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Where to See Tulips in Holland

Tulips and Holland. The words go together like, oh, cheese and beer. Windmills and flower fields. Stroop and wafel. You can’t go to the Netherlands in spring without seeing tulips. But where is the best place to view them in all their glory? And how can you do it? Here’s a complete guide to where to see tulips in Holland.

Tulips and Holland–the two are inseparable.

Tulip Season, Netherlands: It Begins

As I write this—on January 18, 2020—people are picking tulips in Amsterdam. That’s because it is the third Saturday in January, National Tulip Day in Amsterdam or Nationale Tulpendag. It is the official opening of the tulip season in the Netherlands. Tulips—just the word makes me smile. Yes, it’s still winter. They might even still get snow or canals frozen hard enough for ice skating. But Tulip Day reminds everyone that spring will come.

But how did this passion for tulips happen? How did this pretty, goblet-shaped flower become the very symbol of Holland?

Tulips in Holland: A Long and Rich History

If you are like many people, when you hear the word tulip, you automatically think of the Netherlands: windmills, cheese, wooden clogs, and… tulips. But these magnificent and iconic flowers are not indigenous to these flat lands.

They actually came originally from the high mountains of the Caucasus and the Tien Chan Mountains, where China and Tibet meet Afghanistan and Russia, and all the way to the Himalayas and Mongolia.

As early as the 11th century, they were being cultivated in Istanbul. And by the 15th century, they had become a passion of the ruling class. One Sultan of the Ottoman Empire loved them so much he had 12 gardens full of them and needed 920 gardeners to care for them. He often wore tulips in his turban.

Tulips first came to the Netherlands in the late 16th century and took hold of the popular imagination immediately. They showed up in vases and windowsill flower boxes and in paintings by the Dutch masters. They were so popular, especially the rare, multi-colored varieties, that from 1634-1637, the speculation in tulip bulbs became a frenzy. You might enjoy watching the movie Tulipmania for a look at how that all went down. (Spoiler alert: Tulipmania itself did not turn out so well for many. Financial bubbles seldom do.)

Enough history. You want to know where to see tulips in Holland NOW. So let’s have a look.

It All Begins with National Tulip Day in Amsterdam

Every year, on the third Saturday in January, commercial bulb growers from around the Netherlands bring some 200,000 tulips in crates to Amsterdam and set them out in a pretty pattern in Dam Square, right in front of the Royal Palace. As many as 10,000 people, locals and tourists alike, line up behind the barricades to see and photograph the display. Then, when the gates are opened, they are invited in to pick a bunch of tulips to take home. For free.

The tulips are not cut flowers. You pick the whole thing, bulb and all. On the way in, you’re given a bag for your flowers. It used to be a handled plastic bag, but now they have changed to paper to be more sustainable. I don’t know that they count the number of flowers in your bunch as you leave, but it’s not cool to be too greedy. Most people seem to pick 20 or so.

Here’s a glimpse of what you will see if you head to Amsterdam for National Tulip Day.

If you want to experience Tulip Day in Amsterdam for yourself, here are the deets:

The growers start setting up at 8am. It’s fun to watch the process as they unload flat after flat of blooming bulbs in dozens of colors and set them out in elaborate patterns with walkways between. The gates for picking open at 1pm, but you’ll want to get there well before that to get near the head of the line. Unless you’re right at the head, you can expect to wait at least an hour to get in. The garden is then open until 4:30 pm.

And dress warmly! Remember, even though there are tulips all around you, it’s January. It’s winter.

Amsterdam Tulip Season and Tulip Festival

So Tulip Day can whet your appetite for more, but the actual tulip season doesn’t get into full swing until spring. And the month of April is the best time to see tulips in Amsterdam, during the city’s annual Tulip Festival, which runs all month. At more than 85 locations throughout the city, the showy, multi-colored and curvaceous blooms decorate the landscape, setting off museums and monuments, lighting up public parks and squares, and filling flowerboxes on the railings of many of the 1281 bridges crossing the city’s 165 canals running some 31 miles. Look for them in the flower bowls in the middle of the giant reflecting pool on the Museumplein side of the Rijksmuseum, in the Rembrandstplein, in the Vondelpark, and dozens of other city locations. They are impossible to miss.

Tulips in shades of white, yellow, and deep purple bloom in front of a building during the April Amsterdam Tulip Festival
The curvaceous blooms bedeck every monument and plaza in Amsterdam during the Tulip Festival in April.

Bloemenmarkt – The Floating Flower Market, Amsterdam

In the old days, flowers arrived daily in Amsterdam on barges from the countryside. To memorialize that custom, the shops of today’s Bloemenmarket, the famous floating flower market of Amsterdam, are still housed on barges that float on the Single Canal. But it doesn’t actually look like a floating market, since the flower and bulb displays spill onto the pavement where you walk along enjoying the technicolor display. And it not just flowers. You can buy a range of green and growing things—spider plants, trailing philodendron—an infinite number of seeds, and a range of gardening tools.

This is where you can buy cut tulips and other flowers in spring, to adorn your hotel room or take as a hostess gift to a Dutch friend. The bloemenmarkt is also where you can buy flower bulbs to take home. If you are flying back to North America, be sure to check that the bulbs are certified for importation. If not, they will be confiscated at U.S. or Canadian customs when you arrive. Ask the sellers about certification for importation into the U.S. or wherever you plan to take or send them. Also, be sure to ask the best time to plant your bulbs to get a good flowering. The sellers should be happy to tell you.

Bulbs, flowers and seeds galore for sale at the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s floating flower market on the Singel Canal.

But of course, the floating flower market in Amsterdam is not open only in spring and not just for tulips. You’ll find bulbs for daffodils, purple crocus, feathery hyacinth and that drama queen, amaryllis. You can find beautiful cut flowers, from roses and baby’s breath to lilies and giant sunflowers. And all sorts of bulbs at any time of year. Again, check for import certification and ask about when the bulbs you choose should be planted.

And even if you don’t buy a single flower, a packet of seeds, or a gardening trowel, the floating flower market in Amsterdam is a lovely sight to see. And to smell.

The Amsterdam Tulip Museum

Before we leave Amsterdam to discover more of where to see tulips in Holland, we need to make a stop at the Amsterdam Tulip Museum. The presentation walks you through centuries of tulip culture, from the mountains where they were first found through their cultivated history, up to the story of how the Netherlands became the largest grower and exporter of tulips in the world. Using photos, videos, and tableaux, it tells you everything you need to know about this glorious flower.

The Amsterdam Tulip Museum–the perfect spot in the city to learn the whole story of the queen flower. Photo by Rain Rabbit on flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

The museum is located at Prinsengracht 116, directly across the bridge from the Anne Frank House. It is open daily from 10-6 and admission tickets cost €5 (no senior discount available). If you get the IAmsterdam City Card, admission is included. As the museum is small, you should plan to spend 20-25 minutes here. However, the lovely shop might compel you to stay longer (and spend more!)  Because it is located in an historic canal house, the museum is not wheelchair accessible.

The shop at the museum is delightful. You’ll find hand-painted Delft tiles, jewelry, books, cards, toys, tea towels—a rich inventory of flower-themed items. Most importantly, the Amsterdam Tulip Museum shop is known for the high quality of the bulbs they sell. And all are pre-certified with stickers for import into the U.S. and Canada, so they will not be confiscated by customs on arrival.

If you can’t visit the Netherlands in spring and see the flowers in all their blooming glory, the Tulip Museum is the next best thing.

And while I mention it, the IAmsterdam City is something you should check out. You can buy it for several different timeframes. It gives you free admission to dozens of museums (including the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Tulip Museum), a free canal cruise (the best way to see the city), free public transport for the length of your card, discounts at many restaurants and cafes, and much more. It’s a real bargain and will get you to places you might not find on your own. You can get your IAmsterdam City Card here.

With the IAmsterdam City Card, you get a booklet that outlines every deal–all the free museum entrances, public transport options, discounted restaurants, and all the other benefits of your card.

Keukenhof – the Queen of Flower Gardens and of Tulips in Holland

You wanted to know the best place to see tulips in Holland? We’ve got you covered. The famous Keukenhof Garden, at Lisse, is one of the world’s great springtime parks, and most especially for bulb flowers—daffodils, hyacinths, and of course, tulips.

Miles of paths, acres of flowers, color forever: that’s Keukenhof Garden in the spring.

The gardens are only open for 7-8 weeks a year, during the blooming season, but during that time, almost a million and half people will come to enjoy the colorful spectacle. Besides the extensive gardens and ponds, there are indoor pavilions with flower shows, terraces and cafes, children’s playgrounds, and the largest sculpture garden in the Netherlands. Every year, there is a different theme for the gardens and flower shows. In 2020, the theme is World of Colors.

The dates for 2020 are March 21-May 10. The gardens change throughout the season, as some blooms die off and others come out. To ensure that the tulips bloom throughout the run, they are planted three deep. The shallowest bulbs will bloom first, the second layer down a few weeks later, and the lowest bulb will give a final showing the last few weeks of the garden season. The flowers tend to be at their absolute peek about mid-April.

The overall numbers are pretty impressive for Keukenhof:

  • 79 acres/32 hectares in size
  • More than 7 million bulbs planted every year, including 800 different varieties of tulips by 500 different flower growers
  • 9 miles/15 km of footpaths winding through the gardens
  • More than 20 flower shows
  • A 100-year-old windmill
Scarlet tulips with yellow stripes in a field in the Netherlands. Tulips in Holland are everywhere in spring.
Tulips in Holland: for a few short weeks they are everywhere.

How Best to Visit Keukenhof Gardens

It’s important to buy your ticket in advance, to avoid long lines at the ticket counter when you arrive. Tickets cost €19 for 2020. However, since the garden is some distance from Amsterdam, near the town of Lisse, I find it most convenient to buy a combination ticket that includes transportation from Amsterdam or Schiphol, plus a skip-the-line entrance ticket. With some packages, other activities are also included, like a boat trip, or drives through the tulip fields. I strongly recommend this approach, rather than trying to do it all yourself, including getting yourself there.

 

Practical Notes for your Visit to Keukenhof Gardens

The garden is open daily during the run from 8 am-7:30 pm, with smaller crowds before 10 and after 4. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the least crowded days.

There is free wifi available throughout the garden. Get your Instagram on! The park is wheelchair accessible and has many accessible bathrooms throughout the property. Non-powered wheelchairs are available with advance reservations for a €20 refundable deposit. You can reserve a wheelchair here.

The Glory of the Tulip Fields, Netherlands, in Spring

You’ve seen the flowers, their pretty cups open to the sun, in singles, in groups in the parks, and in great planted swathes at Keukenhof. But you haven’t truly experienced tulip season in the Netherlands until you’ve seen the tulip fields in the Netherlands. Huge stripes of color, laid out like quilts for giants, stretching almost as far as you can see. These are the fields where Dutch tulip farmers grow the millions of bulbs they ship all over the world.

When the flowers bloom, they are only left to flower for a short time before being “topped,” i.e. the flower heads are cut off, because it is the bulb, not the flower, that is the farmer’s end product. So you have a fairly small window of time to travel out to the fields to immerse yourself in all that color.

The flowers begin to bloom about the last week in march and are usually at their best around April 15th, but that all depends on the weather, how cold the winter was. The bulbs develop more quickly in warmer conditions. So after a cold winter and spring, the bloom will be late. With a warm winter and spring, look for flowers much earlier.

You can sign up for email updates on the state of the fields–what is in bloom, weather forecasts, and the current state of the fields.

Visit Duin en Bollenstreek–Translation: “Dune and Bulb Region”

This coastal strip of fertile land lies between the cities of Haarlem, The Hague, and Leiden. There are beautiful inland fields, but the most spectacular views, I think, are the ones that combine flowers and the sea, all in one panorama. These are near Noordwijk and Noordwijkerhout, where the bulb fields grow up to the edges of the rugged dunes that then slope gently down to the shoreline of the North Sea.

If you like riding a bike, that makes a wonderful way to visit the fields, since you can stop when you like to take pictures or just breathe in the beauty. It is easy to rent a bike at the site. There are also many organized half-day and day trips from Amsterdam to see the fields in full bloom. Do remember, they are popular and the time window is short. Reserve as far in advance as you can.

Among the easiest flower fields to visit are the ones directly around Keukenhof, in Lisse. Combine a trip there with a tour of the fields, by car, boat, or bike. They are adjacent to the garden.

