the “budget” end of the spectrum, we were able to score really nice – and free! – hotels in Berlin and Amsterdam using my stockpile of points. In Amsterdam, our sweet Marriott accommodations came with a complementary daily happy hour that was unusually generous: free alcohol, an abundance of tasty appetizers, and miniature desserts. We were girls on a budget, and the weather was terrible, so our days in Amsterdam consisted of a lot of relaxing in the Marriott lounge, hoarding the good snacks, sipping wine, and watching bad television (the Kennedy miniseries starring Katie Holmes, anyone?)

While our days in the Marriott lounge will always be one of those inside jokes my sister and I look back on fondly, I knew that this time around, I wanted to actually get out and about and eat the food of Amsterdam. I found plenty of good restaurants on my own (and more on those later), but one of my best foodie experiences came with the Amsterdam Food by Foot tour with Urban Adventures.

What I loved about the tour was that we hit all the quintessential Dutch foods – pancakes, fries, herring, and cheese – with a few extras thrown in for good measure. We began with fries at Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx, where, after waiting in a long-ish line (the place is popular, and justifiably so) we got our piping hot, oh-so-tasty fries.

Vleminckx is overwhelming; there are over 25 flavors of sauce to choose from, and the portion sizes are huge. On the latter point, let me emphasize: we got the “small” sizes and they were BIG, more than enough for a snack for one. When it came time to choose sauce, I went with the citrus mayonnaise on the recommendation of our guide, and I was pleased with the choice as it was delicious and the perfect complement to the salty fries. This, by the way, was something of a surprise to me; I hate mayonnaise typically. No, let me amend that statement: I hate American mayo. Dutch mayo? Totally kicks American mayo’s ass. Well played, Netherlands.

After eating our generously-portioned fries, we headed to Cheese and More, where we tried samples of…cheese and more. You probably did not see that one coming, amirite?

The cool thing about Cheese and More is that the store offers samples of almost everything, so even if you just browse for a bit, you can sample a wide range of goodies. On the “more” end of things, the store sells sausages, nougats, chocolates, and various other treats. And on the “cheese” end of things, there was also a wide variety. Being the Netherlands, there was naturally plenty of Gouda on sale, but there were also a ton of other unique flavors. For example, I sampled a bright green pesto cheese. Verdict? Odd.

Our next stop was De Pannekoekenkelder for the much-anticipated (by me at least) poffertjes, or miniature pancakes. Our group had two heaping plates of these babies to share and we killed the plates in record time – they were delicious! Our guide told us that the Dutch have a huge sweet tooth, and it’s not hard to see why; I would definitely be tempted to eat these little guys on the regular.

Next, we walked to Reypenaer for even more cheese. While I was a negligent blogger here and didn’t take note of all the varieties we tried, here are two things I do recall. One, the more aged the cheese, the better I like it. And two, the little cheese guillotine cutting boards that this store has? Totally coveting. I’m soon too be living in a tiny New York apartment where, I’m sure, kitchen space will be at a premium…yet in my heart, I sort of want one of these gadgets, however impractical.

While some in our group were still sampling cheese, a few of us took an unplanned detour, popping across the street and into Puccini Bomboni for a little truffle treat. The selection here was pretty incredible, but I settled on a tasty port truffle, no doubt inspired by my growing affinity for port thanks to my experiences in Lisbon earlier in the semester.

At our next destination, we didn’t eat any food – but we looked at an awful lot of it. Where were we? A Dutch grocery store!

Now, I don’t know about most people, but, for me, poking through a grocery store is one of the more fascinating things you can do in any foreign country. You can browse blogs or read guidebooks, but those will probably only scratch the surface of local cuisine. If you want to see how people really eat, on a daily basis, hit up the supermarket.

One thing I noticed right away about the store was that, while our guide told us it was the largest grocery store in Amsterdam proper, it was still relatively small, especially by American standards. This boils down to practicality: this is Amsterdam, after all, and most people can only buy what they can carry home on their bikes. Also small? The meat section, which was nearly nonexistent, as Amsterdamers would go to a small butcher rather than a large grocery store to buy their meat.

One other fun detail: it was Easter weekend when I visited, which can only mean one thing: bunny-shaped butter for everyone!

