Amsterdam: A quick guide

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I thought I’d do a quick post about our favourite places in Amsterdam. We so love Amsterdam, and it is our favourite European city. We find the people to be friendly and happy, with generous spirits, and I feel a major affinity to the people and the culture. I could go on for hours about my love for Amsterdam, but I won’t bore you with that. Instead, I’m just going to give you a run down of where to eat, what to eat, what to drink (I’ll give you a hint: it’s always beer), and things to see. I’ve even done the work for you and added all the links you need!

  • Stacey’s Pennywell – The best place to have lunch. Have a Stacey’s All Time Favourite Sandwich. Trust me. It. Is. The. Bomb. Located very close to Rembrandtplein.
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  • Café Luxembourg – Some of the best Croquettes and a very good Eggs Benedict, located on Spui.
  • Coco’s Outback – Out favourite spot for Bitterballen and beer. It’s an Australian pub with very reasonable prices (quite cheap actually), with a good vibe. It’s located right by Rembrandtplein. Bitterballen is an absolute must on your trip.
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  • De Brabantse Aap – Another favourite for Bitterballen, but a little more pricey than Coco’s Outback, located also on Spui.
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  • De Ysbreeker – If you recall, I did a post about our Croque Monsieurs, and I mentioned where the best Croques I’ve ever eaten was. This is the place. Do it. You won’t be sorry. They are pricey, but well worth it. You could also do an Uitsmijter, which is amazing too. Located on Weesperzijde.
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  • De Biertuin – Amazing burgers for a decent price. It’s a little bit further from the centre of the city, so it’s not very touristy. It’s where the local young people hang out, and reservation is a must. Find directions here.
  • Café Stevens – A lovely little bar with an amazing variety of beers to try. It’s quite close to the bustling touristy red-light district (De Wallen), so if you take a stroll down there to have a look-see, Café Stevens is the perfect place to fill your belly with plenty of beer.
  • Café Kale – This is our favourite place to eat Vlammetjes, which is also a must have while you’re there. Located on Weteringschans.
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  • Bar Lempicka – A bar with a great atmosphere, day or night. It’s situated right on the Amstel river in Sarphati straat.
  • Vooges (Harmsen Restaurant) – A lovely place to have dinner, if you’re looking for something that doesn’t include burgers and run of the mill food. The cuisine is exquisite, the service so friendly, and the frites are to die for. Located on Utrechtsestraat
  • McDonalds. Don’t shoot me. Yes, I just suggested you go to McDonalds. But hear me out. The franchises in the Netherlands have a speciality not available anywhere else. And I am recommending that you have it. It’s the McKroket. Try it. Please.
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If you’re staying in Amsterdam for an extended period – and not necessarily in a hotel, then you might need to buy some supplies. Our favourite go-to shop for anything from bread, milk, cheese, to surprisingly tasty ready-made Creme Brulee, meat, wine and everything in between was Albert Heijn. Just a traveller’s tip though – they won’t let you pay with a Visa card. Even if it’s a debit card. There are ATM’s in the shop though, so it’s not that big of a deal.

For more of a farmer’s market feel, you should definitely visit Albert Cuypmarkt. It has fresh (FRESH) fish, homemade breads, cheeses of all shapes and colours, poultry, fresh vegetables and flowers. While you’re there, stop by the Stroopwafel stall, and get a fresh and hot Stroopwafel. It will change your life. It is crispy on the outside, made with a ginger and cinnamon infused dough, filled with a sweet, all-butter, very sticky and sweet caramel. Mmmhmmm. You can also find almost anything else at the market, from socks, to beads, crockery, fabric and upholstery, clothing, shoes and bags. It’s a lovely outing.
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You can’t visit Amsterdam without doing the historical and cultural circuit. So here’s a quick run down. I’m going to start with the Anne Frank House. We go every time we’re there. I’ll keep going. Every time. It is something so powerful, a humbling experience like no other. It teaches us what humanity can be if we let it. It’s a somber reminder of what cruelty truly is. It also teaches us that the human spirit is an unyielding and beautiful thing. You really should visit. You can (and I recommend that you do) book your tickets in advance online. And try to book it for the earliest time slot possible. It gets busy, and it’s really an experience you want to have when there aren’t that many people around. And please, if your children are not old enough to understand the gravity of the place they’re standing in, keep them reigned in. The people who go there have an emotional experience, and unruly little brats running around screaming, not only lessens – nay, ruins – the experience for other visitors, but makes you look bad too. (Preaching over) When you’re done there, you can pop in right next door at the Westerkerk. There is also the Oude Kerk to visit, which is located right by the red-light district. Two museums worth seeing: Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. You can buy your tickets online. Try to get there early too, to avoid the masses.