 

Follow the Tulpenroute – The “Tulip Route” Through Flevoland

You’ve probably heard that the Netherlands is bigger than it used to be because they keep adding landmass they have reclaimed from the sea. By walling off a part of the sea with dykes, them pumping out the water, they have created what are called polders, entire new areas of very fertile land. And the polderlands happen to be perfect for growing tulips. Flevoland is reclaimed polder land, under the Zuiderzee as recently as about 50 years ago. Now, it is the Netherlands’ newest province.

The best part of Flevoland for seeing the tulip fields is the Noordoostpolder. Exploring this area by bike is particularly rewarding. There are some 60 miles/100 km of roads and paths through the area, with nearly 2500 acres of fields, all ablaze with color in late April.

FloraHolland-The World’s Biggest Flower Market

For a completely different take on tulips—and flowers of all kinds—you might want to visit FloraHolland in Aalsmeer, close to Schiphol airport. The scope of this place is unbelievable. In a building with the largest footprint in the world at 5.5 million sq. ft./518,000 sq. mt. some 20 million flowers and decorative plants are traded at auction every day.

Just a few of the 20 million flowers to be traded in one day at FloraHolland, in Aalsmeer, the world’s largest flower market.

Unlike Keukenhof and the bulb fields, this is not a place to get up close and personal with the flowers on auction. This is a working business place and veritable hive of activity. You don’t want to be down on the floor where millions of flowers are being loaded, moved, and go whizzing by on train-like vehicles. You would be very much in the way. But visitors can watch the action inside this whirl of activity from elevated walkways. You can also go into the galleries to see how the auction process is carried out. The auction begins at 7 am on weekdays. You should arrive well before 9 am to see and understand how it all works before the morning sales are done at 11 (or 9 am on Thursdays). Admission is €8

For a much more complete description of what happens at FloraHolland, how to get there, and how you can best visit and enjoy it, go to this page on European-traveler.com

Hortus Bulborum—Keeper of the Tulip Genes

For truly hard-core tulip fans, I recommend a spring trip to the Hortus Bulborum in the town of Limmen, about 5 miles/8 km from the city of Alkmaar. This repository, which serves as a sort of gene bank for spring-blooming historical bulbs, more than 4000 of them, includes not only thousands of tulips but also narcissus, hyacinth, crocus and a few others. Some of their tulips date from the 16th century.

A butter yellow double tulip with a blush of pink centered on the petals, from Hortus bulborum, in the Netherlands, a sort of gene bank for the tulips in Holland.
A dark wine purple tulip from Hortus Bulborum, Netherlands

The garden at Hortus Bulborum is open to visitors only in spring, from April 6 to May 16 in 2020 (check their website for the correct dates for future years). Opening times are 10-5, Monday-Saturday, noon-5 on Sunday. Entrance is €5.50 for adults, €4.50 for over 65, free for kids under 12. It is not wheelchair accessible, but they do have a kind of wheeled beach chair available for use. The main garden paths can be accessed by those using a walker, although they can’t move into the narrow paths between the beds.

Learn more about the Hortus Bulborum here.


There is our springtime tulip tour of the Netherlands and the Amsterdam tulip season. Remember, the best time to see tulips in Holland is from mid-April to early May. These flowers wait for no man, nor woman. And they show up when they are ready and not before. But it is worth putting in a little planning to get yourself to the Netherlands at this magical time of year. There is nothing else on earth quite like it.

Check out these and other activities in and around Amsterdam. It’s a small country rich in wonderful things to do and sights to see.

 

Raw herring, with pickles and onion, one of the national dishes of the Netherlands available on an Eating Europe food tour in Amsterdam

Lekker! An Amsterdam Food Tour by Foot and Boat

A collage photo of me chowing down on several different foods on the Eating Europe Amsterdam food tour.

You might have heard it said that Dutch food is…well…boring. Well, I joined Eating Europe for their Amsterdam food tour of the Jordaan neighborhood, followed by a private boat trip through the historic canals of this so-beautiful city. And I’m here to tell you… you heard wrong. This tour will fill your mouth with rich flavors, your tummy with delicious food, and your mind and heart with history and wonderful memories.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link for an item or service I recommend and make a booking or purchase, I may get a small commission on that sale. It won’t affect the price you pay. Also I was offered a discount on this tour to be able to write about it for you. But that has not affected my opinion. My enthusiasm for this experience is genuine.


One of my favorite Dutch words is “lekker.” It means delicious, tasty, good to eat. I love the way it rolls off the tongue, like you’re savoring the taste of it: “lllekkkkkerrr.”

Another thing about the word lekker. It can encompass many things besides food. A sweet girl is a lekker meisje. To tell someone to sleep well, you can say “Slaap lekker.” After spending an afternoon tasting typical Amsterdam Dutch food in the city’s atmospheric old neighborhood and on the city’s wonderful canals, I can say without equivocation that Eating Europe’s Amsterdam food tour makes for a lekker ervaring: a delicious experience all around.

You can learn a lot about a culture by eating their food. Even more when you have a great local guide leading you to some of the best of it while regaling you with stories about the neighborhood, it’s history and legends and tales of the locals. That is what Eating Europe does so well. In Amsterdam, they offer several different tours. I joined the four-hour Jordaan and Canals Food Tour, and I easily decided that for visitors, it was one of the best things to do in Amsterdam.

Where and What is the Jordaan?


A view of a prtty amsterdam canal, from a bridge with, of course, a bicycle and, of course, flower boxes hanging from the bridge railing. SYour Amsterdam food tour takes you along canals and narrow streets.
The Jordaan area of Amsterdam has its share of lovely canals…with, of course, bicycles leaning against the railings, and, of course, flowers in boxes attached there too.

Back in the early 17th-century, Amsterdam was booming, and bursting at the seams. As wealth poured into the city from its world trade, new houses, streets and neighborhoods were being built. And all that growth meant carpenters, stonemasons, bricklayers, and other manual workers also poured in. The Jordaan was built to be the working-class neighborhood for that influx, with tall, skinny houses on narrow streets. Over the centuries, it became more and more crowded and less and less desirable. In fact, it was a slum, so bad that after World War II, the city began making plans to tear the whole thing down and rebuild from scratch.

Fortunately, wiser heads and preservation activists prevailed, and the Jordaan was not only saved but eventually became one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city. Today it is both hip and cozy, a destination and a community. And eating your way across this diverse and fascinating ‘hood is one of the best ways to experience it.

Cafe Papeneiland: Life is Short. Eat Dessert First

The initial meeting point for the tour was at what might just be the prettiest and most photographed corner in Amsterdam, where the Prinsengracht meets the Brouwersgraacht. And our first food stop on that corner was Café Papeneiland. And a worthy beginning it was. One of the oldest eating establishments in the whole city, this café is over 400 years old. It is what the Dutch call a “brown café” of bruine kroegje. They’re named for their brown wooden walls, stained from centuries of tobacco smoke and good conversation. (Not to worry; smoking is no longer allowed in restaurants in Amsterdam). The bar taps are vintage porcelain whimsies, the windows glazed with leaded glass. An antique stove heats the room in winter.

The bar at Cafe Papeneiland is a work of art unto itself. This is typical of the “brown cafes” found in the oldest parts of the city.

These neighborhood kroegjes are an extension of local people’s living rooms, where they meet to chat, drink, argue, laugh, talk sports or politics, and find out what the neighbors are doing.

They also come to Café Papeneiland for the apple pie, and that is exactly why we were there, beginning our walking “meal” with dessert. And why not? Many people claim this is the best apple pie in town. President Bill Clinton certainly thought so when he stopped in one day for a piece and went home with a whole pie to have in his hotel room.

Dutch apple pie is not what we think it is in the U.S. Nor is it the same as good old American apple pie. The crust is more crumbly and cake-like than its American cousin, and the fruit more lightly cooked. Thin slices of apple piled high, very high, are laced with raisins, cinnamon, less sugar than you’d expect and a bit of lemon juice. The result is a dreamy, not-too-sweet confection that calls out for a dollop of whipped cream and gets it.

The apple pie with whipped cream at Cafe Papeneiland, some of the best in town, and a perfect way to begin your Amsterdam food tour. Yes. Life is short; eat dessert first.
The apple pie at Cafe Papeneiland is some of the best in Amsterdam and the surprisingly perfect way to start an Amsterdam food tour.

Meeting Hungry New Friends

As we chowed down on our pie and coffee, we had a chance to get to know each other a bit. We were a group of nine from four countries and a range of ages. It was a friendly group of people who all loved to eat. That was enough.

We also had the chance to learn about our guide. Eating Europe has a high reputation for the quality, knowledge, and sheer fun of their guides. Some are professional chefs. Or historians. Or people who have lived here forever.

Our Eating Europe Amsterdam guide, Mirka, opens the door to invite us to visit a hofje.
Our Eating Europe Amsterdam guide was Mirka, who grew up in the Jordaan and knows every corner of it, including the hofjes. Here she invites us to visit the Suijkerhofje, built in 1670.

 

Our guide that day, Mirka, definitely added to that fine rep. She was born and raised in the Jordaan and knows every corner and alley of her childhood playground. Throughout the tour, she regaled us with Amsterdam history, family stories, childhood anecdotes, and the secrets behind some of the doors and shopfronts.

One Amsterdam secret she showed us was one of the hofjes dotted throughout the Jordaan. These are courtyard gardens surrounded by small houses, mostly built in the 17th-18th centuries as almshouses or housing for single elderly women. Mirka led us from the busy street through a nondescript door and down a corridor into the tranquil garden of the Suijkerhofje, built in 1670.

Colonial Tastes on an Amsterdam Foodie Tour

But on to more food. Our next noshing stop was designed to remind us that the Netherlands has a strong history as a colonial power. Its empire spread from Indonesia to the Caribbean. And those more exotic foods have had a strong influence on Dutch eating habits. We headed up the street to a toko, or takeaway counter, called Swieti Sranang, which specializes in food from Suriname and Indonesia.

I didn’t know what to expect of the Surinamese food served here, but it was complex, different and delicious.

The owner, Henk, and his Indonesian wife, Juliet, greeted us with huge smiles and began handing food around. Juliet was born in Indonesian and grew up in Suriname, and she does all the cooking herself. We tried two different foods here, standing at the counter or outside in the sunshine. The first was a sandwich called broodje pom, from Suriname, made with chicken, apple, and malanga, a South American root vegetable, topped with a complex sauce-of-many-spices that was punchy, tart, and delectable. We followed the sandwich with baka bana, a broiled sweet plantain covered with a spicy peanut sauce. I fell in love with satay/Indonesian peanut sauce right here in Amsterdam many decades ago and will eat anything covered in it. The plantain was a new one for me, but spectacular.

The Basis of Dutch Cuisine: Meat and Fish

Having had our dessert and more, it was time to back up to the two main pillars of Dutch food, meat and fish. These, along with greens and root vegetables, are what you’re going to find on steaming platters coming out of most Dutch grandma’s kitchens.

Sausage and other meats from Butcher Louman, probably the best butcher in Amsterdam. Photo by Eating Amsterdam

As we walked along the narrow streets, Mirka told us more stories about growing up in the neighborhood. She even showed us the house where she lived as a child, pointing up to her attic bedroom window, high up in the gable. The Jordaan was a wonderful place to grow up, she claimed.

One of her stories included shopping for meat and sausages at Butcher Louman, which she claimed to be the best butcher in Amsterdam. Now coming up on 130 years in business, it has customers not just from the neighborhood but from all over the city, who happily travel here for the quality of the meat. In fact, later in my visit, I ate in two restaurants that both stated proudly on their menus that their meat came from Butcher Louman.

We ate sausages here, one dry and deeply flavored. The second was an ossenworst, a raw sausage of which I was more than a bit skeptical. But actually, I loved it. It was not actually raw, but lightly smoked, with a smooth, fine texture similar to liverwurst. I’d eat it again.

And of course there was fish. The Netherlands has been a seafaring nation for hundreds of years, after all. We walked a few blocks to the Urker Viswinkel. And since the first fish everyone must try here is herring, the owner, Dirk, brought out a big platter of the stuff. There are a couple of traditional ways to eat herring in Holland. You can eat it head first, holding it by the tail above your open mouth and chomping away as you lower your hand. We went the other direction, with the fish cut into chunks with perky little Dutch flag toothpicks stuck in them, surrounded by chopped raw onion and pickles. Stab, dip, and eat. I love Dutch herring, even though the first time I had it I was doubtful I would, knowing it was eaten raw. But actually, it is more like Japanese sashimi. It is partially “cooked” in brine, leaving it with a light, sea-fresh taste and a firm texture.

