Sunday, December 18, 2011

Flying through Amsterdam

After years of flying through Amsterdam and never staying to explore, we've now been 3 times in the last 3 years. We love it and given the opportunity to fly though again on our way home from Germany we jumped at the chance to stay a couple of days.

We booked into T'hotel where we stayed on our first trip, even getting the same canal view room. Immediately we set out for a Genever tasting at Proeflokaal de Ooievaar near the red light district. Proeflokaal means tasting room and this one is "sponsored" by the Ooievaar distillery. The tiny bar has been open since 1782 making it one of the oldest in the city. The building tips crazily out towards the street making you think maybe it's tipsy on it's own liquor.
We are really in love with the Indonesian food in Amsterdam and ate at one of the best restaurants for it, Tempo Doeloe. The food is amazingly flavorful- sometimes it can get over the top spicy. And the service is wonderful even with the constant crowds of people rotating through their doors. Go if you have the chance, be sure to make reservations!

We were also happy to check out 2 nice cocktail bars- Door 74 which has had a lot of press over the years and the newer Vesper.  I have to say that we weren't impressed with Door 74. There was a lot of attitude from the servers and the customers. The bar itself was messy and the drinks were just ok. We loved Vesper. Very friendly crew and wonderful cocktails- anyone been recently to say if they are still doing a great job?

After fueling up on the best fricken stroopwaffles in town at Bakery Lanskroon we spent a lovely morning at the History of Amsterdam Museum. It's overflowing with paintings, armory, furniture, even recreations of houses and their rooms. The stroopwaffle had worn off by the time we left so it was onto Vleminckx for some of the best frites in town!
As we were walking around town we stumbled upon a treasure chest of antique silver and crystal at Gastronomie Nostalgie. Take a look at the video on their site to get just a glimpse of everything that is packed into this teensy tiny shop! Dayne just said to me the other day that next time we are near Amsterdam he wants to go back there.

We stopped in at another Genever tasting house called Proeflokaal Wynand Fockink. This one dates from 1679 and has a standing room only tasting room next to the distillery. Here you can learn the proper method of slurping the "filled to the brim" glass of liquor.

And no visit to Amsterdam would be complete in my book without a trip to DeKaaskamer for a little cheese shopping!
We were able to hook up with our friends Klary, Dennis, Mark and Mara for great night of drinks at De Gouden Reael followed by a very lovely dinner at Marius. I just sent friends to Marius and they reported back that it is still a very good meal; small, casual and chef owned and operated. 

All photos from Amsterdam here

Eating Berlin

While in Berlin our friend gave us a copy of a book called Berlin Bites that is filled with great info on everything from fine dining to neighborhood bakeries. It doesn't seem to be available online but if you know me and are headed to Berlin anytime soon feel free to borrow it.

The first day we met said friend at Fischers Fritz, a 2 star Michelin in the Regent hotel where he had secured us lunch reservations at. 3 courses will run you 47€, you can take less but really why would you? Look at this beautifully poached egg that was my first:

And this second, a stunning seared cod:
And this dessert of stewed pineapple in butter carmel & vanilla ice cream:

If you feel like treating yourself I highly recommend Fischers Fritz. They've had their Michelin star for 5 years and the food and service were spot on.

We also had a very nice meal at Cafe Einstein which I would recommend especially if you are going to check out drinks upstairs at Lebensstern. It started as a coffee house, they still roast their own beans, and expanded to a nice casual bistro with a menu of traditional Berlin fare.

Another friend of mine had suggested Rutz Weinbar which happened to be just down the street from our hotel, so we walked over one night expecting a casual wine bar. Instead we found a swank 2 story building housing both a casual eatery and upstairs a formal coursed menu- completely full with us not having reservations. The hostess found us a table in the more casual area, surrounded by shelves of bottles and glass wine cellars holding over 1000 wines. The food here was fantastic and I would go out of my way to eat either up or downstairs here again. But I'll make ressies next time!

While sightseeing one afternoon we had lunch at the very old and very popular Borchardt. It's been around for ages and attracts politicians, actors and the wealthy. It's a huge, scene and be seen type of bistro. Fun if you like that type of energy (and service) with good if overpriced food.

