So, Jon and I got a very exciting opportunity to attend the International AIDS Society‘s conference that occurs every other year, this time in Amsterdam! Jon was at the conference most of the time so I’ll cover the Amsterdam exploration in this post. (Which, let’s be honest, I got to see much more of than Jon, unfortunately.) It was quite a trip. (Brace yourselves – this is going to be a long one. Got yourself a snack?? Maybe some cheese? Or some hashish? Just kidding about the last one… Unless you’re in the Netherlands…)
We took an overnight flight from South Africa after being there for a few days for Jon’s work. It’d been awhile since I’d flown KLM and I have to say, I liked it! It gave us a good preview for the good-lookingness we were in store for in Amsterdam. (Seriously, can I move there and get more attractive?? I guess I’d have to take up bike-riding.) We were staying at a hotel that was long-stay apartments and checked in pretty easily. As we’d discovered at various museums, etc., the city of Amsterdam used to tax owners by how wide their buildings were so structures are skinny and TALL. So, narrow staircases. It was fun to stay at the top floor for the view but yeesh – suitcase-carrying was tricky. (Fun fact: the narrowest house in Amsterdam was 2.02 meters or 6.63 feet wide. That person was a money-saver, that’s for sure.) We got settled in, had lunch, walked around, had an early dinner and got to bed after a tiring day, happy and excited for what was ahead.
The next day, Jon and I went to brunch at a place in the neighborhood and then Jon went to the first day of his pre-conference course. I explored, got some groceries and went to a coffee shop to map out my first solo day (the next day). Amsterdam has an amazing network of buses, electric trams, metro trains and commuter trains and it was our plan to heavily utilize the system. Jon came to join me and we both read for a while before heading out for dinner. We walked along the Amstel River and went to an amazing restaurant where the chef had to walk into the street to explain and serve us each course because we were right on a bike path, near the water. It was lovely.
In the morning, I set out for my first day exploring in a European city by myself. I was very excited. I took a train to Haarlem, one of the many towns right outside of Amsterdam, and had an amazing day. It’s like a mini version of Amsterdam with beautiful canals and streets. I went to the Great Church (i.e., Grote Kerk) in the town square, an awesome museum dedicated to the local artist Frans Hals, another art museum and a bar on an island with an old windmill, just for the heck of it. After 7.5 miles of walking, I took the train back and met up with Jon to have a nice pancake dinner and hit the hay.
My next day of exploration was super packed: I took the train to explore a few of the cities north of Amsterdam, starting with Zaanse Schans. It’s not just a fun name, it houses some of the oldest windmills in the area. The town is this enclosed little throwback-in-time with museums, an old-school grocery store, etc. It was lovely. I then took a bus to the east to go to Voldendam, a quaint and quiet town that had a kitschy historical museum. (To try to describe it, has anyone seen the episode of “Gilmore Girls” with the Twickham House? Jeez… Carbon copy!) I then took a ferry from the ridiculously-cute boardwalk to Marken, a mostly residential town. I explored, had a snack and took the ferry back. Then, I took a bus to Edam, the real thing I was looking forward to that day but because it was Sunday, things opened in the afternoon. Edam is famous for being a huge cheese hub in Holland and for just being awesome, generally. It was a lovely town and I had the best time eating lunch right off of one of the canals, walking through the different cheese shops, going to their town museum (which was in a house from 1540!) and going to their massive church. Just delightful. I took the bus back to Amsterdam and Jon and I went to have dim sum for dinner. (Naturally… It was actually great. We had an awesome meal.) As my friend Amber would say, my dogs were tired – 6.5 miles that day!
The next day, it was time to actually explore Amsterdam. (Which seemed like a good thing to do, since we were, ahem, in Amsterdam.) I’d prepared a list of all of the museums I was interested in and seeing as how Amsterdam has the most cultural attractions per capita of any major city, that list was long. Since Jon had less time to explore than I did, we set aside his must-sees and I tried to tackle as much as I could of the rest. I started with the Museum of Bags and Purses and, scoff all you want, it was great. It described the history of purses – starting with the invention of the pocket – and went through to modern fashions. As someone who waits for the MET Gala fashions with bated breath each year, I was in heaven. (And Jon was a-ok with missing this one.) I snuck in a quick lunch at a gorgeous canal restaurant (are there any others to go to??) and went to the Amsterdam Museum, an amazing history museum that is housed in a former orphanage. I also went to FOAM, a photography museum, the Jewish History Museum and the Portuguese Synagogue (located in the Jewish Quarter and built in the 1600’s) and the Rembrandt House, the amazing museum dedicated to the famous painter. It is located in the house he lived and worked in from 1639 to 1656 (before he went bankrupt and had to move out). I went to have a drink after at Café de Sluyswacht, a bar from 1695. It was amazing. Jon joined me and then we went to have ramen. (Seriously, Amsterdam is so international!) 6 miles this day!
I woke up early and went to the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, one of the three residences that the monarchy in the Netherlands uses. It is opulent, massive and gorgeous. They hold state dinners here, galas, etc. For lunch, I went to an awesome restaurant that’s on a bridge over a canal, which was delightful. I then explored both parts of the Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museums, which talked about the mostly-accepted industry of weed in the Netherlands. It was a decent museum that I thought about skipping but, when in Rome (so to speak), right? I then went to the Museum Ons’ Lieve Heer op Soldier (translated to ‘Our Lord in the Attic’), a secret church from the 1600’s that was hidden within three houses, since Catholicism was outlawed in the late 1500’s. It was fascinating. I also went to the massive Science Center NEMO, a building in the shape of a ship that is mostly catered to children, but had interesting exhibits on the mind and the evolution of sex (which Amsterdam is very open about). I met Jon when he was done with the conference and we went to have dinner and ice cream. (Ice cream is big in Amsterdam, so…) 6.5 miles, yahoo!
