Throughout the trip, we managed to end up at several celebrations, most by chance and good timing.
The Renaissance Festival at Vianden, Ten Days Off in Brugge, Bastille Day, Belgium’s National Holiday, and now, in Amsterdam, the Gay Pride Festival. As our arrival in Amsterdam approached, we scoured the internet for events to attend and sites to see. Anne Frank Huis, the Rijksmuseum, Zaanse Schanse, the cafes, and Red Light District appeared over and over on the main tourist websites. As did August’s Gay Pride Fest. There were activities planned all week to celebrate, but the main attraction seemed to be Saturday’s parade.
Eighty floats sponsored by different corporations were to line up and cruise through the city in celebration and fun. We’d seen so many other parades during the past few weeks. Why not add one more? Bonus points on this one: Not only was this parade going to have floats- but the floats were going to actually be floating! A city built along canals, Amsterdam presented itself as the perfect route for a floating parade!
Festivities started long before the parade was set to begin. At just 11am, hours before it was set to start, crowds had already grown around the parade route. Thinking we’d need to secure ourselves a spot pretty early as well, Ben and I made our way through a tulip market, a farmer’s market, and the Jewish History Museum, and headed back to the waterside to sandwich ourselves in amongst the gawkers with plenty of time to spare.
The concept of the parade was pretty fantastic, but the show itself was very drawn out. 90 minutes and just 15 floats later, we found ourselves between strangers, covered in humidity’s sweat, and sprinkled with equal amounts of confetti and rain. Leaving with only a quarter of the floats having passed by, we slipped from our crowded post to check some of the city’s other extravagant offerings.
Our favorite activities in Amsterdam all had to do with water. Maybe it’s the swimmers in us, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” background, or maybe just that this city has so many water-based attractions. No matter what, beyond the parade, we also enjoyed the canals by staying in a Botel, feasting on top of the luxurious Pannenkoekenboot, spending an afternoon in Zaanse Schanse, and The Rijksmuseum, a museum with a collection of more than 1 million pieces.
To go through these great activities, let’s start with the Botel. We’d done Couchsurfing and Hotels, but what better way to end a trip through Benelux with your favorite brother than staying in a cruise-ship like boat with a room barely big enough to fit two twin beds and a toilet, while singing for three days straight,
“Hotel Botel ain’t no Holiday Inn”
“Hotel Hotel Botel, Botel Botel Hotel”
(justifiable reference to Nationals in Ft. Lauderdale a few years ago, where this was sung much too much. Don’t worry if you don’t see the humor 😉
Then comes Zaanse Schanse, a beautiful place full of fun facts with a name still unpronounceable to the both of us. Windmills line the large canal, each with a distinct purpose. True Holland monuments. As the sails rotated with the wind, they each machined a task: oil mills, paint mills, and spice mills . We toured a sawmill and were able to see how the entire operation, save loading and unloading the wood, was completed solely by the turning of wind powered gears. The windmills can be turned on and off, and during working hours, there were always a small handful of workers to oversee the process. A sweet man explained the mill’s functions to us entirely in Dutch before letting us get a few shy words in, “We don’t speak Dutch.” “Ohhh this is why you look confused! Okay, okay,” and he kindly went through the entire process again in English.
The shops closed down between 5 and 6pm, and having had little more than breakfast and cheese samples, we asked a shop owner for restaurant suggestions.
“There is a restaurant in Zaanse Schanse for a nice meal. It is a bit, uh, exclusive. But, if you walk across the river there is another place more… reasonable.” Taking the hint that maybe we weren’t dressed for an ‘exclusive’ meal, we went for a walk and came across an amazing, fresh deli. The food was the best we’d had over the entire trip. Lamb, tuna salad, shepherd’s pie, baked spinach salad, the sweetest lemonade.. the list goes on and on. All freshly made with healthy ingredients. No sandwiches for us that night!! Being that they were about to close also, a woman working there offered us samples and threw on some extras for us to try. “It’s the end of the day. Why not?!”
Perfect end to a perfectly Dutch day.
We’ve since come to learn of a perfectly reputable guide to all things food related in Amsterdam. In hindsight, I wish nothing more than to return to this spectacular city and sample Herring Sandwiches and the eco-friendly In Stock. Had I only discovered the Amsterdam-based blog, Wanderlusting K sooner! Check it out HERE!
This leads us to the number 1 attraction in The Netherlands: Pannenkoekenboot. Here’s a quick lesson in Dutch: It’s quite simple to read if you can read English, so let’s translate:
Pannenkoekenboot = Pannenkoeken + Boot
Pannenkoeken = Pancakes
Boot = Boat
What’s this spell? Pancake Boat! Yes, that’s right. Go write it down as a Must-Do. Not only do they serve your choice of apple, bacon, or original pannenkoeken in unlimited quantities, they also provide toppings galore: Meats, cheeses, fruits and jams, chocolates and sprinkles and syrups, and… please please try it.
Along the way, you get to cruise on Ij Lake (pronounced “eye”, a Wikipedia search just verified that it’s a lake, not the river we had presumed it to be). You’ll see a few of Amsterdam’s trademark sites such as The Eye, Central Station and its magnificent bike racks, and of course, Botel.
These great places all made the trip worthwhile, but we did have a bit of criticism to offer Amsterdam. Basically, that we felt our lives were always on the line and our time was always out of our control. Those with transportation sources have the final say in every situation, ferries, trams, and most of all- bikes. Whenever “Hotel Hotel Botel” wasn’t playing in my head, the final scene in Mean Girls definitely was. Except instead of Regina getting sideswiped by a bus, we were getting plowed over by a bike.
Luckily, like Regina, we survived 😉