Our last meal was at Stadtklause which could not be more authentically Berlin. It's filled with locals and manned by a funny German who looks like Grover with his googly eyes. No one speaks much English and everything on the menu sounded so good that we completely over ordered. No worries though as everything was very inexpensive (making us believe that the dishes were small). Go here for a big hearty meal like Strammermax- caraway rye bread, eggs, prosciutto, lardon, ham hock shreds & a pickle. YUM!!

I remember this being a cash only place but I can't be sure of that. I do remember really liking the vibe and the beer.
And of course you can't go to Berlin without trying Currywurst which is said to be invented here. It's all over town but we ate ours near Checkpoint Charley.

all Berlin Photos

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Berlin Sightseeing

When you aren't drinking up Berlin there are plenty of things to see and do. Too much really unless you're around for a couple of weeks which we weren't.

We stayed at the Arcotel Velvet in Mitte which we both really liked. It was easy to get just about anywhere with the Bahn around the corner and the tram running right out front. Our room was small but seemed more spacious by the lack of internal walls, using just sheer curtains as partitions.
The only downfall of the hotel was their breakfast which was included. It didn't go very late in the morning and consisted of basically some hard rolls, yogurt and fruit which was not replenished as it was taken. But luckily there is a nice little coffee shop next door which had free wi-fi and well made latte's and breakfast goods.

You can rent a "classic" East Berlin relic, the Trabi and take a Trabi Safari Tour of Berlin but we chose to do a lot of walking instead. The best way to start is with a stroll down the grand Unter den Linden where all the embassy's are located (amongst Bentley dealership and high end boutiques) until you reach Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstat (Parliment Building).
One day we took the train out to the Stasi Museum. On the outskirts of Eastern Berlin in the bleak, 70's building complex of the former Stasi sits this relic to all things GDR. There are communist leader artifacts, stories of the secret police units, surveillance equipment that looks like early James Bond equipment and even the "command unit" from the office of the Chief.
Staying with the GDR theme we made our way back to the Friedrichstadt area of Berlin to Check Point Charlie. You can walk along where the Wall was and see pictures of how it all looked during the Cold War. There's also a museum which showcases all the methods of escape people tried, many dying in the process. It's an amazing area if somewhat overwhelming.

Having reached our limit of Communist history absorption for the day we headed to the stunning area of Potsdamerplatz. Crumbling Cold War buildings are replaced in this "new Berlin" area with glass skyscrapers and modern art sculptures. It's a "Time Square" of sorts but clean and modern and inviting. There is a small section of the Wall that you can explore but for the most part this area is about the future of Berlin.

Back near our hotel in Mitte we stopped in at the Kunsthaus Tacheles, an interesting building dating from the early 1900's. Built as a department store, it became a Nazi prison for a short time, was used for some movie shots and was taken over by an artist collective shortly after the Wall came down. It's an interesting space housing all kinds of modern art but they are continually being threatened with evacuation so if you're interested go before it's too late!
On another morning we went to the new Holocaust memorial. It consists of 2711 concrete slabs spread across a few city blocks. The slabs are all different sizes and the paths under them are uneven. As you walk thru you feel as if you're in a cemetery of sort. As I walked I experienced feeling peaceful and then lost and then stressed. Dayne shot an interesting video which gives you a bit of an idea of the experience.
Under the memorial there is the amazing Information Center which highlights the fates of some individuals and families during the Jewish persecution. Gut wrenching but beautifully done, it is a not to miss site.

Continuing on our somewhat macabre morning we headed to the Topographies of Terror which is located next to a piece of still standing Berlin wall. This use to be the location of the Gestapo, SS and Reich Security main headquarters. Now it's an open air exhibit which gives a timeline overview of the Third Reich.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the beautiful and historic Mitte area including a stop at the Bebelplatz where in 1933 the Nazi's hosted a book burning, destroying over 20,000 books.
East Berlin is filled with gorgeous old buildings, different from the West with it's modern glass structures. Another mark of the East are the crosswalks signals called Ampelmann, which is a beloved character and was actively saved as a reminder of their own style. Besides seeing it on the streets in the East you can find all sorts of souvenirs in the Ampelmann shops.
As I mentioned there is just so much to Berlin, a true onion with layer after layer of history. I spoke to our friend Mike about his family and their history being Berliners. He told me that his mom was in a parade once, part of a group of little girls all lined up to welcome Hitler. She was photographed for the newspaper handing him a flower! Mike told me many family stories and how the separation literally divided his family members, many never reconciling.

It's an amazing city and I hope to go back again!

There's many more photos of Berlin here.

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