on the canal with flagship amsterdam

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If you go to Amsterdam, we all know that the number one thing you have to do is take a boat ride on the canals. It’s an integral part of life in the city and too beautiful to miss out on!

We went with Flagship Amsterdam, who I can’t recommend more highly. Unlike the crowded, covered tourist boats, Flagship takes you on what feels like a private tour with an open air boat complete with snacks and drinks for purchase. We ordered some prosecco just as we headed out.

Our ride was scheduled for a bit later, but once we left the Anne Frank House (where the boats are docked), we went ahead and asked if we could hop on an earlier boat. I’m so glad we did because our boat only ended up having a total of nine passengers which made for a roomy, very personal experience. In addition to our group of three, there were two women from Russia, two women from South Korea, and a couple from Germany.

Our captain and skipper, Captain Jack and Kim, were so great! Kim gave us a lot of interesting knowledge about the city and the canal system without it being too much or overly touristy. It really just felt like taking a casual boat ride with your Dutch friend who knows a lot about the city and is able to point out cool things of interest.

The houses along the canal were build very narrow because you were taxed according to how wide your house was. Ever the practical people, the Dutch installed hooks on the tops of the houses so that they could use a pulley system to bring furniture into their homes. Something interesting Kim told us that I actually hadn’t noticed before was that the houses actually lean forward a little (which you can clearly see when you’re looking for it) because otherwise, furniture on the pulley system would be dragged up alongside the facade of the building. With it leaning forward, the furniture is suspended safely in the air.

Our hour long canal ride definitely didn’t last long enough, but by that I mean that I could stay out all day. I was imagining all of the things I’d like to do while floating along the canals: reading, napping, playing games, having lunch, and so on. You can bet if I lived in Amsterdam (which I wish I did sometimes), I’d have a boat and use it for most of my waking hours.

The moral of this story is that the next time you’re in Amsterdam, you must take a canal cruise and you should 100% do it through Flagship. I was so impressed with the whole thing and it’s the closest I think you’ll get to a private boat tour.

a little amsterdam food tour

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In the little planning we did for our actual day-to-day schedule while visiting Amsterdam (this was an uncharacteristically spontaneous leg of the trip), one thing I knew we had to do was a little self-guided food tour. There were so many different Dutch foods I wanted to try and while we didn’t end up getting to them all (next time, bitterballen), what we did try was amazing.

1// Stroopwafels
I’ve obviously had my fair share of stroopwafels before in the States. I am, after all, of Dutch heritage and an unrelenting sweet tooth. But, they’ve all be the prepackaged kind which simply don’t compare to the real thing. We went to the iconic Van Wonderen Stroopwafels, located on a cute little corner on Kalverstraat, which did not disappoint.

They have tons of toppings to choose from, but I went with a medium stroopwafel with one side dipped in chocolate and covered in mini marshmallows. Because it was made from scratch right there on the spot, the chocolate on the outside and the caramel on the inside were warm, gooey, and melting which paired so well with the crisp cookie and chewy marshmallows. 😭

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2// Frites + Belgian Mayo -Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx
From London to Amsterdam, the food we definitely ate the most of on this trip was fries. Chips, frites, fritjes, whatever you want to call them! Our next stop after Van Wonderen was the famous Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx right around the corner. It’s just a little walk-up place with a few tables outside. When we first walked by on our way to stroopwafels, the line was super long but by the time we came back, we were able to walk right up.

Along with the frites, they offer a huge menu selection of dipping sauces. We went with classic Belgian mayo, which has a much tangier, less sweet taste than American mayo and is absolutely divine. The frites come in the cutest paper cones, too! Not going to lie, right after I took a photo, some of the mayo dripped down on the sidewalk and we had to sit by and watch as someone walked through it, trailing mayo footprints behind them.

It was quite chilly out the day we had these, but they were so warm and crispy and delicious, it barely mattered that we ate them sitting on a stoop in the shade. If you’re visiting Amsterdam, you definitely have to try the frites here.

3// Fritjes - Dutch Weed Burger Joint
The second place we had frites was on a whim at a place called Dutch Weed Burger Joint. My mom and I had initially planned on eating at Foodhallen but it was super crowded, so we walked over and found my dad at the Dutch Weed Burger Joint where he had been dying to eat. The name isn’t what you think, it actually refers to seaweed. 😅 The frites here were different than any others we had tried. They were super short and stubby, which isn’t my favorite but they were crispy and delicious nonetheless. You really can’t go wrong with fries, can you?

