4 Days in Amsterdam
 
IMG_9706.JPG

AMSTERDAM HIGHLIGHTS

What we did: Bloemenmarkt, Canal Tour (we used Flagship & loved it), Anne Frank House, Beginjhof, Keukenhof Gardens & tulip fields (we also rented bikes there), Dutch Countryside & Windmill Tour, Vondel Park, Stroll along canals & Jordaan neighborhood

Where we ate: Blue Amsterdam, Foodhallen, The Pancake Bakery, Cafe Loetje, Salsa Shop, Van Wonderen Stroopwafels, Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx

Where we stayed: our airbnb is no longer active, but we stayed on one of the main canals about 15 minutes (walk) from Amsterdam Centraal Station. We actually really liked the location & the pretty canal views, but looking back— I think it would’ve been better to stay closer to Centraal to cut down on the amount of walking/Ubers.

Foods to try: stroopwafel, patat fries, bitterballen, poffertjes

Things of note: (On biking) There are a crazy amount of bicycles in Amsterdam and they take their biking rules very seriously. Tourists must take extra care in making sure they are not walking in a bicycle lane (which will usually be right beside the walking path). Unless you’re really familiar with where you’re going, I wouldn’t recommend biking around the city (at least it would’ve stressed me out). However, we loved renting bikes further out from Amsterdam where the bike lanes were not as crowded :)

(On the party scene): While most are familiar with Amsterdam’s infamous reputation, we really didn’t find it to be an issue. We definitely noticed that it was much more crowded on the weekends with celebratory groups of friends heading to the “coffee shops” (aka where it’s legal to smoke marijuana). It’s supposed to be illegal to smoke in public, but many people still did. Despite all of this, I wouldn’t list Amsterdam’s long-standing reputation as a reason not to visit; the city is so much more than the red light district & the coffee shops!

 
 

day one: bloemenmarkt & canal tour

We landed in Amsterdam around lunchtime on Saturday and took the train straight into the city. We couldn’t check in our Airbnb for a few hours, so we dropped off our bags in the storage lockers inside of Amsterdam Centraal Station, which ended up working out perfectly.

With lighter loads, we walked straight to lunch at Blue Amsterdam. We quickly learned that Amsterdam restaurants are a bit pricier than we were used to, but the food was yummy and it had cool views of the city, so we happily downed our food and espressos before heading to Bloemenmarkt.

The cutest flower market, Bloemenmarkt lines the canal with lots of vendors and beautifully decorated booths. We (Okay, I ) loved walking through the booths of the endless plants and florals while enjoying the wonderful weather. The best booth is on the corner with bouquets hanging from every inch of the ceiling. It was magical!

After Bloemenmarkt, we walked over to Beginjhof, which has the prettiest courtyard surrounded by historic buildings and two churches. We circled around the houses for a bit and then left to meet our airbnb host to grab keys to our apartment. Our perfectly-Dutch building was covered in ivy and flowers and sat right on the canal, so we soaked in the scenes of our home for the next few days before mustering up energy to continue exploring the city.

We dodged bikers and wandered through the Jordaan neighborhood while snapping photos of the crooked-but-quaint rows of houses. We walked around the corner of the Anne Frank Museum to wait for a canal tour with Flagship. Since we didn’t know the timeline of our schedule for that day, we didn’t buy tickets ahead of time, but had no trouble catching a boat for the hour-long tour. While there are many boat tours near Centraal Station, we opted for an open-air cruise with a live guide and a smaller group. We loved our time on the boat ride— our guide was great and we really enjoyed learning more details about Amsterdam.

After the tour, we dropped off our luggage at the apartment and walked around the corner to eat dinner at Salsa Shop (it’s a chain, but it was a 1 minute walk from our airbnb & ended up being very similar to Chipotle so we’ll call it a win). Exhausted but already in love with Amsterdam, we settled in for the night so we would be ready to explore again the next day.


day two: Anne Frank House & Keukenhof

Our first full day in Amsterdam, we walked through the (darling) Jordaan neighborhood once again to eat breakfast at The Pancake Bakery. This was one of our favorite meals of the trip, because we really love breakfast food and this cute restaurant offered the biggest pancakes & omelettes I’ve ever seen. It was also really convenient to eat there because we had tickets to the Anne Frank House that morning, which was right down the street.

