It’s been just over a week since I’ve posted and a lot has happened since then. The main thing is that after weeks of talking about it, I am finally in Amsterdam! That’s right, I actually made it to the home of clogs, windmills, legalised prostitution and cheese! I have been here five days now, and I am loving every minute of it. While I’m still very much in tourist mode, I thought why not give you all a taste of what I have been doing for the last few days, so here is Day 1 and Day 2 (Friday & Saturday) of Amsterdam!
It was a 3am start for my mum and I on Friday morning. After about 4 hours of sleep for me, and way less for Mum, we jumped in the car at 3.30am and drove the hour to the airport. I had one large red suitcase (above) to check-in filled with 23kg of my life, and a small black carry-on! This is the 3rd time in less than two years that I’ve packed up my life for a different country, so I was pretty proud of my packing skills this time around. The kind lady at the AerLingus desk offered to check in our carry-on luggage too which meant we were free to browse in duty free or grab a coffee sans luggage. However, we ended up doing neither as we were both exhausted and we boarded the plane within 15 minutes of going through security.
We landed at Schiphol at about 9.20am local time. The flight only took about 1 hour and 40 minutes. This is one of the reasons why my countries of interest are in Europe – everywhere is just so accessible! The original plan was to get a train to Amsterdam Centraal and then a taxi over to our hotel. However, sometimes plans don’t work out, and this was one of those times. Some thugs had stolen massive amounts of copper wires near Amsterdam Lelyllaan and this had completely disrupted all rail transport for the day so we were advised to take the bus. I try to avoid buses if at all possible, so the little princess here convinced Mum that we should just get a taxi all the way to our hotel!
Our hotel was perfectly located just around the corner from the Museumplein, the Museum Quarter of Amsterdam. It was boutique hotel with only 18 bedrooms converted from an typical old Dutch townhouse. I had already warned Mum that buildings in Amsterdam were generally tall and very narrow as they were taxed on width but not height. I had regaled her with tales of struggling up and down steep narrow staircases, and visiting friends in their tiny tiny rooms, so I can only imagine what she was expecting. We arrived at the hotel around 10.30am. As check-in wasn’t until after 2pm, we left our luggage, grabbed a map and set off to explore. We set off towards the centre (centrum), knowing that we needed to find the Prinsengracht. In our tired state, we kept backtracking on ourselves and got more and more lost. To the untrained (and exhausted) eye, Amsterdam is actually a maze. Many of the streets and canals may look the same. You may think you’re walking south only to discover moments later that you’ve ended up in the east of the city because of the way the canals are shaped in a ring. After about an hour of walking, we finally reached our destination.
Our first stop was the Anne Frank House. This was my second time visiting (the first time was last December!). Mum was extremely disappointed that I went without her though as she had always wanted to experience it with me. I have been an avid fan and reader of Anne Frank’s Diary since I was 8 years old, so I was more than thrilled to have her with me for this trip. Only a mother can put up with, and love, your incessant chatter and obsession on a topic that many Irish people couldn’t be ‘arsed’ with!
I had cleverly purchased tickets for a tour of the house so we got to skip the queue, which went all around the corner of the Westerkerk (the church that Anne referred to many times in her diary and only contact with the outside world!). We were early so we grabbed a coffee and a sandwich and sat outside watching the world go by. The gentleman in the shop asked us if we were queuing, and when we told him that we had tickets, he said that it was one of the busiest days he had ever seen and the queue was moving exceptionally slow today! When I visited last December, I waited about one hour to get inside and the queue wasn’t crazily long, so I can only imagine the time that many tourists had to wait last Friday!
At 12noon we skipped the line of eager tourists and entered the museum through the VIP entrance. That’s what it was called. Unlike my first visit, this time our little group of VIPs were brought into a room and were given an hour long talk about the history of World War II and Anne Frank’s story. While I knew the majority of it, it was well worth it, especially for Mum who had never read the book before. It also put everything into perspective as there was a timeline on the wall portraying events that took place in the Secret Annexe while major historical events were occurring outside. As photography is not allowed in the museum, we couldn’t talk any pictures, but Mum took the above photo from our canal tour one day. The building on the right with the purple black out curtains is the building that Otto Frank’s business was housed. At the back of that building, was where the Frank family were hiding for just over 2 years.
