How to find free fitness in Baltimore

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A little over a year ago, I strained my soleus while running, which has turned into foot pain, nerve compression and more fun ailments that sent me to my acupuncturist, massage therapist, a podiatrist, two orthopedists, and, finally, to a physical therapist. (Shout out to Sean at Under Armour Performance Center, who is getting me back on track!)

In that time, my physical fitness has really slacked. Running is how I stay in shape — physically and mentally. I struggle with going to gyms and boutique classes because I don’t like being constrained to times and I find that they’re often expensive.

In an effort to get myself back on track while I get ready to run again(!!), I created a Google spreadsheet of all of the free and low-cost fitness opportunities in Baltimore — and I’m trying as many as I can! (Warning: It’s not fancy.) It’s broken up into one-time events and evergreen trials/free classes.

Where am I missing?

Want to join me in trying one?

6 day in Arizona: Phoenix, Sedona and the Grand Canyon

FullSizeRender 9Well, it’s September and this trip was in March, so I think it’s time I recap it … before I forget it all. (Kidding, AZ is so stunning AND we learned some amazing news there. I can’t forget it.)

My college roommate, Natalie, recently moved to Phoenix and chose to get married there. My brother-in-law, Brian, quit smoking over 2 years ago and I promised him a flight somewhere if he quit for a year. A few texts later, Brian and his wife, Jess, were joining us for a trip to Phoenix, Sedona and the Grand Canyon, ending in Vegas.

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As co-matron of honor, I flew in Thursday night to stay with Natalie and get ready for the wedding. On Friday, we went to Scottsdale for a baseball game at Salt River Field, which is an amazing park. (Pro tip: Take a hat if you’re on the lawn! Thankfully, there’s free sunscreen throughout the park.)

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Steve, Jess and Brian flew in Saturday morning and we checked into our amazing Airbnb that was only about 5-10 minutes from downtown Phoenix, in Coronodo. We had a 3 bedroom home with the most stunning backyard, complete with a hot tub, living room, fireplace, and TV. (Steve spent some time there watching March Madness games.) Steve and I left Jess and Brian to enjoy it while we attended the rehearsal dinner at Ocotillo (where we actually saw another wedding happen). Definitely recommend for cocktails!

While I was wedding prepping on Sunday, the trio visited Jess’ uncle’s bar in Scottsdale, Four Peaks Brewery. I grabbed breakfast AND lunch at the awesome Desoto Market, an open marketplace. (Breakfast was from Tea & Toast and lunch for everyone was delicious salads from RADish.) I have to mention Mercantile, the salon where we had our hair and makeup done, because it’s also the most perfectly curated shop. Mike and Natalie were married at the University Club, where the orange trees were the perfect wedding backdrop.

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We were up very early on Monday morning to drive to Sedona. On the way, we stopped at Montezuma Castle National Monument in Camp Verde. Over 800 years old, MC is one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America. It’s really awe-inspiring.

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We stayed at my family friends’ stunning home on the golf course with ridiculous views of the mountains. (Thank you again, Barb and Bill!) We didn’t want to waste a minute, so we immediately set out to visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross and Tlaquepaque Arts & Crafts Village and hike Cathedral Rock. The Chapel has floor-to-ceiling windows (so I’m not sure who could pay attention during service) and (fun fact!) overlooks the estate owned by the creator of LASIK.

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Tlaquepaque (pronounced tlakeˈpake) is a Southwest-style open shopping center filled with small shops featuring local artisans. Jess and I tried to have our auras read, but the aura-ist(?) wasn’t in on Mondays.

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We wanted to squeeze in a hike, too, so we quickly set off to Cathedral Rock, which Barb recommended. (That link says it’s a mile, but we added on a few more by connecting trails.) We stopped to take so many pics, and each one was more gorgeous than the previous. It was really jaw-dropping in a way that I didn’t expect.

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I can’t recommend any restaurants in Sedona because we decided to take advantage of being in a beautiful home by making dinner and hanging out in the hot tub. WE ALSO FOUND OUT THAT JESS IS PREGNANT!! It was a total shock and Steve and I are SO excited to be aunt and uncle to our little niece. Learning the news in the home of people who I love while visiting a town I fell in love with with people who I love was pretty much perfect.

After an amazing day in Sedona, we drove to the Grand Canyon on Tuesday high on the most amazing views and baby news. The Grand Canyon did not disappoint. We ventured a little past the tourists and enjoyed space where it was a little less crowded — and without safety barriers. Brian and I immediately sprinted to the edge while Jess begged us to stay back, but the views were too crazy to not see up close.

