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amsterdam

Featured Food Lifestyle Travel Uncategorized

Vlaamse Frites

September 7, 2016

The French fries in Amsterdam and the most common condiment served with them is mayonnaise. Not only is that true, but French fries are an obsession in the Netherlands and it’s difficult to find a restaurant in Amsterdam that doesn’t serve them. When deciding what you want to eat in Amsterdam is hard to avoid these things, and you really wouldn’t want to anyway.

As you walk through the city you’ll notice many little take-away shops whose primary decorations are oversized cartoon depictions of a bag of fries. Some of them also serve falafels and other Middle Eastern food, but many of them do their primary business selling these salty high-carb treats. You’ll never have to walk more than a couple of blocks to get your fix, even late at night.

But before we go on, let’s get oriented. A couple hundred years ago, in what is now Belgium, some genius decided to slice up some potatoes and then deep fry the slivers. The Brits call them “chips,” the French call them “pommes frites,” and for some reason the Americans call them “French fries.” But in the Netherlands and Belgium they call them “Vlaamse frites” and they eat them like there is no tomorrow, or at least no such thing as high cholesterol. Vlaamse frites literally means “Flemish fries,” correctly attributing them to the northern Belgium region of Flanders.

They are served in a paper cone in Amsterdam, and that’s handy because they are always about a million degrees inside when they are handed to you. Biting right into one is a great way to sear your taste buds shut for the next few days. You’ll also get a small plastic fork, which becomes important nearer the bottom of the cone.

Most places serve 3 or 4 different sizes of Vlaamse Frites. The smallest size is still larger than a “small” at a McDonalds, and they are usually around €2.00. The largest is literally a meal-size cone and can be all yours for around €3.50, but you are not done yet. Just as crooked car salesmen try to sell you undercoating and other mysterious add-ons, the Vlaamse Frites also have options.

The majority of places will have about 5 different sauces available, and some will have as many as 10. Yes, the delicious and very rich-mayonnaise is definitely the most popular and the one you should try for sure, but they also offer things like curry sauce, garlic sauce, tartar sauce, chili sauce, ranch dressing, feta cheese, gravy, and yes, even ketchup for those whose tastes haven’t progressed since they turned 8. The sauces are usually 25 to 50 cents each (some 75 cents though) and most people just choose one, although drunken thrill-seekers sometimes do pile them on.

Most locals claim that they have the best Vlaamse Frites in Amsterdam, but to be honest they are all pretty close. Avoid the Vlaamse frites served at the FEBO automats, and obviously don’t try to get them at McDonalds or Burger King. I’ve found the Maoz chain to be reliable, and their falafels with the “free salad bar” are pretty good too.

As with nearly any other restaurant choice, it’s good to pick a place that’s busy over one that is dead. High turnover equals freshness, but that can be a bit deceiving in the world of Vlaamse frites. All the shops in Amsterdam use the same two-step cooking method. The thick potato wedges are initially deep fried at a low temperature for a while to cook the inside to a pleasant doneness. Then the guy will unceremoniously toss these half-cooked frites onto a steel grill under a heating lamp until somebody orders them. You’d be forgiven for thinking you are getting old Vlaamse frites as you watch the guy toss your desired amount into the oil again before giving them to you, but this Phase Two is a vital part of the process. The second dip is in very hot oil, and in only a minute or so the outsides become crisp and delicious while the inside stays tender and somehow gets as hot as the core of the sun in the process.

Bon appétit, but give ‘em a couple minutes to cool first. And you’ll figure out why that little plastic fork is handy when you get past the halfway point.

Featured Lifestyle Travel

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

September 5, 2016

So off I went to Europe. Making sure to check off everything on my “ Before You Go” checklist twice. With a 7 hour flight that left at 9pm, I arrived in Amsterdam at 6:45am (EDT) and 12:45 (CEST). After sleeping 6.5/7 hours on the plane, I was ready to go. To me it seemed like just going to sleep at home and waking up the next day, so I was not jet lagged at all

