Amsterdam City Blog restaurants, shops, people and life in Amsterdam

28Mar/140

It pays to be kind

One of my first memories of Amsterdam was when I was following my first photography course in the Bethanienstraat. I was seventeen or so and didn't live in Amsterdam then, but somewhere near Utrecht. To be honest, I was a bit green, and being accosted on the street by pimps and other shady figures in the red light district (shadier then than it is now) was new to me. "No thank you," was my go to response to offers of telephone numbers, drugs and dates.

Then one evening, as I was making my way to the Bethanienstraat for my lesson, after having been shopping on the Kalverstraat, a woman asked me for directions. She was from Iceland and very, very drunk. She was so drunk, she had no clue how to get back to her hotel. I didn't know either, but went inside a shop to ask, they told me the general direction. As it was on my way, I told her I would walk her halfway. After all, if I was hopeless and lost in a foreign city, wouldn't I want someone to help me?

The lady was drunkenly rambling, about her job (she was in town for a convention of some sort), her brother (who had been in an accident and had been run over by a car), and on and on, clinging to me with her heartstoppingly alcoholic breath.

On the Dam I pointed her in the direction of Central Station. I told her to go there, her hotel was opposite the station (according to the guy in the shop I'd asked directions in). She pulled me close, hugging me to her, while she fumbled in her trousers. I can remember being surprised, thinking: "What the?" Then she pressed a crumpled 25 guilder note in my hand and disappeared in the crowd.

I didn't get a chance to tell her I didn't want her money. I didn't even get a chance to say thank you! I just stood there, flabbergasted, with the money in my hand. I framed that note (in the exact crumpled state I received it in) and didn't spend it for over a decade. It hung on the wall in my room as a reminder that it pays to be kind.

18Mar/140

Restaurantweek 2014: I ENVY me

Every year in March and September, it's restaurantweek in the Netherlands. You pay 27,50 EURO for the pleasure of dining. Some restaurants try to make off easy, by making a 'middle of the road' three course menu that will please 'most people'. After having been to about 10 restaurants for restaurantweek, I've seen it more than once. But ENVY does it differently: this chef chooses to showcase his talent and takes on the restaurantweek challenge to shine. My tastebuds are still in awe.

Pork belly lacquered with hoi sin sauce at ENVY, on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam
The food was creative, gourgeous and delicious. A feast for the eye, an adventure of textures and tastes. There were five courses (amuse bouche, hamachi with lime, pork belly lacquered with hoi sin sauce, a Bloody Mary 2.0 and a Donkey Kong dessert to finish) and I fully understand why ENVY has made it to the number 1 or 2 favourite restaurantweek menu the past years.

The ambiance is a little dark, with spots for dramatic lighting. But it fits, because it's different and ENVY does things differently. And then there's the service. We were served (among others) by a lovely girl with a very long pony tail and fiery red lips: friendly and passionate about the food she served. The young man who came to explain to us what was on our plates before each course was very knowledgable, knew all the dishes and their many elements by heart and presented the dishes to us with a talkshow how flair that we found amusing.

Margerita 2.0 at ENVY in AmsterdamTo sum it all up: it was the best restaurantweek experience to date. It was my birthday yesterday and I envy me for having had dinner here. In fact, I would like to go to ENVY on my birthday every year!

ENVY
Prinsengracht 381
1016 HL Amsterdam
+31 20 344 64 07

3Jan/141

Out with the old

Shall I tell you a secret? I don't really believe in new year's resolutions. If, for instance, you want to stop smoking, then you should quit. I don't see any added value to waiting till the new year to attempt to do anything. But during yoga class last week, our instructor asked us to look back and say goodbye to the things of the past year, and mark the new beginning. Here's what popped up in my mind.

In 2013 I:

  • was horrified to find that my plan for my thesis research suddenly fell through, after which I had to scramble to arrange for a new company to do my thesis research at
  • juggled a job, a minor and thesis and developed a tic under my eye and lost the skin on my fingertips as a result of the stress
  • lost my job
  • didn't have any money

But I also:

  • made new friends
  • started taking yoga classes
  • graduated (followed by a great party)
  • went on a lovely holiday to Thailand with Levi
  • and, at the tail-end of 2013, suddenly and miraculously found a new job

It was a rollercoaster ride, 2013. But with school finally being over and done with (three years of hard, hard work: done! Yay!), a wonderful new challenge in the form of a new job and a wedding to plan at the end of Summer, this is what I look forward to in 2014: to be happy.