Herring! You can't have an Amsterdam food tour without herring, shown here in chunks speared with Amsterdam flag toothpicks, surrounded by chopped onion and pickle slices.
Delicious briny herring, like the Dutch eat it–with pickles and raw onion.

We followed the herring with kibbeling, which is white fish—most often cod—dipped in beer batter and deep fried. Think classic fish and chips style, but the best you’ve ever had. The fish was flaky and steaming, the batter crisp but not too much. It was served with a garlic sauce for dipping that I think I could have made of meal of all by itself.

Kibbeling, breaded and deep fried cod, it's like the best fish and chips you've ever had.
The garlic sauce we ate with kibbeling was amazing. Photo by
Zoetnet on flickr. CC license.

Eating Afloat: We Head to the Water for More of our Eating Amsterdam Food Tour

It was now time for that promised canal ride, and I was ready to sit for a bit. We strolled over to the gorgeous Hotel Pulitzer, on the Prinsengracht, and boarded their private salon boat, called “Tourist.” A beautifully restored and maintained wooden salon boat built in 1908, it has an interesting history in itself. In 1946, when Winston Churchill visited Amsterdam to celebrate the end of the war, he and Queen Wilhelmina rode through the canals in this very boat.  Stepping inside, it feels like Sir Winston himself might greet you. The carpet is original. The teak glows, the brass is polished to a high sheen. And Captain Ton, in his epauletted uniform, smiled us aboard.


Inside, red upholstered banquettes line both sides of the boat with a table down the center already set with plates of cheeses and Dutch cider and champagne ready to be poured.

The polished brass steering wheel of the salon boat "Tourist," where Capt. Ton steered us up into narrow canals and past beautiful gabled houses.
Capt. Ton’s station, where he steered us confidently into tiny canals and under low bridges.

As we left the dock in front of the hotel, Capt. Ton steered us carefully up the Prinsengracht and through the system of canals. Since “Tourist” is so much smaller than the big canal boats you see plowing through the water all day, it can easily clear the lowest bridges and nose up into many of the smaller canals, leaving its younger but bigger brothers behind. Seen from the water, Amsterdam is even lovelier, if that is possible, and “Tourist” can get you up close and personal with her. As we floated by the elegant gabled canal houses, nibbling on a creamy young cheese and a three-year-old strong gouda that was divine, our gallant captain described what we were seeing out the windows.

One of those very narrow canals took us past the back of the Holtkamp Bakery. Capt. Ton steered us right up to the edge where a young woman waited with a bag. As he thrust out a hooked pole, she handed off the bag and he hauled it in. I was excited, because I’d heard that Holtkamp made some of the best bitterballen in Amsterdam, and yes! That’s what was in the bag.

A bowl full of bitterballen, just waiting to be speared by a toothpick and dipped in mustard. This is the real typical Amsterdam food.
Bitterballen ready to be speared, dipped in mustard and popped hot and fresh into waiting mouths. Photo by Takeaway-CC by SA 3.0

What are bitterballen? They’re delectable little balls of deep fried gravy, usually made with beef or veal. The gravy is chilled so it can be formed into balls, then rolled in a crumb coating and deep fried. Served up with mustard for dipping, they are probably the most common, most popular bar snack in the Netherlands and much better than the name would make you think. There is nothing bitter about these yummy treats. The name refers to the fact that they are often eaten with a local drink called bitters. Instead, we had ours with beer from Brouwerie ‘t IJ, the famous windmill brewery in Amsterdam (and whose beer is so much better than Heineken). The bitterballen were still hot, right from the fryer, and so so good.

A plate of Dutch poffertjes, puffy little mini-pancakes with a glob of butter to melt into them, and dusted with powdered sugar.
Poffertjes are quite possibly my favorite thing to eat in Amsterdam. And the more butter and powdered sugar the better.

After about an hour on the water, you’d think we were done with this afternoon’s adventure. But there was one more stop to make. After climbing back on land at the Pulitzer, we strolled a little way up the canal to another brown café, De Prins, for our final treat of the day and one of my very favorite things to eat in Amsterdam.

Poffertjes are heavenly little pillows of buckwheat pancake dough, cooked in a special pan and served up hot, slathered with melting butter and dusted with powdered sugar. I could eat them daily (and have been known to do so when I am in Amsterdam).

Finally we were done. Mirka waved us all goodbye and left. But our group had bonded over the last four hours together. We ended up sitting on a while at De Prins, chatting, exchanging contact info and suggestions we’d gleaning about what else to do in Amsterdam. There also might have been the fact that we were so full of excellent typical Amsterdam food that we couldn’t walk and needed to let it settle a bit.

In a narrow street in Amsterdam's Jordaan, a woman sits in her open front doorway, reading a book and enjoying the sun.
Sunny days in Amsterdam are for enjoying, however and wherever you can!

I can’t recommend enough this experience of tasting the city with an Eating Amsterdam food tour with Eating Europe. Everything about it was professional, friendly, efficient, and top notch.

Eating Europe now offers a range of food tours and cooking classes in several European cities, with more being added every season. Going to Portugal? Try a tour of Lisbon’s eats and street art in the Baixa and Mouraria neighborhoods. Or dive into a Porto Food & Wine Tour. In Prague, you can dine in the cafe where Albert Einstein ate. Or check out their other tours, night crawls, and cooking classes in London, Rome, Florence, and Naples and Paris and Strasbourg, in France. Eating Europe Food Tours covers them all. And I can’t tell you how anxious I am to taste test them all.

Need to Know: Eating Europe’s Amsterdam Food Tour–Jordaan and Canal Tour

  • Your tour might not be a duplicate of mine. Depending on season and day of the week and the vicissitudes of small, family-run businesses, some providers might be different from the ones described here. But they will all be well chosen and equal in substance to what I experienced.
  • COME HUNGRY! You will be enjoying something like a dozen different tastings, plus coffee/tea, wine, cider, and beer. You want to start on empty.
  • They can make adjustments for vegetarian travelers if you let them know in advance.
  • Except for one hour on the canal boat, this is a walking tour. It’s a flat city walk at an easy pace, but you should wear comfortable shoes.
  • The tour runs rain or shine. If it looks gray or damp, take an umbrella and/or a raincoat with you.
  • This trip involves stairs and stepping into and out of the boat and is not suitable for people with serious mobility problems.

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A collage of headshots of me stuffing my face at various stops on the Eating Europe Amsterdam Food Tour - Pinnable image

 

Pinnable image -- "Come & eat Amsterdam" with small photos of some dishes.

 


Check out some other wonderful activities you can book for your trip to Amsterdam.

 

The Grocery Store Tourist: What You Can Learn About a Culture with a Visit to the Supermarket

Supermarket tourism—it’s one of the best ways to get the inside scoop on a culture. So make a visit to the supermarket one of your first stops on your trip abroad.

This post may contain affiliate links. That means that if you click on a link to a product or service I recommend and you make a purchase, I may get a small commission.

A picture of a supermarket cold food aisle with the words "Supermarket Tourism: It's a Thin" superimposed over it.

I have a secret habit. Whenever I travel, I become a spy. I peek through doorways and into corners and peer into people’s faces—discretely, I hope—because I want to get inside the culture of the place as much as I possibly can. I want to see what is behind the touristic surface. Oh, I know I will never fully understand the intricacies of how the people of another country see the world. After living in Mexico for 17 years, there are still things about the culture here that baffle me. But I want to at least try.

And I have discovered one of the best ways to learn about a people and how they live, is to see how they eat and cook. And how they shop for food. That’s why I always try to make one of my first spy outings a visit to the supermarket or local grocery store.

The Grocery Store as a Window on Culture

It’s amazing what you can learn as a supermarket tourist in the local grocery store. What do the people like to eat here? When you walk into the biggest supermarket in my town of San Miguel de Allende, in central Mexico, and one of the largest sections of shelf space is taken up by dozens and dozens of brands of hot sauce and chiles, what does that tell you? Right, Mexicans like their food spicy.

A Mexican supermarket section six shelves high and many feet wide full of hot sauces and salsas. And this is only part of it! Dozens of types and brands.
This is just a part of the display of hot sauces and salsas available at my local supermarket in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

The grocery store is where everyday life happens. The people are not there to serve you a meal, take your entrance ticket, tour-guide you through town. They just want to buy something for dinner. And while they do it, they are opening a window on the culture for you to look through. Do they have a wide variety of herbs and spices to choose from? Are there mountains of fresh fish for sale? How many fruits and vegetables can you find that you’ve never seen and can’t name? How many different brands of beer are lined up on the shelves? These are clues.

Supermarket tourism is also a fine way to discover unique souvenirs. My kitchen tells the stories of my travels in the speculaas cookie butter from Amsterdam, a bag of flavored salt from Tbilisi, in Georgia, pickled kelp from Alaska, and even the little orange ceramic pots I bought yogurt in from a neighborhood grocery store on the Île de la Cité in Paris.

I’m not alone in this quirk, I’ve discovered. I asked a number of travel blogger friends and regular traveling pals about the oddest, funniest, or just different things they have seen in a supermarket in their travels. More than 20 of them came up with an answer, so I’m sharing them all below.

Sightseeing in European Supermarkets

You’d think that European supermarkets would be quite similar to those in the U.S, and in many ways they are. But there are differences, subtle clues to the things that mark us as different from each other. For instance:

Dutch Licorice: “Drop” from the Netherlands, by Rachel at Rachels Ruminations

The Dutch are absolutely crazy about licorice, and in more variety than any non-Dutch person can imagine. Every supermarket in the Netherlands has multiple shelves of the stuff, called drop in Dutch, ranging from super-sweet to dubbelzout (double salt). It comes in all shapes and sizes too: cars and coins and objects of all sorts. Sometimes the licorice is combined with other flavors: half licorice, half some other chewy candy, much like gummy bears, in “fruit” flavor for the most part. Almost all of them have a hard, rubber-like texture: the kind of candy that sticks in your teeth and drives dentists to despair—though sugar-free varieties are also available.

I have a theory about the Dutch love for licorice. In this country where it can stay cloudy for weeks on end, parents give their children vitamin D drops every day from September until April. Newborns get the drops all year. My son’s exclusive diet for his first six months was a) breast milk and b) vitamin D drops. It’s not surprising, once you realize that the drops taste like licorice, that Dutch people love the stuff. It’s comfort food!

Shelves full of packages of Dutch "drop," or licorice, in various shapes and degrees of sweetness or saltiness
“Drop,” Dutch licorice, comes in dozens of varieties.
Most are definitely an acquired taste.

And while we are talking about licorice, it’s not just the Dutch who are crazy about it. The Swedes apparently love the black stuff too, so much so they even flavor their chips with it.

Salty Licorice Potato Chips from Sweden, by James Ian at Travel Collecting

Grocery stores are always an insight into local tastes and culinary culture. Before visiting Sweden, I had heard about their love of licorice. Especially salty licorice. There are hilarious videos on You Tube of Americans trying salty licorice for the first time. It doesn’t go well. I already knew I hated the taste of anise, so I was steering well clear of all things licorice when, while browsing the shelves of a grocery store in Stockholm, I saw something I had never imagined would exist—licorice flavored potato chips. I was intrigued—and fortunately my husband actually does like licorice—so we bought a packet. He ate the entire packet bar one chip. Yes, I tried them (it). Yes, it tasted like licorice. Yes, it was definitely out of my culinary comfort zone. Yes, one was most definitely enough. Nonetheless, it was fun to see the different things you can buy in a Swedish grocery store. And this is something that you will most assuredly not find in an American supermarket!

A man about to eat a single salty licorice potato chip in Sweden.
Have you ever tried salty licorice potato chips?
Do you want to? If you do… why?
??

Plopp Ice Cream in Sweden, by Suzanne from Meandering Wild

In winter, in Sweden, in a blizzard, the best thing to do if you still need an adventure is to explore the warm supermarket. Even in a country very similar to your own, you can find unusual items, usually where translation really doesn’t work well. Browsing the ice creams for a treat to match the outside weather we came across Plopp. The name jumped out as we sauntered by. Amongst the strawberry ice creams and fruity ice lollies sat a box of chocolate Plopp. I am sure you can see why this had to be photographed and then tested. As an evaluation, I can confirm that these frozen ice creams taste far better than their name suggests even when consumed while walking across a parking lot in sub-zero temperatures. This really is a case of bad translation; anything other than Plopp would not have grabbed our attention or secured a purchase for the store.

A package of Plopp chocolate ice cream cones
I think this must be as much fun to eat as it is to say… Plopp!!

