King’s Day, pt. 2

After leaving Koh-I-Noor, we walked south toward the Heineken Experience, which we learned had apparently sold their last ticket 15 minutes earlier. So, we turned around and walked to the Holland Casino in Leidesplein. After staying only an hour, we decided to return to our apartment and finish packing for our flight home the next morning. We walked slowly back to the apartment, enjoying every moment of our final evening walk of this trip.

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Orange confetti gathered in corners where building met street, kicked to the side by celebrators’ feet. By dawn the next morning, the confetti existed only as a memory in the hearts and photographs of those present for the festivities. 

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Koh-I-Noor

The welcoming tinkle of a bell announced our arrival. The staff warmly greeted us, offering a choice among their few remaining tables. We chose to sit by the window to get a better view of the street. Candles crowned the tops of tables adorned in burgundy tablecloths and white napkins. Spiced aromas of unknown goodness filled the room while people sitting at various tables shared colorful food and entertained each other with conversation.

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Candles never seem to burn away their wax at Koh-I-Noor. Amsterdam, April 2017

The atmosphere has consistently remained the same throughout our past experiences at Koh-I-Noor, which gives me comfort in knowing what to expect. Within moments, the friendly server appeared. 

“Good Afternoon,” he said with a smile. He took our drink order, then asked us if we had previously visited the restaurant in October (2016). 

 “Yes,” I replied, happy he remembered us. “Good memory!”

“Vegetable Korma? Garlic Naan?” He asked, repeating my order from six months earlier. 

“I cannot believe you remember,” I replied, extremely impressed  with his memory. “Yes, that’s exactly what I would like, thank you.” .

“Shahi Paneer for you, sir?” He asked, turning to Kurt.

“Perfect,” Kurt said. “Thank you.”

Neither of us could believe he had actually remembered. He returned shortly with our wine, a Riesling from the Alsace region of France, a crispy type of sesame bread and two silver bowls of sauce for it.

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Trying the red and white sauces at Koh-I-Noor. Amsterdam, April 2017

The red sauce tasted sweet with a slight amount of heat, while the white sauce had more heat and tasted like green onions and cream. The candle-lamp on our table flickered beneath its glass dome, seeming never to burn away its wax. The candlelight illuminated my glass of wine as I took a sip. It tasted crisp, clean and refreshing – a perfect complement to our upcoming meal.

Our server returned with small candles and a warming tray. He placed the lit candles and tray in the center of our table, then brought a plate of rice, salad and our two meals. 

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From left to right: Vegetable Korma, rice, Shahi Paneer and garlic naan at Koh-I-Noor. Amsterdam, 2017

The food, as always, smelled heavenly. It makes me wish I could photograph a smell. 

The creamy, rich aroma of the korma intermingled with the tangy shahi sauce. Without a moment more of waiting, we divided the rice between us and took small servings of the main dishes so they would remain hot. 

The first taste makes all life’s troubles seem to melt away. They have found the secret to achieving the perfect amount of spice and creaminess to their dishes. Cooked to perfection, the potatoes, carrots and peas in yellow-orange korma sauce and red-orange sauce of the tangy tomato shahi with white squares of soft paneer cheese combined to create an extraordinary flavor indescribable to those who have never tasted it. We used the last pieces of soft Garlic Naan to scoop up any remaining sauce.

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Salad with radish, onion, tomato, and a lemon for salad dressing. Amsterdam, April 2017

The experience seemed to end as quickly as it began, for within 20 minutes, we finished all food in front of us. Feeling full and satisfied, we paid our bill, said goodbye to our server and set out to enjoy the remainder of King’s Day and our final evening in Amsterdam until we return in June. 

King’s Day 2017, pt. 1

Stories of a countrywide birthday party for the Dutch monarch have intrigued me for years. The idea of an entire nation mutually celebrating their leader’s birth really seems like a nice strategy to unite the people. I cannot imagine citizens of the United States jovially participating in any sort of birthday party for any politician.

I had heard rumors of crowds wearing orange, city-wide rummage sales and public intoxication. However, nothing could have prepared me for the actual experience.

