Amsterdam on a Budget: Markets and Museums Galore!

The Amsterdam Book Market - photos by Elizabeth Bagley
The Amsterdam Book Market – photos by Elizabeth Bagley

By Elizabeth Bagley

Drinking and marijuana have never really interested me, so on the plane over to Amsterdam I wondered what else I might want to see and do.

I browsed through my guidebook looking to see what the city offers and here I discovered the world’s largest flower auction.

Fourteen million flowers are auctioned five days a week in the largest warehouse in Europe. Unfortunately the auction was a little out of reach for this trip so I began looking for similar places to visit within the heart of Amsterdam.

Bazar Amsterdam
Bazar in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

I decided to check out as many markets as I could. The largest and most colorful market can be found in the Albert Cuyp Market.

Wigs, formal dress wear, fish, fruit and many other items can be found in this open-air market at reasonable prices. It is difficult to resist the good deals targeted towards locals.

A short bus ride from Central Station or a rented bike will take you right there. It is open nine to five, Monday through Saturday.

North African Restaurant

A great place to take a lunch break at the Albert Cuypmarkt is a North African restaurant called Bazar Amsterdam. It is located on the same street as the market and cannot be missed by the large doors opening to an open floor with a circular bar in the very center, illuminated in soft warm lighting rimmed with boisterous comrades.

The meal began with cups of fresh mint tea. The hot drink was perfect after walking all day. I ate with a large group so to get a sense of North African food we ordered a mixed platter of grilled meats, fish and falafel.

The platter was followed by more mint tea and dessert consisting of a white cotton candy mass hiding small pastry sweets soaked in honey and condensed milk.The walls and ceilings are intricately painted in beautiful and colorful patterns from the Middle East. The ceilings are high, giving an atmosphere of space. A second floor gives an expanse view of the decorations and large chandeliers.

Tulip bulbs at Amsterdam's  Bloemenmarkt
Tulip bulbs at Amsterdam’s Bloemenmarkt

While Albert Cuypmarkt had a huge variety of goods and low prices, I prefer smaller specialty markets, and Amsterdam has lots of them. The city contains 22 markets, including Bloemenmarkt, the World’s only floating flower market.

When I heard this I pictured flowers and plants sold from boats. At one point boats did travel down the ancient, narrow canals to deliver fresh flowers to residents.

Now stands sit permanently on the water containing orchids, tulip bulbs, marijuana starter kits and even Christmas trees around the holidays. The flowers found here are probably the most varied and freshest of any market in the world, since it is only 50 minutes from the largest flower auction.

Vendors specialize from children’s to art books or even records. Newer books can be found in the stores surrounding the market. There are many more markets to be explored including a large flea market in Waterlooplien loaded with odd and interesting shaped objects that will leave you puzzled.

Just as unique as the floating flower market and less than block away is the Amsterdam Book Market, held every Friday. I found hundreds of secondhand and antique books. The books are mostly in Dutch, but some books can be found in English or other languages.

The Pancake Bakery
The Pancake Bakery

I had many opportunities to taste Amsterdam. I had imagined food from the Netherlands to consist of a mélange of potatoes, root vegetables and meat, but I never came across this dish. Instead I indulged in a huge array of international food.

Pancake Bakery

Before visiting the Anne Frank House, I went to small restaurant called the Pancake Bakery. The restaurant sits slightly below street level. The atmosphere is dark and cozy, filled with sweet and savory smells coming from an open flame in the center of the restaurant. A chef cooks crepes, creating dramatic displays of yellow flames, a foot or two high, encircling your lunch-to-be.

Van Gogh's 'Head of a Woman'
Van Gogh’s ‘Head of a Woman’

He first poured a thin layer of batter into the pan, then thinly sliced the apple into beautiful rings. After pouring another layer onto the apples to make them set properly, he sprayed a substance onto the pan creating a terrific inferno.After dithering over the many choices I decided to order fairly simple, an apple and cheddar cheese crepe. I couldn’t resist getting up from my lunch party to be a complete tourist and watch the chef make my order.

After flipping the crepe so that it landing precisely in the center of the pan, the chef lightly sprinkled a sharp cheddar cheese. The dish was divine. The combination of apple and cheese was perfect. To be even a little more exorbitant, I drizzled on dark, viscous molasses, giving a strong yet sweet contrast to the apples and cheese.