Not far from the grocery store, we found Haringstal De Zeevang, where we sampled fresh herring and eel. The briny herring comes served with raw onions and pickles, making this a strong and pungent snack. I know knocking back raw fish isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but, as far as I’m concerned, everyone has to try it at least once while in Amsterdam.

To wrap up our day, we stopped at Wynand Fockink, a distillery and tasting room near Dam Square. One side of the shop was lined with large barrels, each labeled with the name of a restaurant or hotel and padlocked shut; these are the personal reserves of local establishments (and wouldn’t you like a barrel to call your own?). We settled on the other side of the shop, at the bar, where we each selected one liqueur to try. I opted for a raspberry flavored one, and as you can see, the folks at Wynand believe in a very generous pour, as each glass was filled to the brim.

At 36 euro, the Amsterdam Food by Foot tour was a bit more expensive than my former days squirreling away free appetizers at the Marriott, but for three hours of food and drink (not to mention all the new knowledge about Amsterdam’s food scene), I would classify it as a good deal. As for me, I’m glad I finally got out into Amsterdam and tried all the local favorites. I liked what I found.

Amsterdam: Charmed by the Canals, at Last

I didn’t like Amsterdam.

Believe it or not, the first time I visited, I just did not connect with the city. I expected to fall in love with the picture perfect canals, but instead I felt “meh” about the whole place, waiting to be amazed but never quite getting there. Looking back, it’s clear there was one major problem with my trip:

It rained. And rained. And rained. And then it rained some more.

Usually, I’m relatively immune to weather issues when traveling. Sure, dealing with the elements can be a pain, but knowing I only have a limited amount of time on a trip forces me to make the best of it. Usually.

With Amsterdam, however, I could not do it. The rain was near-constant during the days my sister and I spent in town, and I found it difficult not to become depressed by the weather. Our sad situation came to its disastrous apex when we rode the tram to Dam Square only to have it downpour the minute we stepped out our tram car. Like, legitimately downpour: think heavy rains, blown by the wind straight into our faces, shoes soaked through, guidebooks turned into soggy messes, and rapid-fire photo-taking so as not to ruin my camera in the deluge.

Amsterdam Canals8

We barely glanced around Dam Square before moving on, spirits low. We walked to the Floating Flower Market, a place that I, by all rights, should have loved (and indeed I did love it, this time around), and I felt ambivalent about it. We half-heartedly browsed through the tulip stalls, but our minds were really on one thing: finding a restaurant where we could sit down, dry off, and warm up over good food. It’s hard to focus on the beautiful city around you when all you can think about is getting inside.

Fast forward three years, and I found myself once again in Amsterdam. To be honest, given my spotty history with the city, it was not my first choice plan: I had wanted to spend Easter weekend in Istanbul, but flights turned out to be way too expensive. So, Amsterdam it was. A bunch of factors led me to return, but one of the big ones was this: I needed to give the city another chance.

Amsterdam Canals9

In the weeks and then days leading up to my trip, I checked the weather forecast religiously. Most of the days were projected to be sunny, with a light drizzle thrown in here and there. A little rain, I can handle, I thought. A little rain will be fine – just not a lot. And then I crossed my fingers and hoped the weather would hold.

Hold it did, and my weekend in Amsterdam turned out to be absolutely lovely. It rained once or twice, but overall, the skies were sunny. And, to my delight, with the weather came an entirely new perspective on Amsterdam.

I did what I always do in a new city: I walked, and walked, and walked some more. I wound up and down little streets, crossed bridges over the canals, and snapped a million pictures of bicycles. Hell, to be honest: I snapped a million pictures of every single thing, every place I went. While I was doing that, I kept having a reoccurring thought: how could I have been so wrong about this place?

I stayed in the Nine Streets neighborhood, and I think that location contributed to my newfound enthusiasm for Amsterdam. I could not have loved the area more: I found “my” place for breakfast just around the corner (and I ate there three days in a row), I window shopped at the cute boutiques lining the streets, and I ended each day with a long walk, usually as the sun was setting. The canals are always lovely, but they just may be at their peak in the early evening, bathed in golden light and feeling oh-so-magical.

Amsterdam Canals10

Of all the places I have revisited, I don’t think I have ever experienced a complete travel 180 like I have with Amsterdam. I went from ambivalence to adoration in the course of four short days. I replaced memories of hiding out from the rain in our hotel lobby with staying out as long as possible, determined to soak up as much canal-side charm as I could.

