Life Has a Different Twist in Amsterdam

One’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things.
~ Henry Miller

I Amsterdam sign
Iconic ‘I Amsterdam’ sign

After our wonderful Spain trip, it is now time to head on towards northwestern Europe to the Netherlands capital, Amsterdam. We visited Amsterdam during the month of March and let me tell you, it was COLD! The temperature was in the low 40’s and it was breezy which didn’t help. Even with a scarf, hat, and gloves, I could feel the cold penetrate my coat. But it didn’t deter us from strolling around the city.

We arrived early in the morning at the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. The flight was good. When we arrived at the airport our shuttle had not arrived so we had to wait for a little. While waiting the Amsterdam police began to surround the gate where we had just arrived. They were armed with machine guns and standing in certain areas. Not knowing what was going on we stepped away from the area that they were surrounding. They did not say or demand anything. Maybe they didn’t want to cause panic, but it was not hard to notice something was going on. They just walked in and dispersed themselves in different directions. The flight after us was from Asia and the majority leaving the flight was Asians many dressed in business attire. After the flight deplaned the officers left. It was a bit scary not knowing what was going on but everyone remained calm.

Hotel

We stayed at the Apollo Museum Hotel at P C Hoofstraat 2, in the very center of the city. It was next to the Rijksmuseum which is the largest museum in the Netherlands. It was early in the morning and our rooms were not available, therefore, we left our luggage in a room behind the check-in area and ventured around the vicinity. I need to remember to book flights where the arrival time falls within the check-in time at the hotel. Not having our rooms available at 7:30 a.m. when we just flew 9 hours can be a bit harsh. But we managed to find a place to eat and walked some more until about 1:00 in the afternoon when our room was finally available and ready. The room was tiny but it had the necessary elements and it was clean. I liked that the bed was comfortable and the hotel had a breakfast buffet which was pretty good. The staff was responsive and polite as well. I’d stay there again.

SHOLDIT Convertible Infinity Scarf with Pocket

Sightseeing

After our breakfast, we leisurely strolled around the city streets and made our way to the famous I Amsterdam sign. There was no way to get a photo of the sign with so many people on top, in front, behind, everywhere surrounding the huge letters so we ventured through the park stopping at shops and snapping photos in other areas. We returned at night, about midnight or so, just to get a few snapshots of the iconic sign.

We boarded a glass-top boat and cruised the Amsterdam’s winding canals. Taking in all the historic houses from the 16th century along the canals, churches, the Royal Palace on Dam Square, the Dutch National Monument and the Skinny Bridge.

The Skinny Bridge has an interesting story. It crosses the river Amstel. It was named after the sister’s Mage. They lived on opposite sides of the bridge and wanted an easier way to visit each other so they had a wooden bridge made from one side to the other. The bridge built was so skinny that it was hard for two people to past along another, hence where the name came from. Of course, it is now wider and quite popular.

I knew that Amsterdam was famous for its many people commuting on bikes but I did not expect to see so many bikes! There are more bikes in Amsterdam than cars! There are even bicycle parking lots. I wonder how they know which is their bike when they all look alike. You will see people commuting on bikes in heels, dresses, suits, children going to school, mom’s with babies, entire families cycling together – even if it’s snowing. I think it’s an awesome way of commuting! It is so easy and encouraging with the many bike lanes and routes for commuting. I love it.

Heading to Volendam which is the cutest fishing village where there’s an actual working windmill, we took a small detour to the 100-year old Irene Hoeve Cheese & Clog Factory located in Hoogedijk 1, 1145 PM Katwoude, Netherlands. We learned the process of making cheese and got a glimpse of how clogs are made. So many different varieties of gouda cheese – garden herbs, pesto, smoked ham, plain, old – and the list goes on and on! They encourage you to take a taste with a little sip of wine thus allowing you to choose amongst the vast majority of flavors, and the price is great! There’s also a large variety of clogs for you to choose from as well, although I don’t think they would be too comfortable.