Hey, call it a new year's resolution.

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13Dec/131

Life: graduation, party, holiday and a job!

Yeah, life. After all the sweat, hours and effort I put into graduating (with a glorious 8 for my thesis!), I threw a party to celebrate with my lovely friends and family. With an unworded, but heartfelt apology for having neglected them for over three years. I've never seen so many people that I love crammed into our living room, drinking wine and playing charades. Best party ever.

And then Levi and I went on holiday. I was working on my graduation all Summer, and to keep me motivated, we planned a holiday for right after I was due to finish. Three weeks of sun is what we wanted, and because that's hard to come by in Europe in November, we flew to Thailand.
Lush and peaceful Sukhothai Historical Park, Thailand
My highlights:
- exploring peaceful and green Sukhothai by bicycle. So many temples, ponds, trees, fields. Gorgeous!
- lighting and setting afloat a Loi Kraton on Chaweng Lake for good luck during the Loi Kraton festival.
excellent woodfire oven pizza in Bo Phut, Koh Samui- this pizza in Bo Phut on Koh Samui. Most times when Thai try to make western food, it's best avoided. But this, made in an Italian-owned, stylish, modern restaurant with a beach view, was the real deal. Wood fire oven. Crisp thin bottom. Fresh and delicious toppings. Actual Italian olive oil to drizzle over. I didn't write down the name of the place, but I can point you to it if you're in the neighbourhood and in need of fabulous pizza. I am telling you: it will live on in my memory for ever.
- and talking about food: sushi and gyoza on Food Avenue on the fifth floor at MBK mall in Bangkok. Yum!
- we thoroughly enjoyed our spaceous and luxurious bungalow in the lovely tropical gardens at Smile House on Koh Samui.
- and then there was riding around on the back of a scooter, with Levi touring the entire island of Samui. Seeing waterfalls, jungle, tiny villages, temples and secluded beaches. Filling up the tank for the whopping amount of 2 euro.
Fisherman beach on Koh Samui, Thailand

So then we came back, and I checked my mail and found two messages from Rob, a man I worked for a couple of years ago. Was I still looking for a job, because he just might know something for me? Why yes, yes I was. Two days later I had an appointment for an informal meeting with the owner of a law firm, who was looking for a secretary slash marketing specialist. Three interviews and an assessment later, we're now ironing out the details of the contract, so fingers are still crossed. But I may just have some good news sometime soon.

I already know what I'm going to do with my first pay: shop will I drop! Oh yeah, and have a celebratory dinner with Levi. Will keep you posted!

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9Nov/130

Good food, fast: Bar Lempicka

Bar Lempicka on the Amstel in Amsterdam

Bar Lempicka on the Amstel, across the street from the Amstel Hotel has a classy Art Deco vibe. The staff is friendly, attentive and competent. The food is good and reasonably priced, with mains like a juicy Black Angus rib eye for E19,50. Or a vegetarian ravioli dish for E13,50 (small) or E19,50 (large).

If you've got tickets for Carré and are looking for a good restaurant to have dinner before your show, this is the place to go. Tell the staff when your show is due to start and they will try their utmost to get you to the theatre in time.

Recommended!

Bar Lempicka
Sarphatistraat 23
1018EV Amsterdam
tel: 020 6220209

Open 9 AM - 1 AM
Fridays and Saturdays until 3 AM

19Oct/130

Poptasi: glorious macarons in Amsterdam

Poptasi macarons in De Pijp, AmsterdamWhen I was last in France, I saw brightly coloured macarons in every patisserie shop window. But every time I wanted to get one, the shops were closed for lunch! When finally I got my hands on one, it was overly sweet and not at all tasty. Just glaze-shatteringly sweet.