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Flags of the Netherlands and their national color, orange, wave above the city for King’s Day. Amsterdam, April 2017

Morning. Within the first few moments of consciousness, we could already hear muffled music coming from all ends of the city. I opened the window and stepped out onto the balcony. The music suddenly grew louder; I could hear it coming from everywhere. The Dutch flag flew proudly from the spire of the Westerkerk in celebration of King Willem-Alexander’s birth.

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The flag of the Netherlands displaying its national colors from the Westerkerk on King’s Day. Amsterdam, April 27, 2017

I went back inside to our front window, which overlooked Laurierstraat. People joyfully paraded down the street brandishing bottles of beer or cider and wearing black jackets with orange accessories. Some wore orange hats or shirts, while others wore feathered orange boas. Down the street, a band played rock songs in both Dutch and English.

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A band performs on Laurierstraat in celebration of King’s Day. Amsterdam, April 2017

We emerged from the apartment into the festivities below with no real destination in mind. Turning from our street onto Prinsengracht, we suddenly encountered a sea of people. A bridge ahead of us had some sort of message written in white, so we waded our way through the crowd until we found ourselves standing on it. The message read: Re-Vest Life. Apparently, they built the sign with life vests used by immigrants going to Europe. 

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Made from the life vests of immigrants, “Re-Vest Life” uses King’s Day to get out their bright orange message. Amsterdam, April 2017

People in boats displaying the Dutch flag floated under the canal where we stood, as a variety of music, singing and dancing came from aboard each skiff. People smiled and waved to each other, regardless of any cultural differences. The reason to celebrate united everyone under its one common goal of happiness.

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Orange-clad people singing and participating in festivities to honor King’s Day. Amsterdam, April 2017

We walked toward Dam Square to see the Palace. It seemed as though music played from every corner of the city. No matter where we turned, crowds had gathered to listen. As we approached Dam Square, the streets began to resemble a massive rummage sale.

Racks of clothing, purses and souvenirs lined the street as stores and citizens alike displayed their wares, hoping passerby saw something that caught their eye. Something definitely caught my eye, but not an item. A large crowd had gathered around a performance I could not see. As I approached, I saw a man covered in raw eggs preparing to fist-fight any egg thrown his way. People in the crowd purchased eggs to throw. Most missed him, but a few actually made their target.

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A man prepares for the next aerial assault of eggs. Amsterdam, April 2017

After watching for a few minutes, we began to aimlessly stroll through the vast array of commodities until hunger finally overpowered us. Thankfully, Koh-I-Noor, a favorite Indian restaurant of ours since 2014, stood down the street, its dark red sign drawing us in. Without saying a word, we smiled at each other and headed toward their welcoming door.

The Dutch Starbucks

One night after we left the casino, we started walking back to the apartment. Suddenly, a foreboding green glow came from a sign hovering above a doorway as our path immediately diverted into the entrance of an open Starbucks. I do not drink Starbucks in the United States, but have discovered that in Europe, their coffee tastes much better. However, I forgot that they can sometimes make it different, too.

I ordered us each a flat white with an extra espresso shot, expecting them to have as much milk as the drinks back at home. The barista complimented my name, telling me that she named the main character Meghan in a story she wrote. When they announced our drinks, we both looked at each other in alarm, for the size of the drink they gave each of us seemed so small, we wondered how they fit any milk into it with the four espresso shots. With some sugar, I didn’t mind it too much. It tasted like one of the strongest cups of coffee I ever tried. However, Kurt looked sick. “I’m getting a white mocha,” he said with pale annoyance. “Do you want one, too?” I agreed and waited at a table for him to return. He came back a few minutes later with two drinks that tasted a lot more like what we expected. We stayed until they began putting chairs on the tables, a sure sign they had closed. We had no real destination, so  we decided to walk back to the apartment with the sole purpose of enjoying the lovely scenery. Warmed and caffeinated, we faced the night with liquid courage of a different kind.

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Amsterdam canal with streetlamps, April 2017.

The Night of the Holland Casino

Casinos around the world seem to not just function as a business, but they also serve as an oasis for the late-night wanderer in search of a future more exciting than sleep. Like moths to the moon, the bright lights and bells of a casino draw in these nocturnal optimists without regard for their plans of tomorrow.

The time neared midnight, yet we still wanted to stay awake. After all, our time in this city would not last forever. We started walking toward the casino amid the still-busy streets of Amsterdam. The streetlamps illuminated our path as we made our way into the night, finally arriving at our destination.