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4// Cheese!
I love cheese, especially gouda so I knew we needed to check out a cheese shop while we were in the Netherlands. We stopped at a random one by the Bloemenmarkt as we were walking by and sampled so many interesting variations. There was even a lavender cheese that was surprisingly good! However, the best one I tried was the one unpasteurized variation they had in the shop. It was beyond. It was creamier than any cheese I’ve ever tried! A fairly cute nearby British backpacker agreed with me, so I think it’s fact now.

5// Apple Cake - Winkel 43
Coming into Amsterdam, we knew we had to try the famous apple cake at Winkel 43. Now, there are many places in the city that have apple cake, but I’ve heard the competition is really between Winkel 43 and Cafe Papeneiland, which we planned on visiting but never ended up making it. We sat outside at Winkel 43 at a shared table with two guys from Canada and a pair of friends who lived in Amsterdam but were originally from Bulgaria and somewhere I can’t remember, oops. We ordered a piece of apple cake to share and I paired it with a huge glass of Earl Grey. It was the perfect treat at the coziest little table of people.

For some reason, I expected apple cake to be on the dry side but it was so moist and just tasted really fresh paired with delicious, rich whipped cream on top. Whenever I eat anything remotely like this, I think of my favorite scene in Inglorious Basterds and have to say, “Ah, ah, wait for the creme.”

postcard from london

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Wow, London was a whirlwind. I hope to spend so much more time there in the future as I just fell in love. It had a vaguely similar vibe to New York, but I felt it was more like D.C. because it’s so clean and beautiful with tons of green space. Since I didn’t do traditional day-by-day travel posts, I thought it’d be fun to share some extra photos in what I’m calling a sort of digital postcard.

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1 // As soon as we got to the hotel, the front desk handed us flutes of champagne and to properly kick off the trip. We were located on Grosvenor Square (more on that later) which was absolutely stunning and gave us the best view from the windows in our room.

2// Something I couldn’t get enough of in our neighborhood Mayfair was the cars. Nearly every car we saw on the street was over $100k and they were all stunning. There was everything from McLarens and Lamborghinis (the most common) to Porsches and beautiful Lexus models that made me feel very lucky to have one of my own.

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3// We stayed at the Marriott London Grosvenor Square and I can’t say enough great things about it. We’re lucky to be Bonvoy Titanium members, so that definitely provided a lot of perks. Our room was beautiful and updated with a view of the square, lots of fluffy robes, and a tea closet with a kettle, tea selections, and Walker’s.

In my view, the biggest perk of being a Bonvoy member is getting to use the M Club at Marriott properties. At both hotels we stayed at in Europe, the M Clubs were tremendous. This one served five different meals a day from breakfast to afternoon tea to dinner and dessert, and all of them were great. In fact, we mostly ate in the hotel because it was that good and it’s all free, so it saved a ton of money.

I want to reiterate how good the food is. It’s not your typical hotel continental breakfast with stale bagels and sad waffle mix. The selection was big and included fresh bread baked that day at the hotel, lots of fruit infused water, and different local foods as well as the classics like eggs and breakfast potatoes done really well. No rubbery, under-seasoned scrambled eggs here.

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4// My biggest takeaway from our London leg of the trip was just how beautiful this city is. Everywhere you look, from the architecture to the gardens to the people, everything is beautiful.

5// I was excited that Deliciously Ella was just around the corner from our hotel and we ended up going there a couple times for juice and some food. I got the pumpkin curry, which I highly recommend!

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6// One area that we almost didn’t visit but I’m so glad we did was Westminster, near Parliament and the Abbey. This really is a must see area where you can just feel the history around you. We spent some time in the park behind Parliament where there’s a lovely view of the London Eye, great for photos.

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7// The last bit I wanted to share in my little postcard is Sketch. You’ve probably seen Sketch on Instagram before, but wow, it is not overhyped at all. The whole experience from door to door was so special. We sat in the Glade (which is too dark for photos, but I kind of like that) and had some truly delicious, unique cocktails. Also, side note, everyone who works here is stunning.

