Tag Archives: June 2015

Ten things to do in Amsterdam

(that aren’t the red light district or the Heineken brewery)

I lived in Amsterdam for six months while I was on an exchange through university! I spent my days cycling around the city, searching for the coolest, trendiest, and most Dutch places I could find. This is a list of ten of my favourite activities and places to go in one of the most beautiful cities in the world!


1) Get around like a local


Amsterdam is probably the most bicycle friendly city I have ever been to (Copenhagen is a close second…), and I firmly believe you can’t go to Amsterdam without renting a bicycle. Not only is the city built completely for them — it is faster to bicycle anywhere than walk, take a tram, or drive — but the bicycle is the king of the road, and has the right of way. The best place to rent your bicycle from is Starbikes located behind Amsterdam Centraal. It is not cheaper than any other bicycle rental place, BUT it does not have a huge “I am a tourist” bicycle rental sign plastered on the front. The bicycle you rent here will allow you to blend in and you will get less eye rolls from the locals on the bike path.


2) Learn the difference between a cafe and a coffee shop.


A cafe is where one can purchase coffee, tea, sandwiches, cakes, etc. A coffee shop is where one can purchase different varieties of smokeable herbs… Coffee and Coconuts in De Pijp is a cool old theatre that’s been turned into a crazy, 5 story loft Cafe with organic food and delicious tea and coffee. Coffeeshop 137 is a really cool cannabis store in the Jordaan area. You can tell them how you want your weed to make you feel and they will recommend the perfect blend for you. This coffee shop is a little less cliché. You won’t find any Bob Marley references here, and you may not even see another traveller here — just locals!

3) Wander around the Negen Straats (the Nine Streets)


In the heart of Jordaan, you will find nine intersecting streets that are home to super hip vintage shops, artisanal restaurants, and designer clothing stores. A lot of the clothing stores are expensive, but the streets are beautiful to wander along. My favourite store is The Darling on Runstraat. They sell cute, vintage clothes, and cupcakes!

4) Head to the Cheese Museum!


This is a museum/cheese shop, on Prinsengracht near the Anne Frank museum. It is free to get in, but really touristy. It’s a bit crowded, there are people wearing fanny packs all over the place, and it’s a bit chaotic, BUT, they have all of their cheese out for samples. I have been there many many times and have filled myself up for free with delicious Dutch cheese. They do have some cheese paraphernalia downstairs too, so you can actually learn something while you’re there! (Or just eat cheese).

5) Have brunch at Staring at Jacob


Open Thursday to Monday, Staring at Jacob is a super hip, restaurant east and a bit outside of the city centre. To get there is a delightful bicycle ride that takes you along canals and more classic Amsterdam canal houses. My favourite menu item is their chicken and waffles — real maple syrup (which is important to a Canadian), home made hot sauce, and flaky fried chicken. OH my damn, it’s good. They also have a hefty list of alcoholic brunch beverages, so take your pick and enjoy your ‘hair of the dog’ in the sun!

5) Have a beer at Hannekes Boom

Located just near Amsterdam Centraal, close to Nemo (the huge science centre), is Hannekes Boom. This bar has a backyard that overlooks the canals, with about 100 picnic tables each painted by a local artist, and a killer tree swing over the water. If in Amsterdam on a Sunday, try to go and snag a table! They have different bands play every Sunday around 4pm and you won’t disappointed. Live music, cheap beer, bearded men, and the feeling of a music festival. It’s the perfect Sunday afternoon!

6) Watch the sunset from a canal bench


Albert Heijn, the main grocery store in Amsterdam, sells pretty cheap wine. I’m talking €3 a bottle. Buy a bottle of wine, some plastic cups, and hang out somewhere! You can drink anywhere on the streets, unless it’s marked otherwise. One of my favourite places was sitting on the bench where Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht meet. It’s a lovely place to watch the sunset over the canal, and watch boats go by.

7) Indulge in a slice of pie from Winkel 43

In Jordaan, across the street from the big, old church, Noorderkerk, is Winkel 43. Here, you will be able to order the best and biggest slice of homemade apple pie in the city. If you go in the afternoon for a coffee and a slice, prepare yourself for a long wait for a table. If you’re like me and don’t like waiting, go to Winkel 43 in the evening, after 7pm. You will be able to find a table, and they will happily still serve apple pie. The crust alone is worth the wait for a table at this cafe.