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Holland Casino, April 2017. Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

We first entered a room with multi-colored lighting and a coat check. Before they allowed us to enter the casino, they requested us to show them our passports and to pay a small entrance fee (We later discovered that signing up for a loyalty card waived that fee). The small glass door swung open, granting us access to the entire casino. A ramp led to an upper level, which we visited in 2014. At that time, that part of the casino had table games, such as roulette and blackjack. It also had a ceiling accented with muted, multi-colored lighting. I have not returned to that area since then, so I do not know if it is still the same. I assume it is, since slot machines and an electronic roulette machine still remain on the first level.

We walked toward the electronic roulette machine, which sat toward the back of the room, surrounded by glass walls and glittering slot machines, accessible only through a pair of glass doors activated by a small button. The massive roulette screen revealed the statistics for the last forty (or so) games. Inspired by the game trend, Kurt found an empty seat and began to play. I watched for a few minutes, then wandered away to play a slot machine. We met up later, each with a few dollars more in our pockets than we had started with. We wanted to stay longer, but the casino closed at 3 a.m., locking players out of the games and preventing them from making any more bets. We collected our jackets and joined the crowd outside of people struggling to return home to embrace the last few hours of sleep before the sun proclaimed a new day.

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A successful night at the Holland Casino, April 2017. Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Amsterdam After Dark, pt. 2

We walked back to our apartment with the intention of only staying momentarily. However, we ended up taking a nap and woke up a few minutes past 2 in the morning.

We felt mild hunger, so not wanting to waste the opportunity for a late-night walk through the streets of Amsterdam, we walked to a nearby Chipsy King.

We ordered fries with barbecue sauce and waited while they were made fresh for us. As the man pulled the sizzling rack from the hot oil, the fragrance of fried potatoes filled the air. He scooped a large portion of thick fries into a paper cone and pumped barbecue sauce over the top.

In the past, the amount of sauce they put on the fries should logically not have reached the center and bottom portions. However, they have baffled me each time with their amazing ability to achieve perfect fry coverage.

I watched, certain that this time he must have missed a few in the center and at the bottom. But no! Each fry had as much sauce as the one before it, if not more.

I will never understand how they squirt all the fries with sauce. I watched, my eyes transfixed on his every movement, and still have no idea. The Chipsy sauce mystery still remains.

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Fries outside Muntplein Chipsy King, Amsterdam, May 2013.

TIPS:

1.) If you ever find yourself at a Chipsy King, a sauce worth trying is the Belgian mayonnaise. Once I got past the strange idea of fries covered in sandwich spread, I finally understood why this was such a popular trend here. If I could compare it to something familiar, it tasted similar to a baked potato with tangy sour cream.

2.) They serve their fries with miniature forks. Apparently, they do not approve of eating large, sauce-covered fries with fingers. Sometimes this helps to keep the sauce off my hands, other times I catch myself starting to use my fingers and have to force myself to make a conscious effort to use the utensil they gave me.

Spectacular Seafood in Amsterdam

We first went to the Seafood Bar on Spui in Amsterdam for my birthday in October 2016. At that time, we did not know they recommended reservations to avoid a long wait. This time, however, we came prepared. We walked into the restaurant and waited behind a couple who did not have reservations. The hostess told them it could take a half hour before they had a free table. They agreed to wait and walked over toward the bar. Kurt told the hostess of our reservation and immediately, she led us up a few steps to the brightly lit, icy fish bar. She explained about the fresh fish of the day and the different sides that came with each of them.

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Freshly caught fish at The Seafood Bar, April 2017. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

After she showed us the fresh fish of the day, she took us to our table and gave us menus. We had to speak loudly because of the many conversations around us blending into one. The waitress soon appeared and took our order. We ordered the sole with lemon and rice. As we awaited our fish, we watched as servers paraded a myriad of different dishes to various tables scattered throughout the restaurant.

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Copious amounts of fresh fish at The Seafood Bar, April 2017. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Our waitress brought us warm bread and returned a few minutes later with our order. She served us each a beautifully baked whole fish with lemon slices and a bowl of hot rice. The fish was so delicate, it seemed to fall from its bone with the ease of a hot knife through butter. The rice was light and steamy; a side dish that perfectly complemented the fish. This simple yet wonderful meal ensured our future return to the Seafood Bar.