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We spent as much time there as we could, soaking up every view around every turn. We had a 4-hour drive to Vegas in front of us and wanted to at least be able to hit up the slots, so we set off. An accident re-routed us, so we missed the Hoover Dam, but next time!

I had just been to Vegas in February for Natalie’s bachelorette party and enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. I booked a suite at the LINQ, overlooking the High Roller. It ended up a little more tame than expected because of the pregnancy news, but we got to take in some sites and lose plenty of money playing slots.

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General tips/observations

  • Plan to spend more time in Sedona, if you go there! In the end, we wished we’d gone back to Sedona for a night rather than Vegas, but lesson learned.
  • Phoenix was a lot cooler than I anticipated! (Not in terms of temps; there was a 90s+ heat wave when we were there.) There were a lot of cute shops and great food.
  • Plan to hike. There are so many amazing trails. We only got a very, very small sample.
  • Be really, really careful at the Grand Canyon. Steve spent the drive there reading us weird stories about how people died there, and many of them revolved around being startled by something like a chipmunk and stumbling over the edge. Really.
  • Prepare for varying temps. Since it’s mostly desert, the daytime temps can soar and then the evening drops pretty quickly. Tank tops and sweatshirts are your friends.

Would I go back?

I didn’t think I’d be super into Arizona, but I ended up absolutely loving it. We didn’t have anywhere close to enough time in any location, so we’re definitely planning to return. Steve and I want to spend more time in Sedona, see Flagstaff, and hike the Grand Canyon. Have you been to Arizona? Are you as into it as I am now?

Want to read about my travels? Check them out and tell me where I should go next! 

3 Days in Charleston, SC

When Steve and I were debating our winter getaway (which is our Christmas gift to each other), we had some pretty strict criteria, and Charleston hit it all:

  • Direct flight from Baltimore
  • Warmer than Baltimore
  • Good food + lots to do
  • Walkable
  • Somewhere neither of us had been

Many friends had been to Charleston, so we set off with so many recommendations. We spent three awesome days there; here’s where we stayed and what we ate and did:

STAY

Something important to know about Charleston is that everything south of Broad Street is mostly residential. It’s full of gorgeous old homes and amazing waterfront views, but it’s counterintuitive to most cities, where the majority of activity is in the city center.

We normally do Airbnb, but I had a few hotels.com night, so we opted for the Hampton Inn – Historic District. We could easily walk to everything and were right off of King St., the main shopping street in Charleston.

EAT/DRINK

  • Pearlz Oyster Bar (The oysters were good, but Darling’s were better)
  • Darling Oyster Bar (My favorite meal — the scallops)

DO

  • Stroll along Rainbow Row, Waterfront Park (don’t miss the famed pineapple fountain!), through the Battery and White Point Gardens, and admire the gorgeous, massive homes South of Broad.
  • Check out a ghost tour, like the ones through Tour Charleston. It wasn’t scary, but it was a quick way to get to know the city.

  • Find the alleys! Charleston is full of them. Philadelphia Alley was my favorite.

  • Spend some time at church — or at least looking at them. St. Philip’s Church is said to be very haunted, and the Unitarian Church graveyard is where Edgar Allen Poe’s wife, Annabelle Lee, is buried.
  • Make a custom candle at Candlefish, which is a gorgeous shop and has a whole library of scents.
  • Tour historic homes, like the Nathaniel Russell House. Admittedly, Steve wasn’t a fan, but I love seeing how the rich and famous lived years ago.
  • Walk through Charleston City Market and buy soaps from the Old Whaling Company.

  • Take the ferry to Fort Sumpter National Monument.

  • Spend a day at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens. We walked the property for hours, saw SEVEN alligators, then toured the swamp. (It is outside of town; we Ubered.)

A few other places we walked by but didn’t go into include the Old Slave Mart, The Pink House, and the Old Exchange Provost and Dungeon. There’s definitely more to see, eat and do!

I definitely recommend spending at least three days in Charleston — more if you can!

GIVEAWAY: 2 tickets to Baltimore Bar Guild’s + Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s annual Ryes Up

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Coming from a family of random diseases (plus being a bit of a hypochondriac), I know my medical disorders pretty well. That’s why, after hanging out with Katharine a few times when we first became friends, I wasn’t shocked when she told me she has cystic fibrosis.

What did shock me is how much it impacts her daily life. The medications, the drug trials, the hours of breathing treatments every day … (Plus, she’s recently added in exercise to her routine!) Then there’s the mental side: Does it get worse? Is the cure coming?