Spanish Cold Meats, by Sabine de Gaspari of The Traveling Chilli

One of the things that intrigued me the first time I walked into a Spanish supermarket was the copious amounts of cold and cured meats on the shelves. In most countries, you can find a nice yet often modest selection of various cold meats, both local and international. In Spain however, looking at the almost infinitely long shelves filled with cold and cured meats, it seems like that is the daily staple food, which in fact, it almost is. Most cold meats, or embutidos as they are locally called, are served as tapas, appetizers or prepared in the main dish itself. Serving a meal of Spanish food without cold meats doesn’t happen very often.

The most popular and famous cold cuts are the Spanish ham and chorizo which are also sold internationally. However, the variation seems endless. You can buy thin sliced meats, from small to large cuts of sausages to whole pork legs of cured ham. On top of that, the quality of the cured meat in Spanish supermarkets is of very high standards and tastes just delicious. So next time you walk into a Spanish grocery store, look for the aisle with the cold meats, which is in fact very hard to miss.

Packages of cured meats in Spain, some marked "tasty" and some marked "intense."
A very small fraction of the meats and cold cuts available in your average Spanish supermarket

And for some supermarket tourists, it’s about the stores themselves, not just what is in them.

SPARS stores in Vienna, by Gemma Armit from Two Scots Abroad

Spar brand stores in Vienna, Austria, could be confused for upmarket delis and off-off license shops. In contrast to Scotland’s Spars (and their equivalents) which stock beige food and cardboard boxes. The first time I stepped into a European Spar, not only could my eyes not believe what they were seeing but also my nose was surprised! The smell of fresh bread and pastries in contrast to the smell of, well, nothing because pantry goods found on Scotland’s shelves don’t tend to have a smell. Instead of the tinned peaches we are accustomed to in our corner shops, fresh fruit and vegetables! Forget stale bread in plastic bags, European Spars have baguettes, rolls, and deliciously sweet filled pastries.

Then there is the drink aisle, which admittedly Scotland does do well if you’re not too picky. Vienna has quality wine and craft beers as well as local schnapps. Avoid buying souvenirs at the airport; you can pick up Milka and Mozartkugel at most grocery shops too. So, when thinking about where to stay in Vienna, you might want to think about accommodations with a kitchen if you like to cook in and save money. You can just stock up at the nearest Spar.

Pork and Bacon Snacks in Denmark, by Lesley from Freedom 56 Travel

When it comes to eating pork, Danes eat more than any other country in the world per capita. As ardent pork and bacon lovers, Danish people have for years designed creative ways to prepare their favorite meat. Stegt Flæsk (fried pork belly with potatoes and parsley sauce), frikadeller (flat, pan-fried meatballs), flæskesteg (roast pork with crackling) and so many more are beloved pork dishes in Denmark that are regularly served at family meals and special occasions, particularly at holidays.

But, if you ever feel a craving for pork on a Danish afternoon and it’s hours until dinner, don’t worry—there’s a fast food waiting for you in the nearest grocery store or convenience store. Enter Bacon Snacks. I happened on these crispy pork confections during a holiday in Denmark and can’t get them out of my mind. Similar to pork rinds but fluffier, these delicious salty, porky snacks are as addictive as the best potato chips. Just don’t look at the calorie count. Try them on your next Danish shopping trip!

A bag od Danish "Bacon Snacks"
Yummmm…. bacon, bacon, bacon!
Sometimes supermarket tourism really pays off.

Binned Goods in Bulk in Tbilisi, Georgia, by Chris Backe from Worthy Go

Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is one of many Eastern European cities formerly under Soviet control. While few of these cities look to the past with any level of fondness, some cities have kept some of the Soviet traditions alive more than others. While I’m sure you’d see it elsewhere, the Carrefour inside the Karvasla mall (a few hundred meters southeast of Station Square) features large bins of staples like noodles, sugar, and so on, sold in bulk. Much as you would with fruits or vegetables, you fill a bag, then take it to be weighed. 

I’m unsure if this was originally done as part of a rationing program, or if locals preferred it to get the exact amount of something they needed. You can always buy the standard sizes of things, but sometimes a holdover from the past still works for people today.

In a Georgian supermarket in Tbilisi, large bins holding dried pasta and meal, to be sold in bulk.
Is buying goods in bulk from bins in Georgia a leftover from Soviet rule and rationing?

Hard-boiled Eggs in Switzerland, by Will from The Broke Backpacker

Swiss grocers uphold the positive cliché that many will recognize of the Swiss: dedication to organization and efficiency. These stores are best approached with a game plan. There is an obvious route that begins at the entrance, passes each aisle exactly once, and deposits the shopper at the register. On the way you’ll see an array of Ricola lozenges (a word I only learned upon seeing them here), mayonnaise and other pasty condiments in stiff metallic tubes, and racks upon racks of eggs decorated for Easter. Actually, it doesn’t matter what time of the year you visit; the eggs are always brightly colored. Half of them are, anyway.

These brightly colored half (never mixed with the other, unembellished ovals) are marked so peculiarly because they’ve been hard-boiled. For us egg lovers, this is a huge convenience. These eggs are ready-made to throw in salads. Plus, you’ll have no difficulty discerning bits of eggshell to pick out when they accidentally fall into your meal.

For more on Switzerland, check out TBB’s Switzerland Travel Guide

A package of 4 "pic-nic" eggs, colored red, yellow, and gold.
Easter-colored eggs in Sweden let you know hard-boiled from not…any time of year.

Supermarket Tourism in Asian Grocery Stores—Not for the Faint of Heart

Europe is easy; Asia and Africa can present a bit more…culture shock. Our blogger friends came up with some interesting finds from the shelves of Asian supermarkets they visited.

Horse Milk in Kazakhstan, by Ellis from Backpack Adventures

The oddest thing I have ever seen in a foreign grocery store was in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan’s culture is strongly influenced by its nomadic past on the steppes. Horses were and still are very important to Kazakh people and this is also clearly visible in the average Kazakh supermarket. Often there is a special section with horse meat. Horse sausages are popular and an integral part of Kazakh cuisine. The national dish of beshbarmak consists of noodles in a broth with horse meat on top.

If the horse meat section isn’t odd enough, there is also the dairy section where you will find Kazakh’s national drink. Kymyz is fermented horse milk. A less common variety is shubat or fermented camel’s milk. It is an acquired taste and not one that many foreigners appreciate. Still, if you are in Kazakhstan, it’s a must try and in the supermarket it is relatively cheap to buy kymyz and shubat.

Bottles of horse milk and camel's milk on a supermarket shelf in Kazakhstan with very decorative labels.
Aren’t these bottles of fermented horse milk and camel’s milk in a supermarket in Kazakhstan pretty?

Ramen-Tofu-Kimchi in South Korea, by Cal from Once In a Lifetime Journey

When I first landed in Korea, I was taken to a gigantic “Mart” to do my food shopping. This is actually one of the best things to see in Seoul. It’s a megastore several stories high with different departments on each level, food usually being in B1. I never knew you could get so many different types of tofu, some for stewing, some for frying, with different textures and packaging. There must have been 25 different brands and varieties. Then there was the ramen. Where I’m from, ramen is a snack for you don’t want to cook or can’t afford a proper meal, but in Korea ramen is a very competitive market. It ranges from sweet to spicy, from thick (udon) to thin (soba) to gourmet. I chose Mashitneun Ramen (맛있는라면 – Delicious Ramen) because it looked nice and I’ve never turned back.

After walking past the fishtanks with staff shouting all kinds of sales phrases I got to the kimchi section. Us Westerners who know only a little about kimchi, don’t understand how many types there are. There are, wait for it, over 100 types of kimchi. From bossam (rolled) to chinggak (young) to kkakduki (spicy), it takes a while deciding which you like best and which goes with what dish.

Probably the best things about shopping for food in Korea, other than the glorious product packaging, are the “events” and the free samples. Sometimes each aisle will have a free sample, from kimchi to fried sausage or spam. And the events are constant, we say “buy one get one free.” They say “1+1 Event”. I still find it difficult to get only one toothbrush at a time. 

Supermarket shelves and shelves full of every kind of ramen in bags and cups, i Korea.
All the ramen….
in a South Korean supermarket

Beondegi (Silkworm Pupae) in South Korea, by Marie of Be Marie Korea 

After living for a while in South Korea, I’m used to most of the food and find the cuisine quite delicious. There are only a couple of dishes that I really don’t like and will never eat. One of these is beondegi or boiled silkworm pupae. You’ll find this snack canned in local supermarkets as well as fresh at any street food market. To me it just smells and tastes really weird. I tried it when I first came to South Korea three years back, but I have never gotten used to it. Beondegi became popular in Korea during the 2nd World War as it has excellent nutritional value and was widely available when other food was scarce. A can of beondegi at a supermarket costs around 2000 krw, and it’s about the same at the Myeongdong street food and night market.   

A pot full of Korean beondegi, or silkwork pupae, cooking in a brown sauce.
Beondegi – Boiled silkworm pupae. I’m not at all sure these are ever going to become a regular part of my die

Coconut Worms in Vietnam, by Josh and Sarah from Veggie Vagabonds

For us, one of the highlights of adventuring to foreign lands is experiencing supermarkets and the bizarre products they have on the shelves. In Vietnam, you’re absolutely spoiled for choice. And this is in supermarkets; go to one of the local street markets and things get even more extreme. One of the things that really caught our eye was the first time we saw packaged coconut worms in the chilled section of a supermarket in Hanoi. A pack of them, wrapped in clingfilm and for a cheap price, right next to the regular meats.

If you’ve not seen coconut worms before, they’re a form of beetle larvae which look like huge maggots. Beetles lay their eggs inside coconuts and the larvae grow inside. They ruin the coconut, but the worms are a delicacy to the Vietnamese who eat them in a number of ways. They are becoming more popular with tourists. Sometimes they’re fried, sometimes fermented in stew and sometimes eaten raw. We’re vegan (here’s our Vegan in Vietnam Guide) so they weren’t appealing to us, but in Southern Vietnam they’re highly sought after as it’s believed they enhance men’s sexual abilities!

A metal bucket full of maggoty-looking fat coconut worms.
Coconut worms are a delicacy in Vietnam, found in the street markets and also in Vietnamese supermarkets. Hmmm… I think I’ll take the coconut instead.

Snake Wine in Vietnam, by Ben at Horizon Unknown

Shopping in Vietnam can provide you with plenty of memorable sights, even at the local markets and grocery stores. While this tourist hotspot is known for many things, shopping was always interesting. That is especially true when you first encounter snake and scorpion wine, which I first encountered during a free walking tour of Hanoi. Clear glass bottles of these wines are for sale throughout the markets and grocery stores of Vietnam. Filling the gaps between the snake and scorpions is a white wine-type alcohol that soaks in the flavor, and there is usually some sort of spices added to the mix. While this drink is certainly unique, at least to an Australian like me, you can find it in many shops around the country.

A word of warning: if you want to try this beverage while in Vietnam, know that some of these wines can be watered down. This watering down lowers the alcohol percentage and won’t preserve the snakes and scorpions. This lack of preservation causes the animals to decompose—not great for drinking.

A jar of Vietnamese snake wine, showing coiled snakes marinating in the liquor.
Snake wine? Scorpion wine? Perhaps if I’d had too many drops of some other kind of alcohol first!

Fruit Syrups from India, by Somnath Roy from Travel Crusade

The most interesting items that stole my attention in foreign grocery stores was the syrups made of strawberry and green mango. They are stored and sold in glass containers capable of holding quantity up to 1 liter. These syrups are mostly available in the summer season as they are the perfect soothers and refreshers to keep us cool. They are normally mixed with water and one teaspoon of sugar. They have the real flavors of strawberry and green mango, which are perfect for mocktails to serve during the scorching summers.

Glass bottles of strawberry and green mango syrup, ready to mix into refreshing fruit drinks in India.
A fine way to cool off on a hot summer day, strawberry and green mango fruit syrup for making cold drinks.

The Tiny Grocery Shops of Kathmandu, Nepal, by Michelle from Full Time Explorer

Being an American, I’m used to going to the grocery store, buying a cart full of food, then heading home until next week. Something I found intriguing about living in Kathmandu, Nepal, is how every food item seems to have a separate store. Food shopping for one meal involves going to at least five different locations. We have a dairy store, a fish shop, a chicken butcher, a vegetable stand, a fruit stand, a tea shop, a spice shop, and more. I think Americans are often in a rush, so we demand convenience, but in Nepal everyone has a pretty laid-back attitude. One of the first phrases I learned to say was “Ke garne?” which means “What to do?” If something isn’t working or is inconvenient, the people just shrug and say “Ke garne?” and let it go.

