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Adventures in Amsterdam + Love in Limburg

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AMSTERDAM

First Impressions

After months of planning and almost a year anticipating, it was finally time for us to fly to Amsterdam from Pearson Airport in Toronto. We landed in Schiphol Airport around 1 pm on Monday, August 22nd. Let me just quickly say that I loved Schiphol airport. I’ve done my fair share of airport hopping (what with travelling to the US & Asia) and Schiphol is probably my favourite so far. It’s super easy to navigate, very well-organized plus it has a ton of cool shops and nice restaurants, some of which are open 24/7.

The number one great thing about Schiphol is that you can take a train from the airport to Amsterdam in 20 minutes. So we did just that and found ourselves in Amsterdam Central Station. As soon as we got out of the station, we got our first glimpse of the city. It was gorgeous. From buildings to the canals, everywhere we turned was picturesque.

Accommodation

We made our way to our base for the next two and a half days: Hotel Die Port van Cleve. For Keith’s very first European destination, I decided to splurge and book us a nice hotel that is central to everything. We can’t say enough great things about the service at this hotel. They went above and beyond to make sure we had everything we needed during our stay. They even helped us when Keith needed to see a tourist doctor for his toe. Long story short: it hurt to walk so he got it checked and the wonderful doctor prescribed a treatment that helped him survive the large portion of our trip spent walking around.

Fun fact about our hotel: it is the site of the first Heineken brewery built in 1864 before it was moved to its present-day location. They have a nice restaurant that we did not try and a more casual bar. Another quirky interesting about this hotel is the Delft blue artwork found everywhere: from the toiletries to above our bed to the world’s largest Delft blue tile tableau in the bar.

Getting Around

Cycling is king in Amsterdam but I had no faith in my biking skills so we decided to walk everywhere. Since I was saving my cell phone roaming for Paris where we were actually meeting up with friends, we had to rely on a physical map of the city to get around. It wasn’t easy because of several factors: a) My not-so-stellar sense of direction, b) Years of relying on Google Maps made me forget how to use an actual map and c) The spider web-like way Amsterdam and its canals are set up did not help. Another thing we quickly realized was that everything was always much closer than we thought. Street blocks weren’t as big as the ones in North America, so on the map it would look like something was very far away when in reality it was right beside you. But as our friend Chris told us, Amsterdam is super compact and after the second day, we were able to navigate the streets comfortably, or at least I was. Keith’s usually good sense of direction was not compatible with the canals.

Attractions

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On our first day there, we had time to go to the Van Gogh museum before they closed. My mom, the biggest Van Gogh fan I know, would have been very disappointed if I hadn’t gone. I enjoyed the Van Gogh museum more than Keith did. His issue was that some of the more famous paintings such as Starry Night and Café Terrance at Night aren’t even housed in it plus it contained paintings that weren’t by Van Gogh. It still houses the largest collection of paintings and drawing by Van Gogh so I consider it a must-see. I really liked the way the museum was laid out. Each floor corresponds to a period in Van Gogh’s life. Some things to keep in mind: the tickets are issued for specific time slots and you cannot take photos of the paintings but there are designated social media areas.

We woke up early on day two to cross out the number one thing on Keith’s list: the Rijksmuseum. The building itself is a work of art from the impressive exterior to the beautiful interior. While all the different works of art inside were super interesting, the main reason we were there can be found in the Gallery of Honour: four of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings. Keith has been fascinated by Vermeers since he watched the documentary Tim’s Vermeer, so we spent a large chunk of our time there. Of course, we had to admire the museum’s pièce de resistance: Rembrandt’s Night Watch. My one regret was not being able to visit the library. Also for such an impressive museum, their gift shop was smaller than the ones at Van Gogh’s.IMG_6751.jpg

After the two museums, we just basically spent the rest of the time just exploring the streets around us to see what we would stumble upon. Our hotel was located right beside the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th-century church. We walked the 9 Streets and the Jordaan neighbourhood for a bit and saw the Westerkerk where Rembrandt is buried. We skipped the Anne Frank House because of the long lines. We passed Leidseplein a lot. We made our way to the 800-year-old Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest building that just happens to be a church right next to the Red Light District. We also passed by but did not go into the Rembrandt museum right next to the house he lived in.

