Amsterdam for #KubeCon Nerds: Tourist Time!
Sites to see, more food to eat, grocery store tourism, and fun stuff to do in Amsterdam.
Now that you know how Amsterdam works, here’s some sites and fun things to do. You know, straight up tourist shit! I’ll throw in a few things I left out from yesterday’s Amsterdam advice too. My wife, Kim, helped out with a lot of these. Also, apologies for typos and stuff. I have some other work I need to get to.
Oh, and also, I’ll be speaking five times at our KubeCon booth (see below for a listing) on platform engineering, whatever “shift left” means, and some other topics that I should really go remember before I give the talks. Check out what all us VMware people are doing at KubeCon next week. Come and see us!
I’ve mentioned before that I really enjoy the museums in Amsterdam and the paintings from around Dutch Golden Age in particular.
You can buy a tourist museum pass that will get you into most places, or just buy tickets directly.
Amsterdam is full of museums and you can spend days in them. Here’s what I like:
This is the big museum going back to medieval times (all the Mary’s and Jesus’ stuff) to the present. You should go here to see the Rembrandts, Vermeer’s, Van Gogh’s, and many more on display.
Right now, there’s a special exhibit of many, many Vermeer paintings in one place (minus The Girl with Pearl Earring) which is, sadly, fully sold out. No Vermeer for you! I’ve been - hahahahah…er…sorry…gloating.
But! You can go to the rest of the Rijks at anytime, just get tickets online.
If you were like me, you’d spend an afternoon here looking at everything. I’ve been known to take in a notebook and iPad and work in the museum. I wrote some of my recent books in there.
Here’s my highlights:
Obviously, go to the “hall of honor” and see all the great paintings there. Take your picture in front of that pissed off swan, find all the raucous families. If you don’t have much time, just go right up there and spend the time you have with those paintings.
Make sure to go to the Asian collection, it’s a bit hidden and off the main path, and there’s a downstairs section that’s easy to miss. The collection of China (plates, vases, etc.) is really something, as are the chill Buddhas and Indian gods.
I very much like woodcuts, etchings, and illustrations and you can find many of those in little alcoves.
Don’t skip the Greek statues in the lobby: who doesn’t like a _Laocoön and His Sons_? During the pandemic when everything, including the Rijks, was shut down I’d bike through the tunnel and look into the lobby to see that statue to get a little feeling of comforting-normal.
Go to the model ship section and find the holograph-man pooping.
The cafe is good, but pricey and usually has a short wait. However, it’s a good place to get some wine and/or beer, a slice of Dutch apple pie and chill out for a bit.
I’ve never done this (but want to!), but a pro tip if you don’t mind looking like a dork is to bring binoculars to get a really close view of the paintings. I guess you could bring a telescope if you really wanted to silently scream out “LOOK AT ME!” as you unhook it from of your utility-kilt EDC-clip
You should go to this one too, and you’ll need to book tickets ahead of time. If you’re reading this now, do it now. Good luck!
This place is exactly what it says it is. It doesn’t have Starry Nights (that’s in Paris), but you’ll be fine.
More than most paintings, see a Van Gogh in person is a lot different than seeing a picture of it. There’s much texturing and layering. I heard recently that it’s fun to look at paintings and see how the layers of paint create shadows on the canvas. You ask yourself: was that intentional? Are the shadows part of the painting? MIND BLOWING, right?
Now, here’s something you should not feel bad about doing if you want to: it’s OK to just quickly walk by the repetitive paintings. I mean, especially the self-portraits. At some point, you’ll be like, “I get it. You’re an amazing painter and here’s you again. Look at you! And again. Aaaaaannnd, again.”
Two paintings you should find: The Potato Eaters and Haymaking (above). The second is not a Van Gogh, but it’s very calming to look at. And, yeah, if you want some Van Gogh hay pictures, you’ll get your fill.
These are the modern and contemporary art museums.
If you’re into design, the Stedelijk will be especially nice because there’s a lot of Bauhaus furniture and art in there: plenty of everyday objects designed well too. There’s a rotating exhibit (I don’t know what’s there now), paintings and sculptures, and some usually some fun posters, books, and other “paper” stuff.
The Moco is small and has a lot of Banksys in it and many more.
There are many more museums. There’s the maritime museum which can be fun, especially if you’re into history. You can also see the Anne Frank house. That’s another one that you need to book out early. It might even be too late at this point (the week before KubeCon).
And there’s all sorts of little, commercial museums like the torture and sex museums. I think I went to those when I was backpacking in the 90s. I went to the Heineken tour back then too, which was fun and you get beer at the end.