In the Red Light District, you will find brothels, sex shops, pubs, clubs, coffee shops, museums of prostitution, erotism, and cannabis. Contrary to what people might think, the Red Light District is actually clean and very well maintained. Even though prostitution and marijuana are legal in Amsterdam, it is also a safe place. It ranks in 6th place of the safest cities in the world.

Restaurants

We had breakfast in the only place we found open which was Bakery Café Ristorante Pizzeria in Max Euweplein 60, 1017 MB. The place was modern and clean. The service was mediocre. We had to go up to the counter to place our order. It was also expensive for what it was. We had Nutella filled croissants, ham and cheese omelet, and coffee. The food was edible and enough to appease our hunger, but, I would not go there a second time.

We stopped at Brandmeester’s Premium Roasted Coffee at Van Baerlestraat 13, for some local coffee and pastries while walking through the P.C. Hooftstraat area lined up with famous brand name stores. The service was quick and the staff was polite. It was good coffee and pastries. I recommend it.

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Restaurant Dubbel Amsterdam

Now Restaurant Dubbel Amsterdam at 1017 RK Amsterdam, just about a 5-minute walk from the hotel, was a great restaurant. It had a friendly atmosphere and polite servers. We had Satay of chicken thighs with peanut sauce, fries and salad for about 15€. I am not a chicken lover but this meal was delicious. I would definitely eat there again. I highly recommend it.

Lunch was at Café de Boer, an almost 100-year old restaurant with spectacular views of the Volendam harbor, at Haven 56, 1131 ES in Volendam. The location was great but the service was very poor – rude servers. The food was not that good and it was pricey. I would not eat there again and don’t recommend it either.

We ate at the Haesje Claes in Spuistraat 275, 1012 VR. The Haesje Claes opened its doors in 1974. It is a small quaint restaurant that serves meals for all taste buds. We tried the traditional Dutch hodgepodge for about 18€, which was mashed potatoes with carrots and included bacon, meatball, and sausage. As an appetizer, for about 18€, I had a house special which included cheese, meat, and different fish – eel among those fish. Yuck! I didn’t like the eel but my husband did. And, for dessert, I had a thin Dutch pancake with orange sauce, cream and ice cream for about 7€. The service was good – polite servers and fast service. It was good food, nothing to brag about.

I liked Amsterdam’s atmosphere and lifestyle, their open-mind and diversity. Amsterdam is a great city with a lot to offer. It was now time to begin packing for our next stop in Belgium.

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I Left My Heart In Cáceres

Caceres Plaza Mayor
Main entrance to Town of Cáceres medieval city from Plaza de Santa Maria

Valencia was so much fun even though we were there for such a short time. We then headed to the west of Spain towards Cáceres, the autonomous region of Extremadura. According to the GPS, it was a 6 hours and 4-minute drive not counting our many stops. We made it in 5 hours with a few stops and taking in the beautiful landscaping that Spain has to offer. The road was clear, the day was lovely – some clouds here and there – but otherwise lovely, and the temperature was great.

Hotel

We stayed at Parador de Los Llanos in Torreorgaz, close to Cáceres for about 44,00€. It’s a small, old hotel but the room was clean and cozy with a comfortable bed and no yucky carpets either! The people there were so polite and friendly. One of the most interesting things in the hotel was the old cigarette vending machine. Remember those? Well, it depends on your age. They have been gone for quite some time now.

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Cigarette Vending Machine inside the hotel

Sights

On our way, we came across a few interesting sights which we captured in photos from afar. Later, we asked locals about it or researched it on the internet since we were not able to stop at those locations – either because they were out of our way or simply were not tourist attractions.


One of those places were the Windmills of La Mancha. Even though we didn’t go directly through the windmills route they were quite close to the route we took to Cáceres. According to the España website, it is the setting for the adventures of Don Quixote. The route runs near the city of Toledo and is the region’s symbols.

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Windmills of La Mancha near Toledo

Miles and miles of green pastures and Wind Turbines were seen throughout our route. Coming from Florida I don’t see these, so it was impressive to me. I had not realized how huge these things were. According to the Spanish Wind Energy Association, Spain is the world’s fifth largest producer of wind power after China, U.S., Germany, and India.

