A weekend trip to Amsterdam – the Windmill City for art, cheese & history

The final leg of my Eurotrip2016 adventure with my mom was The Windmill City, aka Amsterdam. Most people know Amsterdam for its red light district and its open drug policy. When I mentioned I was headed to Amsterdam a few days, my friends always followed up with “are you going to finally try pot?” Contrary to what other generations may believe, not every young person is obsessed with drugs. So no, I did not go to Amsterdam with the idea that I was going to go cafe hopping. I was only in Amsterdam for two days so I had to spend my time wisely.

See my trip to Amsterdam’s Windmill City in 2 minutes:

My mom has been to Amsterdam a few times recently. Her latest trip included taking my 80 year-old grandma to Amsterdam to explore the architecture, food, and history. The things my grandma said about it was really amusing, but that’s a different story. My mom in short has mastered their public transit so luckily this leg of the trip was pretty smooth.

My main goal while in Amsterdam: EAT CHEESE. All I wanted to do is sample as many cheeses as possible. With a whole day dedicated to wandering around the windmills, this was as easy task.

I had been to Amsterdam before. This technically was not my first time in Amsterdam. My parents had taken a trip to the Windmill City when I was about 8 or 9 years-old. I don’t remember much from my first trip besides the giant grinding windmills and the delicious hot chocolate. Hence, when I returned in October I had to return.

6 things to do in Amsterdam in just two days

Eat at De Plantage

My mom was so excited about eating at De Plantage. We landed in Amsterdam at about mid day, after checking in to our hotel and freshening up, we headed out for dinner. The first thing we noticed was that the city was already setting up for Christmas. This was so exciting for me, as I have always wanted to be in Europe during the holidays. We hopped on a train car and headed straight over to De Plantage, a garden restaurant. This upscale eatery is in a zoo, and looks like a giant greenhouse with a hint of french influence.

De Plantage menu

Eating off of De Plantage’s menu, was a fresh, light, and airy experience. The flavors were rich without being heavy. Best of all, my mom (who was dabbling in vegetarianism) had a ton of options to choose from. My mom got the risotto with green asparagus, spinach, and a poached egg. I started with their wild boar ravioli with sage butter, and for my entree Red Snapper with cima di rapa.

 

De Plantage entree

De Plantage dessert

For dessert we got the crepe with caramelized pear. Of course, through dinner we both indulged in glasses of crisp sweet white wines.

Read Bianca V.‘s review of De Plantage on Yelp

Take a tour of at least one Zaanse Schans windmill

This is a must, period. The windmill in Zaanse Schans are like the historic backbone of Amsterdam driving a lot of its economy in the 1600s until most of them were dismantled in the 1900s. Now, the last few windmills to remain are hot tourist spot for day trips and tour groups. Mom and I got up early to get to the windmills before the tour busses rolled in.

Amsterdam windmills Zaanse Schans Amsterdam mailbox

We bought a ticket to tour the actual mill and see what the windmills were still being used for. The one we picked was not the most popular one, but we preferred it that way. It was being used to grind pigment to make paint colors. We even got to climb to the outside where the blades were swooshing and see just how much speed and power these 1600s windmills can produce.

Sample all of the cheese made at the Zaanse Schans

I always said that the two things that prevent me from dieting are: prosciutto and cheese. My love of cheese knows no bounds. You know that judge from Chopped? The one that scoffs at cheese on seafood? Yes, Scott Conant is missing out and is far too opinionated on something so minute.

Plus size foodie loves cheese

Forget about counting calories or the fact that you may be lactose intollerant and indulge in some of Amsterdam’s pride and joy: cheese. Zaanse Schans will show you how they make their cheese and has stations for you to try them all before you buy it. The last time my mom came back from there she brought home a champagne cheese for me, and it was so fresh and flavorful. The cheese’s texture and taste was much different from the ones you get in the US or even other ares of Europe.

Zaanse Schans cheese shop

This time around I grabbed a few truffle cheeses for myself and a few for my friends. Just make sure you have room in your carry-on because they don’t have mini versions of their specialty cheeses.

Grab a kasteeltje from Wijn Bakery

On the way back from the Windmill City, mom and I noticed a little bakery on the main road. This bakery seems to specialize in marzipan. You can buy it by the pound here and it even comes in fun shapes, like a pig. We walked in on a whim and were Mesmerized by the beautiful cakes beneath the glass. I wish I would have gotten a picture of all of them but alas, the owner was pretty strict.

Best Marzipan cake EVER

She lets you sample things as long as you promise to buy something. We originally just wanted coffee but were ecstatic about trying the little pastries she had as well. Even if you don’t like marzipan, buy a kasteeltje. it’s a little pink square that looks a lot like a gift. This little cake is light like whipped cream. The taste isn’t overbearingly sweet and the marzipan gives it a strong base. If I could give a dessert a score, this one is 10 out of 10.

Read Bianca V.‘s review of Wijn, Banketbakkerij on Yelp

Surprisingly, I was the first one to review the place on yelp. I’m guessing Yelp isn’t a big thing there as even De Plantage only had a handful of reviews.

Walk through the red light district at night and see it in action

During the day, the red light district is pretty quite. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even realize you were in a street way of sex workers’ offices. By night, you realize why it’s call the red light district. Doorways and window displays that were empty during your morning stroll light up and now feature a beautiful woman usually looking through her Instagram feed. Sex workers are no different from you or me. It’s not until a client approaches the bench that she puts away her form of entertainment and starts engaging in business talk.

It’s really a sight to see. The fact that it’s so normal is also interesting to see as people just walk by like it’s nothing. Where as in the US, sex is completely taboo. It really is an eye opening experience that is humbling and evidence that sex work doesn’t need to be “disgusting.”

Visit the Van Gogh museum

I’m not really for museums because most places are just full of replicas and auditory history. The Van Gogh museum is one of a kind because you can actually see his real work as well as walk through the history of his brilliance.

Van Gogh museum

Kind of like La Sagrada Familia, you need to reserve a time for the ticket you purchase. You can’t just buy a ticket and walk in. There is a fantastic bookshop just down the path from the museum entrance that is full of art and history books. It also has a few gadgets and household goods that will add some eclectic flair to your book shelf.

See the Anne Frank exhibit

I lied, besides the Windmill City Zaans Schanse, I also remember visiting the Anne Frank museum as a kid. Her family’s story touched me so much at 9 years-old that I begged my parents to buy me her book of diary entries so I could read them back at home. It took me a few years to get to a reading level to really understand what happened to Anne Frank. But while reading it, I could imagine walking through her little annex that I had visited just a few years earlier.

Unfortunately, during my two day trip in Amsterdam I didn’t get to see the Anne Frank exhibit. Like La Sagrada Familia and the Van Gogh museum you need to buy tickets way in advance. Both fortunately and unfortunately, the day I devoted to visiting the annex it was closed for a Jewish holiday. Moral of the story, plan in advance.

Even in October, Amsterdam is frigid. I had to layer my hoodie under my jacket with a scarf. Which, at this point was all I had. I really enjoyed the Christmas lights hanging between the buildings. My last meal in Europe was stir fried noodles, believe it or not. By the end of our trip my mother was passive aggressively turning down every restaurant I was suggesting we eat in. Finally, after the third time she mentioned going into Wok To-Go, I gave in.
Read Bianca V.‘s review of Wok To Go on Yelp

 

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