{Guide to Amsterdam}

guidetoamsterdam_2Corey and I lived in Amsterdam for two years from 2011-2013 and I have since returned twice since moving home — in the summer of 2015 and the fall of 2017. It is one of our absolute favorite cities in the world and certainly one of the most picturesque. It pains me that to some, the city is only known for it’s legal marijuana and prositutes because that is such a tiny part of this beautiful city. It has perhaps the most recognizable architecture in the world, is full of history and culture and is a must-visit in Europe.

Even though we haven’t lived in Amsterdam for five years I still often get emails and messages requesting recommendations for where to stay, what to do and where to eat, so I am finally putting all this information in one place so it can be easily accessed! As a bonus I have included recommendations from one of my very best friends who lived in Amsterdam with her husband more recently than us — from 2015 to 2017. She has amazing taste in food and drink and I was able to try many of her recommendations myself when visiting in 2017. They are winners!

STAY:

Hotels in Amsterdam are quite expensive. If you are on a honeymoon or special trip and can splurge I highly recommend The Dylan. It is a luxury boutique hotel in a beautiful area of the city.

We stayed at the Andaz Amsterdam on points and we loved it. The location is perfect right in the nine streets and the hotel design is modern and gorgeous.

If you’re looking for an Airbnb look for places in the Jordaan, Nine Streets, Centrum, Zuid, near Vondelpark or if you want a lively young atmosphere De Pijp is fun!

TO DO:
Anne Frank House (Open daily from 9:00 am – 7:00 pm, Saturdays from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm) – I’d recommend buying tickets ahead of time to avoid standing in line forever! 

Walk around the Nine Streets (one of the city’s most picturesque areas to explore, photo ops at every turn!) – very close to Anne Frank in the Jordaan District

Museumplein (this is where you can take a photo with the iAmsterdam sign if you’re interested) and right by the Van Gogh Museum.

Rent a bike and ride around the city (if you like bikes). It’s truly an experience! (To rent a local-style bike, try Het Zwarte Fietsenplan in the city center on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal http://www.hetzwartefietsenplan.nl/12___centrum-het-zwarte-fietsenplan)

Do a canal boat tour – they only take 1-1.5 hours usually and it’s a great way to see the city and hear some of the history. (I recommend the Canal Hopper for a smaller, more personal boating experience https://www.canal.nl/en/canal-hopper) My best friend lived in Amsterdam for two years and she highly recommended Those Dam Boat Guys!

Walk through the Red Light District. A quick walk, but I feel like everyone should see it as it is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. Don’t take photos – very against the rules. You won’t want to anyway…

Stroll (or ride a bike) through Vondelpark (huge and beautiful city park). Stop at one of the outdoor cafes there for a fresh mint tea and just people watch. You should also venture outside of the park, the neighborhoods around the park are beautiful!

Favorite Museums: Rijks, Stedelijk (modern art), Van Gogh & Hermitage

You should try out a “Dutch Brown Cafe” – they are typical, sometimes-divey bars where people gather after work for snack and beer. A big part of the dutch culture – you can read more about them here: . A good one to go to near the Jordaan is Cafe Van Zuylen

Skip the Heineken Experience (Heineken Museum) — it’s cheesy and touristy.  A more fun and authentic Dutch drinking experience can be found here at Wynand Fockink, where you can taste and drink the Dutch flavored liquer jenever!

If you want a fun activity for the day, love to ride bikes and want to see a bit more of the quaintness outside of the city I highly recommended biking out to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. It’s about 14 miles round trip give/take and easy and flat (like all of Holland!). It’s quaint little village that sits right on the water and has beautiful architecture to take in. You can grab a nice waterside lunch at Loetje aan de Amstel and fuel up for your ride back to Amsterdam!

Easy day trips by train: Utrecht, Gouda, The Hague, Haarlem, Antwerp (via Thalys train) and Bruges (via Thalys train).