The squares I mentioned in the food section of this post, are all beautiful places too. Even if you don’t visit the restaurants, take a stroll through Rembrandtplein, Leidseplein, Frederiksplein and Spui. For shopping I highly recommend going to Kalverstraat. You can find just about anything there, and it includes some of the world’s most popular brands – like Guess, Steve Madden, Levi, Fossil and so on. You should be able to pick up some great bargains if you’re there around the time that they have end of season sales. I also love walking through Utrechtsestraat, which has more of a quirky feel to it, with smaller stores, speciality shops and small eateries. It also happens to be very pretty. If you happen to be strolling through Utrechtsestraat, you should pop into Kaldi. It’s a speciality coffee and tea shop, where I could spend hours selecting teas. It’s lovely. My last little shopping gem is the 9 Straatjes. It is a 3 streets x 3 streets block of little cafés and specialty stores, ranging from a shop that exclusively sells buttons, another selling only board games, vintage shops, toothbrush shops and tea shops. The shops there only open at 11am on a Monday – remember that.

In terms of transport, you could rent a bicycle and do it the way the locals do it. I don’t though. The rules are very different than they are in my country, there are trams all over the place, cars, buses and pedestrians. It’s scary. But if you have the bravery – go for it! Many family members adore cycling in Amsterdam. I prefer using the trams and metros when I need to, but we tend to walk most places we go. In fact, the walking helps ease the guilt of consuming so much beer and Bitterballen. You can buy a chip card to use on the metros and trams, which works on a prepaid basis. You load your card with a certain amount, and every time you use it the card will be deducted with the fee of your trip. This is important though: REMEMBER TO CHECK OUT EVERY TIME YOU GET OFF. Other wise it will deduct about 4 Euros from your card. The trams are very easy to use, super accessible and there are regular trams coming and going throughout the city. There’s a very useful app that you can download which can tell you which tram to take depending on your destination, and their stops, and their times. The app can be downloaded on iPhones and Android phones – just search for 9292 OV app.

That’s it from me, I think. If you have the opportunity to see Amsterdam, you should grab it. It is a magical place.

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Scrumptious Sunday: Croque Madame & Monsieur

Hi kids!

Our latest Scrumptious Sunday took a decidedly French twist when we decided that our next experiment would be Croques. It was my absolute favourite breakfast/brunch, but you just know it’s yummy enough to eat any time of the day. There is a restaurant in Amsterdam (one of our favourites) that makes the best Croque Monsieur I have ever had the privilege to devour (stuffing my face would be a more accurate description). Seriously, if you find yourself in Amsterdam, make sure to drop by De Ysbreeker and have a Croque Monsieur. The rest of their food is excellent too, and you can get anything from a muffin, croissant, full on breakfasts, sandwiches and even soups and things… Another recommendation to have there is an Uitsmijter. Go ahead. Click on the link. Get ready to drool. I’m getting distracted again. Let’s get back on track. Here’s a look at the Croque Monsieur I had at De Ysbreeker.

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You can find a Croque Monsieur or Madame at most cafés in France too, but oddly enough – I enjoyed my Amsterdam one more than the couple I had in Paris. The basic formula for a Croque is some good, thickly sliced, fresh, almost sweet white bread, some ham, some cheese (more than one type FYI) and a Béchamel so good it tastes like it could have dripped straight from heaven onto your bread. It’s warm, and salty from the ham, and sweet from the bread, and savoury from the cheeses and oh so gooey from that Béchamel. The difference between a Croque Monsieur and a Croque Madame is an egg. That simple. The Monsieur is sans egg, the Madame, well, you can guess I’m sure, has the egg. So predictable. Ironically, whenever the beau didn’t have an Uitsmijter, he would have a Croque Madame. We had a couple of Har-di-har-har moments with some waiters in Paris… “One Monsieur for ze Madame, one Madame for ze Monsieur..” Har-har-har. I know you’re rolling your eyes at me. That’s okay. We know the level of corny I can reach is astronomical. Enough chit chat though, let’s get to it. We used a Barefoot Contessa recipe. As much as the beau disdains watching Ina’s show (he’s fine with all the other food programs I watch, just not HERS), I adore her.

We found that the most efficient way was to start with the Béchamel. Once that’s done, you can let it stand since it will be warmed up in the oven again anyway. Also – grate your cheese before you start assembly. Get everything in order so that it goes smoothly. The less stress in the kitchen, the better time you’ll have. So here’s the recipe (from here):

Croque Monsieur

Ingredients

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon Maldon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
5 cups Gruyere, grated (We used a strong Cheddar – Gruyere is ridiculously expensive in South Africa)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
8 slices white sandwich bread
Dijon mustard (I used some of my homemade mustard – I’ll share the recipe next week when I cook up a new batch)
4 slices ham (anything should do fine – we used Cooked Ham), sliced but not paper thin

Method

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius/ 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere/Cheddar, and the Parmesan and set aside.