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Fresh fish at The Seafood Bar, April 2017. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Morning Has Broken

We woke up to bright rays of early morning sunshine gently dancing across our eyelashes. The clock read 7 a.m. However, we still felt as though we were on Tucson time, which would have made it 10 p.m. Kurt found a highly rated breakfast restaurant one street away from us named Kessens. We prepared ourselves with warm sweaters and jackets and made our way down the steep steps and out onto the quiet brick street. Our footsteps seemed to echo as we walked in cold, sleepy silence toward breakfast. As soon as we reached Rozengracht, I could see the small restaurant across the street. Pleasantly surprised at the shortness of our morning walk, we crossed the street and entered the cozy little cafe. Friendly servers in white and black striped jerseys invited us to sit at any of the few remaining seats. We chose a table near the center of the restaurant. Our waitress promptly placed a glass bottle of water on our table, handed us each a menu, then went to help another table as we decided upon our order. The tinkling sound of silverware accented the melange of friendly conversation as the intoxicating scent of coffee drifted through the air. An occasional tram whirred by the window in a blur of blue and white.

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Coffee at Kessens, April 2017. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

When our waitress returned, we each ordered a cafe latte, fried eggs and toast. Then, I saw freshly squeezed orange juice on the menu and impulsively ordered one. She returned a few minutes later with two large cups filled with espresso and perfectly steamed milk. The glass of orange juice she placed in front of me came with a plastic tool to mix it back together when the pulp began to separate. Delighted, I immediately took a sip of the pulpy substance. It tasted like juicy sunshine. Next, I tried the latte. The taste matched its wonderful appearance. Although the restaurant remained busy, the servers kept a constant pace. A waitress washed her hands in a marble fountain that hung on the wall behind Kurt and began to put the clean cups and plates back on their shelves. A few minutes later our waitress reappeared, holding two plates of food.

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Breakfast at Kessens, April 2017. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Upon first taste, I immediately understood the reason they had such a high rating. The food tasted amazing. It definitely seemed as though we had a good start to the upcoming day. However, when we returned to the apartment, it seems as though we fell under a sleep spell because the next thing I remember hearing:

“It’s almost 5:30 in the evening,” Kurt whispered. “We have reservations at the Seafood Bar in three hours.”

Amsterdam After Dark

By the time we finally left to find frietjes (the Dutch word for fries), it was after 9 at night. Before leaving the apartment, I expected to see the same dark sky I had seen in Tucson around the same time the night before leaving home. However, the dim twilight still cast its pale light across the Dutch landscape.

Choosing to walk instead of take the tram (it helped us to better explore the city), we headed down Prinsengracht toward Dam Square, stopping every few feet to look in the shop windows. Along the way, we saw a balloon specialty shop, souvenir stores, Delft figurines, a shop dedicated solely to Rubber Duckies, orange t-shirts in honor of the King’s upcoming 50th birthday celebration known as King’s Day (more on that later) and so much more.

By the time we finally reached Dam Square, the clock towers around the city began to ring; the sky had just started to turn dark. The smell of sugar and funnel cakes wafted through the air, luring us to walk through a carnival in Dam Square, despite the fact a few booths had already begun to close for the night.

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We watched in amazed horror as a few brave souls screamed from a neon-lighted contraption above us. A giant metal arm lifted their protective cage as high as the Royal Palace, then plummeted them to the earth, stopping just moments before impact. A Ferris wheel directly in front of us slowly rotated, appearing to encircle the terror device behind it.

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Although it appeared fun, the open seats combined with the icy wind did not encourage me to try it. We wandered through rows of carnival games, each with their own twinkling, brightly colored lights. Once we reached the end of the festivities, we began to head for Muntplein, an area where we previously stayed and knew to have awesome fries.

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As we walked down Damrak, we reminisced on past experiences – Koh-i-Noor (our favorite Indian restaurant), the Amsterdam Dungeon and familiar canals. Couples both young and old, groups of friends as well as individuals walked up and down the street dressed in black (Europe’s most popular color for clothing, apparently).

How many of these people were citizens accustomed to the always bustling streets of late-night Amsterdam? To how many of these unknown faces did the dazzling lights and glittering canals seem a commonplace, everyday scene?

