I turned the big 2-5 on Saturday; in the center of Amsterdam, in a French restaurant, surrounded by about 35 Dutch strangers… I thought it would be depressing not being with my friends but it turned out to be one of the best birthday’s I’ve ever had (I still love you guys, gotta get through the pain somehow!).
Eva, Julien and I drove up to Amsterdam on Thursday at 10am… after a quick lunch at a rest stop in Belgium (its absolutely hilarious how the French and Dutch make fun of the Belgians… I guess everyone has their own version of pesky Canadians) we arrived in Amsterdam around 4pm.
The first thing we did was go to Eva’s graduation at her University… she received her Master’s degree (Cum Laude, smart girl!). I spent the night with Eva’s friends Marleen & Flor… a total stranger comes into their place and the first thing they do is hand me a spare set of keys! Marleen and I went to dinner at an authentic family-style place called “Moeders” ( Mothers in Dutch) and had a traditional Dutch meal of hodpodge (see below)… it looks gross but it was DELICIOUS—mashed potatoes with carrots and cheese with a bunch of different kinds of meat thrown in. The bizarre thing is I’ve been to the exact same restaurant in the East Village called Mama’s… I don’t know who copied whom!
The next morning I rented a bike (there are more bikes on the road than cars, its kinda freaky! Its not uncommon to see mothers strapping their newborn baby’s car seat to the back of their bike and zooming off through traffic…) but insisted on getting a normal bike that would blend in with the locals, not the ones with the huge “RENT ME” stickers on the front. Aside from the fact that my bike broke down both days, or that my butt was so sore that I could hardly walk, or that it was freezing cold, or that I hadn’t ridden a bike in about 7 years so I was pissing off all the other riders with my slowness and total disregard for biker etiquette, it was great! That morning I had breakfast at a cute neighborhood restaurant, on the same street where Brad Pitt owns a house (who knew?). Then I jumped on my bike and wandered around Amsterdam until I couldn’t resist the urge to shop. There’s an area called ‘The Dam’ which is like the Soho of Amsterdam… overall cheesy stores but it has your requisite H&M and Zara so it was all good.
That night was Eva’s graduation/birthday party. Her parents rented out a French restaurant and invited about 35 of her closest friends and family to dinner. The night was full of speeches, singing, laughing, wine... so much fun. And then at midnight, they surprised me by singing happy birthday to me and bringing me presents! It was very sweet and totally unexpected… we finished the night with drinks at Eva’s friend’s apartment around 4am in the Red Light District.
SIDENOTE: of course, the story wouldn’t be complete without my mentioning the super hot Dutch guy at the party (see below, but the pic doesn't do him justice). We sat next to each other at dinner and the whole time, I was just trying to focus on what he was saying and not drool too much. We literally chatted about everything under the sun the entire night. And when the party broke up and everyone was saying their goodbyes, he gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek said, “I really enjoyed talking to you tonight”. ::sigh:: Granted, his girlfriend was sitting at the other end of the table most of the night (she left early) and she was very sweet, but still… a girl can dream can’t she? :o)
On Saturday we all woke up late and I met Eva and Julien for lunch. We went to a bookstore, took a stroll through the flower market (Holland is known for their tulips after all!) and hung out in a café for the rest of the afternoon. Later that evening we had dinner at Eva’s best friend’s house, took in a few documentaries at the Balkan Film Festival which happened to be going on that weekend, and finished the night at the festival’s after party.
Sunday was another chill day… woke up around 8:30am, had breakfast at another cute café, then met up with Eva and her friends for coffee and gossip until it was time to head back to Paris. But when we got to the car, there was a stupid boot on the tire (we were parked in a metered zone but didn’t feed it)… thankfully Holland isn’t France so the cops came within 30 mins to collect the 100€ fine, remove the boot and send us on our way. We got to Paris around 9pm on Sunday.
I think the nicest part of the entire trip was being able to enjoy the city on my own, as if I were a local—I began to feel very Dutch by the end of the trip! I love travelling alone… and when you’re in such a beautiful city, the best part is getting lost in the little back streets and trying to find your way back again. It gives you time to think and be thankful for the experience. And just enjoy being present. And to sum up Holland, it’s an unbelievably quaint country. The people are so friendly, everyone speaks English so there’s no awkward language barrier, Amsterdam looks like a movie set and it’s so tiny you can cross the entire city by bike within an hour. Of course, there’s a ridiculous amount of cows, sheep and windmills and they’ve got a funny obsession with potatoes and meat… but overall it’s an absolutely lovely place.
Oh, I know you’re all wondering… and the answer is no. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to sample the coffeeshop specialties… I’m not a smoker but I was really looking forward to it. But the weekend was so packed (in a lazy sort of way) I didn’t get a chance to check it out. I was also told I have to experience taking a ferry to the north of Amsterdam and going for a bike ride through Holland’s countryside… so much to do, so little time. It just means I have to go back again soon!