And a couple more recommendations from my friend Jenna who lived in Amsterdam the last two years and recently returned to Portland:

Albert Cuypmarkt – in de pijp area. Old school market with some occasional hidden gems.  Eat a fresh Stroopwafle ☺. 

Play old school arcade games at Ton Tonhttp://www.tontonclub.nl/

RESTAURANTS:

Dinner:

De Kaas: For a truly special dining experience. Set in a gorgeous greenhouse. Definitely a bit off the beaten path for tourists as it isn’t close to the center of the city, but worth the trek! I blogged about our experience here and you should visit their website, too! Make reservations!

Food Hallen [Indoor Food Market] – This is new since Corey and I returned to Portland, but we were able to visit when we returned. Super cool indoor food hall with lots of different food options: http://www.foodhallen.nl/

Pata Negra – Cash Only. Amazing Spanish Tapas – VERY busy on the weekends, reservations recommended! Fun place to go with a group, but also fun for just two for some sangria and yummy food!

Thai Bird or Thai Bird Snack Bar – Super yummy Thai in Chinatown, very well known. Be prepared to wait in line for the restaurant or just go across the street and get takeout.

Koh-i-Noor – Amazing Indian food! Best in the city that we found – there are two locations — one in the Jordaan and one in the city center.

Casa di David – One of our fav italian spots in the city – small and cosy – our go-to date night spot 🙂

Burger Meester – Cute burger joint with gourmet options, also relatively affordable

Lunch/Brunch:

Café George – pretty affordable, good place for lunch (yummy sandwiches and fries) Also, brunch is fun here.

Buffet van Odette – Great cozy spot for brunch or lunch! Would be a nice place to sit and linger with some work or a book while drinking a cappuccino 🙂

De Laatste Kruimel – This is an unassuming but incredible little
bakery. Great place for pastries on a weekend morning, or we’d go here for cheap (but huge and delicious!) sandwiches on weeknights. The owners are a brother/sister pair who work their butts off and the space is super cute!

Cafe de Jaren – This is a popular spot in Amsterdam. Especially great during the summertime as they have an outdoor patio area that sits right on the Amstel. You can go for a coffee, soup, sandwiches, etc. We lived right around the corner so frequented this place often

Pancakes! Amsterdam – Yummy dutch pancakes in the Jordaan. I highly Recommend the smoked salmon, creme fraiche, guacamole, pine nuts one. To.die.for!

Two For Joy Coffee – DELICIOUS pancakes – almost like home – great place for a lazy weekend morning

Bar Moustache – Small and cute restaurant/bar, good place to grab a glass of wine and appetizers with friends or a nice (but spendy) meal

Greenwoods – One of our favorite spots for brunch/lunch. Affordable, yummy food! We never went for dinner, but they do serve it.

Droog: This is as much something to do as a place to eat and enjoy some coffee. If you are into design, this is a must-visit. Droog is an art gallery, hotel and cafe all fused in one. Definitely worth a walk-through and stop for a cup of coffee. And bonus that it is right off the street we used to live on in Amsterdam (Groenburgwal)!

Lastly, my favorite place for a quick and easy to-go coffee was Coffee Company – so delicious (way better than Starbucks) and all the locations are cute and different! You’ll see them everywhere!

A few more recent restaurant recommendations from my best friend Jenna (I wholly trust her taste in good food and was able to try a few of these, which I denoted with an asterisk, when I did my girls’ trip last fall and they were all amazing!) 

DINNER:

CANIBALE ROYAL: Amazing ribs and just a good food and drink spot.  Can be very busy on weekend but they take reservations.

LA PERLA: If you’re in the Tales and Spirits area, head over to La Perla for pizza. Best in the city, but keep in mind there isn’t great pizza here, they even do take away.

BLEU – Cute and cozy French restaurant in the Jordaan area (close to Ann Frank House and 9 streets shopping).