The Anne Frank Museum was one of our favorite (although difficult at times) experiences and is a must-see if you’re ever in Amsterdam (Important note: you must buy tickets 2 months in advance and enter at your ticket timeframe since they only allow a limited number of visitors per day). They don’t allow photos inside the house or museum, but I didn’t mind because I was too busy taking in all of the facts and history in those holy little rooms. We walked the narrow, steep staircases and marveled at all of the history and horrors that occurred in those spaces.

I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.
— Anne Frank

We wrapped up our time at the museum, and then walked back to Centraal Station to catch a train to Keukenhof, a beautiful park full of tulips (and about an hour outside of Amsterdam). Originally we thought we would miss out on the tulips completely since we visited in late May, but we (excitedly) managed to grab tickets on the last day the park was open.

Even though some of the flowers were no longer in bloom, it was crazy-pretty with the rows of bright florals and idyllic scenery. The park is huge, with lots of places to stop and eat or grab coffee (we did both). We spent a couple of hours walking along the bloom-filled paths and then rented a bike from the little parking lot stand. Typically, visitors rent the bikes to explore the surrounding tulip fields. But since the bulb fields were no longer in bloom, we just biked around with no agenda and enjoyed the more laidback bike paths (compared to the crazy busy ones in Amsterdam).

Note: If seeing all of the tulip fields in bloom is high on your priority list, the locals recommended visiting in April!

As it was nearing dinner time, we wrapped up our bike rides and grabbed an Uber back into the city. We ate dinner at Foodhallen, which was a really cool spot with delicious food stands (the sweet potato nachos I ate were unreal, y’all). We also bought some bitterballen from one of the vendors, which were so good and a must-try when in Holland. We saved a bit of room for dessert, so we navigated our way over to Van Wonderen Stroopwafels to try another famous Dutch food: the stroopwafel! We waited our turn and then walked back to our airbnb while trading bites of the most delicious warm, salted caramel dessert. I am actually still dreaming about it.


day three: Dutch countryside & windmill tour

We had heard good things about the tour of the Dutch countryside, and I am so glad we ended up going! Even if you don’t do a bus tour, I highly recommend going to some of the smaller historic villages outside of Amsterdam; they were so traditional and quaint and lovely.

We didn’t buy tickets for the tour until a few days before, so we were stuck with the earlier time slot, but we grabbed a coffee and took an Uber to Amsterdam Centraal station to join the rest of our tour group. After a few songs on the keyboard and a few more witty remarks, our bus driver and tour guide woke us all up and got us excited for the day ahead.

Our first stop was Zaanse Schans to see the (gorgeous) windmills. We were able to go inside of one of the windmills there and learn about how they worked, then snapped photos and climbed to the top for a pretty view of the other windmills along the water.

Next, we drove a bit more to the little fishing village of Volendam. We listened to a presentation on how Dutch cheese is made, and then we were able to taste lots of different types. It was the perfect appetizer, as we quickly headed to a lunch spot down the street toward the docks. With full bellies after our delicious & much-needed lunch, we walked down the dock to our boat that took us over to Marken.

Once off the relaxing boat ride, we walked through the charming streets of Marken while I admired the cutest houses and ended up at our last stop, where we learned the traditional practice of wooden clog making! It was a really cool and impressive experience; after the demonstration, we laughed as we tried on some of the wooden clogs. Although we left empty-handed (our feet were clearly not cut out for the wooden clog lifestyle), we headed back to Amsterdam full of unforgettable experiences after our (6 hour) trip through the Dutch countryside.

Once back in Amsterdam, we walked to Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx to order the famous fries-in-a-cone. Chatting and eating yummy fries, we continued walking through the gardens & the tunnel at the Rijksmuseum (it was near closing time, so we unfortunately never made it inside the museum as we had opted to explore the countryside that day instead). From there, we headed down the street and entered the pretty gates of Vondel Park. With miles of green space, we soaked in the pretty scenery of the park: locals lounging by the lake, a family of ducks following each other around the water, bikers heading home from work, and kids heading to soccer practice.

The brief rest in Vondel Park gave us the energy we needed to walk to dinner at Cafe Loetje (one of our Uber drivers recommended this place- it was good & affordable for a steakhouse). We took our time dining and people watching from the restaurant patio before we headed back to the airbnb, exhausted after our day full of adventures.


day four: amsterdam to athens

We slept in Tuesday morning, taking our morning slowly with no particular agenda. We packed our bags and sipped coffee while snapping a few last photos of the canals, then grabbed an Uber to the airport because our next stop was GREECE!