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After navigating through Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, which is big but fairly simple. I went through customs to get my bags and off I was!! Taking the train was a little difficult the first time from Schiphol, as there are about 50 platforms and 50 elevators. After a couple of days, its pretty easy to figure out which train number and in which direction you should be going.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my travels!! Amsterdam was simply amazing. The people, the atmosphere, the pubs and coffee shops. You can be so free in Amsterdam-with no judgements from anyone. Amsterdam reminds me of New Orleans, Louisiana. Another one of my favorite places. It’s so free. When I first arrived in Amsterdam I was feeling a little somber. This was my first stop of my travels and the first time I have ever traveled alone. But I got me to thinking about my purpose and why I started this mission. So I got my life together and decided to roam around to look for some food. My host actually stayed in Naarden-Bussum which was about 30 minutes outside the city of Amsterdam. It is a very quite and beautiful place. It was actually quite nice to come back to her home each night or early early morning after all he hustle and bustle in the city. My hostesses name was Erin. Erin and her boyfriend were both very welcoming and very sweet. Her home was an amazing modern space that I absolutely loved. I learned very quickly that steps in Europe are very narrow. And when I say very narrow I mean VERY! I  had to learn to walk down sideways without busting my ass, as they just casually ran down 3-4 inch steps like it was nothing.

Erin’s Home

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As I was saying, I roamed around my first night looking for something to eat and I stumbled upon this bar called Murphy’s which had a ton of people outside. My first thought was “why is everybody outside, and the bar is empty inside”. Well I went inside and they didn’t serve any food so I proceeded to leave. A group of people outside casually stopped me and said why are you leaving so soon. I explained that I was looking for food. Of course, in English and they spoke Dutch and English. So they immediately knew I was a foreiner. This lead to about five hours of conversation, questions, and exchanging of information from night life to Belgian Beer to food to politics to geography and scenic landmarks. IMG_9251 I met a girl named Mercedes who was moving to Barcelona in few weeks later. We talked about my travels and also drank many beers together. We took shots of Fireman (not Fireball) which taste like cough syrup, yuk!!! We were supposed to go to the club the next day, but both of our plans changed. But we hit it off really great and she offered to host me in Barcelona, which was a blessing because I didn’t have a host their yet…. Well I finally ate some food at about 2am, after many many beers. From Day 1, the vibe of The Netherlands started off really great and so it continued….

The next 4 days I spent in Amsterdam. Late Nights & Early mornings. I woke up the next morning and connected with some other travelers via Hangouts on Couchsurfing. I met Saima, from South Africa and Marie, from Spain at the train station. We immediatedly went on a hunt to get some food. Saima and I found a pretty popular dish of fries and sauce with meat on top called Vlaamse Frites, while Marie found some pasta. I’m waiting until I get to Italy to eat pasta, because I am going to eat a lot of it!!!! Then we stumbled upon 3 more travelers Kitta, from Dallas, TX, Siuteesx, from India, and Ben, from Paris. We went to the bar to have drinks and we added Pierre, from Paris, Johnathan, from Peru, another Ben, from Norway, Nicholi, from Paris, and Alex from Canada. From there we had almost someone from all 7 continents. All we needed was Austraila (we filled that gap as the week went on). We pretty much walked North, South, East and West touring, coffee shop and bar hopping for the rest of the day. We walked to through the Red Light District, Blue Light District to get to the club district and partied at Smokeys until about 4am.

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I really hit it off with everyone but especially Kitta. Her host lived pretty far out from the city as well and  she was also from the states so we would meet each morning at Amsterdam Centraal Station and then meet the group. We spent the next 2 days soaking in some information on the history and important attributes of Amsterdam and The Netherlands. We took a FREE Walking Tour of Amsterdam, a Canal cruise, The Red Light-Blue Light district tour all with 360 Amsterdam Tours, Anne Frank Huis and biked south to The IAmsterdam sign.

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The FREE Walking Tour consisted of the tour around the city to enlighten the tourists of the great golden era, by showing them the magnificent and highly valuable masterpieces of great artists, to taking them around the beautiful canals and bridges and showing them what the city really has to offer. From the historic old districts and discovering how Amsterdam started- from a simple swamp harbour village in the 1200’s, to ‘the Golden Age’ in the 1600’s when Amsterdam became the most important trading city in the world. The tour showcased the Royal Palace, the Old & New Church, the Jewish Quarter, Canals, Bridges, the Red Light District, Art & Architecture, Golden Age, and many hidden treasures. It was amazing! Definitely a must do! My only suggestion is to do the tours on your 1st or 2nd day of arrival. It will give you more information of everything the city has to offer to help you plan what other sites you want to get a deeper perspective of and see more of.