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Wind Turbines somewhere between Valencia and Cáceres

Every so miles I’d see a billboard of a massive black bull with no description. I was curious about it, so I took a snapshot to research. It turns out that the billboard is an advertisement to promote Veteran Brandy which began in 1956. The billboard is called the Osbourne Bull. After a few controversies with the billboard it has earned its spot as part of the Andalusian Heritage; therefore, it’s there to stay.

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Osbourne Bull

Once in Cáceres, we visited the Old Town of Cáceres dating back to the 12th century. It is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. If you’re familiar with the television series, Game of Thrones, you might have caught a glimpse of the medieval city since some parts of season 7 were filmed there. The medieval city is very well kept, with its cobblestone streets and surrounded by a protective wall. Inside those walls, you will find palaces, churches, convents and a museum. The architecture of this town includes Roman, Gothic, Islamic and Italian Renaissance styles. It was built so well and beautifully, it makes you wonder how they did it without all the modern tools we now have.

There are various medieval taverns around the city. They are all very well maintained. The one below was inside the medieval city of Cáceres.

Outside of the medieval city walls is Plaza de Santa Maria. Here is where you will find the main entrance to the medieval city. Plaza de Santa Maria is lined with stores, hotels, restaurants, bars and outdoor seating. Locals and tourist gather around for meals, drinks and just to socialize and admire the beauty of the medieval city.

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Plaza de Santa Maria

We strolled around the town of Cáceres stopping here and there. It reminded me of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, so much alike, it even had some of the same street names. We stopped at a local shop, Sierra de Montañez – Productos Extremeños, and purchased the famous stinky and delicious goat cheese from that region, as well as a few other items to bring home.

We visited the Church of the Precious Blood in Plaza San Jorge. It is a beautiful church. Its 18th-century baroque style design, altar and dome ceilings are stunning. Even though there was a wedding being held at the church at the time we arrived, we were able to sneak inside for some photography – not of the wedding party though, we weren’t invited.

Restaurants

My husband’s cousin knew of all the good places to eat so he, along with his wife, took us to dinner at Mesón Azuquita, a tapas bar and restaurant in Calle Isabel La Católica, Sierra de Fuentes near Cáceres. It is a cozy, kind of medieval theme décor with an old-world charm. The staff and owner were friendly and very polite. The environment was cozy, and the music was great. We had a few “tapas,” a full meal and enjoyed some local wine with great company. A few of those tapas were a Spanish omelet, ham (Iberico), cheese of the region, potatoes (patatas brava) among other tapas, and the full meal was a roasted leg of lamb and potatoes. Everything was delicious. I highly recommend this place and will eat there again when I return to Spain.

Our last meal in Cáceres was at El Mirador de Galarza, in Calle Piedad, courtesy of my husband’s cousin. This restaurant is on the rooftop of the Parking Obispo Galarza. It is an elegant restaurant with an outdoor terrace with spectacular views. The terrace was decorated with many natural elements including olive trees where they manually handpick the olives to cook with or serve as appetizers. The staff was outstanding, and the atmosphere was great. We enjoyed a variety of tapas and the main course, which was “roasted pig,” was so tender, moist and delicious. All the desserts were home-made and of course, we could not miss the wine of the region. To top off the meal, we had a shot of “Crema de Orujo,” which is a local delicious Spanish cream liquor resulting from blending cream with eau de vie and sugar. That was some good stuff!

Our Cáceres visit came to an end. The next day we drove to Madrid and did some last-minute sight-seeing and shopping since we were returning home the day after. After thirteen days and 3,000 miles in a tiny Fiat 500, it was time to go home. We had such a wonderful time in Spain. The fact that we created our own itinerary and were able to follow it at our leisure made it so much better. It was, by far, the best vacation I’ve ever had. I’m looking forward to my next trip to Spain to explore other cities and sights.

Have you been to Spain? If so, other than Madrid, Segovia, Logroño, Zaragoza, Barcelona, Valencia, and Cáceres, what other city do you recommend I visit?

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