 
Travel Notes
 

Before diving into our 10-day adventure through the Netherlands and Greece, I thought I would type up a quick post to answer some recurring travel questions we’ve been getting (If you have additional questions, feel free to leave them in a comment below!)

Even after checking off countries #17 & #18 with this trip, I would still say I have a lot to learn about traveling— but I’ll do my best to address these few FAQs (*insert shoulder shrug here*).

Also, be sure to read this post full of disclaimers.


How do you decide where to go/stay in each city?

On where to go*: Honestly, our methods of deciding which countries & cities to travel to has looked different every time. Our first step is usually to decide what time of year works for our schedule and then go from there depending on weather, events, etc.

When we travel with friends, we make the decisions together and allow everyone to weigh in with their choices. This past time, Kevin and I knew we wanted to go to Greece (shoutout to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for opening most teenage-girls’ eyes to the beautiful Santorini), and we had also heard really awesome things about Amsterdam (plus it was super affordable to fly into)… so we ended up settling on those 2 places.

*If it’s your first time traveling abroad and scratching your head about where to go, I suggest taking a 7-10 day trip to London & Ireland. If you’re like me, you’ll probably fall in love with both places & keep going back :)

On where to stay: Once we have the dates, cities, and flights nailed down, we start the search for accommodations. If applicable, we get advice on the best areas to stay in the city from friends who have traveled there before so that we’re able to narrow the search down a bit. And then we just start clicking through Airbnb listings! (We apply the price limit filters and make sure we have the “entire house” box checked). While we usually opt for airbnbs over hotels to save money & stay in cool areas, we do sometimes stay in a hotel if we will just be in the city for 1 night or when we have points to cover the stay.

IMG_9626.JPG

Do you plan each detail ahead of time?

Yes and no. I type up day-by-day itineraries (which include our flight & accommodation details along with any important numbers). For each city, I include a list of restaurant options & foods to try… and each day has a list of activities, but sometimes we scrap the day’s itinerary and just wing it! We never want to waste time googling places when we are soaking in the scenery, but we also don’t want to discount the tried-and-true practice of wandering into a cafe while exploring.

Favorite resources for creating a travel itinerary?

Obviously it helps to ask friends & family who have visited the country before— they are definitely the best resource. After that, I love looking through the locations tag on Instagram to find cool spots and searching on Pinterest for travel tips/blogs (Two of my go-to travel blogs are Find Us Lost and Lauren Wells).

As for traveling between cities, it pays off to do your research ahead of time to find out about train/ferry schedules, car rental options, etc.

What camera do you travel with?

For our London, Ireland & Rome trip, I used a Canon Rebel T1i with a Tamron 28-75mm lens. Before our Spain & Portugal trip, I had upgraded to a Canon 6D and used a 50mm lens. For Amsterdam & Greece, I used the same but also brought along my Sigma 35 mm lens. I also use my iPhone a ton, of course.

Best items you always pack?

Apart from weather-appropriate clothes/jackets/shoes, my go-to list is usually something like this:

  • Luggage/Bags: Samsonite Carry-On Suitcase (it’s not the cutest but it’s super practical with lots of pockets & plenty of storage for a carry-on. This one is not identical mine but very similar), Backpack (I love this one), which is big enough to fit my ONA camera bag in for flights. Kevin always packs this Gonex backpack; it is a game changer for traveling (It packs up super small)— we use it basically every day of the trip!

  • Swell Water Bottle (or any water bottle with a no-leak lid)

  • Blanket scarf (for colder weather trips) or Turkish towel (for warmer weather trips)- these can double as a blanket when I inevitably get cold in airports/planes

  • Tech Organizer- I’ve had mine for about 5 years now, so I don’t think they make the one I have anymore but this one is pretty similar & by the same company

  • Extras: Travel-size wrinkle release spray, copies of passports, compression socks (for 8+ hour plane rides), Dr. Scholl’s inserts (life.saver.)

What else would you add to the list? Any other travel essentials or tips you would recommend? Add those below or shoot me a message!

 
When the World Feels Too Dark
 
116261F1-B7DB-411C-BCEB-26C64D18CC76.JPG

Do you know how your eyes adjust to the darkness after you’ve been in the dark for a while? And then, when someone else comes from a brightly-lit room into the darkness, the person can only see the pitch black around him and maybe a few random shapes. But you can still see everything because your eyes have already adjusted. 