I’ve tried to raise awareness of and advocate for and donate to CF research. My favorite event, Ryes Up, is next Sunday, March 5. Fifteen (15!!!) of the city’s best bartenders come together and sample rye whiskey-based drinks and paired bites. The best part is Katharine’s speech. Each year, without fail, I cry.

DON’T YOU WANT TO BE THERE?!?

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With the lady of the hour at the 2014 Ryes Up event

You can! Brendan Dorr, the amazing head bartender at B&O (the host venue) and head of the Baltimore Bar Guild (the event sponsor), and Sue Nolan of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Maryland, offered me two tickets to give away for the event. (As Amy says, I love my people.)

How can you win? Just follow the giveaway rules in my social posts and cross your fingers. If you don’t win, I highly suggest buying tickets. The event will sell out and it’s one of the most fun nights for an amazing cause. Eat and drink well and feel good.

2016 in Review: Top 4 books I read

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I did a bad job at reading this year. Each year, I set a goal to read [blank] number of books. I didn’t even set a goal this year. Womp. BUT I did manage to pick up a few, and here are my favorites. (Want to see my favorites from last year? Check ’em out.)

A Little LifeFour friends move to New York broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel painter; Malcolm, a frustrated architect; and withdrawn, brilliant Jude. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, especially with Jude. By midlife, he’s a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.  

A Little Life is HEAVY, both in actual weight and in intensity. It’s not an easy read and it took me some time to get into, but WOW. It’s good. I love coming of age books and this one is no different. You will gasp. You will cringe. You will be shaken and intrigued and in need of a little time to process the story. Don’t expect puppies and butterflies at any point, but expect this one to stick with you.

The Royal WeAmerican Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it’s Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain’s future king. And when Bex can’t resist falling for Nick, she’s propelled into world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.

I am shamelessly obsessed with the British royals, especially Kate Middleton. I never wanted to be a princess, but she makes me reconsider. I cannot imagine the stress and microscope she’s under every day, but this book allows a little glimpse. It’s basically the more gossipy version of Will and Kate and what we imagine might go on behind closed (palace) doors. I read this while in Turks & Caicos; it’s the perfect beach read. (Side note: The authors are the creators of the blog, Go Fug Yourself. That should help you understand the humor.)

The Little Paris Bookshop: Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can’t seem to heal through literature is himself; he’s still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. 

This one is another good beach read (although I actually read it in London).  It’s a cute story of an older man who has held onto his long lost love and he deals with it by “prescribing” books to help others heal. I love the idea and wish I could find a bookseller to do the same. It’s a beautiful love letter to books and those who enjoy them.

Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates writes a letter to his adolescent son and shares the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

This book has been everywhere, named to every list, nominated for every prize — and is so deserving. I, like so many others, have tried to figure out what the hell has happened in the past year (in many ways), and books like BTWAM give a little clarity. I was shocked to read about the pure prejudice and injustice Coates faced growing up and how he managed to overcome so much and go on to teach others.

Honorable mentions:

 

 

2016 in Review: The best (sometimes random) food in Baltimore

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What better time to come back to blogging than to talk about the best (and most interesting) food in Baltimore in 2016?

Best Fries: The skinny fries at CaliBurger remind me of McDonald’s. They so thin and salty and delicious and so addictive.

Best Classic Cocktail: Bee’s Knees at B&O American Brasserie is a light mix of gin, lemon, and honey. Does Brendan ever create something that isn’t amazing?

Best New Restaurant/Bar in Canton: Lee’s Shell and Pint is way nicer than I expected. I was actually able to order a decent bottle of wine!

Best New Restaurant/Bar in Federal Hill: Urban Deli has so many delicious sandwiches AND sells THB bagels! The owner is so nice, too.

Best New Restaurant/Bar in Harbor East: Sweetgreen may be a chain, which I’m generally against, but IT’S SO GOOD.

Best Go-To Restaurant: Wit & Wisdom always makes me happy. I like the drinks, I like the food, I like the view, I like Zach, I like Julie. It’s all good.

Best for Celebrations: Gunther & Co. has so many options! I’ve been there for a company holiday party, a girls’ dinner, several lunches, and my OrderUp goodbye happy hour.

Delicious #charcuterie board at @sobomarket 👌🏼 + $5 house wines during #happyhour!

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Best Competition for Ryleigh’s Orange Crush: Boathouse has a variety of crushes, and the orange crush is pretty close to Ryleigh’s, which is my personal favorite in Baltimore.