After drinks, we checked out the famous pink room which is decked out with incredible art, and experienced the iconic egg pod bathrooms. Not gonna lie, we had so much fun in these bathrooms 😂 No one but me had even seen photos before, so it was hilarious to watch their reactions. Plus, there is more than meets the eye! There are so many weird surprises in those eggs, you just have to experience it for yourself.

the royal treatment in london

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I’m one of those Americans who is unabashedly head over heels for the royal family. I watched the boats at the Queen’s Jubilee, was up at an ungodly hour for the Harry & Meghan wedding, and follow all the good royal correspondents and blogs. So, I was absolutely thrilled that not only was Baby Sussex born while I was in London, but just one day before my own birthday!

The two places I knew I had to visit on our trip to London this month were Kensington Palace and the iconic Buckingham Palace. I’m really not much of a tourist traveler, but these places were ones I just had to experience.

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kensington palace //

I still can’t believe it when I think about the fact that Kensington Palace was chosen as the residence for William and Mary in the year 1689. The grounds feel so steeped in history and for good reason! Since that year, the palace has become the home for all of the young royals from Queen Victoria and Princess Margaret to Diana, William and Kate, and at one point, Harry and Meghan.

When the palace was first inhabited by William and Mary, the monarchs commissioned the iconic London architect Christopher Wren who collaborated with Mary to redesign the home. Many, many, many years later, William and Harry grew up on the grounds. It was very surreal to think that as we were walking the gardens, George and Charlotte were likely nearby doing something cheeky.

The gardens at the palace were absolutely breathtaking and I have to say, one of my favorite places in the entire world. The masterpiece is the Sunken Garden, constructed in 1908 with terraced ornamental flower beds and the most spectacular arches of greenery. I was so taken by the colors and how intentional the pairings seemed to be. There were three different shades of pink in all different sizes and textures that caught my eye.

Just when I thought the place couldn’t get anymore perfect, I heard the My Neighbor Totoro theme playing softly in the distance and just about cried.

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buckingham palace //

After Kensington, we slowly made our way to the grand dame and home of the Queen, Buckingham Palace. As evidenced by the raised flag on the roof, the Queen was at home which was incredibly bizarre to imagine. Was she hiding behind the curtains looking out at all of us? Probably not, but it’s fun to dream 😅.

The palace has been the official home of British sovereigns since the late 1830s as well as the monarch’s administrative headquarters. It’s certainly a lot less cozy and a lot more monolithic than Kensington Palace and I truly can’t imagine what it would be like to live in such a massive, almost heavy feeling place. I know I’ve heard a lot about members of the royal family disliking the vibe of the palace because it feels so stiff and regimented.

However, it’s a definite must see for any trip to London just because of the sheer magnitude and the idea that you really are in the presence of the Queen, an actual living icon. I only wish I could’ve had the chance to see Kate driving herself up to the palace.

And finally, I felt that I got quite the royal treatment myself from our hotel! In addition to champagne upon check in, we came back to the room on my birthday to find cake, chocolates, and fruit from the staff! Honestly, way to inflate my ego and make me feel entitled to a state room at Kensington.

my harry potter studio tour experience (+ other HP locations in london!)

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I am so grateful to have spent my birthday this year at the Harry Potter Studio tour in London. I’ve been a huge Harry Potter fan for the majority of my life and have always dreamt of living in that universe, so this was definitely the next best thing. While I was in London, aside from the tour, I saw a couple of other Harry Potter related places too!

I think what struck me most about the studio tour, but really all of these places in general, was the incredible feeling thinking about JK Rowling. All of this (a billion dollar book and movie series, multiple amusement parks, a studio tour, and all of the other Potter related attractions) came from the mind of a single woman, a woman who created this character from a spark of inspiration on a train in Scotland in the midst of depression, single motherhood, recovering from domestic abuse, and living on welfare. It’s insane and it’s one of the most inspirational stories I’ve ever heard, so it was really emotional to experience her brainchild so up close.

First, before I get into all the details about the amazing studio tour, I wanted to share my experiences from another Harry Potter related location in London. Our first stop was to check out MinaLima Studios. I feel like this is a lesser known Harry Potter spot that I rarely ever see people talk about, but it’s so cool. Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima are the graphic designers for the Harry Potter universe and opened up this museum in their studio to show off all of their work.

Over several stories in the building, you’ll find so many examples of the things they made for the films, things you’d never even think of having to be created! You’ll find letters, magazines, posters, books, and more, all handmade for the movies.

