Dear Amsterdam: I Should Have Known.

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This post is part of the Club Carlson Global Traveler program; a 3-week, 8-country adventure I’m taking through Europe, paid for and compensated by Club CarlsonSM (now Radisson Rewards). During the trip, I’m exploring the world of hotel points and how to take advantage of accommodations and upgrades with various strategies.

In all cases, opinions expressed herein are my own; don’t worry – I haven’t sold my soul.

This post was originally published in 2013. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 

See also: Where to Stay in Amsterdam – written by my friend and travel colleague Nomadic Matt.

Dear Amsterdam: I should have known.

I didn’t want to fall in love with you, like everybody does.

But there’s no denying the smile that I simply couldn’t shake for love or money. The smile which erupted the second I got off the plane, and continues to sit goofily on my face even now as I write this.

Amsterdam flower market

Have you Ever had a “Special Feeling” about a place?

I’m fairly indiscriminate in my love of new countries and travel in general; I’m excited to go just about anywhere. But there are three distinct times I can recall in my extensive travels since 2007; three instances when, from the time I boarded the plane, I knew there was something special about where I was going.

The first time was enroute to New Zealand in 2010, a place that nurtured my transitional period from traveling with a partner to going solo. It was – and is – a place I keep returning to, having spent about a year there on and off.

The second time was enroute to Grenada in 2011; I couldn’t explain why I was so enthralled with the little Caribbean island from the air; a wee place I couldn’t have pointed out on a map mere weeks prior. And despite a good dose of heartbreak and dengue fever awaiting me on arrival, Grenada was destined to weave itself inextricably into my life.

Amsterdam was the third time.

Bicycle in Amsterdam

Like I said, I didn’t want to like Amsterdam. I mean, I guess I knew I’d like it. But I didn’t want to become yet another evangelical flag-toting categorial cheerleader for the place.

Whoops: too late.

What Can I Say About Amsterdam? It’s Been Said.

What can I write about Amsterdam that hasn’t already been written? What iconic pictures of canals and bicycles can I show you? Shall I talk about how easy it is to get around? How generally friendly everybody is? How ridiculously picture-perfect the place is?

Holland Cheese for sale

Shall I talk about the relatively small size of the country in relation to its world influence? And how the Dutch people – in keeping with the “tall poppy syndrome” principle, remain humble and low-key about how cool their country is?

Maybe we should discuss how Amsterdam’s 700,000 inhabitants make this capital city of The Netherlands such an easy place to live, eat, work, and play. How wandering the streets – any street, any time – is easy, safe, and unto itself, a “local” experience.

(Amsterdam is great for solo female travelers; if you want to cut your teeth in the world of solo travel, Amsterdam will give you confidence).

We could talk about the food. The cheese shops, the stroopwafels (chewy syrup-filled waffles of delight), the raw herring (much more palatable than surstromming) sold at stalls identifiable by the Dutch flag, the salty fries with dollops of sweet mayonnaise, and the bitterballen (similar to croquets) with mustard.

Nora Dunn enjoying herring in Amsterdam

I could certainly go on and on about the hotel; the posh new flagship Art’otel Amsterdam by Park Plaza, where the staff’s attention to detail and friendly manner make you feel like both a hot celebrity and an old friend. A place which, despite multi-media art installations throughout, swish decor, and trendy music, lacks the pretence of exclusivity and instead welcomes you to come as you are, and share a reasonably-priced meal in the warm restaurant.

(And a place with one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in, lovely spa gifts on the pillow at night, and the unwitting locale of multiple ridiculous “happy dances” of utter luxury).

You Know that Movie Everybody Raves About?

And what does it have to do with Amsterdam? Check out this 1-Minute video about Amsterdam to find out:

Click here to watch on YouTube.

Dammit, Amsterdam!

I should have known.

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26 thoughts on “Dear Amsterdam: I Should Have Known.”

  1. Wow, Nora, looks like you’re having a great time! I have my top three too and it was always a great feeling when I realised I had found another favourite city. I’ve never been to Amsterdam and, from your description, it seems like I’ll have a problem keeping my top three to just three cities when I visit.

    Hope you win the competition, Nora! You’re ahead. I tweeted for you. 🙂

    • Hi Deia,
      Thank you for your support….and yes, be warned: Amsterdam will likely become your fourth top city! 🙂

    • What are your top three, Deia? Since my wife and I are living around the world, 1-3 months in each place, I’m always very interested in other’s favorites. (Right now we are in Cusco, Peru after three months in Cuenca, Ecuador and six months in Pallanza, Italy. We’re very new to this. Next up is Malaga, Spain, followed by Tangier, Morocco.)


    • Hi Dick,
      Oh yes – “uitjes” (onions) and sweet pickle as well!
      Now I’m in Oslo, and I had a large portion of pickled herring for breakfast. Yummy!

  2. Amsterdam looks lovely. I’ve been wanting to go for years and you’ve definitely cemented that desire. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Hi Michelle,
      Lest I become another one of Amsterdam’s raving fans (further making it that “over-hyped movie”), I’ll go so far as to say YES! GO! 🙂

    • Hi Jessica,
      And living an hour from Amsterdam, how often do you go?
      I’m curious, because I remember meeting a Dutch woman who said distance is relative. I told her how I used to date a guy in Canada who lived 500kms away, and she was shocked: she said she just broke up with a guy who was a 40 minute drive away….because they were too far apart! Ha ha!

  3. Yeah, you’re totally right. Because I have friends in Amsterdam I go there maybe once every 2 months. For me it doesn’t matter(i’m used to it because of my travels) but because we live in a small country most people are used to the short distances. Yeah, even an half hour drive is considered long for most Dutch people. Weird, right?