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When we finally reached Chipsy King, we wanted more to eat than fries. Luckily, a Maoz falafel restaurant stood next door, brightly lit and very inviting. Two empty stools surprisingly seemed to wait for us by the window in this restaurant that typically had so many customers, dining in meant standing room only.

I quickly sat down as Kurt ordered for us. He brought our Cokes and waters to the table and waited for our order of falafel balls to finish frying. Within a few moments he returned, holding two foil-wrapped pitas filled with steamy goodness in his hands. We ate in silence, watching people outside ride or walk past the window.

The warm crunchiness of the falafels, fresh condiments and tasty tahini sauce all combined in an explosion of amazing flavors. Once we finished, Kurt asked if I still wanted fries and we both laughed.

Not this time, but soon the following evening, we would accomplish our quest for fries. We stepped from the small, warm doorway and back onto the chilly street. Heading back to our apartment, we planned our adventures for the following day.

Welcome to Amsterdam!

No matter how long and arduous the journey from Tucson may seem, something about the damp, cold wind hitting me in the face upon exiting Centraal Station joyfully reminds me of all our past experiences in this city. And suddenly, I feel happiness and excitement begin to sparkle from within my heart. Suddenly, I am jerked back into reality when we need to board an overcrowded tram. It winds through the streets, bringing us to the stop closest to our apartment. We pull our suitcases from the tram’s steps down to a sudden drop onto the sidewalk and begin rolling our way toward our destination.

We must have appeared lost as Kurt left me on the sidewalk with our luggage to cross a canal bridge and check out the street names ahead of us. A lady suddenly asked me if she could help us find our way. I told her the street we needed to find and she immediately asked her friend to use the GPS on her phone to help. Before she could give me an answer, Kurt returned to tell me our street was just a street ahead of us. We thanked the lady and her friend and continued our journey.

We came to a quiet street made of bricks. The sound of our suitcase wheels rolling across them seemed to echo between the Dutch buildings that surrounded us. Everything seemed so perfect, I felt as though we were on the set of a movie. Finally, we came to a black wooden door. Kurt turned the key and we held our breath. After nearly falling victim to a rental scam in Amsterdam during our 2013 engagement trip, we both have a bit of skepticism when it comes to the legitimacy of rental apartments. The key turned, the door clicked and the handle turned. Kurt pushed the door open with his knee and smiled at me.

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Laurierstraat 50. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Inside, five carpeted steps brought us from the door to a landing area and storage closet. In front of us stood stairs so steep, they almost seemed like a ladder. How we pulled up our suitcases, I will never know. However, I liked how it felt more authentic than a hotel, as though we were Dutch citizens returning from vacation in Arizona. Thankfully, our room was on that floor, although more stairs led to additional levels. We entered our apartment and saw directly in front of us the very reason that prompted us to rent a short-stay apartment in the first place: a stove and refrigerator.

A very small distance away from the kitchen area I found a bathroom existing only of a toilet and sink. To the left was the main room with wooden tables and two leather sofas. Windows looked out at the street where we had just walked. The wooden floors creaked as I turned to the right. I could see straight through the bedroom with its large windows to a small balcony. I walked into the bedroom and noticed another bathroom, only it didn’t have a toilet or door. It had a bathtub, shower and sink, but no toilet. The larger, center window had a handle that allowed access to the balcony. We opened it with the room key and stepped onto the wooden area.

Below us, we could see little patios decorated with plants. In front of us and to the left stood an array of apartment buildings, most of which also had balconies sharing the view of the individual gardens. Looking up and to the right, we could see the clock and top spire of the Westerkerk, a famous Dutch church built between 1620 and 1631. It still functions as a Protestant church and remains Amsterdam’s highest church tower (85 meters).

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Evening view from our balcony, April 2017. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I sat down and closed my eyes, happy to be back in this city of constant action. The distant dinging of an occasional tram punctuated the sounds of bike bells warning pedestrians to move from the bike lane and the voices of many conversations in different languages.

“We’re in Amsterdam! Let’s go get something to eat,” Kurt’s voice suddenly woke me from my reverie. I grabbed my jacket and we headed down the street to find some fresh street fries.

http://www.westerkerk.nl/english