8) Rent a paddle boat and cruise the canals!


Paddle boats (or bicycle boats) are really cheap to rent and SO funny. Cruising the canals of Amsterdam in any watercraft is a must, and a paddle boat is a cheap and funny way to check it off your bucket list. Just beware of the huge canal tour boats, they don’t like when you get in their way, and will honk their horn to tell you! If a pedal boat isn’t your style, you can rent a motor boat from boats4rent (their website here). It is a cheap option as well!

9) Have a slice of cake at Zoet en Hartig

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Directly translated from Sweet and Savoury, Zoet en Hartig is the place to go for any kind of food craving. They have a delicious spicy chicken wrap for lunch, and totally beautiful desserts. My favourite treat were the hot chocolate spoons, you melt it into hot water and it becomes delicious hot chocolate. You can also try their alcoholic spoons with whatever your favourite liquor that releases into the milk as your chocolate melts!

10) Try a classic snack at Cafe Thijssen

You can’t go to the Netherlands without trying some of their classic snacks. Cafe Thijssen serves the most delicious bitterballen — a ball of doughy deep fried perfection served hot with grainy mustard. You can also try their modern twists of the classic favourite! Two glasses of Amstel and a plate of bitterballen to share will set you back about €6, what’s not to like!

Read about more of my Dutch adventures here!

Cycling around Ven, Sweden

June 21, 2015

We arrived in Landskrona and took the bus to the ferry terminal. We sat outside on the sundeck, and shivered in the cool wind. I marvelled at the wind turbines, and my Swedish friends made fun of me. “Don’t you have those in Canada?” they asked. Yes, we do. But something about them is just so majestic! The ferry arrived in Ven! It is a small island in the middle of the Strait between Denmark and Sweden. We walked up the very steep hill towards the bike rental place. It was a hard place to miss because there were a lot of bikes parked out front. I would say about 700 and that doesn’t include the 300 tandem bicycles they had as well. We laughed that half the world’s tandem bicycles were parked on Ven. We collected our bikes are were off! The sun came out almost immediately after we began riding! It was perfect!


We cycled through field after field, past cliffs and sailboats. It was stunning. We found ourselves the perfect lunch spot outside the little church on a hill.


I went in the church and found a little pile of beads. Each colour represented something different. A little note invited me to choose a bead that represented what I needed the most, and at their next service, the congregation would include my prayer bead in their prayers. I chose blue. It represented tranquility, serenity, and trust. These are things I desire right now. I need tranquility and serenity, and to stop worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. I especially need to trust myself. We sat on the cliff’s edge and ate our sandwiches. Our lunch was cut short when a gaggle of geriatrics showed up on their walking tour.


We cycled down to the beach so we could have a swim in the freezing water. I did not swim, instead I took picture after picture after picture. This is one photogenic island! The flowers, the sun, the fields, the cliffs, the beaches. My goodness!


We biked back to the harbour and enjoyed a scoop of ice cream while we waited for the ferry. We originally grabbed seats inside, but very soon after we started our ride, I decided to go upstairs to the sundeck. I was prepared for it to be cold and windy, but it was not! The boat shielded me from the wind and the sun beat down hard. I closed my eyes and could have fallen asleep. But then I remembered I didn’t have sunscreen on! I quickly lathered my face with some SPF 30, closed my eyes, and did fall asleep.


A Hygge Day in Copenhagen

June, 2015

We ran to the square where the tour was starting. We were running behind and I didn’t want to miss the tour! We arrived just in time and were placed in a group. There were around 50 people in our group. Phew! As we left the square, we walked past a statue of two Vikings wearing helmets, and holding a giant two horned trumpet. They say that when a virgin walks by the statue, the horn sounds! We all listened closely as we walked by, but it seems that this 50 people are all sexually active!

Our tour continued through the streets of Copenhagen, beautiful and colourful, even on this rainy day. We were taught a Danish word: Hygge. There isn’t a direct translation to English, but, it’s describes something that is cozy and wonderful and perfect. If something is hygge, it means it’s exactly as you want it to be.