    • Ha ha! Well, like my Dutch friend said, everything is relative! I have a sneaking suspicion that everywhere in Holland is awesome, so no need to go too far from home! 🙂

  4. That video was so cute! W ‘that movie’ thing!

    I, sadly, barely missed a trip to Amsterdam when I was studying in Paris, but now it seems like a one-day excursion wouldnt have been enough anyway. If for nothing else but to try all those foods!

    • Tee hee – thanks! I started really getting into the 1 Minute videos and trying to make them quirky as of Amsterdam.
      And you’re right – in a day, all you can do is whet your appetite for more!

  5. hi Nora,

    from 1 link to another over the net, i am landing on your post…

    I can’t believe we missed each other in Amsterdam! … i was there when you came … I too am completely in love with AMS since the 1st minute i arrived there in 2001. I actually lived there mid-2000s for almost a year… and always go back a for couple months every other year or so. I also have amazing girlfriends there, and to my great joy, one of them is coming to visit me in Madrid from tomorrow…

    I believe you are now in Panama,.. well, i was there last September too 😉

    So best wishes for great continuation…

    (and I haven’t forgot what i promised you… someday i will surprise you with it 😉

    Carou LLou

    • Hi Carou!
      Great minds travel alike! Too bad we didn’t meet up in Amsterdam, but then again with only two days I was on a tight schedule! I too, believe Amsterdam will be a place to which I regularly return. I like the idea of living there for a while, but I suspect it isn’t cheap, and I certainly couldn’t hack it in the winter.
      And now….yes, I’m in Panama! Where did you visit when you were here?

      • hola Nora!

        Great you intend to return to Amsterdam to live for some time… No doubt you’ll get that amazing feeling when you get on your bicycle… May be you’ll start singing like they do (and like i did! )… And make sure to go the the Monday and Saturday market in Jordan, in my favorites of the world… But Yes.. being 6 months or so every year in Europe, I can’t deny that Amsterdam is indeed in the most expensive… and true, the winter is cold (though not as much Canada ;-)…

        As for Panama, i mostly was in Panama city , So I still have to discover their wonderful exotic side with all these treasures of plants and birds… But one thing for which i had an ‘AWE’ moment, is when i crossed the Panama Canal… I was completely taken by this grandiose human accomplishment !

        huge hugs,

        your C!

        • Hey Carou!
          I’m near to Panama city, but about 20 minutes outside of it, so I get to see and feel the “jungle effect” of this unbelievably luscious area! The wildlife is one of my resounding observations about Panama – it’s rich, big, vibrant, and anywhere there isn’t development, jungle seems to prevail. It’s amazing!

          How did you cross the Canal? Did you do one of those tours that sails through? I drive over (the entrance to) the Canal every time I go into town (Panama City)…and in the next couple of days I’m considering driving alongside the Canal from Panama to Colon. Now that I’m a little more confident to get lost, I think it’s time! 😉


          • good morning to you Nora!

            I crossed the Panama Canal on a huge boat and It took the whole day…. But i heard of a really nice alternative where you only cross the fist lucks, then you navigate a little and are then picked up by a bus that takes you back to the city. There is also an observatory where from the shore, you can watch the boats passing the lucks. Those 2 experiences shall give you some idea… The only thing you would be missing is that amazing oasis in between the 2 lucks where for 3 hours you navigate in the exotic mountains.

            For the road along side the Canal to Colon, i did it and unfortunately, you will see nothing of the Canal…. But I’m actually even more concerned by your plan to go all the way to Colon (I even woke me up in the night thinking about it !!). I was there twice… And apart from the shopping mall in the port , that is completely isolated from reality and strictly reserved for tourists docking by boat… Colon is one of the most dangerous city in Latin America… I felt it first hand when innocently i wanted to go see the whole sale Free Zone. I really felt i didn’t fit and I felt so lucky to be with my husband who is quite imposing… We only found out after that even the taxi drivers from Panama do not want to go there !! I’m usually never putting down and city or any people, and not into scarring people, but really this time, i felt i had to tell..

            huge hugs
            your CarouLLou

  6. What I loved about Amsterdam is that it´s small enough to get a real feel for its people, sights, neighborhoods.. Compared to Paris or London, it´s more like a village and you can see nearly all of it on a bike ride or a walking tour in just a few days. I love the accessibility! You can spend time making memories instead of being overwhelmed by the feeling that there´s just too much to see in too little time.

    • I agree completely, Julie! I felt like I “knew” the place in just a few short days – and returning a few weeks later was like coming home! Amsterdam is an easy place to get a feel for, and to feel comfortable in.

  7. Oh, this might be difficult. We’re starting to line up three places for a month each May, June, and July 2016. So far on the possible list is Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Bergen (Norway). But we’re just in the “listing possibilities” stage, so we’re open to new suggestions. We want to take advantage of the weather to do Scandanavia. Then, when our 90 days of Schengen visa are up, we will go over and spend the next three months in the UK. At least that’s our plan right now. Browsing through all your past articles and videos on these places is exceptionally helpful. Thanks,


  8. A wee tip – in my researching Amsterdam, I found the CocoMama and EcoMama luxury hostel/hotels. They’re also eco-friendly and their website is amazing.
    The only time I went to Amsterdam, with my parents when I was about 15 or thereabouts, we stayed in my Auntie Karen’s old house on the corner of two canals (all night boat parties going past!), right up in the garret with no curtains, and a view across the canal to the Anne Frank House and the church (with its “ding-dong”etc every 15 minutes!). Needless to say, we didn’t sleep so well, but eating out at De Bolhoed (it’s a veggie restaurant and really nice, and the cat is so cute!) was tasty, and the Ekoplaza had the BEST medjool dates I ever tasted, so food yay for Amsterdam!


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