Bookish Travels: Amsterdam 2018

I’ve been holding off on posting this because of all the turmoil that’s happening in the world. To read my thoughts on what’s going on, please click here. However, at the end of the day, this blog is about love. I think we could all use a bit more love in our lives. I hope that by reading this you will be able to feel the little bit of love I’m sending your way.


We’re getting close to summer vacation.  Normally, I’d be getting super psyched, but this year… well… this year, not so much.  So I thought I’d revisit one of my favorite summer vacations.  A trip that included a short – one day – layover in Amsterdam.

Now I’ve never been one to be excited for Amsterdam.  This particular city, in my mind, has always been less interesting than other European capitals.  It’s no Paris or London.  In my mind, there was no iconic building, statue, or museum that would make Amsterdam a must-visit place for me.  How can the Rijksmuseum compete with the Louvre?  How can the Basilica of Saint Nicholas (which I had never heard of until I googled it just now) compare to the Sistine Chapel?  And the Red Light District has never held any real interest for me at all.  

That is until I read the Young Adult book series, Just One Day by Gayle Forman.

To be fair, this wasn’t the first book I read that had Amsterdam as a setting, but it was the first that made me inspired to visit.  Amsterdam is one of the settings in these books because one of the main characters is a city native, but the city itself plays a large role in the conclusion of both characters’ stories. It’s where they hope to find answers.

This series is composed of two novels, Just One Day and Just One Year followed up by the short story Just One Night.  All of the experiences the characters have and all of the things they talk about in the book helped make my experience in Amsterdam a wonderful one!

Just One Day is the story of Allyson – a newly minted high school graduate who, on her after her tour of Europe, travels with a virtual stranger (Willem) to visit Paris (the one city that she missed on her tour that she was desperate to see.)  Willem and Allyson (whom Willem calls Lulu – he never gets her real name) spend one whole day together in the City of Lights, but when Allyson wakes up in the morning, Willem is gone.  The rest of the book follows her in her first year at her Ivy League school as she struggles to find herself and come to terms with what happened with Willem.  She gets the idea to return to Paris and uncover what really happened that day. 

Just One Year is the story of Willem’s year after the one day in Paris with Lulu.  He’s desperate to find her, but without knowing her real name, he only has a few bread crumbs to follow.  Dealing with painful memories from his past, he finally concludes his global travels and returns to his native Netherlands (both in Utrecht and Amsterdam).  After making several attempts to find his Lulu – including a Christmas and New Year’s trip to Mexico – he loses all hope that he will see her again. He, too, struggles with who he is, what he wants his future to be, and how he can deal with what happened that one day in Paris.

Just One Night is the short story conclusion to their year apart.  

All of these books tell a story of love, loss, friendship, finding oneself, accepting oneself and following your dreams (even if everyone else tells you they are silly).  I really love them and while they are amazing reads on their own merit, I appreciated that they gave my Amsterdam trip more meaning and joy.  

The first thing I just had to try in Amsterdam was hagelslag!  This is mentioned in the first chapter of Just One Day.  Allyson and Willem bond when he offers her some of his breakfast – hagelslag, a traditional Netherlands treat – which is described as sprinkles (like the ones you put on ice cream) on buttered toast.  I’m not sure if you could even find this in a restaurant and sadly, I didn’t have much of a chance to try as we were only in Amsterdam for one day (sounds like Allyson and Willem except not in Paris – a lot can happen in one day).  I didn’t even really remember this part of the book until I went to the grocery store.  This is something you should know about me – I LOVE to visit grocery stores in other countries. I love looking at all the local delicacies and usually end up trying many foreign treats.  Browsing the aisles in the Amsterdam grocery store, I happened upon the hagelslag (the sprinkles) and the book came rushing back to me.  I HAD to pick some up!

I bought a mix pack to bring home with me. Now, traditionally, hagelslag is a piece of buttered toasted with the hagelslag sprinkles on top, but Mr. Librarian made me a variation: hagelslag pancakes. I’ve tried the dark chocolate, milk chocolate, and caramel(? – still not sure exactly what flavor they were supposed to be) kinds and my favorite was the mystery caramel-y ones.  Yum!!

Hagelslag pancakes!

For those who are curious, here is a small sampling of the other delicacies we saw and – some of which – tried around Amsterdam (My personal favorite is the “cheese for men.” I found that hilarious!)

Back to the books (and away from my drool thinking about those treats):

Willem is a native Amsterdammer and in Just One Year, you discover that he grew up on a houseboat.  This made all the houseboats immediately interesting to me.  The canals of Amsterdam were so beautiful that I could have just wandered the city all day and never have gotten bored.  In the end of both novels, Willem hosts a party at the apartment where he is living and the directions that are given to Allyson is that it is on the street “that is named for a belt.”  Well,  I needed to find this street. I didn’t get the find the actual location of Willem’s apartment, you can bet it’s already on the agenda when I get to return.

Check out this houseboat. Next time, I want to stay in one!

Having only one day in Amsterdam, there were definitely things I wanted to do but didn’t have a chance and things that I did that were not literary related.  I didn’t get a chance to see the tulip gardens like Allyson and Wren, but I did get to see the Van Gogh museum which I highly recommend.  I didn’t get a chance to see Shakespeare in the Vondelpark, but I did get to have coffee at one of the lovely outdoor cafes lining the canals.  

I’m definitely going to have to go back.  For now, I can eat some hagelslag and remember my one day in Amsterdam.

Just One Day, published 2013

Just One Year, published 2013

Just One Night, published 2014 

For extra awesomeness, check out:

This article from Serious Eats, all about hagelslag!  Super interesting.  My brand of hagelslag? De Ruijter.

3 thoughts on “Bookish Travels: Amsterdam 2018

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