Venice of the North
Long before we arrived in Moldova, S’s parents began planning how and when to visit us. S’s dad was traveling to a conference in Amsterdam at the beginning of September, which provided the perfect impetus for a family vacation, but S was at first reluctant to commit. She wanted to get a feel for Chisinau and see if she could find a job, but after realizing that her employment prospects were slim she made last-minute arrangements and flew to Amsterdam just two weeks after arriving in Moldova.
S had visited the Netherlands twice previously, but once was only for an eight-hour layover, and both trips were almost a decade ago. She had fond memories of the Dutch countryside and was looking forward to wandering again alongside Amsterdam’s picturesque canals, as well as to spending time with her parents and sister. Also, S’s family had hosted an exchange student from Friesland — Julian — who was excited to show off her homeland.
Amsterdam — scenic, quaint, and picture-perfect — is easily one of S’s favorite cities in the world. Criss-crossed by bridges, its canals are lined by shady trees, funky houseboats, and upscale, historic townhouses, which often lean at a disconcerting angle. The cobblestone streets are pristine and the city is small enough that one can dispense with public transport altogether. In fact, part of Amsterdam’s charm lies precisely in wandering around the city without a purpose, strolling along the Bloemenmarkt to browse for tulip bulbs, checking out the antiques on Spiegelstraat, or stopping inside the numerous cheese shops for a complimentary tasting.
The biggest challenge in visiting Amsterdam lies in escaping the crowds, especially if one wants to see the Dutch masters. After a lengthy restoration, the Rijksmuseum has opened its doors again, and everyone got up early to gape at the Rembrandt and Vermeer masterpieces. Another day S and her sister visited the Van Gogh museum, and they spent a third morning with the modernists at the Stedellijk museum. In the afternoons, S and her family wandered through the botanical gardens, the Vondelpark (Amsterdam’s central park), and among the city’s various markets. Of these, Albert Cuypmarkt was a particular favorite. Snaking through the heart of Pijp, it offers tasty Mediterranean dips and olives, delicious fruits, and piping-hot stroopwafel.
Amsterdam has its fair share of cloudy and drizzly days, but most of the time the weather was crisp and sunny. Even so, Julian advised not to trust the weather report and doubted whether the sun would actually shine the one afternoon S’s family decided to take a tour of the canals. Not only did the weather cooperate, but also no one else had signed up for the same tour time, so S’s family got a private canal cruise and a guide who was willing to extend their tour. Amsterdam is incredibly bike-friendly, though it has rather complicated right-of-way rules. After exploring most of the city on foot, S and her family rented bikes for a day, joining the throngs of the city’s bikers and trying hard not to cause any accidents.
Though it usually tops Amsterdam must-see lists, S’s family skipped the Anne Frank house, in part because S had toured it before. However, they did spend some time in the old Jewish quarter, visiting the Joods Historisch Museum, which is housed in four former synagogues. This trip coincided with the Jewish New Year, which S was happy to spend with her parents and sister. On Rosh Hashanah morning, her family attended services at a historic Portuguese synagogue before heading to Friesland to spend time with Julian’s family.