Amsterdam is the quintessential town of cheap, rowdy indulgence. The city’s Red Light District is famous for its endless alleys of tiny shop windows where scantily-clad girls wink, dance, and seduce men on the street from the other side of the glass. Bars are plentiful, but even more so are the sex shops and theaters that advertise “live shows” on a nightly basis. Amsterdam has both cafés and “coffeeshops,” and if you’re not sure of the difference, you may want to Google it before stepping into the wrong place for an innocent cup of joe. And don’t get me started on the never-ending supply of french fries and the disgustingly beautiful trend to eat them slathered in mayonnaise.
The hilarious part is … it’s all legal!
The charmingly wild Dutch city was the first place Ella and I would stop on our week-long tour throughout Central Europe. As soon as we stepped onto the bustling streets from the train station, a sensory overload immediately hit us in the face: the glistening canal water; the smelly, hazy smoke seeping from the coffeeshop doors (uh-oh, guess I gave that one away); the gaudy, flashing lights spelling out words that would make your grandmother faint; the raucous laughter, yelling, and singing from every door; and the food (mostly fried) from all cultures just waiting to be drunkenly devoured.
I won’t get into too much detail about my experiences in Amsterdam (Hi, Mom!), but I’ll tell you this: I certainly indulged “Amsterdam style” when it comes to food and sweets.
Before even stepping foot in the Netherlands, though, Ella and I had to make a brief transfer in Brussels. Immediately upon our arrival in the Belgian capital, my chocolate senses were tingling. We spotted several candy and chocolate shops in the train station, but that wasn’t exactly the high quality I was looking for to put “on the blog.” So I dragged Ella outside in a desperate 15-minute search for an authentic Belgian chocolate shop near the station—to no avail. It was back to the train station for my antsy sweet teeth, where we cheaply stocked up for the train ride to Amsterdam.
There’s something about the cheap, self-service candy shops in Europe that just get me. There’s no need to make big decisions because you can buy all the candy you want! Naturally I chose one or two pieces of each (except the cola bottles, because, come on, those are disgusting) and went on my merry way. Strawberry marshmallows, Haribo gummi bears, licorice sticks, fudge squares—I was one happy girl. The candy did make it onto the train … but not into Amsterdam.
When we got to our hostel (accurately named Heart of Amsterdam) in the middle of the RLD, Ella asked the receptionist where we could find good, authentic Dutch food to eat for dinner. He told us it doesn’t really exist. So—after a terrifying, freezing ride on the carnival swings that were sitting pretty in Dam Square and a quick walk through the canals—we ate at a lovely little Mexican restaurant, drank strawberry margaritas, and pretended we were culturally hip and ironic. (We aren’t.) After dinner we headed into a few coffeeshops and bars, and … well … the rest is history.
In brief … let’s just say … the Dutch know how to make a good brownie.
… Ugh, sorry. My lousy attempts of subtlety are embarrassing, but necessary. Once again: Hi, Mom!
For some reason, I tend to always forget the latter part of the night when Ella and I mindlessly strolled down to the carnival again … where we
politely shared scarfed down a handful of brown sugar and cinnamon churro sticks with no guilt or shame whatsoever. It happened. Can’t take it back. No regrets. (There’s really no amount of justification, but hey, at least we didn’t eat churros and cotton candy and french fries. Right?)
Just kidding. We ate french fries for lunch the next day! Apparently they were voted #1 best fries in Holland, so … Go Team Obesity!
After “lunch,” Ella and I ambled throughout Amsterdam, checking out a bunch of shops along the way. We found a somewhat-shi shi shopping district where, wait for it, another self-service candy store was waiting for me.
Yes, we went in. And yes, I bought more candy.
As I stared at the rows upon rows of candy, my face was in a permanent state of shock, awe, and true happiness. Two small baggies full of chocolate, gummies, and licorice … and I was ready to pass out in a candy-coma. Ella and I ate some of our separate stashes (hers was impressively smaller, as it always is) in Leidesplein, another square in Amsterdam with a lot less red lights and a lot more cute cafés than in the RLD. Definitely a more “Mom-approved” place to stay. So let your sweet ma’am know.
After our brief candy splurge (Note: The candy made it onto the bus to Berlin. Not necessarily into Berlin, but you probably could have guessed that), we walked around a bit more and bought a few gifts and things. One of my favorite purchases? A chocolate bar with a “special” secret ingredient—upon buying it, the shop owner told me it was “definitely legal to ship!” and gave me a wink.
That, my friends, is a success … Amsterdam style.
Photography by Ella Pennington.