After the tour, we visited Christiania. This place is cool. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of it before. It is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of about 850 residents. I don’t know what that actually means, but apparently it’s not technically a part of Copenhagen? Anyways, it was a cool place. Signs welcoming you in read “you are now leaving the EU”. There were three rules in Christiania:

1. Have fun

2. No running- it causes a panic

3. No photos- the sale of marijuana is still illegal

This place is like paradise! Everybody was high and smiling, and there was nobody sitting on their phone, instagramming or tweeting. It was a very social place where everybody just seemed happy. I was happy to be there.

We finished our day at an outdoor concert along a canal. I can’t remember the name of the band, but they were incredible! They played a jazz, Baltic, fusion genre. They didn’t really fit into one genre. The accordion would have a solo followed by a rap solo by the guitarist. We danced and danced. As did the entire audience. It was such a fantastic show. One of the singers kept switching between singing, drumming, trombone, and doing gymnastics. “What can’t that guy do?” It was a perfect day in Copenhagen.


Celebrating Midsommer in Sweden

June, 2015

I arrived at Bastad station and met up with Rebecka and her friends. This weekend I would be celebrating Midsommer, a wondrous and whimsical Swedish holiday. First order of business— Midsommer crowns. Andrea, the resident florist, arrived with bushels of flowers and we all began fabricating our head attire. Fredrik’s crown was probably the most impressive, but Rebecka’s ended up being the perfect size and maybe my favourite. I was impressed with mine.


Considering it was my first time ever fastening together a bunch of flowers and creating a flowery head piece, I thought I did quite well! next was the Maypole. This quickly became my favourite part of the holiday. We erected a big, cross-shaped Maypole, and decorated it with lots of flowers and leaves. We hung big wreaths under each arm. It ended up looking a bit like an upside down penis. But it was beautiful and was fun to decorate! We covered the thing in greenery and used up all the leftover flowers.


Then, as if this holiday couldn’t get any more whimsical and wholesome, we all joined hands and danced around the Maypole. Everyone laughed and sang Swedish songs, while we all skipped around the pole. I was laughing my butt off. THEN we danced like frogs and sang a song about frogs. I love this holiday. I love this holiday so much.

And then we started drinking. I knew my friends back home would look at me sideways if I told them we danced like frogs around a penis shaped Maypole covered in flowers, and weren’t drunk.


We all gathered around the table and began dinner. Another Midsommer tradition during dinner is to drink Schnapps. The idea behind this, is that if you drink a little bit of schnapps in between servings, you will have more room for food! The schnapps are about 30-40% alcohol and only poured to about 1/3 of the shot glass. Phew! I had one and that was that. It seemed though, the more schnapps the boys drank, the louder and more frequent the singing became. Each song leads to a cheers and another little shot. Phew! These boys can drink.

Rebecka, bless her, felt bad that I didn’t know any of the songs, so she tried to teach me. She sang a line and then I repeated it. We got through the whole song and she said, “wow! You are picking it up so fast!” She clearly can’t hear what I am actually saying…

The party was in full swing. People were dancing, drinking, laughing, chatting. Then Hampus turned off the music. “It’s time for a night swim” he said. Yay!!! I grabbed a towel from the closet in the washroom, and joined the others outside. We began the walk down the steep hill. I may have been drunker than I thought, because I started singing the Indiana Jones theme song and didn’t really stop. Fredrik put his towel around his neck like a cape and I held the end out so it looked like it was blowing in the wind. We passed by the neighbour’s house and they watched us walk by. I was softly singing Indian Jones, and Fredrik walked with a towel cape around his neck.


We found the beach! It was actually harder to find than it sounds like it would be. As soon as we walked into the sand, my clothes were off. I ran alongside my friends through the sand and into the VERY cold and VERY shallow water. We ran for ages and the water never actually passed our knees. There I was, 2 am, standing knee deep in the North sea, tits out, in my undies, watching the sun rise! How beautiful is this place?! Because it was so shallow, we all ran in, and then almost immediately ran back out. I dried myself off and put my clothes back on. I joined the rest of the group for a shot of gin, and we began our ascent back to the house. The hill was steep, but it felt good to arrive at the top. I sat on the stoop at the back door for a bit and watched the sky begin changing colours. Man oh man, how beautiful. It is 4am, and the sun is on its way up. Happy Midsommer, Sweden!


Helan går sjung hopp fallerallanallanlej, helan går sjung hopp fallerallanlej

Och den som inte helan tar, den heller inte halvan får

HELAN GÅÅÅÅÅR (this is when you drink your tiny shot of pure alcohol)


My version was about falafels