Tag Archives: food

Trip Report: Amsterdam

Trip Report – Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a great many things. It is a city with vice, but it is not a city of vice. There’s a difference there. Cities of vice like to plaster their wares everywhere. They write it in neon on the skyline, they shout it from the street corners. Amsterdam, in its old European way, is a bit more subdued about it. But that doesn’t stop people from talking.


“When you mention you’ll be making a stopover in Amsterdam, you get a reaction I can only describe as semi-collegiate. A knowing look… as if there can really only be two reasons you’d go to this lovely little city of canals.”

Anthony Bourdain


I feel like I need to get this out of the way immediately. Bourdain was right, mentioning Amsterdam draws all manner of looks and questions. That means diving into Kari-Lise and my trip without discussing Amsterdam’s reputation is difficult. The most significant difference between the Dutch capital and your hometown, is the Dutch are pure capitalists. They organize their vice neatly so it can be taxed and generate money for the state. That’s preferable to the American practice of outlawing it, sweeping it under the rug, and pretending it doesn’t exist until it becomes a problem. The truth is that Amsterdam, for all the illicit happenings, happens to be a diverse, lively, and beautiful little city with a fantastic food scene, tons of culture, and incredible architecture.

On this trip, we were once again joined by our expat compatriots Kelcey Rushing and Jim Rushing. It was Kari-Lise and Kelcey’s birthdays, so we were able to celebrate as we went on a whirlwind exploration of the city. Since this vacation was very city-focused, I’ll share some of the more memorable experiences and hit on the different places we visited throughout our eight-day trip.


Amsterdam

Our canal-side apartment was in Jordaan on the northwest side of the city. It was a twenty-minute walk from nearly everything, and we discovered that it was easy to put six or seven miles behind us throughout the day. Amsterdam—to put it mildly—is beautiful, even in winter. Canals are everywhere. They crisscross the city, cutting beneath roads and emerging between buildings. Amsterdam is extremely walkable, but if you want to get out of the rain, you’ll usually find a tram that passes by your destination. I could spend days walking in the city — each corner offers a new vista, and discovering the nooks and crannies was enticing.

One of the nearby canals in Jordaan.
One of the nearby canals in Jordaan.

Amsterdamers are diverse, friendly, and welcoming. The food culture is fantastic, with a ton of street food, from the traditional cone-of-frites with hefty helpings of mayonnaise to automats tucked away on the street level of four-hundred-year-old buildings. If you want something fancier, you can find plenty of that as well: I’d recommend checking out Lion Noir on the south side of the canal belt or Springaren toward the north.

Make sure you swing through an Indonesian restaurant or two — due to the Dutch East India Company’s colonization in the 1800s, there’s a significant presence of Indonesian and Surinamese people within the city. This influx brought Southeast Asian cuisine to the Dutch, which led to the creation of Rijsttafel—a large family-style meal consisting of small spicy dishes served with rice. It’s a delicious experience and well worth trying.

Our adorable apartment in Jordaan

Over the next several days, we hit up a few of the more traditional museums to fill our quota of Dutch art. (Those Rembrandts aren’t going to view themselves!) But, since we’re Atlas Obscura disciples, we also tend to seek out the strange. Before our trip, I quickly assessed the weirder side of Amsterdam. You tend to find a lot of odd little bits in a city this old, and Amsterdam is packed full of curiosities. We explored a museum of cat art, had high tea in the smallest house in Amsterdam, visited a collection of odd and esoteric books, found a Catholic “house church” hiding in the upper levels of a 17th century canal home, and we took a morning to spend some time looking through a collection of anatomical anatomy and congenital defects on the outskirts of the city. Even with all of that, I felt like we had only scratched the surface.

It’s easy to see how there are whole swaths of the city we missed. Which means there are so many more places to explore. Amsterdam will be a perfect pit stop for a few days whenever we return to the Continent.


