It’s hard to get a clear picture of what constitutes “Dutch cuisine.” At least traditional Dutch cuisine, not the “hand-scavenged lichen and raw beach grass molecular infusions” that have come to represent the modern food of northern Europe in these last few decades. Most of the guidebooks talk a lot about “frites,” “pannenkoeken” and “apple pie” without getting too deeply into the specifics. When we headed out for dinner last night, we didn’t have anything in mind, so it was a nice surprise to end up educating ourselves about Dutch food.

Our hotel is not super-well situated, being on a fairly busy street to the east of the city center. While the distances are not huge – less than a mile to the heart of the action – the neighborhood itself lacks a decent supply of restaurants and coffee shops. It’s not like Sevilla where you walk downstairs in Barrio Santa Cruz and have restaurants on both sides of your door as well as the street to choose from. It’s more like our favorite neighborhood in Paris – Saint Germaine-de-Pres where there are options, but you have to hunt and peck. And that hunting and pecking is always what freezes me, it’s simply hard to pick when there are limited choices. Last night was like that, we were tired from all those train rides and really just wanted to eat, but the few things we passed were not grabby enough to pull us in until we reached the Nieuwmarkt district where there were tons of options, even if every single one of them was Italian. And who wants Italian on their first night in the Netherlands?

We turned around at that point and walked back to a place we’d passed on along the way. Next door to the Rembrandthuis Museum, its menu was loaded with what I perceived to be traditional Dutch fare – heavy on the breading, and heavy on the deep-frier. More of a neighborhood joint, and less a tourist trap, We took a table inside and ordered (note here: most of these places have nice outside dining, but just like Paris, every single person sitting out there is chain-smoking.)

MLW had Boerenschnitzel (pork schnitzel with fries) and I had Lekkerbekjes (fish & chips.)Both were wonderful, well-presented, and very tasty. Dessert was another Dutch staple, Appelgebak which is their version of apple pie. Less a “pie” and more a “tart,” apples layered in a soft crust, not unlike a French apple tart I make from time to time. On the whole, an excellent evening of cultural immersion and just what we wanted after our long day of globe-trotting.

We had one major thing on our Thursday morning agenda, the Van Gogh Museum, and after a very nice breakfast at our hotel, we took off on the predicted 31-minute trek (thanks Google Maps!) to the Amsterdam Museumplein, a large park on the south side of the canal rings that houses the 3 biggest museums in the city. From the hotel window, the weather was either mixed, some minutes sunny, others heavily overcast. The typical weather for this location on the North Sea. The walk gave us our first good opportunity to see canal living up close in trim little neighborhoods. The architecture here is wonderful to look at, and highly varied with each row house having its own dose of character. They each share one thing in common though – a steel beam at the peak of their roof, and a few degrees of overhang built into the facades of the buildings, from the top to the bottom. Because these homes are so narrow, it’s impossible to bring anything heavy or large up the interior stairs (like furniture) so big things are hoisted up to higher-floor windows by way of the aforementioned beam.

For once Google Maps was on the ball, and we arrived at the Museumplein after almost exactly 30 minutes. The weather had held, although there was a lot less of that sporadic sun than when we’d started off.

The Van Gogh Museum is a stand-alone gallery spun off from the modern-art-focused Stedelijk Museum in 1973. The collection has an interesting story, it being comprised of paintings, drawings, and letters that belonged to Vincent’s brother Theo following the artist’s suicide in 1890. Theo died shortly after, and his holdings were bequeathed to his widow Johanna. Their son Vincent inherited the collection in 1925 who then loaned it to the Stedelijk Museum before it was acquired by the state-initiated Vincent van Gogh Foundation in 1962. Today it’s the most visited museum in the Netherlands and the 23rd most popular in the world.

Arriving, I took a moment to pat myself squarely on the back for the decision to pre-purchase tickets because we were greeted with a sign stating that the museum was sold out for the day. The museum has two sections, a very modern entry zone and a more traditional building holding the collection. The paintings are arranged from older (1st floor) up to newer (3rd floor) and nicely presented in smaller galleries. A lot of corroborating material is presented, to help the viewer understand his evolution as a painter, including quite a few canvases by his contemporaries such as Manet, Gauguin, Pissarro, Degas, and Toulouse-Lautreq. In short, a very professionally done combination of presentation and education. (One interesting learning and small complaint – these new-fangled cell phone-based “audio guides” turn museum visitors into the same phone zombies you bump into everywhere else in your daily life. People aimlessly wandering staring at their devices.)

The skies opened up while we were inside, and thankfully the downpour was nearly over by the time we exited. Off to one side of the Museumplein is a little area reminiscent of the Tuileries in Paris. A small area of trees, some lanes, and a couple of eateries with outside tables. We chose one that offered pastries, chai, and hot chocolate for a snack before heading back to the hotel. It also gave us an opportunity to have an umbrella over our heads when the rain started coming down again. Suitably fortified, we retraced our steps back to the hotel for a break.