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Here’s things that aren’t museums that are fun to do:
A’dam Lookout - here’s your chance to take the ferry across the IJ. You go to the top of a tall building there and get the ol’ panoramic view of Amsterdam. You can also swing off the edge of the building. It’s total tourist-cheese, but it’s actually nice. There’s a big restaurant at the top so you could have some beer, wine, cocktails, sodas and food up there.
Canal tours - as you hopefully know, Amsterdam is full of little canals. The houses in the center are ancient and well taken care of. You should ask for the UNESCO route to see them all and hear some history and architectural knowledge. Hiring a little boat and guide to take you through the canals is a lot of fun, and also relaxing. With many of them, you can bring all your own food and drinks, and if you book a two or three hour tour, you and some friends could have a pretty cool picnic. We’ve done that several times. You want to hire from one of the “hey, we’re quirky!” tour companies. We usually book with Those Dam Boat Guys. While it’s expensive, I’d find six or eight friends and book a private tour so you can do the picnic thing. I mean, it’s just money: are you going to be using it for a shitty pillow in your grave?
Street markets are fun to go to. Your best bet is probably The Albert Cuyp Markt which is 9 to 5 every day except Sunday.
Book markets! If you’re in Amsterdam on Friday, there’s a book market in Spui that is super cute and just plain nice. It has used books, old prints, and that kind of stuff. And you should definitely go to the Oudemanhuispoort book tunnel. There’s eight or so alcoves that are book sellers - mostly old, friendly looking dudes smoking pipes selling used books, prints, and sometimes rare books. It’s open everyday except Sunday. There’ll be lots of English books there and lots of vintage Penguin books with those nice Penguin covers from the old days.
More on Eating
As I said last time, in part one of this series, I don’t get out much (young kids, amiright?). I covered most of eating/drinking and the handful of places I’d recommend (at least, where we go) yesterday, so check that out.
A few eating out tips:
Wherever you go, it's good to check if they take reservations.
There are no free refills on drinks, like sodas (unless you drive to one of the Five Guys in the Netherlands, but that’s like a Little America). This is where you can end up spending a lot of money.
The closer in you are to the tourist part, the more they’re going to try to sell you fancy bottled water. This is a fucking annoying practice in all of Europe, for Americans. Ask for tap water, and you’ll get free refills on that.
Like most of Europe, you won’t get visited by your waiter much. They’ll of course come over initially (you should order drinks then) but then generally won’t ever come by unless you get their attention. They’re certainly not going to come by and “see how you’re doing.” This will be annoying for Americans at first, but it turns out the be really nice. When we go back to the States I’m always like “Jesus, can I eat in peace?!” (OK, not really, I like the free drink refills.) Crucially, they won’t bring you the check until you ask. You should be paying with your phone and they’ll have a little handheld thing to use - it’s awesome.
“But wait! How do I tip?” you’re probably asking. I’ll simplify it for you: you don’t tip. There’s a lot more nuance around when you tip, who you tip, and how much you tip (I don’t know, find some reddit threads or something). But just keep it simple: it’s perfectly fine to not tip. You’ll notice that there’s no option to add tip unless you ask. If you’re expensing it and want to be all friendly-American, sure, you can add something, but just make it like, 5% or 10%. The waiters are paid a real wage and there’s a service charge in the bill already.
Portions are generally small. People don’t get doggy bags.
Here's some more:
People keep telling me that Secret Garden is fun, but I haven’t been. Here’s other places I’ve heard of but never been (Kim sent these): Bhatti Pasal and Vlaams Friteshuis, and Moeder’s. My pal Tasha recommends Jansz, which I’ve never been too - looks nice.
While it’s not Dutch, the Sea Food Bars are great. Especially if you’re expensing your meals, you should go there. I also went when Andrew was in town and we ordered the big ass tower of food and muscles. Very good. They take Amex, I’m pretty sure.
The Foodhallen is worth going to because it’s a bunch (15? More?) of little stands that serve all kinds of food. You can get your Dutch food there (bitterballen!), good Spanish ham, sushi, even tacos (they’re alright). I like getting the tempura vegetables at the little vegan stand there. If you want to do some quick and easy food tourism, this will do.
The Albert Cuyp Markt - there are many street markets in Amsterdam and this is the one in De Pijp. It’s pretty good too. There’ll be a lot of food vendors here and they’re all fine eating. It’s open 9 to 5 all days except Sunday.
My general rule of thumb on picking places is: the further from the center it is, the better it’s likely to be. And, as always, if there’s pictures of the food on the menu, the place is more likely than not, not good. If you stick to places in De Pijp, you’ll probably do fine, and the places around the conference center will be normal, verging on boring, but not touristy. The Google and Yelp reviews are generally accurate.