Bruges & Haarlem

The last three days of our trip was spent outside of Amsterdam. On the Rushing’s suggestion, we rented a car and made the two-and-a-half-hour drive down to Belgium, with Bruges as our destination. The Netherland and Belgian landscapes are vast and flat; huge windmills turn in the distance and hydroponic farms line the ancient canals, open fields, and miles upon miles of greenhouses. The Netherlands have become agricultural giants, and you can see it in the countryside.

Kari-Lise, myself, and Jim walking down a quiet street in Bruges - Photo by Kelcey Rushing
Kari-Lise, myself, and Jim walking down a quiet street in Bruges – Photo by Kelcey Rushing

We arrived in Bruges by mid-afternoon. The city, with its narrow streets and canals, is an Amsterdam in miniature. But where Amsterdam didn’t see life until the 13th Century, Bruges has been settled since the 9th Century. So its buildings tend to be older than those you’d find in Amsterdam, with a few dating from medieval periods.

Being a Belgian town, chocolates glisten from shop windows, waffles are available on street corners, and pommes frites served in paper cones are as ordinary here as they are in the Netherlands. Also with it being Belgian, it’s no surprise that Bruges has a great beer scene! Many beer cellars peddle Belgian ales beneath the ancient buildings. Kelcey and Jim had a few picks from their previous visits. My favorite was ‘t Poatersgat (The Monk’s Hole) who specialized in only independent Belgian brews—with a focus on Trappist beers—many of which are unavailable outside of the country. It’s located in the vast cellar of an old building and accessible by a tiny door that leads down into the hall. The place has a feeling of a cistern or catacomb. A great vibe with reasonable prices, and a friendly and helpful staff.

Bruges canals
Kari-Lise and the canals of Bruges

Sadly, we didn’t get to spend much time in Bruges. But I was glad I went: I could see the appeal, and I’d certainly make a return visit. We drove north to Haarlem on the final full day of our trip skirting the coast and seeing the vast Oosterscheldekering waterworks. It’s an impressive feat of engineering.

Haarlem is a small city to the northwest of Amsterdam, with a relaxed vibe. It’s a bit slower paced than the frenetic energy of the capital and quieter than the destination town of Bruges. It was a relaxing way to end a fast-paced trip such as this; and with easy access to Amsterdam, it’s not a bad place to stay if you want quiet nights away from the hustle and bustle. The following morning, after breakfast and a wander through a farmer’s market, we headed to Schipol and then made our way home.


Advice & Tips

If Amsterdam sounds like your sort of place, I do have a few bits of advice:

  • Scope out the weirdness on Atlas Obscura. (Heck, do this for every trip you take.) It’s a great resource and is usually full of non-touristy stuff that is worth checking out.
  • Get thyself an Amsterdam City Card. We didn’t do this, and it would have saved us some money on trams and museums. It also makes it even easier to get around.
  • Hit up Eater’s recommendations for Amsterdam food. We found a lot of great restaurants this way, and mapped them out ahead of time. This made it simple to pull up ideas when we needed them.
  • If you’re a hearty traveler who doesn’t mind chilly weather, you can score super cheap tickets to Europe in the offseason. It’s worth exploring prices in October/November to see what you can find in January/February. By all accounts, summer in Amsterdam is quite crowded. Our off-season travel meant finding tables and seats were easy. Something to consider.

Amsterdam was a wonderful experience, and I will certainly be going back. It should be a destination city for everyone. There is a massive amount of things to do, see, and eat. We could have easily spent another week among the canals and even with extra time, I doubt we’d have exhausted the city.

Thanks again to Kelcey and Jim for joining us on the trip, and being willing to bum around the town. Amsterdam is one of their favorites — they had been many times before, and are gracious enough to indulge our bright-eyed wonder. It was a lot of fun. (I told you after Scotland they’d show up on future trips!)


“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”

— G. K. Chesterton


Travel is important. It’s important for understanding other cultures. It’s important for fully grasping the weight of history. It’s important for understanding others. We’re lucky to live in an era when traveling around the world is easy and reasonably accessible. It lets us experience how others live in a physical way. Losing oneself within another culture helps build empathy and open up new perspectives extending beyond our own narrow silos.