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On the walk to MinaLima, we happened to pass the theater where they perform The Cursed Child! I still haven’t seen it yet. Have you?

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Harry Potter Studio Tour

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I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not going to (nor could I) give away everything you’ll see on the tour because there is just so much to see and a lot of it is better if you’re surprised.

Getting There //
The tour is right outside London in Leavesden, where the films were really shot for all those years. It’s a little bit of a trek to get there, but it’s super easy. We left from Euston Station in London and took the Overground train to Watford Junction for only £7.50 round trip, per person. We got on the express train and it took us about 20 minutes, although beware there are slower trains that take more like 45 minutes. When we arrived at Watford Junction, there were clearly marked shuttle buses to the tour for £2.50 round trip, per person. The shuttle bus is about a 15 minute drive through the suburbs to the studio.

Food & Drink //
When you arrive, you enter the beautiful lobby (complete with dragon) which has lots of seating and places to eat. We grabbed some food, which was shockingly affordable and really good. There’s grab and go options as well as hot food, Starbucks, and Butterbeer before you even go into the tour. Halfway through the tour, there’s the Back Lot Cafe with fewer but similar options.

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The Great Hall //
This is where the tour begins and it is absolutely amazing. Because it was my birthday, I was chosen to open the doors to the Great Hall before anyone else in the group. The kids you see in the photo were not in fact having birthdays, their mom just pushed them to the front and made them lie, but it’s fine 😂. Being the first person to see the Great Hall, empty of people and in all its glory was absolutely amazing and something I’ll never forget. I was so shook, my hands were literally shaking.

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The Sets //
There are so many sets on the tour, I wouldn’t even be able to cover them all and don’t want to because it’s more fun if it surprises you. A couple of my favorites were the Gryffindor Common Room, the Boys’ Dormitory, the Grand Staircase, The Burrow (one of my all time favorite HP locations), and the Potions Classroom (incredible detail). But honestly, there are so many other good ones!

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Platform 9 3/4 //
The perfect place for your headed to Hogwarts photo op! When you walk in, you feel as though you’ve stepped into King’s Cross on your way to school in the fall. There’s a train gift shop and you can actually board the real Hogwarts Express with cabins decorated to represent each film. There’s also a paid photo op where you sit in a train cabin with a green screen behind the window to make it look like you’re moving.

The train station marks the halfway point of the tour and leads into the Back Lot Cafe where we drank Butterbeer and had some snacks before going on to the back lot, one of my favorite parts of the entire tour.

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The Back Lot //
I couldn’t get enough of this portion of the tour! It’s crazy to see these sets in real life, outside, in the daylight and there are so many cool photo ops. On the back lot, you’ll find No. 4 Privet Drive, The Knight Bus, Hogwarts Bridge, The Potter House in Godric’s Hollow, the Ford Anglia, and Hagrid’s motorcycle. I can’t tell you how weird it was to stand in front of No. 4 Privet Drive and to be able to walk through. I even took a Polaroid in front of the Godric’s Hollow house which turned out really cool.

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Gringott’s Wizarding Bank //
This was by far one of my very favorite parts of the tour, if not the very best. It’s brand new, only having opened in early April 2019 to the public and I could not stop gasping. The scale and detail was absolutely breathtaking. We actually stopped for a little while here to talk to one of the staff members who was this adorable guy from Brazil who shared a bunch of set secrets with us and laughed about how Texans pronounce “Harry Potter”.

After the actual bank set, you go into a room where there’s this incredible scene with the dragon destroying the bank. It looks so real, I stayed to watch it over and over. Check out my Instagram story highlights because there’s a video in there.

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Gift Shops //
The gift shops were a little crowded and my feet were really feeling it at this point, so we didn’t stay super long but if you’re looking for any Potter related merchandise, this is the place to be. It’s all organized into distinct rooms like Quidditch, Honeyduke’s, and so on. My favorite spot was definitely Honeyduke’s with the cute mint, black, and white look, the candy, and cute mugs.

Final Thoughts //
This was the most amazing way to spend my birthday in London and I will always remember it. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this is a must do, bucket list item you have to cross off if you get the chance. It was 100% worth the time, the money, and the foot pain to do this and yes, I cried. Some tips would be to wear the most comfortable shoes you own, allow at least 3-4 hours for the tour, and get ready to take lots of photos.

Definitely check out my Harry Potter instagram highlight for more photos and videos and feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the tour :)