The next day, I was given a visitor pass to the conference so that I could help Jon with a session he organized, as well as attend sessions. I loved it! It was fascinating to go as an attendee (after having worked on the conference-planning side for an organization in Atlanta for six years). I went to four sessions – Trans Identities: Importance of Recognition in the Law and Research to Address HIV and Health Disparities, All Fired Up: Tackling Inflammation, Time for a Youthquake in HIV Prevention and Treatment, and Eliminating HIV Latency: Shock and Kill or Block and Lock. I learned a lot! Then, Jon and I met up with his boss, his boss’s wife (also Jon’s colleague) and their kids for a traditional Indonesian rice dinner, a rijsttafel. It was delightful. (That day was a little slower, walking-wise – only 4.5 miles.)
The following day, Jon had a day off from the conference so we took the opportunity very seriously. We started with breakfast at the cafe at the fancy symphony hall. We then got in line for our appointment at the Van Gogh Museum, part of the famous Museumplein – a massive square with some of the biggest and most important art museums in Amsterdam. It was an incredible museum with so many of Van Gogh’s famous works. (Though, I left it a bit sad – his life sucked!) We then put in our headphones and listened to Rick Steves’ walking tour of the City Center. It started with the massive Centraal Station (the central transport station) and took us down to the Leidseplein, a cool square at the edge of the central canal ring. It took us through a secret church in the middle of a busy commercial street, the beautiful Begijnhof neighborhood (a place that was a refuge for religious women), the flower market and other sites. It was great! We had a quick lunch and went to the Rijksmuseum, the centerpiece of the Museumplein, where we saw works by Rembrandt, Frans Hals and others. We then took a milkshake break and got in line for the Moco Museum, a funky art museum that was housing a massive exhibit of Banksy pieces and ICY AND SOT, artists from Iran that drew inspiration from Banksy. Now, I thought that the art was very interesting and gave me a bit more appreciation for Banksy after mostly thinking he was a troublemaker. (He famously sneaks in to places and leaves art, anonymously, without explanation.) But, I enjoyed the exhibit. We had a hard time getting through it without passing out, though, because it was in a non-air-conditioned building and Amsterdam (well, all of that part of Europe) was experiencing a record heat wave. It was 95ºF degree day! Oy. We went to cool off at House of Bols, a historic genever company that starting producing the liquor in 1575. (Genever is thought to be the grandfather of gin.) It was an aromatic and marketing-heavy tour that ended with two cocktails. Yum. We went to have an awesome seafood dinner and went to bed tired. (7 miles tired!)
My last solo day started early with a train to Alkmaar, thought to be one of Holland’s cheese capitals. They’ve been holding a cheese-trading market since 1365 and as far as I could tell, they uphold their traditions! There were neighborhood teams that race to get the cheese weighed and sold as fast as possible, with girls selling cheese to the massive crowd that watches the event with glee. There were also vendors that sell pancakes, cheese, fried pastries, etc. to the masses. I also went to the town’s cheese museum, beer museum (beer is very big in the Netherlands) and Grote Kerk. There’s also a branch of Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum in Alkmaar so I went to enjoy some art before heading back to the city. Jon and I met at the Netherlands Maritime Museum, the former main land store of the Amsterdam Admiralty. It’s a beautiful museum and has a replica of ‘The Amsterdam,’ a large ship of the Dutch East India Company from the 1700’s. The evening with getting sushi burritos with Jon’s colleagues – what an awesome day! (And despite it being 97ºF, we walked 8 miles!)
Phew. Our final day. The temperature dropped 20 degrees (thank goodness) and we took advantage of it with an early start. We went to the famous Albert Cuyp Market and had traditional raw herring (though we got it in a sandwich, a totally acceptable avenue). It was interesting, especially for breakfast. We also had traditional proffertjes (mini pancakes) that were delicious. We took a canal boat tour that gave us a neat perspective of the city through its multitudes of canals. Just beautiful. We had a quick lunch and then listened to Rick Steves’ walking tour of the Red Light District, the famous, historic and sexually-expressive (to say the least) neighborhood in the center of Amsterdam. We didn’t go during the recommended evening hours but we thought it was better than nothing. It was quite an experience! We then went to a cheese company called Reypenaer and had an elaborate cheese tasting, which was super fun! We also walked to the picturesque Jordaan neighborhood (see “Ocean’s 12”) for our final Rick Steves’ walking tour. It was beautiful and we got some great shots of the canals. We then got in line for the very busy Anne Frank House and buckled up for what was a very powerful and sobering experience. Despite us having to tell a few 20-somethings to stop taking selfies (photos were explicitly not allowed), I am very glad we were able to go. We went to dinner at a taco bar (of course) and enjoyed the last stroll back to our place before passing out. (8 miles! No, not Marshall Mathers, Naama & Jon!)
All-told: 60.5 miles walked this trip. Not too shabby, I’d say! Amsterdam, you were a total delight. Hope to be back one day! Next up: I added to my list of countries visited and Jon tagged along. We went to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, cozied up to Namibia but didn’t quite make it in there (just a few more meters on the river and we would’ve crossed over) and Swaziland (or now, as it’s called, eSwatini). Yahoo!