I’m so glad I gave the city a second chance.

Dresden: The Jewel Box of Europe

I’ve already sung Dresden’s praises but, as it turns out, have shared very little of what I actually did while in one of my new favorite cities in Europe. Let’s remedy that.

My day – besides arrival and departure at the train station – centered around the heart of Dresden’s old city, a pedestrian-friendly area crammed with historical treasures and baroque architecture. One highlight was the sprawling Zwinger Palace, originally built in the early 18th-century and today home to a collection of impressive museums.

While you can find all types of artwork, from porcelain to ceramics, at the Zwinger, I knew I could never see it all in one morning and decided instead to pick one exhibit to focus on. I chose the Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, or Old Masters Picture Gallery. Even just sticking with this one “small” section of the Zwinger, there was still a vast collection of artwork to see, my personal favorites being Vermeer’s Procuress and Rembrandt’s Rembrandt & Saskia.

Equally as intriguing were the Zwinger’s exterior areas. The building’s front facade is home to towering sculptures and a piazza perfect for admiring the surrounding baroque buildings (not to mention enjoying a bit of mid-morning gelato).

The Zwinger’s inner courtyard was even more beautiful, with its peaceful fountains and well-manicured gardens.

But my favorite thing by far about the Zwinger Palace was its ramparts. From the palace’s main courtyard, a climb up a few flights of stairs landed me in a sea of sculptures and provided some pretty sweet views of the Zwinger itself and of the surrounding city. I cannot recommend this enough as a way to while away a sunny Dresden morning.

Dresden is known as “The Jewel Box” or “The Jewel of the Elbe” (the Elbe being the river that flows through the city), and it’s not hard to see why. Not only is the Zwinger home to spectacular treasures, but the nearby Grünes Gewölbe, or Green Vault, takes the term “treasure” to another level entirely. Housed in Dresden’s Royal Palace, the Green Vault is home to over 3000 jewels, gems, and precious objects. Though the museum releases a small amount of tickets each morning, I would recommend reserving a ticket and time slot online well in advance of your visit, as this isn’t something you want to risk missing.

Pictures are strictly forbidden once inside, and while I was bummed about this at first, I think it was all for the best – not only in terms of preserving the treasures housed here, but also in terms of allowing me to focus and soak it all in rather than being obsessed with capturing the perfect shot.

How to describe the treasures of the Green Vault? In my journal, I wrote “Incredible!!!!” (yes, with exactly four exclamation points), but that doesn’t even scratch the surface. In the Green Vault, I found room after room of treasures, organized roughly by type – think a room of ivory, a room of bronze, a room of silver, and so forth. There were vast displays of gemstones, and what impressed me most was their sheer volume; for example, I wouldn’t just spy one gigantic emerald ring, I’d find thirty! There were also collections of whimsical, jewel-encrusted statues, like sea horses and ships, and mirrors everywhere, giving the illusion of a collection that stretched into infinity (which it well might). If it’s not already clear, let me be blunt: I was crazy impressed by what I saw inside the Green Vault.

Also impressive was Dresden’s Neumarkt Square, which I mentioned in my last post. What I did not mention, however, was what I found on the way to the square – the Fürstenzug, a gigantic porcelain-tiled mural depicting Saxony’s rulers. And when I say “gigantic,” I mean gigantic – the mural spans the length of Augustusstrasse, measuring 334 feet long and 34 feet high. So, in short, it’s like most everything in Dresden: splendid and grand.

I finished my day in Dresden with a relaxing meal, eating outdoors at Coselpalais, a restaurant I admit I chose for purely aesthetic reasons: it’s literally located in the shadows of magnificent Frauenkirche and is housed in a beautiful baroque building constructed in 1765. The restaurant also boasts a lovely courtyard, complete with fluffy orange blankets to keep warm when dining al fresco on a chilly day (which I was).

At Coselpalais, I sipped a grapefruit prosecco – which happened to perfectly color-coordinate with the restaurant’s decor – and indulged in classic German comfort food: schnitzel and apple strudel. It was a delicious, indulgent meal, and Coselpalais proved the perfect place to relax, people watch, and soak up ever more of Dresden’s charm.