The Canal cruise showed a different perspective of Amsterdam, including a look at The Anne Frank Huis at almost eye level from the water. The Anne Frank Huis is the most visited house in Amsterdam, with well over 1 million visitors per year. Anne Frank was a German-born diarist and writer. One of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust, she gained fame posthumously following the publication of her diary, The Diary of a Young Girl. which documents her life in hiding from 1942 to 1944, during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II. Anne moved to The Netherlands at a very young age and when the Nazi gained control over Germany, having been born a German national, she became stateless. May 1940, the Franks were trapped in Amsterdam by the German occupation of the Netherlands. As persecutions of the Jewish population increased in July 1942, the family went into hiding in some concealed rooms behind a bookcase in the building where Anne’s father worked. From then until the family’s arrest by the Gestapo in August 1944, Anne kept a diary she had received as a birthday present, and wrote in it regularly. Following their arrest, the Franks were transported to concentration camps. In October or November 1944, Anne and her sister, Margot, were transferred to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from Auschwitz, where they died a few months later and just one month before The Dutch authorities rescued the camps. Anne’s father, Frank’s father, Otto, the only survivor of the family, returned to Amsterdam after the war to find that her diary had been saved by one of the helpers, Miep Gies, and his efforts led to its publication in 1947. 

Anne Frank Huis

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If you look closely you will see that the houses along the canal and in many more places are leaning. The leaning houses of Amsterdam. The buildings in Amsterdam lean forward slightly. It is not sinking nor a trick of the eye after a day of the smoke. The buildings in Amsterdam are built leaning forward on purpose. Even though it might look strange to our modern eyes, designing a building that leans forward, this way to build was a solution to another problem. The problem with these old buildings is that the stairways are always very narrow and steep. These stairways are impossible to use while trying to get furniture or any other big object to your house.These stairways are a consequence of the very narrow construction used in Holland at the time. Which meant you had to pull your furniture up through your window.If you take a look at most old houses in Amsterdam you will see a hook placed on top their roofs. This is used to hang a wheel and use it with a rope to pull things up. While pulling big object up a building, it helps avoiding hitting the building with these objects if the building tilts forward. You will also see that these houses are leaning to the side which is a result of instability of the land in the 15th century.dsc_0964

The Red Light District tour gave a lot of insight on the history of the red light district and how and why this area exist or came to be what it is today. We learned about the Red Light District and all of its secrets with a professional guide. 

img_9347-2I learned about how the sex workers operate in the district and admire the district’s centuries-old churches and architecture at he same time. It was crazy to learn about the history of Amsterdam’s legalized prostitution and it’s church history in the same tour. These two opposites are actually very much intertwined by their locations within the city. Amsterdam and the Red Light District is diverse in so many ways. The red light district being the oldest area in Amsterdam is not only a professional hub for sex clubs with beautiful ladies in their red lit windows, but it is dsc_0896also home to many cafes offering diverse menu options from around the globe to dsc_0883elegant dining spots with great Jazz and salsa music. The red light district showcases the ancient Dutch art and architecture in the form of its museums, monolithic and catholic churches and various beautiful buildings standing strong since the seventeenth century. I toured the Prostitution Information Center, peepshows, Bananabar, and the oldest and best in my opinion, Coffee Shop in the city, Bulldogs. I was able to admire the impressive churches, century ­old buildings, and canals in addition to learning about how the sex workers operate in the district.

All of my tours were amazing and I would definitely  recommend doing them. As I said, try to book them at the beginning of your stay to get the most use out of the information.

During my time in Amsterdam I also rode bikes as much as possible. People ride bikes like we drive cars in the states. There are so many “parking lots” for bikes. Literally parking garages for bikes. I think thats so amazing. I don’t think I saw one obese European since I’ve been traveling. It’s normal to ride your bike 30 minujtes-1 hour-2 hours to get to a destination. I utilized my host bike or renting a bike as much as possible. It really helped to immerse myself in The Netherlands way of life. I loved it!!

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Amsterdam, it feels perfect to be imperfect…Chasing The Sun