Netherlands 2015: daytrip to Utrecht

So many cities are accessible from Amsterdam that we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit a city new to us. The hardest part was deciding which one to visit! After a little Google research, we eventually decided on Utrecht, a quick 30 min train ride away. Oddly, you arrive in a mall that you then walk across to get to the old town. One of our first stops was a juice cart along a canal, which had some picturesque morning views.

canalsflowers for sale

Our explorations continued north along the canal, then branching down side streets as different sites captured our attention.

canals

St Augustine Church  quiet street

St Martin’s Cathedral is the main sight in the city center, and it is an impressive church. Unfortunately for us it was the first day of university and thus closed in preparation for convocation… we still enjoyed the exterior.

St Martin's Cathedral

Now mid-afternoon the sun was surprisingly warm so we ducked into a few of the clothing stores along the main shopping street. Given the favorable exchange rate and some nice sales we found a few new threads to take home with us. Tired feet lead us to Beers & Barrels since they had a nice spot for beer along the canal. Unfortunately for us they weren’t open, and didn’t seem to have sign indicating when they would open. Boo.

Instead we opted for a beer at Kafe Belgie where the people watching was superb. We spotted at least three women with pink hair and a whole group of university students wearing beanies with spinners. The beer selection was also good, Leandra had the ultra-local Smokey Barracuda, brewed specifically for their recent 30th anniversary, while I had the more traditional St. Feuillien blond and a Rodenbach.

Smokey Barracuda - special beer brewed for Kafé België's 30th anniversary

cowinbar

We also tried to sample another beer place, Belgisch Bier Café Olivier, but they were closed on Monday. Honestly, their list looked fairly pedestrian compared to Kafe Belgie, so I don’t think we missed much there. By the late afternoon the sky was threatening so we decided to catch the train back to Amsterdam, just missing the start of a storm.

Utrecht was a bit quieter than Amsterdam, and made for a pleasant day-trip.

Netherlands 2015: Amsterdam flowers and art

We spent most of Saturday with our friends, so our touring of Amsterdam was primarily on Sunday. In the morning we went to the Bloemenmarkt, something we had inexplicably missed on our first trip. While touristy, it was still quite beautiful, with lots of cool bulbs, resurrection plants, succulents, and other plant-related things. Some of the stalls felt like a living bulb catalog.

bulbs

Continuing with our botanical theme we took the tram a few stops to Hortus Botanicus, one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. The nearly 400-year old garden is small and a bit pricey at 8 Euros, but features an extensive collection including a tropical house, cacti and pond plants, plus the weather was perfect for strolling.

botanical nijntje  Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam

Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam  Hortus Botanicus AmsterdamHortus Botanicus Amsterdam

As a bonus there was live jazz in the outdoor cafe that could be heard throughout most of the garden.

Following a beer break we next headed toward Spuistraat and Wijdesteeg, a street art section on the east side of the main canal ring.

einstein  street artkennedy & rabbit  street art

We managed to find a few things to photograph but it was generally underwhelming compared to so many other cities we’ve visited.

Netherlands 2015: Amsterdam food & drink

Saturday

After a lovely overnight in Den Bosch, we headed back to Amsterdam, checked into our hotel and met up with friends for a walk through Vondelpark and beers.

Craft & Draft – For the first round Eric had the Dugges/All In Brewing Pear are you Jonathan? Berliner Weisse (Sweden) and I had the Brouwerij De Vriendschap NDSM Porter (Amsterdam). Since these were 25cl pours, we both opted for a second round, a pink colored Buxton Red Rye Raspberry (England) for Eric and the tasty and strong Redwillow Thoughtless Imp. Stout (England) for me. The selection of beers was quite impressive with several American craft beers represented.

craftanddraftbeers

Our friends wanted us to try a smoked meat place, Café de Klos, for dinner so we put our names on the list and headed across the street to grab a beer at their sister bar. We only had to wait 20 minutes or so for a chance to order some tasty dinner. After finishing up our La Chouffe from the bar across the street, we each enjoyed a house tripel, De Manke Monnik (The Lame Monk). Oh, and the meats were delicious too!

smoked ribs @ Café de Klos
smoked ribs (I barely touched the accompaniments!)