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For stroopwafels, we went to the Lanskroon bakery (which also had very good coffee and amazing cinnamon croissants). I bravely sampled and liked the raw herring from Frens Haringhandel near Bloemenmarkt, one of many herring stands in the city, while Keith got and loved their Kibbeling (cod croquettes). We also had traditional Dutch cuisine right beside the canal from Bistro Bij Ons which was tasty but very rich, if not too rich for our taste. We were lucky enough to have De Blauwe Parade as our hotel bar where we drank Heineken (because of course), ate Bitterballen and sampled jenever (Dutch gin). At the airport, go to Dutch and Delicious for their poffertjes (small Dutch pancakes). We found that some places were cash only and some were card only, so be sure to ask beforehand.

Souvenirs

If you love Van Gogh, the museum has multiple gift shops of all sorts of things featuring his artwork, but stroopwafels are definitely the one thing to bring home for yourself or as gifts.

LIMBURG

img_7299I will not be able to cover Limburg as extensively as Amsterdam but I still wanted to give it a special mention here since we did visit it, albeit for a day. It was at the halfway point of our trip after Brussels and Bruges that we made our way to this part of the Netherlands for the wedding. It took us three trains to get there which you think would be a pain in the ass but was actually super easy and efficient. I cannot say enough good things about rail travel in Europe. I’m sure if you live there, you can find things to complain about but as someone who has to rely on the ViaRail in Canada, train travel across the Atlantic is the absolute best. We stayed in Roermond which a small city, close to the border between Germany and the Netherlands that is funnily enough home to a huge outdoor designer outlet mall. Hotel Roermond where we spent the night after the wedding was a gem. They checked us in early so we can leave for the ceremony in nearby Swalmen and had complimentary breakfast. The reception was held at Restaurant De Busjop in Heythuysen. The venues and surrounding countryside were so beautiful. Everyone from the taxi drivers to the wedding guests from there was so friendly. All in all, it was a magical affair.

Final Thoughts

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We fell head over heels in love with the parts of the Netherlands that we were able to see. Everyone spoke English and was super friendly, plus super attractive. Seriously, they all looked like supermodels. And they were not kidding about the bicycles. Rush hour in Amsterdam was a sight to see. But as long as you watched where you were going, you shouldn’t get hit. The service in the Netherlands was hands down the friendliest, most efficient we have received the whole trip. We were really sad to leave Amsterdam and we cannot wait to come back and explore the rest of this beautiful country.

Next post will be on discovering Brussels!

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Friday Favorites

Happy Friday! Hope everyone had a great week with all that crazy World Cup action. My team, the Netherlands lost to Argentina on penalty kicks which is tough but that’s soccer for you. They still had a good run and it was so much fun cheering them on.
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This week I also met with my boss Crystal and the great thing about working with someone who writes about beer for a living is that our morning meetings look like this:
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On Wednesday, I helped her out at her Cider 101 class where we tasted the best craft cider. If you live in Toronto, you should definitely come to her last beer school of the summer at Tequila Bookworm in Queen West.
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Forgot to post my stars and stripes Fourth of July outfit, which can be worn in America whenever you’re feeling patriotic, which is probably every single day:
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Oh and last but not least, I had a major fangirl moment when Dominic Monaghan aka Merry from Lord of the Rings retweeted my tweet about watching his show between the two World Cup matches on Sunday:
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That’s a wrap for the week on my end. Have an awesome weekend!

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2014 World Cup Quarterfinals Preview

My World Cup coverage continues on Fashion, Food & The Fortress of Solitude with this preview of the quarterfinal matches on Friday and Saturday. This past few days we have witnessed absolutely amazing Round of 16 matches. I wasn’t a soccer fan when I started watching the World Cup but last night’s USA vs BEL match converted me without a doubt. If this sport can inspire this kind of intense feelings in me that normally only a good book, TV show or movie can, then sign me up! And if watching a game doesn’t do it for you, then maybe this and this will.

Now, enough about lamenting the US Men’s Soccer Team’s loss, let’s take a look at the teams that are still in the running to lift that golden trophy. On Friday, the 4th of July, four teams will play the beautiful game but only two will move on to the semis:

France vs Germany, 12 PM EST
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This match-up is definitely one of the most anticipated ones in the whole tournament. It’s an understatement to say that this will be a good game. Both “Les Bleus” and “Die Mannschaft” have been playing extremely well and it would’ve been a great semi-final or even final had the brackets been made differently but we’ll have to settle for an intense quarterfinal. They’re pretty evenly matched so I’m not sure who to give the advantage to. My heart says France but my head says Germany.