Most Exciting OpeningR. House in Remington is another welcome Baltimore food market. Mt. Vernon Marketplace and R. House seem to have spurred unrest in older markets, with Broadway, Cross, and Lexington Markets all in renovation talks.

Best Surprise: Arba opened at R. House! Farid opened another restaurant! I’ve frequented Baba’s for years and always said we couldn’t leave the neighborhood because I’d miss it so much. If we ever end up back in North Baltimore, at least we have Arba.

Best Wine Flight: La Cuchara has a flight of three delicious Tempranillos, my favorite Spanish red. Paired with their delicious pinxtos, you have a hit.

It's a beauty unlike any other.

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Best Baltimore Dessert: Kinderhook Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies are the best thing ever and I miss them dearly. The Kinderhook crew would deliver them fresh to the OrderUp office, while the layers of chocolate were still warm. The most amazing treat.

Most-Liked Baltimore Food Instagram Pic: Fancy coffee at the opening of Order & Chaos had everyone pretty excited.

He ❤️ me.

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Best Way to Eat My Feelings About 2016: Machado’s soft serve ice cream is made of the tears of butterflies or something else magical. It’s apparently just soft serve Hershey’s with sprinkles, but I think there’s some kind of crack in it.

What were your favorites in Baltimore this year?  

3 Days in Amsterdam: Canals, Cuypmarket & Cannabis

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Waaaaaaay back in June, Steve and I spent a week in London, I hopped a train to Paris for two days, and now, months later, I realized I never wrote a recap of our 3-day weekend in Amsterdam. Since it’s been so long, I don’t recall the exact timeline, so I’m just recapping places to stay, things to do, and where to eat — plus, obviously, a little cannabis info. It is Amsterdam, after all.

A quick 2-hour Eurostar ride put us in Brussels (where we had time for a brief layover dinner) and another 2-hour Thalys train had us to Amsterdam Centraal, one of the most architecturally stunning stations I’ve seen.

WHERE TO STAY

Those who had been to Amsterdam recommended two areas: The Jordaan and De Pijp. The former is more residential and centrally located, while the latter is a little farther from most attractions, and we found an awesome Airbnb (on Rombout Hogerbeetsstraat, which I loved saying).

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Everything in the main part of Amsterdam is very walkable, and there’s reliable public transportation and trains. Everyone speaks English, so you can stay in most places and be able to get easy access to the major sights.

WHAT TO DO/SEE

First thing: Get tickets to the Anne Frank House as far in advance as you can! We had one month’s notice and still couldn’t book them.

We skipped biking, Amsterdam’s most famous activity, because our Airbnb hosts told us that if you’re not super confident on a bike, you’re basically just an asshole in the way. No thanks. We’re big walkers and planned to see miles of the city that way.

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If you’re a runner, Amsterdam is amazing. It’s so scenic and there are great parks. One morning, we ran through Westerpark, near where we stayed. Another day, we ventured a little farther to Erasmuspark. Both were beautiful with plenty of room to log a few miles without too many loops.

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We did venture into the Red Light District during the day. (Our hosts advised against it at dark; it’s perfectly safe but full of drunken tourists.) It’s home to Oude Kerk, Amsterdam’s oldest building and parish, which is absolutely stunning — and directly across from women posing half naked in windows. (You can’t take pics. Sorry, kids.) Right by the church is also one of several public urinals in the city. (Really.)

Albert Cuypmarket in De Pijp is an open-air market of over 100 shops spanning several blocks. Wander Albert Cuypstraat and Ferdinand Bolstraat, the main streets, and check out all of the vendors. (There are plenty of places to grab your t-shirts and keychains, too.)

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Bloemenmarkt flower market is basically all of the world’s tulip bulbs in one place. Row after row of beautiful flowers and bulbs line a canal. I considered bringing some home to my mom, who loves tulips, but I worried about getting them through customs.

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We walked by Koninklijk PaleisLeidseplein, and Dam Square and checked out the i.amsterdam sign behind Koninklijk Paleis. (It’s impossible to get a cool pic like you see on websites; it’s crawling with people.)

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Vondelpark was one of our very favorite places. We walked this one rather than run and it was turn after turn of gorgeous greens, beautiful rose gardens, and amazing architecture. Even in the slight mist, it was really a sight to see.