Later that evening Eric mentioned a whiskey bar he had found so we headed out to find it. Whiskycafe L&B was an awesome hole-in-the-wall bar with bottles everywhere! Definitely one of the best whiskey bars we’ve experienced, good enough that we returned the next night too. Both nights we went we were able to grab a seat and it never got loud or super-crowded. First visit: Benriach Curiositas (quite tasty nice light smoke, little sugar and sweet), Benriach Septendecim and Benriach Arumaticus Fumosus (both peaty and delicious). Second visit: Caol Ila 17 (1991) for Eric and the GlenDronach Revival 15 for me.

peated flight @ Whiskycafe L&B

Whiskycafe L&B  two more scotches! 

Sunday

Sunday morning is rather slow in Amsterdam for food, but we weren’t interested in the relatively expensive hotel breakfast. Instead we grabbed two almond croissants at a nearby Le Pain Quotidien that was conveniently open for takeaway.

After our tour of the gardens we walked and trammed to get to Brouwerij ‘t IJ (pronounced Brewery TIE) where we had a nice shaded outdoor spot to enjoy two rounds of the Zatte (tripel) for Eric and the Natte (dubbel) for me with our friends.

Later in the day with a little time before dinner we stopped into one of our favorite little pubs in Amsterdam, Arendsnest, for Dutch beers. I went for the Emelisse dubbel and Eric tried the Folie a Duex saison. Then we split a small pour of the Two Chefs Dirty Katarina imperial stout and enjoyed conversation with the chatty bartenders.

draft list @ Proeflokaal Arendsnest

After a quick recharge back at the hotel, we met our friends again for pizza at Restaurant Antonio’s. We took a break from beer and opted for wine with this meal! Our pizzas were well crafted, simple and filling.

Monday

We had a few more choices for breakfast this morning, so Eric got us a tasty ham/cheese croissant and an almond croissant from Simon Meijssen bakery this morning. Yum.

After wandering around Utrecht for the day, we made it to back to Amsterdam right around 5:30p, so we stopped in to Restaurant Kartika for an early Indonesian dinner. We didn’t have reservations, but they were able to fit us in (as long as we vacated the table for the 7:15 reservation). Everything was really delicious. The peanut and chili dipping sauces were especially tasty and my lamb curry was falling apart and very flavorful. Eric’s beef rendang also hit the spot. Although not as spicy as the versions we had in Lombok and Bali because of the Dutch palates, the flavors were still fantastic.

We hit one last spot, In de Wildeman, before picking up our luggage and heading to the hotel airport. I had already enjoyed the Dirty Katerina from Two Chefs, so here I opted for their Howling Wolf imperial porter while Eric chose the Girardin Oude Lambik. I liked mine but unfortunately Eric found the lambic to be only mildly sour and a little bitter.

In De Wildeman

All told we visited a few of our favorites from last time and discovered a wonderful whiskey bar. A good trip for us!

Netherlands 2015: Den Bosch

While planning a previous European trip I came across a Dutch town named ‘s-Hertogenbosch (aka Den Bosch) that was known for old walls, canals, and as the hometown of Jheronimus Bosch, an artist I’ve always been interested in. We didn’t make it to the town on that trip, but I kept my notes and we made it a priority to see on this trip. Getting there was an easy 1-hour train ride from the Schiphol airport train station, so by 10:30a we had arrived.

Den Bosch train station

One block from the Den Bosch train station is the patisserie Jan de Groot, home to the famous Bossche bol, a chocolate covered, cream filled pastry the size of a baseball. Leandra ducked in to procure one just ahead of the quickly forming line…

line in front of Jan de Groot

After dropping our bags at the hotel we found a bench outside the beautiful Sint Jans and enjoyed both the view and the pastry.

tasty treat in front of St John's Cathedral

Sugared up we went inside the cathedral (free entry) and enjoyed the stained glass.

stained glass  stained glass

After the church we wandered some of the neighboring small streets and alleyways, many of which crossed over canals.

boats

Citadel  you know, just sitting on a cannon
old citadel on the north side of town; posing with cannons

One of the sights that I wanted to see in Den Bosch was the Jheronimus Bosch Art Center, which explores the artwork of the artist in an old church. Inside were re-creations and tapestries of many of his pieces, plus interpretations by other artists. As a bonus there is a nice view over the city from the top of the cathedral, and you can take an elevator.

Jheronimus Bosch Art Center  gourds out front of the Jheronimus Bosch Art CenterSt Jans from the top of the museum

Altogether a worthwhile two hours. Art makes us thirsty, so we stopped at Cafe De Palm where I ordered a Triple ‘d Anvers and Leandra had a Leffe Bruin before we returned to our hotel for a much needed nap.