Another interesting insight is that there aren’t many chain stores. Most of the shops are owned by families who live nearby, so you aren’t buying from a corporation. You’re buying from your neighbor. It’s something I admire despite the hassle of running to five different stores every day.

A tiny, open-front shop in Kathmandu, the size of a newspaper kiosk, selling dozens of packages of different spices and teas, including cumin, garam masala, saffron flower, and ilam leaf tea.
A tea and spice shop in Kathmandu, Nepal. Can’t you just imagine the heady smell?

What Oddities Can You Find in an African Supermarket?

Biltong in South Africa, by Alya of Stingy Nomads

Biltong is South Africa’s favorite meat snack. I remember clearly the day my husband first placed this peculiar item in our shopping basket in a supermarket in Cape Town. It is made by cutting meat into strips, marinating it with rock salt, pepper, coarsely ground coriander, and vinegar and just hanging it out to dry. Popular biltong is made from game such as kudu, springbok, and wildebeest, but the most common biltong found in South African supermarkets is made from beef—usually fillet, sirloin, or silverside—due to its lower price and widespread availability.

These pieces of meat hung out to dry can be seen in most supermarkets, where you can choose a piece according to dryness and taste, specifying a “wet” (moist), “medium,” or “dry” piece. Fat content is another criteria used to choose biltong; some customers prefer it with a lot of fat, while others like it as lean as possible. Voortrekkers, the Dutch settlers in South Africa, preserved their meat in this way when they migrated away from British rule in Cape, because there were no refrigerators in those days. The word biltong comes from the Dutch bil (“buttock””) and tong (“strip” or “tongue”).

Long strips on biltong, dried meat, like beef jerky, hanging in a shop in South Africa.
Biltong, available in every South African supermarket. It looks similar to some jerky.

Soya Mince in Lesotho, by Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan

When traveling in Lesotho and in other southern African countries, I was surprised to see row upon row of boxed “soya mince” on the grocery store shelves. It’s a powdered soy product that, when mixed into a sauce, clumps together and resembles minced meat. Plant-based meat alternatives like this are becoming common in Western countries, because many in the West are adopting vegan or vegetarian diets or at least trying to cut down on their meat consumption. In Lesotho, on the other hand, the concepts of veganism and vegetarianism are virtually unheard of. So why are these products so popular? It was explained to me that soya mince is both cheaper and more practical than meat. It is shelf stable and doesn’t need to be refrigerated, which is a huge advantage for people living with a sporadic electricity supply, or perhaps no electricity at all.

As vegans traveling in Africa, my husband and I found our options for eating out were somewhat limited at times, so we decided to give the soya mince a try. We added it to a tomato-based sauce with beans and ate it over pasta. It was pretty tasty!

Boxes of packaged soya mince, in chicken and mutton flavors, in Lesotho. "More meaty taste."
Soya Mince in Lesotho, seems like a good way to “beef” up a vegetarian or vegan meal.

Braid Spray in Namibia, by Shara of SKJ Travel

When traveling in rural northern Namibia, I’ve noticed a paucity of hair care products. In America, it’s overwhelming the number of shampoos, conditioners, hairsprays, gels, coloring kits, etc. you see on the shelves, but not here. However, the one hair product on every shelf, even in the small convenience stores, is braid spray. I had to read the bottle to figure out what it was. I’d never heard of it. Simply enough, it’s a spray to condition the scalp and keep braids or hair extensions (and “all kinds of bonded hair”) soft and supple. In a region where so many of the women, and even men, wear their hair in elaborate braided styles, it makes perfect sense! It’s also an important part of the African Hair Salon.

Going into grocery stores in northwestern Namibia also happens to be one of my very favorite activities because they are a concentration of great diversity in a very small area. Nowhere else have I been where in one check-out line there can be people dressed in regular Western clothes (shorts, tee-shirts, flip-flops); women dressed in brightly colored, long hoop skirts with huge, puffy, fabric hats like bullhorns; men in “skirts” fashioned from two pieces of brightly printed fabric secured by a rope around their waist; and women in stiff cowhide skirts with bangles and jewelry, barefoot and completely topless. I laugh trying to imagine this in America! 

A woman in Namibia with tightly braided hair wrapped in a scarf. And a beautiful smile.
All the elaborately braided hairstyles in Namibia need braid spray to keep the hair soft and conditioned.

South American Supermarkets: What’s Different?

An Eye-Opening Tea in Peru, by Carol Perehudoff from Wandering Carol

“Is this what I think it is?” I asked my friend, as we stared at a grocery store shelf in Lima, Peru. In front of us was a long row of packages of coca leaf tea. “Does coca leaf tea contain, like, cocaine?” Short answer, kind of. But you can’t equate the leaf with the drug. While you can’t make cocaine without coca leaves, the tea is such a mild stimulant that it’s more akin—as one Peruvian told me—to having a cup of coffee.

Said to quell hunger, quench thirst, and help with pain and fatigue, coca leaf tea is also widely used as a cure for altitude sickness. It’s especially popular in the Andes, and when I flew to Lake Titicaca, the highest commercially navigable lake in the world, it was freely offered at the hotel I stayed at. This was a good thing as the altitude sickness hit me like a sledgehammer, and I’m always up for trying to stay healthy while traveling. After sipping a cup, I can’t say I felt any effects, but now, if I saw it in a grocery store, I wouldn’t blink an eye.

A green box of "Mate de Coca," Coca leaf tea, common in Peru and the Andes.
Not everything about the coca leaf is bad for you. Especially is you live in the Andes.

Dulce de Leche in Colombia, by the team at One Weird Globe

Strolling through the Colombian megasupermarket Éxito, past a dozen Fabuloso floor cleaner products decorating the aisle in more colors than a Pride Parade, and not far from the brick-like sugar called panela (coming in blocks ranging from paperweight to paving stone), you eventually come across arequipe. This Colombian delight is caramelized and goes by the names of dulce de leche and manjar in other regions of Latin America. Its uses are general, potentially replacing both chocolate and Nutella. In Colombia, you can find arequipe scattered about the grocery store, in tins beside the sweeteners, in plastic bags by the refrigerated dairy, in personal-sized tubs with the snacks, and in cookies in the bakery section. Mmmm…. alfajores.

Careful of those chips. Make sure they’re not dulce de leche flavored. And compare prices before you buy that manjar! Products can be more expensive when bought in bulk in Peru—due to the extra packaging, it was explained to me. If you end up in Juan Valdez (not Starbucks), snag one of those iced arequipe (not caramel) macchiatos. Here’s our list of Hostels in Medellin.

And Even in the Caribbean…Grocery Store Tourism Can be a Thing

Old Amsterdam Cheese in Aruba, the Dutch Caribbean, by Michele from A Taste for Travel 

If you’re browsing the deli and dairy sections at a grocery store on the Caribbean island of Aruba, you’ll quickly notice that the aisles are packed with a vast assortment of Dutch goods including drop (licorice), cold cuts, and cheeses. The reason is that, along with the Netherlands, Curaçao, and Saint Maarten, Aruba is one of four countries that are members of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This Dutch influence, along with contributions from 90 other nationalities that have left their mark on the island’s culture and identity, have helped shape Aruba into one of the Caribbean’s most diverse culinary destinations. 

While the glossy red rounds of Edam cheese you’ll see are a key ingredient in Aruba and Curacao’s national dish of Keshi Yena (a rind of Edam cheese stuffed with spiced meat), one of the most popular cheeses in grocery stores in Aruba is Old Amsterdam Aged Gouda Cheese. It comes available in sizes from bite size portions to huge pizza-sized wedges, designed as crowd-pleasers. Not only does it come wrapped in almost indestructible packaging that makes it very portable, the intense flavor of this yellow gouda is so full of character, it’s a popular food in Aruba for taking to parties and get togethers. For visitors, it makes a delicious and affordable snack to enjoy during Happy Hour at your condo rental or during a day at the beach. When your visit to Aruba is over, if you haven’t yet eaten your fill of Old Amsterdam Cheese, you can pick some up at the Queen Beatrix International Airport in Oranjestad. Make a stop in the Duty Free area where certain shops have whole sections devoted to Dutch cheeses and meats. 

An assortment of "Old Amsterdam Aged Gouda Cheese" in a supermarket in Aruba.
Dutch cheese in the Caribbean… it makes sense you’d find it in an Aruba supermarket, since the island is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Being a Tourist in an American Supermarket

Of course, what travelers may find odd or funny in a foreign grocery store is not at all weird to the locals. It’s simply what they eat. And we should remember that things we find commonplace at home, might seem distinctly weird to a visitor from abroad. Do you wonder what things would jump out at a foreign visitor to the U.S.? Like how much people on the western side of the Atlantic like dry cereal!

Packaged Cereal in the USA, by Annick from The Common Traveler 

Are you a breakfast eater? And when you eat breakfast, is it cereal that you’re eating? If you visit the United States of America, a walk into any grocery store reveals America’s fascination and love of all things cereal. When I was growing up in South America, we rarely ate cereal, and the cereal we ate was either Rice Krispies or Puffed Rice. But in America, you will find large aisles devoted to shelves upon shelves of any type of cereal you can imagine (and many you wouldn’t have dreamt of!)

Apparently, in the USA cereal is not just a breakfast food. Many people eat cereal for lunch or dinner, or even as a snack, with milk or dry. And there are multiple versions of some favorite cereals. For example, I counted 16 types of Cheerios on the supermarket shelves: Original, Honey Nut, Maple, Blueberries, Oat Crunch, Peach, Apple Cinnamon, Multi Grain, Chocolate, Fruity, Frosted, Banana Nut, Very Berry, Pumpkin Spice, Honey Nut Medley Crunch, and Chocolate Peanut Butter. And that’s just one type of cereal! Healthier, more conscious versions of cereal are available, or you can select from the opposite spectrum with a shameless version of cookies or candy bars in your cereal bowl. You won’t believe the cereal variety available in the U.S. compared to other countries! 

A very, very long supermarket aisle in the U.S. stacked with dozens of types and flavors of dry cereal.
Have you ever really thought about just HOW MANY brands and types of dry cereal there are on the shelves of every U.S. supermarket? It’s kind of staggering.

There you have a taste of some of the things you might (or might not) find odd when you let yourself be a grocery store tourist while on your travels. Wherever you go, a trip to the supermarket can be an entertaining and culturally enlightening experience.

Have you come across some treasures of your own while on a grocery store tour? Tell us about it in the comments!

Banksy's "Forgive Us Our Trespassing" shows a young boy in jeans and a gray hoodie kneeling in prayer before a heavily graffitied stained-glass window. It is displayed in front of another staind-glass window, which frames it perfectly. At the Moco Museum Amsterdam.

Moco Museum – Amsterdam’s Newest Home for Modern & Contemporary Art

Amsterdam’s Moco Museum of Contemporary Art has taken root beside its bigger brothers on the city’s Museumplein. And if you like edgy, subversive, and provocative art by the likes of Banksy, Andy Warhol, Dali, and Roy Lichtenstein, you need to see it. Also, if you love beautiful vintage architecture, you get a sweet bonus at what some are calling the Banksy Museum, Amsterdam.

The 1904 Alsberg House, an elegant 3-story house brick house neo-Renaissance details, home to the Moco Museum of Contemporary Art.

The 1904 stately Villa Alsberg on Amsterdam’s Museumplein, home of the Moco Museum. Amsterdam’s newest venue for contemporary, opinionated, subversive and controversial art has also been called the Banksy Museum Amsterdam.
Photo by C. Messier CC license

Amsterdam is a city where museum lovers are spoiled for choice. There are more than 90 museums in the city. They honor everything from historic art masterpieces to kitsch, from tulips to cheese to cigars. There’s a handbag museum, a Bibles museum, and a sex museum. Whether you want to see Rembrandts and Van Goghs, world-class photography, or the rooms where Anne Frank hid with her family, whether you love cats or science or vintage ships, whether its spectacles, pipes, or diamonds that get you going … there’s a museum for that in Amsterdam.

Moco Museum of Modern Contemporary Art Enters the Scene

In 2016, Moco—Museum of Modern Contemporary Art—joined the list as a home for exhibits featuring popular culture icons of op, pop, street art and other contemporary funk. Underground-gone-mainstream artists like Banksy and Warhol, Koons and Haring, Yayoi Kusama and Roy Lichtenstein and others are filling the walls and spaces of a graceful and distinctly non-contemporary 19th-century townhouse on the city’s Museumplein.

