November 5th, 2010


Shopping in Amsterdam

Previous posts: Amsterdam houseboat rental, vegetarian food in Amsterdam, and the cat museum
Overland travel to Amsterdam
Amsterdam trams, the Van Gogh museum for kids and the Vondelpark

Kids' shopping in Amsterdam

Mondays seem to be a kind of day of rest in the Netherlands - at least, that is when their museums and attractions tend to close. Very sensible too - after all, you're far more likely to want to go to a museum on a Sunday than a Monday, aren't you.

Mondays are also the day of the Noordermarkt, variously described by our guide books as a flea market and an antiques market. This timing makes slightly less sense to me: who can take the day off work to attend a flea market? - but nonetheless it was very crowded.

Noordermarkt was going to have to work hard to beat our own Brighton Sunday market - but then, Noordermarkt had the novelty factor, and coupled with our frivolous holiday approach towards expenditure, the odds were in its favour.

After a misturn down the much more boring Westerstraat Markt (think nylon nighties and brashly-patterned towels of the kind that seem to populate every European market), we enjoyed a browse of some quirky stalls. Unfortunately, the exchange rate did not encourage wild impulse buys.

Not that that stopped us.

Near the end of the market, we came across a couple of stalls selling goods made from what was described as "vintage Scandinavian fabric" (Marimekko, perhaps? Not sure; assessments are welcome), and I went slightly bonkers. I bought:

- An army bag with a panel of fabric sewn onto its flap
- An iPod cover
- a hairband for Item
- a cute little toy which Item named, incomprehensibly, 'Apple Store' - don't ask me why.


[Side note: I didn't take any pictures of the sellers' beautiful stall, but no matter, because at work the other day, I idly noticed the label on my iPod case and Googled the name, Katrina Kaye. This led me to a great interview - with some beautiful photos - detailing how this couple gave up their day job to run their business on Etsy and in Amsterdam's markets. I can't pretend it didn't strike a few envious chords in me. Their Etsy shop appears to be expired, mind you, so it's clearly a bit out of date.]

The next stall along had girls' dresses made in an equally lovely selection of gorgeous fabrics, so we splashed out there, too.


Well, all this shopping hit the tone for the rest of the day. From Noordermarkt, we wandered down Haarlemmerstraat. We were on the lookout for Papabubble, a shop where you can watch sweets being made. Unfortunately the Monday rule applied here - shop was open for sales, but no live demos - but we did discover that the street was full of interesting boutiques, including a letterpress stationers, several shoe and clothes shops, and the kind of quirky interior design shop we always seem to go nuts for.

We ate here as well: we found a vegetarian salad bar offering falafel and a counter of what looked like 50 or more salads, including aubergine, artichoke hearts, olives, several varieties of hoummous - all my favourite things, served up with a massive wedge of flat bread.

We took a break from the shopping at 1pm when - da da da - the Cat Boat opened up for visitors. About which, more later, as my lunch hour has just come to an end.

Amsterdam: the Cat Boat and Hema

Previous posts: Amsterdam houseboat rental, vegetarian food in Amsterdam, and the cat museum
Overland travel to Amsterdam
Amsterdam trams, the Van Gogh museum for kids and the Vondelpark
Amsterdam flea market

Cat Boat


Handily close to the market was another feline attraction: the cat boat (or Poezenboot). This is a cat-rescue centre that happens to be housed on a barge: it opens for visitors for a couple of hours on set days.

Item loved going in and stroking all the cats. To be honest, I'm not sure the cats enjoyed her company quite as much, but we tried to limit her boisterousness. To counteract any additional stress she may have caused the poor moggies, we made a donation on our way out, and also purchased a couple of postcards for Item's scrapbook.

Shopping again

Lastly, we made a visit to Hema*: not exactly a tourist attraction, this shop had been described to us as a cross between Woolworth and Ikea, which was fairly accurate. Fortunately, it has Ikea's design style and Woolworth's (ex) range of goods, rather than the other way around. It was a lot of fun to go round and pick out really quite cheap things like wooden toy food, plasters with animals pictures on them, a cat-themed duvet cover and some clothes for Item and me (we vowed that if we return, we won't pack so many clothes for any of us so that we could buy nice ones here).

Think lycra basics in bright colours, luggage, kitchenware, stationary, toys... and even bikes, which we regretfully recognised might not be the most sensible purchase when we had so much luggage to take home.

Actually, it was the visit to Hema that gave Item the idea of our writing this guide: "We should tell other families what a good shop this is". As the breadwinner and chief scrooge in our family, my impulse is that we should also tell other parents how much it's easy to fritter away on all those nice little bits and pieces. We were reasonably restrained... I mean, I could have bought a lurid purple and orange floral suitcase rather than just the matching luggage tag. If the Euro had been weaker, let's just say it could have been an altogether more heady experience, and we would have had even more swear-inducing bags to carry home at the end of our holiday.

I'll tell you something else about that wooden play food: Item played with it for at least an hour a day for the remainder of our holiday. It's remarkable how much value you get out of a toy when there's nothing else around.

*It's that shop with the clever website that did the rounds a couple of years back... you know, where the cup falls over and nudges all sorts of other things into happening - worth a look if you haven't seen it, and the only example of an animated splash page that I wholly approve of.