So you guide him with your voice. You take him by the hand around the dresser, help him around the lamp, tell him to step over the shoe. You become his eyes for a moment... until he adjusts to the darkness too. 

And to me, this is a beautiful picture of walking with God in a community through the hard seasons. 

Because when you first get the diagnosis or the phone call or the realization of the broken relationship, you can’t make sense of anything. You panic and question and try to blindly trudge your way forward with each step, afraid and unsure. 

But then you hear a voice who says, “I’ve been there, too. Walk toward me.” You are seemingly out of options, at the end of your rope. So you follow the voice. With time, your eyes adjust to your surroundings and you no longer feel so helpless. Your surroundings are pretty bad, yeah, but you can see parts of the bigger picture now. You can see glimpses of how this might even be good. 

Then you notice someone else enter the darkness, lost and confused and broken, just as you were when you arrived in this place. So you speak encouragement and guidance because you know how badly you needed the person who guided you not that long ago. And so we imitate the Truth-teller; we say, “I know how hard this is for you. I know the fear you have. But I see you. And I am going to stay right here to help you take the next step and then the next, no matter how long it takes.”

This is what it looks like to live out Gospel-centered community. We allow the person ahead of us to show us the map. We give away grace. We stay when it would be easier to leave. We become a listener, an encourager, a safe place to land in a world full of chaos. We lean over to our beggar-neighbor and tell them where to find the bread. We were never meant to save anyone, but we can remind one another who does save. 

So when the pain is so very real and the world feels entirely too dark, let’s keep reminding one another, “This isn’t all there is. The darkness won’t last forever. There is light coming, babe. There is light coming. And you won’t be alone, not even for a moment.”

 …

Some Hearts

Some hearts really know how to belly laugh

Even if it’s not a good punch line

 

Some hearts live in a confetti world

Where dreaming feels better and safe

 

Some hearts embrace those gloomy, rainy days

Even though they’d rather have sunshine

they’re learning how to wait

 

Some hearts have a lot of practice in breaking

or in walking away

They are learning that healing takes time

And God’s timing is never too late

 

In all of the hearts

In every imaginable place

I just hope you know

Your heart is not beating by mistake

And your messy, complicated, beautiful life?

It is not a waste

 

God loves you fiercely, my dear

So I’ll say this louder

For the people in the back:

You matter here.

 
Alex Fly
A Beloved Fixer Upper
 

If my soul were a home, it would be a little brick cottage. There would be a great big welcome mat, and you could see footprints where it had been trampled a few times. You would have to wiggle the door handle, but in time it would open; it was never locked in the first place.

There would be a cabinet of chipped china, but you would learn to admire the broken pieces because the stories behind them were always worth hearing again. Everything would be a little messy, with books all over the floor and half-filled cups of coffee in every room, but you could tell that the owner liked it that way.

Words would be drawn on the walls in crayons and paint, and you’d recognize that the century-old passages were integral to the entire structure. If you tried to erase them, parts of the ceiling would start to fall and disperse.

The hallways would have “Do Not Enter” signs scattered all over the floors— like they had been removed from the doorways grudgingly but necessarily. Almost all of the doors to the rooms would be open so that you could see the light spilling into your path. You could see that some rooms were brighter than others, but you’d notice the light everywhere—like Someone Else was footing the power bill.

Eventually you would wander into the kitchen, but you’d quickly realize it was under construction. There would be cabinets off the walls; it would be missing an oven and have debris all over the countertops. You would notice the Carpenter in there and ask what’s going on. He might smile at you and say, “Don’t you just love this house?” You’d probably look at Him confusedly because it seems a little chaotic, but He would keep talking, “Just wait—this room is going to be good. It might even turn out to be the very best part.”


 
Twenty Eighteen.
 
IMG_5854.JPG

This year I tiptoed around the battlefield, waiting for the next explosion. Looking for the next landmine. Crying out for the battle to stop, for the war to end. I had no more weapons and I was just so worn out from all the fighting.

This year played out like a sad movie. I kept the tissues close, begging the cheerful parts to show up, waiting for the celebrations in the final scenes. In a way, I suppose we’re all still waiting on that happy ending. 

This year looked like a boxing match. I had my fists up, but the hits kept coming. One after the other, I grew weaker, more vulnerable and unsteady. I slowly but surely fell to the ground, unable to remain standing. A total knockout. 