VAN ‘T SPIT – very simple rotisserie chicken and sides. Cozy, casual, and convenient.

THE DYLAN HOTEL* – nice for tea or wine in a very nice and cozy hotel in the 9 streets area. Have a quiet back garden to escape the chaos.

BRUNCH:

BAKERS AND ROASTERS*: Great brunch spot.

STARING AT JACOBS/KU KITCHEN: more brunch but also does Japanese food in the evenings. Chill neighborhood and vibe.

LITTLE COLLINS: and more brunch.

MOOK – more pancakes. Less traditional and more hipster.

DIGNITA* – great brunch in a cute restaurant.  Motto is eat good, do good. Highly recommend. They have multiple locations.

COFFEE:

LOT SIXTY ONE: Some of the best coffee located right by foodhallen.

COFFEE AND COCONUTS*: cool chill place to grab a coffee, cookie, light lunch and do a little work or browse IG.

CAFFENATION AMSTERDAM – Hipster coffee shop, locally roasted great coffee, cool kid vibes. A place to go to get coffee to stay and hang for a bit. Also their hot chocolate is a chocolate bar melted into steamy milk, looks yummy and cozy when you get caught in the rain.

TREATS:

FRIES: Vlaams Friethuis Vleminckx – Suppose to be the best in town and definitely a dutch must eat.

VAN STAPELE – COOKIES. YUM!

WINKEL 43* – Best Apple Pie around. A sugar cookie crust and fresh whip cream make it the perfect afternoon treat with a cup of mint tea (a dutch favorite made with fresh mint).

DRINKS:

TALES AND SPIRITS: Fun small cocktail shop that knows what it is doing when it comes to mixology.

WATERKANT: Great for a casual beer with a local crowd sitting by a canal.

WINDMILL BAR* (actually known as Brouwerij ‘t IJ if you can pronounce dutch). Note from Liz: We loved biking from our house in the city center to this cute windmill bar! Fun activity for a day!

OEDIPUS TAPROOM: Local beer that is far better than Heineken.

BAR CENTRAAL – perfect for a small bite and natural wines!

GLOU GLOU* – Natural wine bar. Same owners and concepts as Bar Centraal but in different neighborhood. 

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{The Ultimate Packing List for Traveling With Kids + Our Must-Have Travel Products}

packinglistYour first trip with a baby/kids is quite the eye-opener. You don’t really realize just how much stuff you use for you kids until you’re packing for a trip! Over the years of travel since Elodie was born I have been keeping a super detailed packing list in the notes on my iPhone. I have added on each trip as I remember things and at this point I am not sure there is much in my life that ISN’T on this list.

Do we pack every single thing on this list for every single trip? Heck no! Is it the place I start and determine what I want for whatever trip we’re taking? Yes. Since I have nearly everything on this master list it is easy to cull it down to match our destination (cold or hot) or our form of travel (car/airplane).

There are a few things that we’ve bought over the years that have made traveling with kids a lot more manageable, so I’ll outline those below. I’ve also hyperlinked anything in the travel list where we use a specific brand or product we love so you can see what we use! I hope this is helpful to share and if you would add anything to this list, please leave it in the comments below and I can update the post!

Travel blackout shades: Our kids need absolute darkness to sleep well, so we always travel with these blackout shades that suction to windows. One shade is huge and can cover a lot of space, but there is also velcro that makes it easy to adjust to use on smaller windows. These have been such lifesavers especially in rental homes where some came with literally NO windows treatments at all! If you’re in a bind, you can also tape up black garbage bags to a window!

Travel sound machine: Our entire family is addicted to the Marpac Dohm Sound Machines, so when we travel we bring three along — one for each kid and one for us! We love their travel size and if we had known about it could have just as easily used these from the beginning as they sound just like the original, just in a compact size. The travel size is also nice to have with you to pop into a stroller, or on the beach, etc.