Moco is a private museum. Owners Lionel and Kim Logchies have a long-established presence in Europe’s contemporary art scene. Their Lionel Gallery, in Amsterdam’s Spiegel Quarter, was named one of Europe’s top galleries by ArtNet. They have long had an affinity for so-called “subversive art,” like the clandestine street work of the mysterious Banksy. So opening a museum was a logical extension of what they’ve been doing for years. And Banksy and Andy Warhol were the no-brainer choices for Moco’s first star-turn exhibit.

Contemporary Art – Vintage Home

The stately Villa Alsberg was a less obvious choice of venue to house their new contemporary art museum. Built as a family home in 1904, it was designed by Edward Cuypers, whose uncle, Pierre Cuypers, designed the massive and distinctive neo-Gothic style Rijksmuseum and Amsterdam’s Central Station. Edward was trained by his uncle, but developed a different style, with elements of Neo-Renaissance and Jugendstil. Against the elegant backdrop of beamed ceilings, polished wainscoting, and stained-glass windows, the cheekiness of the young, vibrant, edgy art pops out even more. The dichotomy works.

An elegant room in the Moco Museum, with yellow walls and a heavily beamed ceiling, showing two "Stormtrooper" paintings by Banksy on one wall, below vintage beveled glass windows.

The contemporary, humorous, and sometimes subversive art exhibited by the Moco Museum offers a sly, delightful counterpoint to the elegant early 20th-century style of it’s Villa Alsberg home, like these Banksy stormtroopers.

I visited Moco Amsterdam shortly after it opened and was fortunate to spend time with that original Banksy-Warhol exhibit. I was delighted at every turn, both by the whimsical, colorful, or anarchic art and the beauty of its new housing. Although the small size of some of the rooms and stairways works against the flow of the large crowds, the curators have used the layout well.

A large black-and-white self portrait of Andy Warhol sits against an elegant glass and wainscoting wall at Moco Museum, Amsterdam

The contemporary art at Moco makes for a whimsical counterpoint to the elegant building.

The First Banksy Exhibition in Amsterdam

I’ve been a Warhol groupie for decades, but I was fairly new to Banksy’s work. I’m now a confirmed fan. I love the irony and humor with which he expresses his subversive ideas. I also love the mystery of him. The fact that no one seems to know who he is simply makes the work more intriguing. And after the 2018 stunt he pulled at Sotheby’s, when a shredder he’d built into the frame of one of his paintings kicked in just as the gavel came down on the $1.2 million price, leaving the painting of the girl with a red balloon in shreds, I loved him even more.

This unauthorized exhibit, called “Laugh Now,” is a grouping of works from private collections. It is comprised of more than 50 pieces, including his huge “Beanfield” painting. Some of the original street pieces look like they’ve been physically cut from their original outside walls, still attached to concrete slabs, or appear on traffic cones, metal signs and other surfaces. The parade of monkeys, rats, children, British policemen, soldiers and street fighters send the artist’s anti-war, anti-capitalist, anti-establishment message with both power and humor.

"Beanfield" is one of Banksy's largest work, a classical pastoral village scene overlaid with a cartoon mouse about to set the world on fire.

Banksy’s very large canvas, “Beanfield” combines whimsy and anarchy in his unique style.

One of many instances of Banky's "Girl with Balloon," showing a young girl who has just let go of (or lost) a red, heart-shaped balloon.

One of Banksy’s most famous images is his stenciled girl with a red balloon. It was a print of this image that was rigged to self-destruct as soon as the hammer came down on its auction at Sotheby’s.

To see the actual semi-destruction of the print at Sotheby’s, watch this video. For some reason, the shredder only worked on half the print, leaving the piece perhaps even more valuable than it was before.

My favorite work in the group was “Forgive Us Our Trespassing.” This large painting shows a young boy in cap and hoodie, praying on his knees, in front of a large stained-glass window covered with graffiti. Moco has placed it by one of the house’s original stained-glass windows, and the result is stunning.

Banksy's "Forgive Us Our Trespassing" shows a young boy in jeans and a gray hoodie kneeling in prayer before a heavily graffitied stained-glass window. It is displayed in front of another stained-glass window, which frames it perfectly. At the Moco Museum Amsterdam.

Banksy’s “Forgive Us Our Trespassing” showing a young boy in a hoodie praying for forgiveness before a graffitied window. It fits perfectly against the stained-glass window of the Villa Alsberg, home of Moco Museum. Banksy has been a perennial favorite at the museum since it opened in 2016. The current exhibit runs through September, 2019.

That original Banksy Amsterdam exhibit proved so popular that Moco brought it back. It has been extended several times and is now scheduled to remain through September, 2019. It’s quite possible that some Banksy pieces will continue to show up in the museum’s ongoing shows. But despite the strong Moco Banksy connection among locals, the museum has shown a range of contemporary artists. Salvador Dali was a popular recent choice, as was the primary-colored cartoon style of Roy Lichtenstein.

Lichtenstein, Kusama, et al at Moco

Bold, clean lines over flat, strong colors, regularly spaced dots like an amplified half-tone… these are the hallmarks of much of Roy Lichtenstein’s work. One of the most popular pieces from Moco’s exhibit of his work, the 3-D “The Artist’s Room at Arles” installation, remains in place. A reimagining of van Gogh’s iconic yellow room in the French city, its showing here has been extended indefinitely.

At Moco Museum, Lichtenstein's "The Artist's Bedroom at Arles" is a bold, "cleaned-up" version of the famous van Gogh painting, with strong primary colors, bold lines, and a diagonally striped wall.

You can walk into the 3-D isntallation of Roy Lichtenstein’s reimagined and “cleaned-up” version of van Gogh’s
bedroom at Arles. I wonder if Vincent would recognize it.

Two pieces by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama are currently on show through September, 2019: “Pumpkin” and “Night of Stars.” Easily recognizable from their strong lines and polka dots, the pieces have a joy about them that fills the room. An earlier show featured Icy and Sot. Two Iranian street artist brothers, sometimes called “The Banksy of Iran,” their work has been banned in their own country.

A big, bold, orange, polka-dot pumpkin painting by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

“Pumpkin,” by Yayoi Kusama, is one of two of the artist’s pieces that have been shown at Moco, Amsterdam.

While visiting Moco, be sure to check out the garden. Filled with a constantly changing, evolving parade of whimsical and unexpected sculptures and installations, it’s always a fun discovery. Drool over a giant red Gummy Bear; puzzle over a big bronze melting Dali pocket watch; or climb aboard Marcel Wanders’ “Tempter,” a giant hobby horse, and have yourself a ride. There is a very nice gift shop in the basement of the house.

While it’s possible, and even likely, that few or none of these specific works and artists will still be showing when you make your own way to Moco, I hope they convince you that whatever is on display is certain to be interesting, thought provoking, probably subversive, whimsical, and something you’re not likely to see in most other museums. And it will be a delightful counterbalance to all those Rembrandt’s and Vermeers and van Goghs filling your other museum hours in Amsterdam.

Moco Amsterdam has already become very popular in its short life. I recommend you buy tickets online before you go. It will definitely ease your entry. Book your Moco Museum tickets online at the Moco website.

If You Go to Moco Museum Amsterdam:

Opening Times:

Sunday – Thursday, 9 am to 7 pm
Friday-Saturday, 9 am – 8 pm
(Open one hour later each day in July and August)

Admission Prices: (2019)

Adults €14
Students and Youth (16-17) €12.50
Youth (10-15) €9.50,
Children under 10 free
€1 Discount for tickets purchased online

Location and Contact:

Moco Museum Amsterdam is on the western edge of the Museumplein, between the Rijksmuseum and the van Gogh Museum.
Address: Honthorststraat 20
Telephone: +31 (0) 20-3701997
email: hello@mocomuseum.com

Getting There:

Trams #2, 3, 5, 12 stop at van Baerlestraat.
Trams 16, 24 stop at Museumplein

Accessibility:

Moco Museum is located in a vintage home with many steps and no elevator. Consequently, it is unfortunately NOT wheelchair accessible.

Photography is allowed. Flash is not.

The dutch Pea Soup, or "snert' at Moeder's Restaurant in Amsterdam, is the closest I've found to homemade.

Traditional Dutch Pea Soup Recipe–the Taste of Family and Memory

In a country not famous for gourmet food, real Dutch Pea Soup stands out as one of the Netherlands’ great contributions to the culinary world. Hearty, filling, and redolent with the scents of peas and pork, of memory and home. This old family recipe takes me back to an Amsterdam apartment and a dinner table surrounded by love.

The Oranjebrug--Orange Bridge--over the Browersgracht canal in Amsterdam, in summer.

Ah, Amsterdam, you are so beautiful, especially with the green of summer and fresh flowers all around.
Is it any wonder I fell in love with you all those decades ago?

Food and Memory–Lifelong Triggers

Many years ago, I lived in Amsterdam. Beautiful city… city of my heart. It was my first time traveling outside the US, my first time living so far from my family. I had a dream job doing what I always wanted to do, a nice place to live, and a busload of wonderful friends, both Dutch and other ex-pats. It was then I fell in love with Holland and the Dutch, a love that has never faded.

When my dream job ended after several months and I could no longer afford my own place, a Dutch friend, Inez Hendriks, invited me to move in with her. It was another step in my education in “being Dutch.” Every Tuesday, Inez went home to her parents’ apartment for a family dinner. Once I moved in, I was “family” too. So of course, I was expected for Tuesday dinner as well.

Mevrouw Hendriks was a good, basic home cook. One Dutch specialty after another appeared on her lace-covered table—hutspot (a one-pot meal of potatoes, carrots, onions and a smoked sausage or meatballs), stamppot (potatoes mashed with a vegetable, often kale), kibbeling (chunks of white fish breaded and fried), pork chops, sausages, stewed pears. But my favorite, the one that always had me thinking “I hope… I hope…” as Inez and I strolled together along the canals toward her house, was Erwtensoep, the thick and smoky, traditional Dutch Pea Soup. It’s so much a part of Dutch family meals that it has a nickname… snert.

A bowl of hearty Dutch Pea soup, so thick it's more stew than soup.  This is what the Dutch call Erwtensoep, or  more commonly "snert."

Of course I don’t have a photo of Mev. Hendriks’ Dutch Pea Soup, after all these decades. But this is close… a bowl of goodness so thick it’s more stew than soup. Photo by the Master Experimenter on flickr. CC 2.0 license

Dutch Pea Soup had been a favorite of mine almost since the day I arrived in Amsterdam. During my days of being pretty broke, I often stopped into a workingman’s café for lunch of a steaming bowl of erwtensoep met broodje, pea soup and a soft white roll spread thick with butter. I slurped it up surrounded by Dutchmen young and old, mostly dressed in blue coveralls and wearing soft caps, hurrying to get the last drops before heading back to work. Back then, such a lunch cost less than a dollar. It was a filling and tasty meal.

Some cooks add potatoes to the peas, some dump in schunks of carrot. Fancier cooks might add a few dollops of sour cream on top. But to me, Mev. Hendriks’ homey snert was the best. Always the best.

Memory can play tricks on us. On recent visits, I’ve never managed to find Dutch erwtensoep in any Amsterdam restaurant with quite the same richness and depth of flavor as Mev. Hendriks’. Is it because hers was seasoned with love and a warm welcome that really did make me feel like family? Was it because it’s hard to find a restaurant in Amsterdam with a traditional tablecloth trimmed in lace, with white lace curtains at the windows, and with the perfume of Mijnheer Hendriks’ scented pipe tobacco still hanging in the air? Perhaps.

Eating Dutch Pea Soup at Moeders

The Dutch Pea Soup, or "snert' at Moeders Restaurant in Amsterdam, is the closest I've found to homemade.

Try this Dutch Pea Soup–Erwtensoep–at Moeders, in Amsterdam. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to Mev. Hendriks’ home-made snert. Served with fresh bread and a little pot of house-made hummus.

I continue to search for the real thing on every trip back. The closest I’ve found is served by my favorite restaurant in Amsterdam, and it’s got just the right name: Moeders… Mothers. It offers a slightly modernized take on traditional Dutch food. It’s smallish, with tables pushed close together. The dishes and glassware are mismatched and homey, walls are lined on every side with photos of mothers… brought by years’ worth of patrons wanting to add their mom to this great altar to motherhood and mom’s cooking. See my full review of Moeders here.