To toast the bread, place the slices on baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Turn each slice and bake for another 2 minutes, until toasted.

Lightly brush half the toasted breads with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere/Cheddar. Top with another piece of toasted bread. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere/Cheddar, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.

To make this into a Madame, fry an egg when the sandwiches are ready to be broiled, and when they come out, just slide the egg on top. Easy-peasy, right? I will say this though: next time I’d want to try it with the Gruyere. They were really good the way we made them, and you shouldn’t even for one second doubt whether to make this if you don’t have Gruyere. They were delicious with the cheddar. And melty. And really satisfying. The perfect end to a Sunday. I just think that the Gruyere would add more of a sharp and savoury note, and give it that final touch of authenticity. Here are our results:

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Give it a try… You won’t be sorry. I promise.

Much Love

 

Officially Off the Market

Gasp!

You guys, I’ve been such a bad blogger…I’m so very sorry. BUT, I have huge news!

I’m engaged!… Here’s our story:

We planned a trip to Europe with his family, and the family decided to rent a chateau in France for Christmas. As the time grew closer, I kept thinking that a proposal in Paris would be epic! When I finally jokingly mentioned it to him, he very emphatically (and repeatedly) stated that the trip to Europe was all I could hope for, since he was taking me for almost 4 weeks, and travelling in Europe is super expensive. A couple of weeks before our departure he told me that he had the choice of a ring, or our trip, and he obviously chose the trip. I was clearly disappointed, and he apologised and told me that we might be able to afford a ring in 2014. Then, a couple of days before we left, he told me that we would have to use some of the money I had kept aside for my planned IKEA shopping spree (it should be noted that this was money I had saved for almost a year, and had kept separate from our joint Europe savings) to pay for the accommodation in France, and our visas. I was fuming. Livid, really. We had a huge fight, and I couldn’t understand where all his money went, and I was upset that I had to sacrifice MY savings! (Yes, I was being a brat – I know that…I am quite ashamed of that… ) He told me that the flights were more expensive than what he budgeted for, and that we really didn’t have a choice but to use my IKEA fund. We left it there, and moved on. I didn’t give it another thought.

Throughout the first week and a half our trip, we were in Amsterdam, visiting with Faul’s eldest brother and his wife and kids. I secretly kept hoping that there might be a proposal, but knew in the back of my head it wouldn’t happen.

We departed for France in our rental car on 22 December, and spent one night in Brussels, before driving the rest of the way to France. On the 24th, we went into Paris for the first time. (Our house was about 40mins’ train ride outside of the city) We were shown around by his eldest brother, with almost the entire family with us. We went to go see the Notre Dame and then walked to the Pont Neuf – the oldest bridge in Paris, where his brother told us a bit about the city. We all decided to go to a café for drinks, but Faul held me back. He said he wanted to go down the stairs at the bridge, because the bridge runs over a little island and he wanted to go look. I wasn’t really feeling it, because it started drizzling a bit, and it was cold! I told him we had a whole week in France, and that we could come back another day…But he insisted, so down we went. As we walked to the tip of the island, he grew quiet, holding my hand very tightly. We got to the end of the island, and there were three very dodgy looking Eastern European guys just standing around, smoking and talking in hushed tones. It was very freaky, and we felt the need to leave! He then said we should just take a picture and get out of there, and he looked quite sad.

We started walking back to the bridge, and halfway to the stairs, he stopped and snaked one arm around my waist and kissed me. We were kissing in the cold wind, with tiny droplets of rain falling on our skins – when I felt a smile on his lips against my lips. I felt his body moving a bit, and could tell his free arm was reaching into his pocket, when without moving his lips from mine, he said that he had something to ask me…

I started squealing, and jumping up and down, when he took the box out of his pocket. When he opened it, my heart stopped. It was the most gorgeous ring I have ever seen – and exactly what I wanted. He said he wasn’t going down on one knee, because it was wet (and he had new pants on!) but he wanted to know if I would marry him. It took me a couple of minutes to answer, after all, talking is difficult if you’re squealing and kissing the love of your life all over his face.

We walked to a café, where his family were waiting with a bottle of French Champagne to congratulate us, and I was showing my ring off to anyone who even glanced our way!

We added a padlock in the lovers tradition to the fence on the Pont des Arts, the bridge right next to the Pont Neuf. We placed it directly in line with the tip of the island – forever commemorating the place where we got engaged.

It was such a magical day. It is such a magical time.

I’ve entered a competition to win an AMAZEBALLS prize for our wedding, and would love it (and adore you) if you would click on this link and leave a comment: http://saweddingvenues.com/proposals-2014/marle-faul/

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More about our trip later!

Later, dolls. (Go comment – do it. Do it now.)