This trip was Alex’s something-th birthday present. When he saw his friend in Amsterdam, he thought it just a coincidence! He didn’t think at first that I could be behind it I only told Alex we were visiting Amsterdam several days before we left. Thursday after work we made our way to the airport, but didn’t arrive at our destination until late that evening. We followed excellent directions given to us by friends and made our way to their place on Beethovenstraat.
The next day we used the convenient tram service to make our way into town in the grey, miserable weather. We had the cheesy photo in front of the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign, as most tourists do! We visited the famous Rijksmuseum, The Museum of The Netherlands, which had recently reopened after being closed for 10 years for renovations – that was five years over schedule! It has been a working museum for over 125 years, showcasing many works of the Dutch Golden Age; Rembrandt, Jan Steen and Frans Hals plus works from over the world. I was very impressed by the huge (over 5m by 8m) Waterloo painting by Jan Willem Pieneman, 1824, that shows various scenes of the battle all portrayed at once. We also saw The Night Watch (Rembrandt), some very elaborate dolls houses and various other amazing things. We had a decidedly excellent coffee in the museum!
After this I had to stall Alex before we were due to meet our friend at the Heineken Brewery tour. We had a small lunch in a nice bar with a local beer, before surprising Alex with the arrival of his friend Sam. The Heineken tour was interesting and very interactive, with a variety of activities to do, however it was (as you would expect) very commercial. It was like being stuck inside a giant advertisement! We drank our ‘free’ Heineken at the end, then went to pick up our gear and go check into the hostel.
We met Alex’s cousin Barry (another surprise!) at the hostel which is located at the edge of Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s equivalent to Central Park in New York. We all went out for some dinner and drinks. The area we were in was pretty touristy, the food okay and the prices ridiculous. We went to a steakhouse and had… well, steak. Afterwards we found a local pub that had a live band and enjoyed that for the evening. Then Lydia (ANOTHER surprise!) turned up and the night continued.
The next day we got up super early to go to Anne Frank House before the lines got too long. Unfortunately we were too late, by the time we got there the line was already going around the corner, and we would have had to wait hours! We decided to give it a miss, and we had a second breakfast of Dutch pancakes and coffee before going to the Van Gogh museum instead. While not as big as the Rijksmuseum, it was full of impressive works from Van Gogh and information about his life, his inspirations, his tools and techniques. It is probably one of my favourite museums!
For lunch we went to a restaurant that served Dutch food – we all had a different kind of Hotchpot (or Hutspot, as the Dutch call it). A dish made with mashed potato, carrot and onion served with meat; we could choose from meatballs, sausages or stew. Dutch cuisine is generally quite simple and rustic, with bread, meat and potatoes, and lot of vegetables. And you can’t forget the dairy, they are famous for some amazing cheeses! Unfortunately we didn’t try much cheese on this trip. A reason to return!
After this we bought tickets for a boat ride through the canals. The sun came out and it was a beautiful trip from the centre of town out to the port. The canals in Amsterdam are everywhere, like a spiderweb around the city. They were initially built to drain the swampland and allow for farming. They also provided a means of transport from the sea; the narrow houses along the canal all tilt forward slightly with a hook at the top to pull furniture and goods up and in through the windows. Many people also live in houseboats. The canal district is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and they are stunning to walk along on a nice day.
After taking a walk along the water, we stopped in a cosy pub and had some Bailey’s hot chocolate to warm ourselves up. Then we walked down to the Red Light district for some sight seeing and had an awful dinner in a cheap Italian place that tried to pass frozen vegetables in chicken stock off as Minestrone soup. Afterwards we attempted karaoke at a bar around the corner, but it was so full of drunk tourists that we didn’t even get a chance to shine!
The next morning Lydia and I got up extra early to get to Anne Frank House on time, and this time we succeeded! We were about the tenth people in line – the trick is to get there about 8.30am for an opening time of 9.00am. It only hailed on us once while we were waiting in line! The museum is excellent, an educational and emotional journey through the Annex where the Frank family hid for two years during World War Two. You can see her journal, and videos of her father and friends speaking. I would highly recommend a trip here.
After our tour, we walked through the canals to find a place called Winkle that supposedly has the best apple pie ever! It was pretty good, I’m not sure about the best ever…
Sunday was our last day in Amsterdam, so we spent the afternoon walking through a park and strolling around the streets. We had one last serving of delicious double fried frites that were rather enamoured with, then headed back to the airport. Amsterdam, what a gorgeous city!!