If you’ve only got a day to spend in Dresden – which was the case with me – you will have plenty of time to see the city’s major sites. Yet, what I found was that I loved Dresden so much, I would not have minded lingering longer to stroll along the river, to poke around the historic streets, or to gawk at the amazing architecture. I’m not too concerned that I didn’t have more time to do those activities, though, because I’m almost certain I’ll be back to Dresden one day; Europe’s “Jewel Box” is most definitely a city worthy of a return trip.

Dresden: On Travel Ebbs & Flows

My supervisor at work found the amount of travel I did this semester greatly amusing.

It became a regular joke with us. “Where are you off to this weekend?” she’d ask, and we would both start laughing immediately – because she always assumed I would be traveling somewhere, and she always assumed right.

Everyone in the office started to take note of my travel schedule, too, and soon I found myself getting lots of questions about it. One of the most frequent queries: Aren’t you getting tired?

At first, the answer was genuinely “no.” I love to travel. Love it. I’m always mentally planning my next trip in my head, and I tend to schedule vacations for the maximum length possible because I just don’t want to stop traveling. Ever.

But, I’m not a machine. And over time, I realized that, yes, working full-time and traveling – usually to another country – every single weekend was a little grueling (in an “I’m so privileged to get to do this” kind of way). Unpacking and repacking your suitcase, finding flights and hotels, attempting to do tricky currency conversions in your head (thanks for nothing, Hungarian florints and Swedish kronor), navigating unfamiliar neighborhoods, dealing with annoying fellow passengers at airports – it all becomes a grind after a while. It’s totally a good problem to have, I realize, but it’s also true that it does wear on you a bit.

But the thing I’ve realized about travel is that – for me at least – it’s a cyclical thing. Some days I would think, “This schedule is way too ambitious. I just want to nap.” And other days, I would be like, “Bring it on, travel. I own you.”

My perspective on this issue became clear after comparing two consecutive weekend trips: first, Stockholm, and then Berlin and Dresden.

Stockholm, to be frank, did not go as well as I had hoped. I had heard wonderful things about the city, so I had high hopes – but I just did not connect with Stockholm the way I expected I would (the incredible food being an exception to this). I found Stockholm lovely, but remote. I felt like the prices were even higher than in Switzerland, which was depressing. And, most of all, the city was still in “off-season” hours of operation – meaning I often couldn’t make it to more than one sight in a day, because things would close before I got to them (or, even worse, some attractions I wanted to see were closed entirely).

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

After Stockholm, I would have classified myself as “tired” of traveling. I still had a full month left in Europe – complete with an ambitious travel schedule – so this was disconcerting.

Enter: Berlin and Dresden. I spent Saturday in Berlin and, suddenly, I was feeling incredibly energized. It’s hard not to be energized in Berlin, with its street art, funky culture, and hip neighborhoods. Suddenly, I could not remember why I was tired of traveling.

And then…Dresden. Freaking DRESDEN. Almost as soon as I got into town, I was overwhelmed with happiness. I had heard from multiple sources what a great place Dresden was to visit, but it surprised me just how much I loved, loved, loved the city. I thought that the Baroque buildings were beautiful and grand and that the city itself was flat-out gorgeous in springtime. The whole town felt like a gem, and I wandered around all day with a gigantic smile on my face. All I could think was: how could I have ever believed I’d had enough travel for the semester? How could anyone tire of traveling, when there are places like this out there?

My entire day in Dresden was lovely, but there was one moment in particular that stood out. I spent the morning exploring the Zwinger Palace (more on that later), and around midday, I headed toward Neumarkt Square, where the magnificent Frauenkirche towers over rows of perfectly pastel buildings.

And you know what? Even though I had seen – and photographed – rows upon rows upon rows of pastel-colored buildings in cities throughout Europe this semester, I was still as excited as ever about how damn charming Dresden’s main square was. I worry about that sometimes, you know – about seeing awesome things and then eventually becoming desensitized to them, about the possibility that I might wake up one day and think, “Oh, a European piazza? Meh.”

But standing there, in the center of Dresden, I realized that I’m nowhere near that point, and that I never will be. I realized that there will still always be places like Dresden – places that are unassuming at first, places that aren’t quite at the top of your “must see” list but that have the capacity to surprise you with how much you love them. Places that, in short, remind you that you still love travel after all.

Much more from Dresden to come!