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We bought tickets to the Van Gogh Museum and had about 45 minutes before our entrance time. We popped into the local Albert Heijn and grabbed cheese, bread, olives wine and beer and had an amazing picnic on Museumplein, the gorgeous green space outside of the museum. The museum itself was pretty cool, but not as exciting as we’d thought. (I’d also just seen Starry Night in Paris, where it was on loan to the d’Orsay.

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Hempstory is a cute boutique full of all of the legal hemp products you can take back to the States, like soaps and candles. We stocked up on a few souvenirs for family here.

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We wandered through Haarlemmerbuurt, a cute neighborhood of shops and cafes, most of which line Haarlemmerdijk. As always, though, don’t skip the side streets in Europe. There are so many hidden walkways with amazing  boutiques and restaurants.

There’s also a cool area called The Nine Streets made up of (you guessed it) nine streets of great shopping. It was late on a Sunday when we were there, so most places were closed, but it was fun to do a little window shopping.

WHERE TO EAT

I had to look back at my credit card statement to jog my memory on some names, but here’s the rundown of our culinary adventures in Amsterdam:

Harar Coffee: We quickly learned that many of the small neighborhood cafes in Jordaan only took cash (euros) and we were mostly credit-card based, but the woman at Harar Coffee gave us a free cup when we didn’t realize they didn’t accept cards. We promised to come back the next day to pay, she graciously agreed, and then was closed. Please pay the cute shop a visit if you’re in the city!

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Foodhallen: An awesome indoor food market that also has artisans selling wares on the weekends. I had AMAZING jamon tapas from Jabugo Bar Iberico and a delicious fruit tart from Petit GâteauSteve enjoyed a few beers and the bahn mi from Việt View, which he remembered when I asked him right now — it was that good. If you’re there on the weekend, check to see if Koi d’Azur has a table set up. I bought an amazing stamped initial necklace and actually just ordered another necklace.

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At one point, we needed a break and Steve wanted to catch some of the Euros. We grabbed seats at Regular & Jack and were entertained by both the game and the patrons who were in full Euro gear. Per the norm, Steve has a massive beer and I had a pretty decent red wine for a sports bar.

Cafe Sonneveld was less than impressive. The food was mediocre and the service was really, really slow. We left after a little and wandered into The Huyschkaemer, another canalside cafe, I don’t recall what we had, but this location is fantastic and the restaurant is really cute and cozy.

We had a great flight of beers at Brouwerij De Prael, one of Amsterdam’s breweries. (I can’t drink beer, but did sample these. There was a slightly floral one that was so good.) There’s a great shop downstairs where you can sample and buy things like beer liqueurs.
La Perla pizza sits on two sides of Tweede Tuindwarsstraat, a street full of restaurants and bars in the Jordaan. I don’t remember Steve’s pizza, but I know that I had the Prosciutto san Daniele because I always order the prosciutto.

I picked up a delicious 80% dark chocolate bar at Vanroselen Fine Chocolate (which smelled better than you can imagine) and found the best stroopwaffel place in Amsterdam, Lanskroon. While most are smaller in size, Lanskroon’s stoops are HUGE and so amazing slightly warmed.

We had one of our favorite meals at Morgan & Mees, a hotel close to our rental that also has a restaurant. There’s a stunning courtyard at the entrance where sipped drinks and watched people go by while the sun set over the canal.

And remember, Albert Heijn is an awesome grocer with many stores throughout the city. As mentioned above, it’s great for grabbing picnic essentials and other items you need, food or otherwise.

CANNABIS CENTRAAL

Yep, it’s very legal in Amsterdam. Basically, coffee shops (not cafes) are where you go to buy weed. There are more than 200 in the city and you’ll know if you’re at one by the green and white license sticker in the window. Everyone is super knowledgable and cool about it. There’s even Cannabis College, where you can vape, have THC tested, take classes, and more.

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General tips/observations

  • Everyone is really tall and really blonde. Sometimes it felt like Steve was on the short side — and he’s 6’3″.
  • An ideal way to figure out where you’re going is to count canals … but it’s very easy to lose count, as well.
  • Most bathrooms in places like Burger Kings (hey, when you gotta go) are pay to use. It’s just some pocket change — but have some on hand.
  • Amsterdam is pretty compact and easy to hit a lot of main areas in a weekend. More time is needed to get to neighborhoods on the outskirts and the ‘burbs.

Would I go back?

Absolutely. I feel like we only scratched the surface on Amsterdam. I love cities on water, and Amsterdam is so water-centric. I still want to go to the Noord area, go on a boat, run through more of Vondelpark, and venture outside of the city to see the windmills and tulips.