I had a craving for macarons the other day and looked up where one can buy them in Amsterdam. Turns out there's a shop in De Pijp that's dedicated solely to macarons. It goes by the odd name of Poptasi. The friendly salesman was also the chef: Patrick van Drie.

Poptasi rocks
Poptasi window in De Pijp, AmsterdamPaying with your bank card (and pin) earns you a macaron for tasting. I followed Patrick's recommendation and chose the vanilla macaron. It sounds boring (maybe), but I assure you, what a glorious, glorious macaron that was. Rich! Creamy! These. Are. The. Real. Deal.

Other favourites include the citron and the pistacchio flavoured macarons. Pure flavour, sweet, but not overly so. Perfect, crumbly, moist pieces of heaven. There are so many more to try, I can't wait for the next occasion to make the trip!

Also very reasonably priced, for a box with 8 macarons you pay only 8 euros.

Poptasi
Gerard Doustraat 103
Amsterdam

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24Sep/130

Thank you Tuesday

Any day of the week is perfect for realising what you're thankful for.

- I handed in my thesis yesterday! I started the project around 5 months ago, thought up and did the research all on my own, and wrote a report about it, plus advice. Heart and soul have gone into that pile of paper. Hours and hours of work. It feels very strange to be done with working on it. Only a few more steps to go now, then I'm done with my studies!

- After handing it in, I didn't know what to do with myself, so I called some friends and we had drinks at Van Mechelen on the Sloterkade. The atmosphere is amazing, I love the interior styling. The staff is friendly, but forgetful. The food is mostly overpriced and then disappointingly portioned. But none of it really mattered, because I have friends who will come pick me up after having been AWOL for months.Thank you guys for hugs and talk and laughs.

-Levi's sister is coming for dinner. I've made onion soup for the first time in my life and it is amazing. Thank you Jamie Oliver for the recipe!

Summer in Rembrandtpark, Amsterdam- Last year's Summer was more of a prolonged Spring turning over into a very wet Autumn. But this year we had a prolonged Winter, that did finally turn into a lovely, sunny, warm Summer. So thank the weathergods for that. Lots of barbeques and picnics in the park, ice creams and long, relaxed evenings. I could do with a couple of more months like that, but I'm thankful for the Summer we've had.

- To say hello to Autumn, my yoga studio organised an event. On 21 September around 40 people did 108 sun salutations at Yagoy. Together with no one knows how many other people around the world (!) I worked up a sweat and struggled to keep up. Beforehand I had no idea how many 108 was, I only knew it sounded like a lot. In the end I got to 106, which is definitely more that I thought I would manage. Thank you Narges and crew for organising the event. It was great!

There really shouldn't be a downside to things you say thanks for, but I just have to say one more thing about the 108. It was great to do them, and I'm proud of my body and what it can do. But oh gods my muscles never hurt so much as the days after! But then I figure you appreciate things more if they come at a price. Next time I'll try and do the full 108!

30Aug/132

Good samaritan, good karma

We were in a restaurant in Amsterdam East yesterday and as we were getting ready to leave, I checked my keys and realized they were not there. Or anywhere. Had I...? Yes, I believed I had left them in the lock of my bicycle. As we were parking our bikes, Levi berated me for not placing mine close enough to his to allow him to put his lock through both our frames. So I left him to it, and thus completely forgot to lock mine. Not just my bicycle keys, but also my housekeys were on the ring. Oh no...

I ran out of the restaurant to my bike. But I could see as I approached it, that there was no key in the lock. I started to doubt myself: had I locked my bike? But no, I was sure I hadn't. Had someone taken the keys??? But even if I had been stupid enough to forget to lock it, it was still attached to Levi's, there was no way anyone could have taken mine without a hassle.

Then it occurred to me that someone may have noticed... And might not have taken them but perhaps had hidden them? I shook my bike to see if it jangled and sure enough it did. The keys were safely tucked inside the bicycle bag. What a relief! I am so glad that there are still good people in the world.

Thank you good samaritan! May you find good karma on your path in your future.

9Aug/134

Finding bliss in Amsterdam

Major changes have taken place in my life as of late. My contract at my job was not extended. I started my thesis research. I finished my last exam and no longer have to go to classes (yay!). And I've started taking yoga classes.