But when I want true Dutch Pea Soup, the one that brings back that cozy apartment, soft Dutch accents, and my struggles with the language, I make my own using Mev. Hendriks’ recipe. I’ve been carrying it around the world for over 45 years and through more than a dozen moves. She was a “handful of this and pinch of that” cook, so her measurements were guesses. But I’ve made this soup several times and they seem to work. The celeriac/celery root is a crucial ingredient to get the flavor true, but it may be difficult for some to find. You can substitute chopped celery hearts with the green tops and a bit of celery seed. It won’t be exact, but it will be close.

Mevrouw Hendrik’s Echte Hollandse Erwtensoep (Real Dutch Pea Soup)

(Copied from a page in my journal, dated December 8, 1971)

INGREDIENTS

  • 750 grams/1½ lb. dried split peas
  • 1 medium celeriac (celery root), diced
  • 2-3 large green onions, chopped
  • 1 med. onion, finely chopped
  • ½ lb sliced pork (with fat) or one ham hock
  • 1 med. beef cutlet or 1 lg. slice ham, cooked
  • 1 large smoked sausage, sliced into large chunks
  • Salt, parsley & garlic powder

PROCEDURE

Wash the peas and let them soak for a few hours. Then bring to a boil over medium heat.
Add the celery root, green onions, and onion. Stir well. Let cook 1-1½ hours, stirring occasionally, until peas are soft.
Add sliced pork or ham hock and the beef cutlet or ham, shredded into small pieces. Cook another 30 minutes.
During the last 10 minutes, add the sliced smoked sausage.
Season with salt, parsley, and a little garlic powder to taste.
Serve with soft white rolls slathered with good butter.

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The tower of the Amsterdam Westerkerk against a bright blue sky

The Iconic Tower of the Amsterdam Westerkerk–Photo of the Week

The Amsterdam Westerkerk, or Western Church, is a much beloved symbol of the Dutch capital. The crowned spire of its tower, the Westertoren, is the tallest church steeple in town, and you can see it from almost anywhere in the city center. It has been a beacon, a time-teller and a source of reassurance for Amsterdammers for hundreds of years.

The tower of the Amsterdam Westerkerk against a bright blue sky

The Westertoren, or tower, of the Amsterdam Westerkerk, the most important
Protestant church in the city and a much beloved icon for Amsterdammers.


A Symbol of Reassurance

More than four decades ago, I began a life-long love affair with Amsterdam. I lived in the city for a year, and put a lot of effort into trying to learn Dutch.

One day, when I was house sitting for a friend in the Jordaan neighborhood, I decided it was time to try to read something in Dutch, preferably something not too difficult but not a children’s book either. If it could be something I was already familiar with in English, so much the better.

The obvious answer was Het Achterhuis, Dagboekbrieven–the original version of The Diary of Anne Frank in the language in which she wrote those pages.

Not far into the book, I came across these lines:

In this quote, in the original Dutch, Anne Frank talks about hearing the bells of the Westertorn.

Saturday, July 11, 1942
Dear Kitty,
Father, Mother and Margot still can’t get used to the chiming of the Westertoren clock, which tells us the time every quarter of an hour. Not me, I liked it from the start; it sounds so reassuring, especially at night.

I put the book down and smiled, because those same damn bells had been keeping me awake night after night in the apartment I was sitting, just a few blocks from where Anne and her family hid all those years ago. That simple line in a young girl’s diary personalized her experience for me more than anything else had.

The Bells of the Westertoren

The bells of the Westertoren, the tower of the Amsterdam Westerkerk, have been chiming the quarter hour, accompanying lovers, reassuring frightened Jews, helping people get to work on time and generally punctuating the days and nights of Amsterdammers for almost 400 years. And they still do.

The Amsterdam Westerkerk was built between 1620 and 1631 in Renaissance style. It’s the largest church in the Netherlands built for Protestants and is still in use by the Dutch Reformed Church today. The 278 foot (87 meters) tower was added in 1638.

A Trip to the Top

For those able to handle very steep and narrow stairs, and a lot of them, the climb up the Westertoren, the tower of the Amsterdam Westerkerk, can be a highlight of your visit to the city. You must go on a guided tour, as you will not be allowed to climb it alone. You actually ascend only about halfway, approximately 40 meters (131 feet). The guide will stop at each landing to give some history of the building and point out things you might miss on your own (as well as providing a brief catch-your-breath mini-break, much needed by me!)

You’re not allowed to take a bag or anything with you but a camera and maybe a notebook in your pocket. Your bag will be safely locked away during the tour. Once you begin the climb, you’ll be glad you’re not wrestling a bag or anything else. You need both hands to climb the steep stairs.

Note to Older Women Travelers: The steps begin as a narrow spiral staircase with rope handles. Nearer the top, they turn into straight-up stairs that are really more like ladders, extremely steep. Apparently, people had much smaller feet in the 17th century, because the step treads themselves are narrow. Wear well-fitted shoes, take your time and concentrate on your footing. Also, it’s probably not a good idea to wear a skirt if you don’t want to give those below you a free show! Coming down, you’ll find it easier to descend backwards.

The Best View in Town–and Bells!

At the top of the climb, step out onto the balcony. Prepare to be awed by the view, a seemingly endless 360° panorama of Amsterdam, with views of the canals below, the rooftops, the parks, and everything in between. A short block away, you can look down at the tiny windows of the attic where Anne Frank sat and looked at the tower’s clock, one of the few things she could see. Also, take a minute to look up. Just above you is the coat of arms of the City of Amsterdam, with its white XXX, a design you’ll notice all over the city. The top of the tower is crowned with the Imperial Crown of Maximilian I of Austria, which is also part of the city’s arms.

Up in the tower, you also have a chance to see the magnificent bells of the Amsterdam Westerkerk. They’re among the biggest in the city and were cast by the master bell makers of the 17th century, the Hemony Bros. According to the current carilloneur, “The name Hemony is as much associated with bells as Stradivarius is with fine violins.”

Volunteers from the congregation still ring the bells by hand for Sunday services and special occasions, such as Dutch Remembrance Day. The largest bell, weighing in at 4000kg, is never rung for fear the vibrations will crack the walls of the tower. The carillon is the only one in Amsterdam that still rings out the time for the entire 24 hours every day. On Tuesdays at noon, the city carilloneur plays a delightful hour-long concert on the carillon. You can hear it from many blocks away.

The guided tour up the tower is offered Monday through Saturday from April to October. They only take up 6 people at a time, so you may have to get your ticket and then wait a bit. The first tour of the day begins at 10 am, and that’s when you are most likely to get in straightaway. The tour lasts 30 minutes and costs 8€. Tickets are only sold on the same day; no reservations are possible. Take cash because they do not accept credit cards.

Be Sure to Visit the Amsterdam Westerkerk Too

While you’re waiting for your tower tour, take a few minutes to explore the interior of the church. The Amsterdam Westerkerk is spare, characteristic of most Dutch Protestant churches. But it is lovely in it simplicity. With chairs instead of pews set out on the flagstone floors, wooden barrel-vaulting high above and some lovely stained glass windows, it’s a peaceful place. Since there are no tall buildings adjacent to the Amsterdam Westerkerk to block the sun, light pours through the 36 large windows to set the whitewashed walls aglow in a glorious “light effect.”

There is also a beautiful Duyschot organ, brass chandeliers, and the usual unassuming pulpit. Rembrandt was buried in the Westerkerk in 1669 but in an unmarked pauper’s grave. As was the custom then, his remains were removed after 20 years to make way for other poor people. There is a memorial to him in the church.

Access to the tower is obviously not accessible for wheelchairs and other people who have difficulty with stairs. The church itself, however, is accessible, though the flagstone floor may be a little uneven in spots.

When you’re looking the things to do in Amsterdam, make sure you take time to see this icon of the city and soak in some of its history. And if you can possisbly manage the climb up the tower, do it. You will be well rewarded for the effort.

The Amsterdam Westerkerk–A Symbol, a History, a Haunting

On July 9, 1942, Anne Frank, her mother and her father, walked through the pouring rain toward her father’s business and its hidden hiding place in the attic of the Achterhuis–the house behind. (Margot would arrive directly from school on her bike.) They sloshed through the city, wearing as many layers of clothing as they dared and carrying as many useful items as they could pack into school bookbags and shopping bags without looking too conspicuous. Their walk took them directly past the Amsterdam Westerkerk and its crown-topped tower.

Today, the tower continues to play out its place in Amsterdam’s history, comforting the people, marking the hours, and celebrating their joys with its magnificent bells.


For more information and a schedule of events, check the Westerkerk website.” It’s in Dutch but pretty easy to understand. If a specific date on the calendar says “kerk gesloten,” that means the church is closed that day. It also lists who will be playing the organ for Sunday services and the free Friday lunch concerts (April to October and highly recommended) and any other performances being offered. The acoustics of the church are marvelous.

The church itself is open year-round Monday through Friday from 11 am to 4 pm. From April 1 to November 1, it is also open on Saturdays. (Hours are sometimes shortened in the off season and shoulder season.) Sunday services are held at 10:30 am, in Dutch.

The Westertoren/Tower opens for tours at 10 am, Monday through Saturday, from April 1 to November 1. The last tour begins at 7:30 pm. 8€ entry fee, cash only.

The church entrance is at #279 Prinsengracht; the tower entrance is just a few feet away. Tram lines 13 and 17 stop right at the corner, at the Westermarkt/Anne Frank House stop.

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Dutch citizens celebrate as British soldiers with the 1st Canadian Army liberate the Netherlands in May, 1945.

Remembrance Day in the Netherlands: The Power of Silence

In Holland, Liberation Day is for celebration. But Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, “Dodenherdenking,” is for the silence of deep and painful memories, the solemnity of “We Will Never Forget.”

Liberation Day is celebrated in the Netherlands on May 5th. It marks the day in 1945 when the Germans surrendered in Holland and the occupation of the Netherlands officially ended, and with it the long nightmare of World War II for the Dutch people.

Liberation Day, Bevrijdingsdag, is marked by celebration. It’s a national holiday, a happy day, a day for fun and picnics and laughter and parties. Everyone gets the day off from work. There are music festivals throughout the country. The day’s festivities end with a major concert on the Amstel River in Amsterdam. The people celebrate their freedom, democracy and joy.

Dutch citizens celebrate as British soldiers with the 1st Canadian Army liberate the Netherlands in May, 1945.

British soldiers from the 49th (West Riding) Division—the Polar Bears—attached to 1st Canadian Army,
liberate Utrecht, the Netherlands in May, 1945.

Remembrance Day in the Netherlands Comes First

But for the Dutch, the rule has always been, “First commemorate, then celebrate.” And so the day before all the fun and festivals, May 4th, is the day to remember all those who died or were murdered in World War II and in every armed conflict since. Remembrance Day ceremonies are still taken very seriously and are held throughout the country, with the major one taking place at Amsterdam’s Dam Square, where wreaths are laid by the King and Queen.

Remembering My Remembering

My own memories of Remembrance Day in the Netherlands are smaller, more personal than the pomp and royalty on the city’s main square. But perhaps the more powerful for all that.

It was 1971 and I had been living in Amsterdam for only a few weeks, but I was already in love with the country and the people. I was not on Dam Square that day. I didn’t see Queen Juliana lay a wreath or hear the bugles play. I didn’t watch any of the pageantry or hear the solemn speeches—which I would not have understood anyway as my Dutch was non-existent at the time. I was not part of any crowd. But what I saw was much more meaningful to me.

It was a beautiful spring day in Amsterdam, I recall, with flowers spilling from every window box and a few flat-bottomed white clouds dotting an unusually blue sky. The windows were open in many of the flats, their so-Dutch white lace curtains ruffling slightly in a spring breeze.

I was walking along the Rozengracht near where it crosses the Prinsengracht. I was on my way to meet a friend for dinner at a favorite café and hoping we’d be able to find a table outside to enjoy the beautiful weather. The Dutch are such inveterate sun-worshippers, they were out in force, filling every available seat of every terrace café I passed.

People at a terrace cafe in the sun in Amsterdam

Today, as in 1971, Amsterdammers love sitting outdoors at a terrace cafe canalside on a sunny day in May.


A tour boat slid quietly up the Rozengracht canal, leaving a small wake where the sunlight glistened off the water. Moms pushed strollers and prams along the cobblestones. A young couple bicycled past on their traditional old-fashioned Dutch bikes, each with one hand on the handlebars and the other clasped between them, in perfect balance. The café patrons laughed and chatted over their drinks—a koffee, a pilsje, a jenever.