As a writer, it’s important to acknowledge that we live in a world of stories. Exploring the narrow alleyways or deep canals of a city can reveal ideas. We can find new characters lingering beneath street lamps on remote corners and hiding in doorways down tight alleys. It’s common to stumble across plots etched in architecture, history, or the twisting street plans of an ancient city. Ideas, concepts, and characters we might not have discovered sitting at home. So, get out there. Travel. Meet people. Listen to them. Be humble and get uncomfortable.

As I write this, it’s been over a week since our trip, and we’re getting back into our routine. I’ve settled back into work, and I’ve dived back into writing. The pages of Gleam Upon the Waves won’t write themselves, and there’s a specific caravan master who’s in a bit of a jam. Time to travel back to the Territories and see where his story leads.


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A Riverboat's Menu

A Riverboat’s Menu

Food and food culture say a lot about a place and its people, in many ways it helps defines them. While you don’t have to go to the detailed lengths of George R. R. Martin, it’s important to have a working knowledge of the food culture in your settings. Especially in fantasy worlds. The river nations in my latest project, Coal Belly, are no exception. Since a great portion of the book takes place on a sternwheel riverboat, I spent some time looking into the preparation of food onboard. After all, I want to make sure that everything feels both realistic and natural.

Dining onboard a passenger packet wasn’t all too different from dining at a nice restaurant. Cooks serving onboard a riverboat managed to create extravagant meals of multiple courses from tiny kitchens and working with a small staff. Attentive waiters served the diners during the meal. Ingredients were usually purchased at ports of call and were varied. While every riverboat was different, pantries were often located on the Boiler Deck just off from the Main Cabin and connected by stair to the kitchen. You can see the kitchen of the Cincinnati in the photos below.

While gathering and compiling images for my Riverboat Interiors post from a few weeks ago, I found myself reading a blog entitled The American Menu. There I found the menu from the U.S. Mail Packet Princess dated 1857. This is the same vessel captured in the Marie Adrien Persac painting from the last post. I found the menu itself a fascinating window into the past, and I wanted to share. I’ve posted it below, click to view it larger.

Menu for the Str. Princess
Bill of Fare from the Str. Princess, April 19th, 1857

Henry Voight, the curator of The American Menu, had a lot of interesting observations regarding the Princess’ menu. He notes the lack of French (common on upper-class menus the mid-1800s), spelling differences, and the particular regional ingredients featured among the pound cake and roast beef. Check out his full post over on The American Menu. It’s worth the read, you can learn what “macararonia” happens to be, and get a glimpse into the diet of the Antebellum South, and discover the fate of the Princess.

Lunch in the kitchen at night (Riverboat unknown)
Lunch in the kitchen at night (Riverboat unknown)

If you’re looking for more information and photos of riverboats why not check out my post on Riverboats & Leeves. If you’d to see more of the internals of these boats be sure to look at my post on Riverboat Interiors. Likewise, make sure to spend a few moments investigating the strange case of The Masonic Ironclad. While my knowledge is not as extensive as others, I’d be happy to answer any questions folks have about anything posted above or riverboats in general, you can send me an email or leave a comment below.

Friday Link Pack 08/29/2014

Old Broken Road

The weekend approaches! That means it’s time to share a few interesting links I have found throughout the week. Some of these I mention on Twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do! Have a link I should feature in the upcoming link pack? Let me know!

Old Broken Road:

Sample Old Broken Road Next Monday!
That’s right, on September 1st I will be releasing a sample chapter of Old Broken Road at oldbrokenroad.com. Really excited to get this out there. We’re getting really close! Those who sign up for my newsletter get notified first when Old Broken Road is released, so sign up today!

Writing:

What It Takes To Cook Some Of Literature’s Most Famous Meals
The Smithsonian looks at Dinah Fried’s new book Fictitious Dishes, which brings some of literature’s most famous meals to life. Everything from the chowder from Melville’s Moby Dick to the roasted eggs and potatoes from Burnett’s The Secret Garden. This is a food and literature lovers dream.