At one point, I was working, studying and doing thesis research at the same time. Needless to say that was ambitious and the stress of trying to keep three major balls in the air made the skin peel off my fingertips. So losing the job was both bad and good news. Finishing the last block of courses was inevitable and so now I get to focus on just one thing (well two, if you count looking for a job). After a couple of gruesome months, of doing too much at the same time, suddenly I found myself able to breathe again. What a relief!

I had been telling myself for ages that I needed to do more excercise. I had done Pilates by myself, and liked it very much, but couldn't find classes at times nor locations that suited me and so I abandoned the thought of excercise (for a few years).

yoga at Yagoy, Amsterdam West, image courtesy of Yagoy

A friend of mine suggested yoga. He was starting classes and invited me to try them together. I loved it, but the location was a bit of a hassle. I'm lazy at heart, so if it takes too much effort to organise going, then I'm very easily inclined not to go! Then I received a flyer (in my own mailbox! No effort involved there), for a place very close to home. Lots of classes to choose from. I had a stern talking to myself and went. And I've been going every week since.

Yoga to your liking
I love that I'm able to pick a class that suits me. I can switch days and instructors to my liking. If I'm feeling under the weather, I'll opt for relax yoga. But mostly I like to challenge myself and choose power yoga. And, having come to yoga out of a lack of something 'better' (strange choice of words maybe, but it simply wasn't my first choice. I hadn't expected it to be something for me). What surprises me is how much I enjoy going. I find that during those 75 minutes I work hard and through focusing on what I'm doing, completely let go of whatever else is going on in my head or body.

The fellow students and the instructors are so incredibly nice. Yesterday our instructor told us to be kind to ourselves. To challenge ourselves, but to be kind at the same time. She invites us to do things that I am not convinced I can do. But I do them and I am completely in awe of what my body can do. I can stand on my head!

A few weeks ago the same instructor told us to forgive ourselves. Now, I'm not into wishy washy spiritual mumbo jumbo. But this place suits me. The atmosphere suits me. And I love the people. I even love myself. Now all I have to do is forgive myself for not trying yoga sooner.

If you're stressed, try one of these:

Peter Hin yoga with Peter Hin at Centrum De Roos, Vondelpark;
or: Relax yoga at Yagoy, on the corner of Postjesweg and Hoofdweg.

And if you want to challenge yourself, try:
Power yoga at Yagoy.

26Jul/130

Former fire brigade HQ to become hostel

A few days ago word was spread that the former headquarters of the Amsterdam fire brigade on the Weesperzijde has been sold, and will be turned into a hostel. The complex is 5400 (!) square meters and is situated near the Amstel. Just look at the building, doesn't it look absolutely perfect to be hostel?

Location is also quite good. Within walking distance from the popular Club Trouw and Oosterpark. Club Trouw (open 'til 2015) is one of Amsterdam's most exciting clubs, with its raw atmosphere and excellent sound. For those that crave highbrow culture more than dance, the new hostel is also about 1 kilometer from the lovely Royal Theatre Carré (see pic below) and the Hermitage.

Royal Theatre Carré on the Amstel in Amsterdam

On the other side of the Amstel there's the Pijp, and the small but lovely Sarphatipark. Did you know that Mr Sarphati, alderman and doctor in the 1800s, was responsible for the abundance of parks in the Dutch capital? He also wanted to up the city's chique by building the majestic Amstel Hotel. Also within walking distance of the new hostel, a little ways up the Amstel.

Exploring Amsterdam East by bike
If you rent a bike, the location is perfect for an exploration of the east of the capital! The lively Dappermarkt, Indische Buurt, and lovely Park Frankendael are all within easy cycling distance. Or visit the Royal Artis Zoo and the Hortus Botanicus.

And when all that exploring has made you hungry, hop back on your bike and have dinner at Pompstation, a restaurant located in an industrial building, that still houses the waterpumps (if it rains really hard, you can feel the pumps rumbling beneath the floors!). If Pompstation is a ways over your budget, a great alternative is a classy burger from Burgermeester, across the street from Artis.

Build on the hostel is to start in 2014. Can't wait that long? See hostelworld for hostels in Amsterdam now!