And the World Stopped

The sky was still light at 8 pm, the sun sailing low in the sky when, almost as if the earth took a deep breath and held it…everything and everyone in the Netherlands simply stopped.
Cars pulled to the side of the road and stopped. A tram moving down the middle of the street slowed and rolled to a complete stop mid-block. Pedestrians stopped walking and stood like relaxed statues. People in the sidewalk cafés put down their cups, their forks, their glasses of pils.

A waiter stepped from inside to the doorway, looked out and stopped. A streetsweep stopped and leaned on his broom, looking down at the now-clean cobblestones beneath his feet. The pair of bicyclists back-pedaled to brake to a halt, still holding hands. On the humped bridge over the canal at the corner, a couple leaned on the railing of the bridge, completely still.

My shadow across the pavement stopped too, as I took in the whole, still, surreal scene and its meaning.

Conversations stopped. Laughter stopped. The sounds of tires on cobbles and wheels on steel tracks stopped. The clatter of cups and glasses and forks stopped. Everything except the breeze, the soft ripple of water in the canal and the cooing of pigeons just stopped.

For two minutes, no one spoke, no one laughed, no one moved. Instead, they stopped and they remembered. They remembered what their country had suffered.

In the silence, they remembered the ones who died—the Jews sent to be exterminated, the Dutch fathers and brothers and sons sent to become slave labor in the German munitions factories who never came home, the Dutch Resistance fighters who saved so many lives but could not save their own. They remembered the Dutch citizens who died in Japanese concentration camps in Indonesia. They remembered the Dutch children and the old people who died from hunger in the last brutal “Hunger Winter” of the war.

And they remembered every Dutch citizen who has died in armed conflict since World War II because the world has not yet learned to live in peace.

For those two minutes of silence, I stood there, feeling the low-angled sun on my face as I listened to the quiet lapping of the water. I realized I was only a two-minute walk from the very building where Anne Frank and her family had hidden from the Gestapo for years until finally they were found only months before the war ended and sent to the concentration camps, where most of them would die. I realized what these people, this country—like so many others in Europe—had been through and how fortunate we in the US had been to escape so much of that suffering.

The tower of the Westerkerk in Amsterdam, where the bells toll for Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, along with all the other church bells in the city.

The bells in the tower of the Westerkerk in Amsterdam began to toll, like all the bells in all the churches in all the cities in the Netherlands for Remembrance Day.

When the two minutes of silence were over, the church bells began to ring. The sound seemed to come from every direction. I was less than a block from the Westerkerk, and those bells seemed to sound almost inside my head. All the bells from every church in Amsterdam tolled out the memory of their loss and the end of their suffering. It filled the air and it filled me, that sound of relief that it was finally over.

Slowly, the world around me woke up again. The tram began rolling down its steel tracks once more. The tour boat resumed its easy float along the canal, pointing out to people from all over the world the magic of this beautiful city. Cars moved, bicycles rolled again, people started walking. Conversations and coffee resumed in the cafés.

The ceremony of Remembrance Day in the Netherlands was over for another year. Normal life resumed and I continued on my way, off to meet my friend, hungry for my late dinner.

But I was not quite the same person. I never would be again.


If you are planning to visit Holland and your timing is flexible, consider planning your trip to coincide with Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, May 4th. The silence, the remembrance, the respect the people still show for those who died–and are still dying today from the idiocy of war–will leave you moved, and touched. Then stick around for the parties, the fun and the pure joy of Liberation Day.

Pin it For Later: Pin for Later: Remembrance Day in the Netherlands, a time of silence, remembrance and resolve

Blue doors, a rose-colored step and fuchsia bougainvillea petals in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

POTW: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico-It’s the Little Things

On how a photo presented itself to me in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and reminded me to pay attention. To look up.  To look down. To listen and smell and feel the air. To notice the “little things” that can turn any trip into a rich and fulfilling adventure.

On Noticing the Little Things Along the Way

Blue doors. A rose-colored step.  A sprinkling of fuchsia-colored bougainvillea petals.

Blue doors, a rose-colored step and fuchsia bougainvillea petals in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

A perfect still life in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, one of the “small moments” we must slow down to notice as we travel.

This lovey composition was just there, being itself in all its beauty, not waiting for me to come along, not posed for the camera or “set-up” as a perfect shot. I just happened to be walking by. I was on my way home from a meeting, my mind spinning with ideas and “must-dos”—what to fix for dinner, a business call I had to make, a bank balance I had to check. I was half-writing my next blog post in my head while keeping one eye on the ground to avoid tripping over the cobblestones or an all-too-common hole in the sidewalk here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. My only real point of focus was getting home.

But something made me turn my head to the side. A flash of color. A piece of composition. It barely registered and I kept walking. But then I stopped, turned around, walked back the few steps to look at it again. I realized it was beautiful, a perfect composition of color and form, shape and placement. It was a little piece of Mexican art handed to me on a plate.

I whipped my phone out of my pocket and snapped a few photos of it before going back on my busy way.

Later that evening, I looked at the photo again, and I liked it. I decided to put it up on my Instagram page. I post quite a few pphotos of my home town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico there and they usually get a nice response. I also shared that photo on my NomadWomen Facebook page. I didn’t think too much about it for the rest of the evening.

But when I looked at my page the next day, I realized that this one photo was getting a much greater response than usual. Something about this pretty color composition had struck a chord. People were liking, it, commenting on it, and sharing it like crazy, this little photo that was basically an afterthought.

And that got me thinking. How many of these small moments, these little gifts of noticing, do we let go right past us in our normal lives and even in our travels? If you’d been walking up Calle Hernandez Macias on that sunny afternoon, would you have seen that blue door with its rose-colored step and its sprinkling of fuchsia petals? How many times have I passed something very similar in this town and NOT seen it myself?

The Lesson for Travelers from my San Miguel de Allende, Mexico Moment

The moral here, I think, is a simple one. First: Slow down and pay attention. Let your senses run free. Look around you. Smell the wind. Taste the air. Feel the stucco or the water or the wooden door.

Ask yourself: What “small things” and precious moments do we miss on our travels as we rush from place to place? When we go from one “must-see” attraction to the next, when we focus our attention on the street ahead and the day ahead instead of being fully present in the moment, what wonders go right past us unseen, unheard, unnoticed and lost forever to our conscious enjoyment of our trip?

Some Examples from my Own Recent Travels (with Bonus Photos)

If I had rushed through the Rijksmusem, seen the paintings I love, and then run off to the next thing on my Amsterdam “must-do” list, I would not have stopped to rest on a chair in the gardens behind the museum. I would not have noticed how the sun shining through the dancing fountain there created a rainbow that gave me great delight as I watched its changing stripes of color weave through the droplets while the fountain danced its rhythms.

A rainbow in the fountain behind the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

A rainbow plays with the dancing fountain in the garden behind the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

 

If I had been solidly focused on getting to the Charles Bridge in Prague, a highlight of any trip to that magical city, I might not have been hit so hard by the divine smell of chocolate when someone opened the door of the Choco Cafe just as I passed by. I might not have realized I could take a break to rest my sore feet, step inside and order what turned out to be the most decadent, most sensory-fulfilling, most delicious cup of thick hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

The facade of Choco Cafe, near Old Town Square, Prague

The facade of the Choco Cafe, at Liliová 250/4, near Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic.
Photo courtesy of Choco Cafe.

 

If I had not been paying close attention as I strolled the aisles of La Boqueria market in Barcelona, my nose might never have taken in the full variety of the different fish smells and my eyes may not have taught me that barracudas have wicked sharp teeth and are apparently a popular food fish in Catalunya. Or that the movements of the man slicing Jamon Iberico from a large hanging shank of that specially cured and especially delicious ham are a beautifully choreographed ballet.

Head of a barracuda with sharp teeth on a bed of ice at La Boqueria market in Barcelona.

A barracuda with its wicked sharp teeth, resting on a of ice at La Boqueria Market in Barcelona….
not someone you’d want to meet out in a wine-dark sea, or even a sunny one.

 

And I never would have caught, from the corner of my eye as I hurried home, the perfect abstract composition of a pair of blue doors, a rose-colored step and a handful of fallen bougainvillea petals in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.


Pinnable Image of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico with Text Overlay--How Noticing the Little Things Can Turn Your Trip into an Adventure

< –Pin this image to Pinterest!

The Skinny Bridge--Magere Brug--in Amsterdam

POTW: Amsterdam’s Magere Brug, the Skinny Bridge

The most famous bridge in Amsterdam is lovely, but the “Skinny Bridge” is not really all that skinny anymore.

There’s a reason Amsterdam is called the “Venice of the North.” Riddled with canals and the Amstel River as it is, it has more bridges than any other city in the world… yes, far more than Venice. All this water criss-crossing the city wherever you look calls for hundreds—thousands—of bridges. Some accounts put the number as low as 1250, others at twice that. Apparently, Venice rings up a measly 400. Perhaps Venice should be called the “Amsterdam of the South.”

Arguably the most famous of those hundreds of Amsterdam bridges is the Magere Brug, which translates as the Skinny Bridge.

The Skinny Bridge--Magere Brug--in Amsterdam

The delicate drawbridge called the Skinny Bridge
is the most famous bridge in Amsterdam.

“Throughout the city there are as many canals and drawbridges as bracelets on a Gypsy’s bronzed arms.”
~Felix Marti-Ibanez, Spanish author


The pretty and delicate-looking white wood structure is a double-swipe “bascule” bridge, which means it uses a counterweight system to make opening and closing its two drawbridge “leaves” easy. That’s a good thing because it opens and closes a lot—on average every 20 minutes throughout the day. A common and perfectly legitimate excuse for being late for an appointment in Amsterdam is “The bridge was open!”

Those of us from the true Nomad Women generation might remember the bridge from the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. Ah, for the days of the only real James Bond—and we all know that was the one and only Sean Connery. Seldom mentioned in stories of the bridge is its unhappier memory. It was used as an accumulation point for Dutch Jews about to be shipped east during the Nazi occupation of World War II.

The Skinny Bridge’s first incarnation was built over the River Amstel in 1691. It was apparently so narrow two pedestrians could barely pass each other when crossing the span, creating its popular nickname. If you take one of the famous rondvaart canal boat tours—and you really should—the tour guide will likely tell you a charming but apocryphal story of its name. It goes something like this….

A Delightful Story

Once upon a time, there were two sisters whose family name was Mager. They loved each other very much and insisted on meeting each morning for that much beloved Dutch custom of koffie en koekjes. But getting to each other for this coffee-and-cookies tradition was difficult because they lived on opposite sides of the River Amstel. And so they built a bridge to connect with each other more easily… Poof! The Magere Brug came into being.

The truth is more prosaic, as it so often is. With commerce burgeoning during the 17th-century Golden Age, there was always a need for more means of getting around, running hither and yon, doing business, moving things, making money.

The Skinny Bridge has been rebuilt a few times over its life, first in 1871, when the decrepit little old thing was also widened to allow for more traffic. Fifty years later, the city tried to replace it with a steel and stone construction, but the outcry from the tradition-loving Dutch was loud and long. The new-fangled design was scrapped. The last reconstruction was in 1969, still keeping to the original design. Since 2003, the Skinny Bridge has been closed to all traffic except pedestrians and bicycles.

The bridge is high enough for the low-profile rondvaart boats to pass under it, and it’s pleasant to stand in the center of the span and watch them float past below, especially in the evening when both the bridge and the boats are illuminated.

A Bonus Photo – The Skinny Bridge at Night

The Skinny Bridge in Amsterdam, lit up at night

Amsterdam’s Skinny Bridge is illuminated at night by some 1200 white lights.
Photo copyright Nico Aguilera. CC License


You can find the Magere Brug/Skinny Bridge between the Keizsersgracht and the Prinsengracht, where the Kerkstraat meets the river on the east side and connects it to the Nieuwe Kerkstraat on the west. Take trams 9 or 14 or metro line 54 to Waterlooplein, then walk toward the Amstel. If you need to ask directions, you’ll find that virtually everyone you meet in Amsterdam speaks English.

Gray Skies & Ferris Wheel-Dam Square in Amsterdam

Dam Square in Amsterdam is Beautiful No Matter the Weather

This was taken on an overcast day in October, when this huge ferris wheel was set up in front of the Royal Palace on Dam Square in the heart of Amsterdam. There were a few other midway-style rides in the square, but none had this dramatic look.

The rain started a few minutes after I took the picture and I had to run for cover. I never did find out what the reason for the fair was. But hey, who needs a reason to celebrate a day in October in Amsterdam?

Gray skies and ferris wheel in front of the Royal Palace in Dam Square in Amsterdam

Dam Square in Amsterdam is always beautiful.