Feeling rested we started our early evening by walking south toward the bastions, old battlements along a canal, followed by several of the southern side streets.

Den Bosch

cannon aimed at countryside

street art

With 1.5 hours until our 8:30p dinner reservations, we stopped in at ‘t paulje. I ordered a Belgian favorite, Omer, while Leandra tried a Paix Dieu. The evening was lovely and we managed to snag a table outside on the terrace where we could enjoy both the weather and people watching. We split a second beer, Vurige Non, from Dorpsbrouwerij De Pimpelmeesch.

beers @ Proeflokaal 't paultje  Restaurant ff Swanjéé
beers at t’paulje and Restaurant ff Swanjéé for dinner

Dinner was nearby our hotel at Restaurant ff Swanjéé. Leandra had made reservations early in the week, and still the only time we could get was 8:30p; thankfully an outdoor table was available. I ordered Surinamese chicken roti while Leandra ordered the carpaccio, which had the largest mound of pine nuts we’ve ever seen. For dessert we went for the chocolate bar with sea salt, almonds and a light toffee – delicious! We really enjoyed our meal here, well recommended.

Saturday morning we continued exploring, including the morning market where we found pastries, fresh raspberries, and some tasty cheese for breakfast.

raspberries!  cheese!mural  flowers and stone

Around noon we checked out of our hotel and went back the train station to return to Amsterdam for the next two days. Den Bosch was a fun town to explore with a nicely slower pace compared to the much larger Amsterdam and we were glad to start our weekend here.

Netherlands 2015: Introduction

After a summer at home we were itching to travel again, and visiting The Netherlands was an easy way to transition back to suitcases, airplanes, and lots of photos. We’d been to Amsterdam in August 2011, so for this trip we wanted to see some other cities too. Our long weekend trip featured:

  • Four flights covering 8,176 miles
  • Five train rides
  • Three cities: ‘s-Hertogenbosch (aka Den Bosch), Amsterdam, and Utrecht
  • beer! & seeing NC friends who moved to Amsterdam in 2014.

Where we stayed

The Duke Boutique Hotel – there aren’t many options in the old town part of Den Bosch, but the recently opened Duke piqued our interest especially due to its location in the middle of town just down the street from the Sint Jan Cathedral. Reception was on the second floor and all 17 rooms were on the third floor. Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived in the morning, but they gladly held our bags while we explored town.

In the afternoon we returned and our room was ready. Room 316 faces away from the street, so the view of the neighboring roof wasn’t memorable. Thankfully the room itself was pleasantly modern with dark walls, a very comfortable bed, and the best plugin speaker I’ve experienced in a hotel room.

DenBosch-hotel1

marshall_player

The bathroom featured brass fixtures and nice amenities; the shower lacked a door, so it could be chilly in colder weather (not a problem in summer though). Thankfully the toilet had it’s own separate door. We definitely enjoyed our stay given the comfortable accommodations and good location.

Park Plaza Vondelpark – Amsterdam is an expensive hotel city, so we opted to use points and the Park Plaza had availability. Located in a quieter residential area, it is about about three blocks to an entrance for Vondelpark and two blocks between tram stops which took us into the city center in about ten minutes.

We had a fairly small room on the 5th floor with a sloped ceiling that was definitely showing signs of age with peeling paint, small holes in the carpet, etc. Though relatively small it did have a small wardrobe with hangers and a small refrigerator. The bed was European queen sized and a bit too firm for our tastes.

Amsterdam-hotel

The bathroom was a combination of clear and frosted glass with a door that didn’t close quite all the way – a pet peeve of ours. Our stay was fine, but I don’t think we would return outside of another point redemption.

citizenM Hotel Schiphol Airport – Given our early morning flight we decided to stay out at the airport on our last night. The Citizen M was a short walk from the terminal and a good rate so we decided to try their modern concept. The lobby was large with lots of couches, bar, and a TV area. Several computers were available for self-check-in, and two minutes later we were on our way to our room.

Amsterdam-airport

Definitely small, but quiet and clean. The front features different parts of the bathroom, and we were warned that the shower wouldn’t start until the doors were completely closed – makes sense once you see the layout! It was relatively easy to control.

The room was controlled by an iPad, including colored LED lights, the TV, movies, etc. that was found next to the large, comfy bed that stretched from wall to wall along the back of the room and decorated with cheeky pillows.

pillowfight

Overall the Citizen M was a good place to crash for a few hours before we started our trip home.