I’ve always been a big grocery store tourist. I can tell you about my favorite grocery stores across the world if you’re into that. Aside from the tourism part, the Amsterdam grocery stores are fine places for meals. You don’t eat there, you take it away. It’s a grocery store, you nutcase!
As I mentioned yesterday, the bread in the Netherlands is fantastic - it’s like a religion here. Most every grocery store has a little bakery in with loaves of break but also little breads from croissants, sausage rolls, little pizzas - whatever. Those are great to get for picnics, breakfast, a quick meal. The fruits and vegetables are actually pretty cheap and generally good. The avocados suck. I've mostly given up on them.
Grocery stores also have a lot of premade food - salads and things to heat up. In most grocery stores you’ll find a little microwave at the front and utensils. Annoyingly, the Albert Heijn by all the museums does not have one - ridiculous!
What you should be thinking here is “I could run into a grocery store and get everything I need for a picnic.” YES.
Albert Heijn is the big chain that you’ll see everywhere big and small, there’s also Jumbo and others. There’s lots of Lidls, but those aren’t Dutch grocery stores, they’re Lidls. Despite the lack of a microwave, I’d check out the Albert Heijn in the museum area: it’s big!
What they don’t have in grocery stores is a toilet (Americans, read: a bathroom).
Alright, let’s talk about the weather.
There’s two types of Amsterdam weather that you should concern yourself with. Raining and not raining. April is a good month. “Good,” as you can guess, means “not raining.”
But it will still rain.
So you should bring a rain jacket. You know, some Patagonia, North Face, Colombia type thing. Usually, I recommend dropping the typical American tourist dress, you know, you dress like you’re going on a hike in a rain forrest for three weeks. But when it comes to jackets, bring one of those outdoorsy type of jackets.
You can get away with wearing shorts this time of year (which is totally fine, fashion wise), but I’d plan on pants.
And bring some layers. That concept will be foreign to my fellow Southern and Southwest Americans. This means you want a hoody or a sweater (look that one up, they’re pretty nice) in addition to your t-shirt. That gives you at least three layers: a jacket, a hoodie/sweater, a t-shirt. If you wanna be really bad-ass, get you one of those fancy jackets where you can take out the lining (I’ve had this one since moving here and it is worth all the money), and then you’ve got four layers! The point of layers is not only to stay warm, but that you can modify it during the day. You can take the layers off if you’re too hot (and the sun is out!), you can put them back on if you’re cold (or the AC is cranked too high in the conference center - not so much an issue in Europe).
The Apple weather apps doesn’t work well in the Netherlands. It’s wrong frequently. Everyone uses Buienradar, here’s the App Store app. I would install that app and check the weather at least in the morning, and probably before you go out on any long journey.
Growing up in Texas, I never understood people who were obsessed with checking the weather. But now I do. If it rains a lot, you’re always on-top of that shit.
So, that’s the weather. You’ll probably be lucky to experience good, sunny weather. Amsterdam and the Netherlands are really beautiful when it’s sunny. But it will rain. Bring a jacket.
(People don’t use umbrellas as much as you’d think.)
I was going to say that I’m not much of a shopper, but that’s not so true. I don’t do high-end shopping (well, OK, I do buy stupid expensive jackets, BUT I NEED THEM FOR MY LIFE…yup…).
My friend Tasha was surprised by the shopping in Amsterdam. She recommends The Nine Little Streets, which I hadn’t heard of as a thing. There’s a high street (you know, what with the velvet rope’ed lines into the Gucci store and such) near the museums. And spread throughout the city (even in the touristy part) are all sorts of little clothing and other stores.
Since Scott & Soda and G-Star Raw are based in Amsterdam, there are several of those stores. And, all the other big brands you’d expect in any city. There’s a Lego store that has Amsterdam themed builds that are fun to see.
As a grocery store tourist, you can imagine I like other everyday life things stores. You should go to a Hema which is, like, the Target of the Netherlands. And, per my previous mention, get a Hema hotdog. You’ll notice that most of Hema’s stock is in-store brands (like Target!). If you want see a fun dollar-store like place, go to an Action: if you see a bunch of pictures of people looking really excited in windows, that’s an Action. C&A is another local store that like…Old Navy?
Most stores you go to will take credit cards - good for them! They probably will give you bags, but in general (like at the grocery store) it’s cooler to bring your own bag.