Another type of food that cannot be avoided in Amsterdam is Indonesian. I recommend Puri Mas close to Leidseplein. Here I had a rice plate consisting of soup and a multitude of curries. The curries ranged from peanut to green and there was one that tasted of caramelized anise. Every dish was full of flavor, leaving me beyond full.

If you are interested in visiting Amsterdam’s museums, I recommend purchasing the I Amsterdam card. With the card you gain admission to 26 museums including the Van Gogh Museum and Museum Het Rembrant. In addition the card gives discounts to other attractions, restaurants and transportation.

Two pieces display this shift beautifully. Both are entitled “Head of a Woman” and are painted in the same year. The first shows an ordinary woman with normal proportions, depicting a probable close resemblance to the subject.Of the museums I visited, my favorite was the Van Gogh Museum.

I only spent two hours exploring Van Gogh’s work, but wished I could have spent much more. The pieces are displayed in the order of creation. In this way you can see how Van Gogh’s style was transformed from painting life as it is seen physically to capturing the life that lies within a person or landscape.

The second takes the viewer inside the woman’s mind. She is dressed in the same clothing but her outward appearance is skewed and the colors are distorted. The woman appears as if she is melting, evidence that her soul is slowly disintegrating.

Van Gogh’s paintings are an honest critique of life around him. The exhibit gives philosophical insight into the artist’s soul. A good time to visit the museum is Friday evening. Until 10 p.m. drinks are served and there is live music. You can converse with other visitors while enjoying the works in a relaxing environment.

I am a lover of fresh and healthy food. The Lloyd Hotel breakfast showed me a new way to enjoy the first meal of the day. I discovered an array of cheeses, breads and non-sweet yogurt drinks that taste amazing yet remain filling until lunch.

A stall at Amsteram's cheese market
A cheese stall at one of Amsteram’s specialty markets

One cheese that left a mark is Leyden with cumin seed. It is a firm cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk. The mild flavor is contrasted with the intermingling of cumin seed, adding a delightful spicy aroma. I found the best way to indulge is with a piece of grain-loaded rustic bread.

Not only did the Lloyd Hotel leave a good impression of Holland’s food, but it is also a great example of the country’s creativity when it comes to interior design.

A room may not have the usual squared off bathroom but instead within 12 feet of your bed is your shower without a curtain or an enclosing glass door. You stand in your bedroom taking a shower in front of whoever you travel with, unless you send them away for 15 minutes of privacy.

The hotel is full of history and stunning design. Placed within the Eastern Harbor, the 1921 building has been remodeled from being a migrant boarding house, a detention center, a prison, and artist studios.

The 'elevator room'
The ‘elevator room’

Now the rooms have been converted into unique quarters rating from one to five stars. A one-star room may contain two twin beds, a TV and a desk but no bathroom. Shared with other guests, the bathroom is only a few steps away.

Three stars gives you a private bathroom, and a bed that may be placed in a refurbished elevator shaft, complete with closing French doors opening to the rest of the room that resembles the interior of an old pharmacy, because that is exactly what the room once was.

I feel sorry for the guest who is tormented by nightmares of plunging to their death on an elevator or sitting on a doctor’s table nervously waiting for a nine-inch needle to assault their left arm. Luckily not all three-star rooms have such exclusive qualities.

A five-star room may consist of two floors. The first contains a baby grand piano, couch and stairs winding up to a loft where a four-meter bed potentially sleeps eight people with eight pillows neatly lined down one huge mattress. This is where I would go traveling — with a lover, not the seven dwarfs.

The rooms vary from 80 to 300 euros attracting students on a strict budget, honeymooners and businessmen into the hotel’s library, music rooms, and restaurant.

I left for Amsterdam unsure I would find enough to do outside of drinking and smoking up. I look back on my trip with mental lists of more activities I wish I could have tackled.

I went in December, which is generally a wet month. Given dryer weather I would have rented a bike and done a self-guided architecture tour, stopping along the way to browse the distinctive markets or sit with a warm drink in a café with a good book.

Elizabeth Bagley

Elizabeth Bagley is a photographer and new mother who recently moved to Philadelphia.

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