How Big Is Your Pond?
Dave Farland answers the question of every budding speculative fiction author, “should I write science fiction, or should I focus more on young adult novels? Which way should I go?” It’s good advice and something to consider. (Spoiler: above all, write what you love.)

Why Don’t Authors Compete?
Seth Godin explores the idea that writing isn’t a competition, and how the community works towards the betterment of all… although someone forgot to tell that to the authors in our next link.

Amazing Author Insults That Actually Raise Insults To An Art Form
An amusing collection of authors insulting other authors about their work. Someone should have sent them Seth Godin’s link. (Thanks to Kevin for submitting this one.)

Art:

80’s Sysadmin Warning Posters Look Like Dystopian Parodies
Strange and hilarious these System Admin posters from the 80s have that perfect mix of retro and strange dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four future. (Thanks to Chris for sending this one in.)

1950s Hong Kong Captured In Street Photography By Fan Ho
Beautiful photography of everyday life in Hong Kong, China during the middle of last century. Haunting. (Thanks to Dwayne for this one. Fantastic find.)

Visual Inspiration by Gustavo Mendonca 
Going back into the archives for this one. Mendonca’s cityscapes for the now canceled Star Wars: 1313 creates a multilayered and gritty version on the Star Wars universe. Cool stuff.

Random:

33 “Facts” Everybody Knows That Are Actually Total Lies
You’ve heard a lot of these before, from alcohol killing brain cells (it doesn’t) to being able to see the Great Wall of China from space (you can’t) to vaccination causing autism (nope.) Nice collection. Worth checking out, or sending to that obnoxious family member that posts scare-articles on Facebook without actually vetting them.

Classic First Lines of Novels in Emojis: A Quiz
How many of these can you figure out. I got about half, which I think makes me pretty old, or kind of dumb.

Pop Sonnets
Take the pop songs of today, throw in a bit of the Bard, and what do you get? Pop Sonnets! (Thanks to Ben for this one. So great.)

The King And His Objects
“I think it is pretty clear that people who call for more objectivity are actually calling for subjectivity more closely aligned with their own viewpoints.” Fantastic article on “gamers” and the marketplace by writer, composer, and video game creator Matthew S. Burns. (Thanks to Chris for pointing this one out.)

Lovecraft Story of the Week:

Hypnos
A sculptor meets a mysterious man, and what comes of that meeting will change his life (and his work) forever.

Farewell Gif of the Week:

I have no idea what is going on here, but I like it.

Friday Link Pack

Sherlock Holmes
It’s Friday so I figured why not take the time to share a few interesting links I have found throughout the week.
Some of these I mention on twitter, if you’re not already following me there, please do!

Writing:

Conan Doyle Estate Is Horrified That The Public Domain Might Create ‘Multiple Personalities’ Of Sherlock Holmes
A very fascinating post from TechDirt regarding the legality of public domain creations in regards to a fictional character.

Tomato Can Blues
A New York Times article by Mary Pilon on Charlie Rowan, a small time cage fighter in Michigan who faked his death and was later arrested in armed robbery. It’s really well written piece and the interactive article is gorgeous. Very much worth a read.

Art:

Waterfalls, Islands, Lakes, Rivers, and Mountains of the Western Hemisphere
A really cool diagram from the 1850s by J. H. Colton comparing, lakes, rivers, mountains, and waterfalls of the western hemisphere. Super cool.

The Art of JCV
Jed Voltz has a super awesome and trippy style and an incredible imagination. He’s worth checking out. Also, he has originals for sale online. All of them listed are under $100. As I said on twitter: Your walls need art so go buy some.

Random:

Iron Horse covering “Enter the Sandman”
Step 1: Take one of Metallica’s best songs. Step 2: Cover it Bluegrass style. Step 3: Win.

How to Eat like a Pirate
Yesterday was International Talk Like A Pirate Day, and in honor of this most auspicious of holidays the Smithsonian gave advice for anyone wanting to take it to the next level.

Lovecraft Story of the Week:

Unda; or, The Bride of the Sea
I’m feeling a bit nautical this Friday.

Farewell Gif(s) of the Week:

Confused Superman

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