Two hours later, we emerged from the museum, absolutely ravenous and went to find somewhere to eat. In true Dutch fashion, we sat ourselves by a canal where we had a lovely lunch and coffee. The soup of the day was mustard!!! So naturally, Mum had to order it, and it was, in fact, mustard soup. Strange, but it worked!! After lunch we strolled down Kalverstraat which is the main shopping street in Amsterdam. It has EVERYTHING you could ever want on it. And the thing we wanted most were comfortable shoes. We hadn’t envisioned that we would be walking so much (silly really), so we popped into Sketchers where Mum get herself a snazzy pair of Go-Walks and I got Bobs, which are like Toms, but aren’t 😛 Needless to say, they were by far the best thing that we had purchased in ages and we wore them every day!!!
After a quick visit to Dam Square, the lack of sleep was beginning to take it’s toll on us so we headed back to our hotel to officially check-in. The plan was to relax for a while, freshen up and then head out to a restaurant for dinner. After marvelling at the quirkiness of our hotel room (just look at that wallpaper!!), Mum ended up falling asleep about 6.30pm, and I forced myself to stay awake until 8.30pm before succumbing to my exhaustion. Day one in Amsterdam was over, and we were wrecked from it!
Day Two started bright and early. After all, we got about 11 hours sleep! We strolled over to the Museumplein, where there were lots of artists painting around the water. I don’t know much about art, but I absolutely love the thought of it and the creative process. This area was so rich with creativity, art and culture that you couldn’t help but feel enriched by it all, even if you don’t understand it!
We joined the other tourists in getting pictures with the IAmsterdam sign. If anyone knows the story behind this sign, please let me know. From what I understand it’s some sort of slogan, but I still don’t really get it!! So I took a picture of it backwards, just because! There are pictures of me with the sign, but these are on my Mum’s camera.
Just like Day One, we walked the 30 minutes into town, getting sidetracked a couple of times. We walked through the Bloemenmarkt where flowers are sold daily, and came across a Christmas Shop! There were fairy lights and Christmas decorations everywhere; it was magical, but unfortunately there were signs up everywhere warning tourists not to take pictures 😦 I wanted to show Mum the Red Light District, but we kept getting distracted with little side streets that looked prettier than the ones we were supposed to be going down, and we ended up in China Town!
We had made plans to meet my friend for lunch, who had recently moved to Amsterdam to study for a Masters. We ate in a cute cafe that was literally on the water! In the middle of our meal, two boats full of people came towards us and they were all singing. One man was holding up a sign with the number 60 emblazoned across it. Turns out, the gentleman behind us was celebrating his 60th birthday that day and they were surprising him, so he just got up off his seat and hopped onto the boat, just like that!! Such a fantastic idea – if only we had canals and restaurants like that in Ireland!!
After lunch, Mum and I did some more strolling! I swear I have never walked so much in my entire life. One would assume that we would have just rented a couple of bikes, but walking was just easier, plus it was a nice way to truly explore and get to know the city without worrying if the bike was going to be stolen or not!! We chose to do a canal tour to show us more of the city. It was great. It allowed us to ogle at all the beautiful buildings without feeling like we were in the way of pedestrian and bike traffic! My favourite thing about the canal tour was seeing all the houseboats, and many of their residents sitting outside having coffee with friends waving to us! I would love to live on a houseboat – not forever, but I could do it for a year no problem. It seems like such a minimalistic way of living; so relaxing and carefree – except it’s possibly one of the most expensive ways to live in Amsterdam believe it or not!
After the canal cruise, we headed to Rembrantplein to try out an Indonesian Restaurant that we saw earlier. However, it was fully booked until 8.30pm, over 2 hours away, and we were starving. On the other side of the square was a place called Van Rijn (which we later found out was owned by friends of a family friend!). It was a really trendy place. The staff were friendly and efficient (which is so unlike Dutch customer service normally!), and there was a saxophone player to add to the chilled atmosphere and vine. The food was a little on the expensive side but exquisite. Our amuse bouche was watermelon, sesame seeds and wasabi – delicious. And my favourite part of the meal came with my starter (tomato and mozzarella salad) – frozen cucumber infused with vodka!! It was mouthwatering – in the literal and sensual sense! We then rolled home (getting half-lost on the way… again!) and went to bed, ready for day three, where we left Amsterdam and headed to Utrecht for the day.