Amsterdam was amazing. We stayed in a Christian hostel (which was decorated with signs that said “God Loves You!” and offered free English-Dutch bibles) located right in the heart of the Red Light District, which was quite the interesting experience. Everything was so unbelievably beautiful, and we spent a lot of time walking around and looking at lopsided (drunk) houses and legions of bicycles. (The iepen had already snowed, but their new leaves were especially beautiful when the sun decided to come out.) We spent a lot of time visiting bookstores and museums, including the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House.
I’m afraid I was a rather obnoxious travel partner for my friend, who has yet to read The Fault in Our Stars; I kept seeing things that would remind me of the book and going on about how exciting it was to be there after reading it. Still, I was careful not to spoil anything since she does plan to read it, and we talked about how different our experiences with the story would be after visiting Amsterdam.
Markets are just about my favourite thing ever, so I was very lucky that I got to visit one in almost every city. At a Siena antique fair, I bought a magazine ad from the 1920s. In Prague, I bought pysanky eggs from a stall in the Old Town Square. But Amsterdam was probably the best; we found a vintage flea market, a book fair (!!), and a farmers market that kept us fed all day. We didn’t buy any mushrooms from this stand because we didn’t have a kitchen with which to cook them properly, though oh! how it pained me to walk away from it.
My friend and I spent over an hour in the Amsterdam library. This was partly because it was rather large, but mostly because it is the most wonderful library in the world. It was beautiful, white and modern but still very friendly, with lots of varied work spaces and computers with daybeds and an exhibit of independent political posters and an affordable gourmet cafe upstairs.
But best of all was the children’s section. We both have an interest in literature for young readers (she has worked on children’s poetry workshops, I want to edit YA books), so we were rather excited to find that such a place exists. There were interesting and gorgeous sculptures and round bookshelf-forts that could be climbed, and chairs that invited you to sit upside-down if you wanted, and a miniature and intensely detailed neighborhood for mice. No joke, we were positively in raptures over this library.
And then we went across the street to a children’s science museum and learned about kissing and sex from a rather interesting exhibit. Basically, Amsterdam treats its children very well.
I had wanted to go to Bloesem since watching this video, and luckily my friend is as much of a fan of nice food as I am, and was willing to humour me. We went on our final night in Amsterdam, a quiet Sunday night. Since it was rather too expensive for us to each get our own daily-invented dishes, we asked to split the portions between us, aware how obnoxious this request might seem. Fortunately, our waiter took it with great humour, and we became friends through the night.
I think it helped that we obviously appreciated the meal. We first ordered glasses of prosecco so that we could taste the stars. All of the food was outstanding, but the best was the entree, a steak with parsnip mash, the most divine artichoke (au gratin) that I’ve ever tasted, all garnished with coffee-almond dust and vanilla foam. We came very close to composing odes for this dish. It was made all the more magical when the waiter came up with a bottle of wine and asked if we were drinking red. We started to say that we couldn’t afford it, and he cut us off, saying “I mean, do you hate red wine, or are you drinking red?” We said we loved red wine, and he instantly filled our glasses. It took us about five minutes to recover from this gesture enough to actually start eating.
We ended up being the last people in the restaurant, and as the cook went off for a smoke our waiter came over and started chatting with us about our home towns and American politics. At one point, he asked how we knew about the restaurant. I said that one of my favourite authors had recommended it. He nodded knowingly, saying, “It all started about a month ago.” Apparently he’s had a few young Americans come in, the first being an eleven year old girl with her family who was absolutely thrilled to be there. I explained that it had been the inspiration for a fictional restaurant, and he had me write down the title and author of the book so he could read it. He looked up John Green on his iPhone right then and there, and told me to send his thanks for the publicity.
We left the restaurant unable to stop smiling and laughing at how absolutely, utterly perfect the evening had been.
Amsterdam is ridiculously photogenic.
And finally, we went to Palma, Mallorca, with its beautiful cathedral and beaches. We heard a classical concert by an underground lake, had lengthy and serious discussions on our balcony, got a noise complaint after shouting Les Miserables songs into the night, got sunburns, and swam in the Mediterranean. It was wonderful.