AMSTERDAM, The NETHERLANDS: Amsterdam is the capital of The Netherlands, which is a cozy city that has many great things to offer. Like many other European cities, Amsterdam has tragic history of holocaust. Not to mention the little girl who was hiding with her family during World War II and kept a dairy of her time in the annex until she was captured and taken to the concentration camp. Yes, I am talking about Anne Frank. And don’t miss this chance to go her secret annex while you are in her city.
On the other side, Amsterdam is a party city. Prostitution is legal here and if you are up for some “happy moments” you can grab some drugs from the street side coffee shops. Yep, its legal there to sell sedative drugs in shops. You just have to be 18 to get into these places 🙂
One thing to remember in Amsterdam if you are driving is that parking is a huge problem here. There are some parking structures near the city center, but I’ve heard they are a big expensive. The city is overly crowded with the locals and the tourists. Keep all your belongings safely and WATCH OUT FOR BICYCLES. They will just run you over if you are not walking carefully. Last but not least, beware of dog poops in Amsterdam…they are EVERYWHERE. So, look before you step. When you go to a new country these are all fun experiences. We definitely enjoyed every moment of our time while we were there.
TIME of TRAVEL: First time we came to Amsterdam was when we were flying from Portland, Oregon, USA to Stuttgart, Germany. We had a stop over in Amsterdam Airport Schipol for few hours. We had only 5 hours to explore the city before our next flight to Germany. It was 1st week of April and the weather was simply marvelous. Second time we went there was in 1st week of September, 2011, on a Saturday. The weather was awesome, not too hot and luckily no rain. Another time we were in Amsterdam was when we took our Baltic Sea Cruise by Carnival Legend in August of 2013. We only visited Van Gogh Museum the day we docked in this city. Last time we went to Amsterdam was before we left Europe for good, in June of 2014. My husband’s aunt was here from Virginia and we spent a weekend there to enjoy all the Dutch environment we could for one last time. Weather was nice, around mid 60s during day and a bit on the cold side after evening.
EATING and SHOPPING: Few times we were in Amsterdam, we had mostly fast food or street food, like hotdogs, Subway, and Burger King. We were told by few people that Amsterdam is well-known for Indonesian restaurants. So when we visited Amsterdam for the last time before leaving Europe, we had to try some Indonesian food. There are plenty of them in the center, and all around. We sat down in “Srikandi” near Rijksmuseum. This is a small but very homely restaurant. They have a wide range of options but no pork or ham. It’s a bit pricey, dishes start from 20 euros, but very tasty food with rich flavors. We had fried rice, yellow rice, spicy beef, whole fish, and a mix meat platter…every single dish was unbelievably good. For dessert, we had Javanese cinnamon cake, coconut slices in syrup, and some exotic fruits with ice-cream.
For shopping, Damrak or the small streets near Dam Square and in city center are very good. When you are in The Netherlands, you gotta buy wooden shoes, ceramic windmills, or wooden tulips. You can also find blue and white Delft potteries in most of the stores along with generic t-shirts, mugs, magnets, post-cards, key-rings, and etc.
PLACES WE’VE VISITED:We were lucky enough to get many chances of visiting Amsterdam from time to time. Different times we visited different sections of this town. Most of the attractions are in or around Dam Square. Museumplein is the best place to hangout for all the museum-lovers. Walking in Amsterdam can be a bit hard because of overly crowded tourists, locals, and bi-cycles, but this the best way to enjoy its true beauty. For me, canals of Amsterdam are the most unique and I prefer walking over anything to get the most of it. There are trams, rickshaws, and other public transportation available if it’s too much for you.
1. Dam Square: Also known as the Dam. It is a nice and big gathering place for the locals and tourists. The National Monument stands right in the middle of the square facing the Royal Palace. There are lots of restaurants, cafes and souvenir stores. St. Nicolaaskerk church is also situated in the Dam, which was built somewhere around 1880.Dam Square is also a nice place for shopping. There are some small alleys that you can take from the left or right of Royal Palace. These are long stretch of pedestrian streets where tons of designer stores and local shops stand on the both sides. Last time when we were in Amsterdam it was during FIFA 2014 and the whole street was adorned with footballs/soccer balls and Dutch national colors, orange.
If you have some extra time you can visit Madame Tussaud Museum. The ticket is about 21 euros for adults, which we thought was a bit expensive and therefore, didn’t go there. You will also find McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway in the Dam. For shopping you will find H&M and many other local brands.