Travel high chair: We obviously can’t really take this with us on a plane as easily (although if you have space in a suitcase it can get pretty small/flate, but if we’re driving we always bring our travel high chair. Even at just over two-years-old James really needs a high chair to keep him contained during mealtimes otherwise he’s running around all over the place and not eating much. We love this one and we keep it in our car at all times in case we come across a restaurant that doesn’t have high chairs! You can purchase a tray for it as well, but we never did and honestly didn’t miss it.

Clothes (summer/winter)

  • Tops
  • Bottoms
  • Dresses
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Bathing suits
  • Hats (summer/winter)
  • Gloves
  • Winter Jacket or Lightweight Jacket
  • Shoes/sandals
  • Water shoes
  • Snow boots

Bedtime

Bath time

Daily

Outside/Beach Destination

Kitchen/Laundry

Airplane/Car

BABY

Technology

  • iPhone charger
  • Speaker/speaker charger
  • Camera
  • Camera charger
  • Adapters (if traveling to foreign country)
  • Batteries

Medicine

  • Baby/children’s advil and/or tylenol
  • NoseFrida
  • Honest Chest Rub
  • Thermometer
  • Saline drops/spray
  • Adult pain reliever
  • Dramamine
  • Benadryl

Traveling On a Budget

HOW TO TRAVEL ON A BUDGET

Last month I jetted off to Amsterdam for a week to visit friends, this week we’re heading to Charleston as a family and early next year we’re traveling to Oahu with Corey’s family. But how are we taking all these trips when we’re on a pretty strict budget? I thought I’d share some of the ways we’re able to make these trips happen while not breaking the bank. Because we could all use a little more vacation in our lives, right?

Use an airline and/or hotel credit card: Some people are really scared of credit cards, but there’s no reason to be. We have two major credit cards we use to make every purchase we possibly can. Then, at the end of every month we pay off the cards. We never pay interest and we reap the benefits — free flights, hotels, etc! Here are the ones we use:

Hyatt Chase Visa: When you sign up for a Hyatt Visa you get 40,000 points to use at any Hyatt worldwide. At the time Corey I opened our cards back in 2013 they were offering two nights at any Hyatt property worldwide when you signed up. That’s how we stayed at the Hyatt in Kauai for four nights (for our babymoon) completely free! Then, each year you have your card you get one free night at a Category 4 hotel or lower. This is how we did our really fun Portland staycation this summer — totally free — and how we will be getting one room for one night in Charleston totally free. Using this card we’ve stayed at the Andaz Maui, Hyatt Carmel Hylands, Andaz Napa, Hyatt Paris Etoille, the Grand Hyatt Kaui and soon the Hyatt House Charleston completely and totally free — and we still have lots of points we can use for future vacations! The yearly fee is $75, so we’ve now gone down from each having one card to sharing one joint card.

Alaska Airlines Visa: We had only our Hyatt Visa up until earlier this year when Alaska Air was running a new promotion for their companion fare. Typically, you get one companion ticket a year for $100 + the cost of taxes and fees. But this year they waived the $100 fee, so if you bought one ticket somewhere you could add another ticket on just for the price of taxes and fees. This is how we are flying all four of us to Oahu next year for under $300 a person (!!!). We used our own companion fare + my mom has an Alaska card and wasn’t going to be using her companion fare this year, so we lucked out! We’re also flying out one way to Charleston on miles, so combining that with the great airfare we found we are flying there for next to nothing!

Find Cheap Airfare:  There are a few sites and apps I use to find cheap airfare and even track prices and get alerts when prices drop:

Hopper App: In this app you can search for flights and the app will tell you if the price for the flight is so good that you should purchase now, or if it will likely go down so it’s best to wait. The vast majority of the time their predictions are spot on. My favorite functionality in this app is that you can “watch” flights — you put in dates and destinations and the Hopper App will send you an alert on your phone when the price is right! This is how I flew to Amsterdam for $500. I actually found even cheaper tickets (around $460), but the timing didn’t work out, but that is an insane deal! For deals that good you literally need to book within an hour or so, otherwise the price disappears.