And— you know what? 

There is a strange kind of freedom in falling. 

Looking back on the whirlwind of 2018, I see a lot of darkness. But I also see the light peeking through. Because even in the darkest night, there is the moon. There is the promise that the night will not last forever. A new day is coming, a new sunrise. New morning mercies. With this hope, we make it through the night. We trust in the something bigger, something better, something holier—a beckoning heavenward. At the end of the year, I still find myself repeating this simple prayer that says a lot: You are God, and I am not.

We can’t miss it, though. Even if we are in the trenches, we can’t miss those glimpses of glory all around us. The jaw-dropping sunsets and tiny hand squeezes. The smile from a stranger and the kindness of a friend. Swapping presents and hugs and funny Netflix shows. Remembering those loved ones we lost. Songs of hope found in a manger; flames burning in the dark. The singing of the church choir and the steam from a coffee cup. The laughter from the next room and the crackling fire and way the leaves dance in the wind. 

Because we might just notice how all of heaven and nature sing: 

A beautiful surrender. 

The drumbeats of grace.

The subtle echoes of eternity. 


 

Alex Fly
Idols in the Wilderness
 
IMG_7730.JPG

I can’t stop thinking about the Israelites these days. The running from the Egyptians and the making of golden idols. Moses and Aaron and Joshua. The complaining and the manna and the Ark of the Covenant. The walking through the wilderness. The promise of a new land. 

We like to highlight the big moments—the burning bush and baby Moses in a basket. The plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. The water coming from the rock and the Ten Commandments. Moses and God talking to each other on a mountain. 

But I can’t get over how long they spent in the wilderness. How many days the Israelites spent set up at camp, waiting on God’s promises to be fulfilled. How many moments they must have thought, “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” 

No matter how many times we’ve seen the miracles, the walking through the wilderness can leave us questioning everything, can’t it? There is a little seed of doubt that says, “Maybe God won’t show up this time,” so we quickly turn to anything and everything to fill our needs. In the toughest moments—when we should be falling on faith, we often end up acting out of fear.

 We take matters into our own hands, making ourselves into our own kind of savior. We keep ourselves busy, thinking we can distract ourselves long enough to ignore the tough terrain. We buy useless things. We comfort ourselves with food. We push ourselves with workouts and push away the people who care for us most. 

All we are really doing is building a golden calf and calling it god. 

 We can easily laugh at the building of a golden idol, but it quickly becomes convicting when the idols show up as family members or technology, meals or money, careers or clothes. None of these are inherently bad; they just make crappy gods. They aren’t worth our worship. They can never bring the satisfaction or joy or peace that our Savior provides. 

In both the good and bad seasons: if we aren’t turning to Jesus, we are turning to something else. And gosh, we don’t have to fight to turn toward worldly things; that current will sweep us up naturally if we aren’t constantly humbling ourselves at the feet of the King and saying, “God, I need you. Nothing in my hands I bring, only to the cross I cling.” 

I don’t know where you are right now, whether you are walking through the wilderness or soaking up the sun in a land flowing with milk and honey. But here’s what I do know: none of us completely escape the hard stuff. All of us will walk through the wilderness at some point. We might even set up camp there for a while. 

So, if and when you find yourself feeling broken and full of despair, lean in close to Jesus. When everything in you wants to run away screaming about the unfairness of it all, open up His Word and start reading. Pray when you don’t feel like it. Press into community when you’d rather walk alone. This is the way we will make it through the wilderness. Maybe you don’t need these reminders, but I definitely do.

And when we look up from our own stumbling feet and notice that God is walking with us through the hard places, we can rejoice because God is doing a work in us; He is sanctifying our souls for our good and for His glory. 

This does not mean it will be easy, but the time spent in the wilderness will be worth it

 

A Note for the Runaways

When the woods grew darker

And the shame settled in

You looked down 

And started running

From grace, from God,

From hope

 

It seemed easier in the shadows at first

But then you looked up

You got a glimpse of the light

 

Because the really good news goes like this

 

No matter how far you travel

Or how much the darkness 

takes over the night

You are never alone

His grace is waiting right there

Ready to greet you 

Ready to welcome you home 

 

You might even learn 

It’s okay to run

As long as you’re heading in the right direction

And what you want

May not be what you need

 

I suppose that sometimes

You need to sit in the darkness

So you can be blinded the light.


 
Alex Fly