Brazil vs Colombia, 4 PM EST
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We truly are spoiled in this World Cup with one juicy match-up after another. Host nation Brazil will face the 2014 World Cup favorite Colombia. All throughout the tournament, “Los Cafeteros” won the hearts of the world with their great gameplay and their celebration dances. While still the favorite, “A Seleção” has not been as dominant as everyone thought they would be. The heart-stopping penalty kicks against Chile is proof that Brazil’s World Cup dreams are vulnerable. Throw in Colombia’s convincing performances during the group stage and against Uruguay and we got ourselves a game. I’m gonna have to give Colombia the edge because if it came down to it, I think James Rodriguez will put on a better show than Neymar.

On Saturday, July 5th, two powerhouses will face an underdog that wasn’t supposed to have gotten this far and a dark horse fighting its way to the top:

Argentina vs Belgium, 12 PM EST
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This will be…an interesting match. I’m sorry but except for their first group stage match, Argentina has put me to sleep, literally. I actually took a nap when they faced Switzerland and woke up to the same score of 0-0. In every one of their performances, Messi the Messiah swoops to the rescue seemingly always at the last minute, much to the relief of their fans and the chagrin of their opponents. But this is precisely the kind of mentality they’ll have to let go of when they face this World Cup’s dark horse, the Red Devils (insert angel vs devil reference here). Belgium has proven that they definitely belong in the final eight with their performance against the Americans. I was cheering for the USA but I’ll admit it. Can Messi pull off another miracle against the entire Belgian national team? For Argentina’s sake, I hope so. But if Belgium can pull off the upset, well, wouldn’t that be a sight to behold.

Netherlands vs Costa Rica, 4 PM EST
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If there ever was a Cinderella story at the 2014 World Cup, it would have to be Costa Rica. They were immediately dismissed as the odd team out in their group of death that included Uruguay, Italy and England. But apparently they didn’t get the memo that they weren’t supposed to get out of the group stage let alone reach the final eight but here they are. If I hadn’t been cheering for the Netherlands since the start of this World Cup, then I would’ve made a David vs Goliath comparison. But as much as I want “Los Ticos” to prove everyone wrong once more, I have a feeling the “Oranje” will pull off the win. And if they don’t? Then I’ll gladly cheer for Costa Rica to reach the final and face Colombia.

Like I’ve already said, this has been a terrific first World Cup for me. I’ve been enthralled from Day 1. My heart has been broken, put back together then broken again. After years of trying to ignore the world’s most popular sport, I finally understand what the fuss is all about. I’ve discovered a wonderful new thing to become a fan of and can’t wait to see what the final matches have in store for us. Happy Wednesday!

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Friday Favorites

Happy Friday to one and all! Hope everyone had a great week. Mine hovered between finally getting better (yay) and watching the amazing matches the 2014 World Cup has had so far.
Among other teams, I’ve mostly adopted the Dutch team as the one I’m cheering for. And so far both games have been incredible. Now I realize that there are a lot of conflicting nations in this photo set. We did watch the opening match of the Netherlands at a Dutch restaurant called School then we celebrated at the Bier Markt, which is German and I had Belgian beer. But that’s Toronto for you…Hup Holland Hup!

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We’re also a half-American household so I have to cheer for the USA even though they don’t stand a chance against Europe and Latin America. But the boyfriend believes that they will win and they did win their first match so we shall see.

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Aside from World Cup fever, I’m also slightly obsessed with this Cranberry Raisin Focaccia that the boyfriend brought home, which is weird since I don’t usually like raisins. But this bread just brings boring raisins to life alongside yummy cranberries. All you need is a little butter, if that, for the perfect breakfast.

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If you’re looking for a new summer nail polish, may I suggest “Sprog” from butter LONDON? My good friend Melissa gave it to me for my birthday and I’ve always loved periwinkle but I don’t think I ever told her. My friends are the best!

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Plans for this weekend include a joint birthday party for two of my favorite people, a double brunch & board game date and attending the graduation of some of my closest friends. Oh and obviously more of the 2014 World Cup. Have a good one!

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