The Netherlands & Beyond
If you’re here for a whole week, you should try to go to at least one other town. Haarlem is 40 minute train ride away and Utrecht is even closer. Both are equally, you know, Dutch-looking and cute as Amsterdam but less touristy. Haarlem has a lot of great shopping if you’re into that.
And if you have longer, or want to, there’s The Hague and Rotterdam. Another good option is taking the ~3 hour train to Paris, or even shorter to Brussels. If you can make it to Ghent or Bruges, that’d be super fun for you.
Driving a Car
If you’re planning on day or weekend trips like these, you should rent a car. Driving in the Netherlands (and Belgium and Germany) is all pretty chill and normal. Like I said last time, if you’re just staying in Amsterdam, do not rent a car. Rent a bike.
But, if you’ve got plans beyond the city, rent a car. There’s a whole parallel Netherlands that’s accessible only by car, and the country is so small that you can drive pretty much anywhere in two, three hours max, if not much less.
The main things with driving in the Netherlands are:
Of course, be very mindful of bikes. They’ll assume you’re being cautious and mostly deferring to them. It will seem like they don’t even see the cars.
Curbs are high and if you’re not careful you’ll scratch your car’s rims. Rental car companies in Europe are much more meticulous on damage for rental returns. So be careful about curbs. Or you can just fully inure the car, which seems stupid at first, but it’s really relaxing. If you rent with booking.com, they’ll sell you super cheap car insurance.
If you rent a car, make sure you specify an automatic if you don’t want a manual.
Cars in the Netherlands are much smaller. We get excited when we see a pick-up truck. Most cars are hatch-backs or station wagons. Now that I’ve told you this, you’ll look around and go: “I didn’t know there were this many hatchbacks in the world, let alone one city.”
Roundabouts. I don’t know what to tell you. You’ll figure it out.
There’s no right on red.
Parking is a pain in the ass and you need to pay most places. I would just find the biggest, name brand parking garage and park there. Search for Q-Park garages. The Foodhallen has great parking, which is another reason it’s good to go there.
Gas is expensive, but they measure it in Euro/liters so I recommend not converting it to dollars/gallon and just being blissfully ignorant.
Here’s some more advice. I should probably go refresh my knowledge!
Look for bikes. For the first few hours, you’ll probably almost hit someone even when you’re doing your best. “Almost” is the key word there that matters. Be cautious and you’ll get the hang of it right quick.
Finally, the advice I’d give myself 10+ years ago about traveling to Amsterdam, and most anyplace, is to just relax. I still get all caught up coming off as a buffoon when I travel, but not much anymore. Aside from walking in the bike lane, it’s impossible to be a buffoon in Amsterdam. No one cares and, in general, they’re happy to meet you and talk with you. I mean, no one’s going to stop you on the street and ask how your kids are doing and you probably shouldn’t use go chat up complete strangers, but if you have a question or whatever, people are friendly and they’ll be happy to talk with you.
If you didn’t read the first part in this series, check it out: it covers all the basics like getting around, paying for things, and has some more commentary on eating and drinking.
That’s it for now. If I think of anything I might do another installment here in the newsletter. If you have any tips, either email me back or leave a comment below.
Like I said in the last one, I’m writing up all the things I wish I would have known the first few times I came here. People like me are always anxious in a new place and environment (like a European city is to an American who’s never been to one) and I rarely get comfortable until the last day or two of the trip. Hopefully you can get comfortable on day one and have a great time the rest of your time here.
Hey, and don’t forget! There’s a passel of us VMware people at KubeCon. I’m giving five talks in our plush booth area at what I am now going to call the VMware Tanzu Amsterdam Playhouse:
Wednesday, April 19th at 3pm - “Platform Engineering”? But I just learnt DevOps!
Thursday, April 20th at 12:30pm - Shifting Left for Real, with Adib Saikali.
Thursday, April 20th at 1pm - Winning Over Developers: Boost Platform Adoption.
Friday, April 21st at 11:30am - Lost APIs: API Discoverability in Large Organizations
Friday, April 21st at 12:30pm - Build the platform developers want - 2 ways to fit platform features to developer needs
I don’t know how I ended up signed up for five of those. Good luck to me!
Meanwhile, come check out our booth and what we’re up to . You’ll get a good understanding of what we’re doing with kubernetes and the developer platform we’ve built for kubernetes, relying on all sorts of open source, CNCF projects like Backstage.
That’s enough for now. I’ll highlight this more tomorrow, but if you’re really into kubernetes, I wrote a sneak peak of our State of Kubernetes Survey 2023 over at The New Stack. Here’s a preview of a preview!
Also, there’s plenty of the usual links and quirky quotes to include. Now I need to get to some work that’s been giving me the stink-eye.