Kayak.com: I’ve used Kayak for years — this site searches flight prices from many airlines and sites and consolidates all the options into one search query so you can make sure you are buying the cheapest flight possible. But what I really love about Kayak is their newish “Explore” feature. Let’s say you know you want to take a family vacation in the month of February, but you’re not dead set on a certain destination. You put in the airport you want to fly out of, when you’d like to travel (can be “Thanksgiving Weekend” or “February 2018” or “President’s Day Weekend”, etc etc.) and how long you’d like to travel for and then Kayak will show you where you can fly for how much. Such a nifty feature when you’re on a budget — it really helps you maximize where you can go without spending a lot of money.

Skyscanner: This site is nearly identical to Kayak, but for whatever reason I used it a lot more when we lived in Europe. Just another site that is worth checking out when you are booking travel — especially within Europe!

And here’s a tip when booking plane travel — sometimes it is more cost efficient to book two one ways on different airlines. Try to get sneaky with how you book things, you’d be surprised how much money you can save!

Find Cheap Lodging: Travel with a Group / Take advantage of Airbnb/Homeaway/Kid&Coe, etc:

I’ve discovered it’s actually not that hard to find cheap airfare places, but it’s almost always hard to find affordable, but great, lodging. I will admit I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to where we stay. If I feel like a place isn’t clean or in a sketchy part of town it totally kills my vibe. This is another reason I love our Hyatt card, we have been nothing but impressed with all the hotels we’ve stayed at. Another great option (especially with multiple kids) is renting through home rental sites like Airbnb, Homeaway and Kid&Coe (specifically geared toward families). This can make your trip a lot more affordable since  you’ll most likely have a kitchen you can use to cook at least a few meals. Bonus if you can travel with additional people and can split the cost! You can really get affordable housing this way!

Some people feel uncomfortable with the idea of renting someone else’s house, but we have done it many times (in Paris, Madrid, Switzerland, Los Angeles and many more) with great success, so we are big fans! We’re using Homeaway to rent an awesome, big home with a pool in Oahu (which I’ll share after we stay, for security reasons). We have yet to book with Kid&Coe, but love that their homes are specifically geared toward families — so many/most come with cribs, toys, etc!

I am sure there are tons of other ways you can travel as a family on a budget, but these are the things that have worked for us! If you have any tried-and-true methods I am all years — comment below!

{Madrid: Around Town}

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When we moved to Europe we made a huge list of cities we wanted to visit while we were living abroad. The list was long. Way too long to accomplish seeing all these beautiful places in two years. We’ve put a dang good dent in those cities, but there are still many on our list. One that wasn’t on our list? Madrid.
To be honest, as an American, you hear way more about Barcelona than you do about Madrid. And I remember a year and a half ago when we researched Madrid for a quick weekend away, we realized there really weren’t any notable sites we felt like we had to see, so we scratched it off our list.
Well, then Nicole moved to Madrid and she raved about how incredible it was – even saying it was more amazing than Barcelona. I trust that girl’s opinion, so a few months after she moved Corey and I booked a quick weekend visit. I am so glad we did. Madrid isn’t about any specific sites, it’s just about being a big beautiful city packed with charm, beautiful architecture and really good Italian food (What! I know, strange, but true.). We so enjoyed our weekend in Madrid and only wished it would’ve been a teensy bit warmer (but when do we not wish that?!). Hanging out with Nicole is always such a treat! And what’s not to love about having a personal city guide?! She showed us all the best parts of her new home. Here are some snaps from all around town. I hope they give you an idea of just how gorgeous Madrid is!
P.S. A few travel tips below the photos if you’re looking for Madrid suggestions 🙂
 {If you find yourself in Madrid – here are a few places we suggest you don’t miss (many pictured above!): Retiro Park, Mercado de San Miguel, Chocolateria San Gines (for the most amazing churros – be prepared to wait in line), Plaza de Oriente, al fresco lunch at Cafe de Oriente, Plaza Mayor, Vertical Garden at CaixaForum followed by coffee and a treat at the Vertical Cafe, Templo de Debod, and my biggest tip of all (thanks to Nicole), dinner at Piccolo Diavolo – get the pasta with pear and ricotta. I know it sounds crazy, and we were totally skeptical, but Nicole convinced us it was the best thing she’s ever eaten, and goodness was she right. We returned the next night to have that dish!}
{We stayed here. We found the location to be great, the price to be fantastic, and the place was comfortable and cute}

{Long-Haul Flight Essentials}

Greetings from Portland, lovely readers! I made it safe and sound and pretty much conquered jetlag like a champ, so no complaints here!
Over the last 14 or so months, I’ve made the trek home 5 times.  Writing that down just now I thought that couldn’t be true, that sounds like so much, but it is in fact true! Between work and weddings, Portland is constantly calling my name 🙂 And not to brag, but I’ve become kind of a pro at this whole long-haul flight thing. Hopping on a plane for 10 hours and landing in Portland feels a little too normal nowadays.
I know that long of a trip can be intimidating if you don’t do it often, so I thought I’d share with you  a roundup of some of my favorite in-flight essentials. Hope this is helpful – and if you have any to add to the list, I’d love to hear!

1. First piece of advice –  layer up! The temperature fluctuates
throughout the flight and you want to stay comfortable. I bought this amazing wrap cardigan sweater from ASOS a few weeks back (mine’s a different color) and I am not kidding, I pretty much live in it. It’s so warm and cosy and can be worn a couple different ways. It was the perfect layer on my flight over!
2. I invested in some wool socks from J.Crew last year and I am still singing their praises. On long flights I like to get rid of my shoes (stinky footers, please refrain!) and switch them out for a cozy pair of wool socks. They keep my feet warm and then I feel more comfortable throughout the flight.
3. This L’Occitane Lavender Hand Cream is incredible. The cream feels so luxurious and hydrating and the lavender scent is extremely soothing. The soap and water on the plane dries out my hands so I like to have this lotion with me to counteract!
4. I never used an eyemask until I got one on my first business class flight over to Amsterdam a few years ago for work. Now, they are an in-flight essential for me! I have to sleep in complete pitch black, so my mask helps block out the tv screen lights coming from my seat mates next to me. You should try it!
5. I swear by this Kiehl’s lip balm. I carry it with me everywhere I go. And just like my hands, my lips feel super dehydrated after a few hours on a plane, so I keep this lip balm on hand to soothe them!
6. Noise cancelling headphones – such a luxury, I know. A couple years ago I had no idea what to get Corey for his birthday, so I decided to splurge and get him a pair of Bose Noise Cancelling headphones. After using his a couple times and loving them, he sweetly gifted me with a pair of my own (mine are Able Planet brand). I never fly without them!
7. The number one thing I do on flights to keep myself feeling good – especially when I land after 10 hours – is drink a ton of water. Sipping that free wine or beer on the long haul flight is so tempting, but after learning the hard way (landing totally dehydrated making my jetlag 10 times worse) I now sip on sparkling water with a lime the entire flight instead (Picture: Lifefactory Water Bottle).
8. Miss Sarah Tucker turned me on to the J.Crew Pixie Pant last year and I have to echo her love for them. They are sturdy enough to not look like scrubby leggings, but stretchy enough to be super comfortable. They are pretty much the perfect travel pant! 

So there they are – some of my favorite long-haul flight essentials. Do you have any you swear by?

P.S. Check out my awesome new sponsors on the right! And if you’re interested in joining the club, shoot me an email, I’m still running a special on ad spaces! exploredreamdiscoverblog {at} gmail {dot} com