2. DAMRAK and CENTRAL STATION: Damrak is main street that connects Dam Square and Amsterdam Central Station. Damrak is the place to for souvenirs hunters, but shops are a bit pricey on this street. You can find plenty of cafes, snack-bars, restaurants here as well. Sex Museum, Medieval Torture Museum are also located on this crowded street. The walk between Dam Square and Central station is less than 10 minutes. Central Station is where we came to first time we reached Schiphol Airport in The Netherlands. This is an imposing building inside and out. Trains for all the big cities, like Paris, Brussels come here everyday.
3. Red Light District: This is a must in Amsterdam. Its only 5 minutes walk from the Dam square. It’s free to take a stroll. It’s not a rated “R” place. You can go there with little kids, like we did. Just be ready to answer any questions they may ask from their curious little minds. You will not see any nude bodies for sure. The place starts to come alive after dark (obviously). You can spend half an hour or may be more here, and do stop at the stores to buy some sexy goodies for yourself or your partner. And remember, NO PHOTOGRAPHS in the Red Light Zone, otherwise they will just take away your camera and you will neverrr gettt ittt backkk.
4. ANNE FRANK’S HOUSE: This is another have-to-see place here, especially for those who read her diary or just into history. I started reading the book when I was in college but never finished it, which I did after visiting her house. This is the famous secret annex where Anne and her family along with few other people were hidden during from the Nazi army during WWII. Front of this building was where her father, Otto Frank’s office/company. Hitler’s army eventually found them only few months before the war ended and were taken to the concentration camps where all were killed except for Otto Frank.
The house is a full of memories and personal items from Anne Frank and others who lived here quietly for couple years. I felt tears in my eyes looking at her handwriting on the wall, their tiny rooms, small furniture, kitchen utensils, and many other belongings. You can feel the fear, hope, anger as you walk from room to room and explore each corner.
The line to go to Anne Frank is very long, I mean it’s huge. We stood nearly an hour just to get to the ticket office. The original office building where they hid is by a canal about few minutes of walk from Dam Square. This is an old house and have to be very careful climbing the narrow and steep stairs while going up or down. It’s not stroller friendly but we parked it near the ticket office. Allow about an hour to
5. VAN GOGH MUSEUM: This is a must see when in Amsterdam, even if you are not into arts and paintings. It has the largest collections of world-famous Dutch artist Van Gogh’s many early works and iconic well-known paintings which he painted before his death. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see his famous “Starry Night” here (it’s in a museum in New York), but some of his other famous works, such as “Almond Blossom”, “The Potato Eaters”, “Sunflowers”, and many others are hanging in this museum walls of Amsterdam.
To give you a little bio on this famous artist of all time, Van Gogh was born in 1853 and was only active as an artist for 10 years, from 1880 until his death in 1890. In those 10 years he produced about 800 paintings and more than 1000 drawings, as well as large number of watercolors, lithographs, and sketches in hundreds of letters that he wrote to his brother, Theo. He was a self-taught painter with few art lessons from Brussels and Antwerp in Belgium. His dramatic life story, unhappy romances, apparent lack of recognition, illness, and finally his attempt of suicide are some of the events that were great deal of interests after his death, as well as his exceptional use of colors and characteristic brushwork.
It’s a very organized museum with information written both in Dutch and English. It’s a wonderful place to get to know Van Gogh up close and personal. His depressed life, incomplete education, what inspired him, love and relationships, and finally why he was dead at such an early age…all are portrayed here in a very nice sequential way.
The museum is located in Museumplein near the city center of Amsterdam where you will find many other different types of museums. Our taxi charged 20 euros for one way from Amsterdam cruise port to the museum. It’s open daily from 9 am – 6 pm. Be ready to stand in the ticket line for a LONG time. We were standing there about half and fifteen minutes, even those who bought tickets online were moving like sloths. Ticket is 15 euros per adult and kids visiting below 17 years are free.
5. RIJKSMUSEUM: On our last visit to Amsterdam, we had only two agendas – one was to visit Rijksmuseum and another was to take a boat ride in the canals. Rijksmuseum is considered as one of the top ten museums in the world. The building itself of this museum is very artistic from outside. There are total four immensely big floors to explore in Rijksmuseum and each floor has two wings to cover.
The museum has unique collections of some of the extraordinary masterpieces of famous Dutch painters like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Vermeer, and many other medieval and contemporary artists. Arts and artifacts here are from 1100s up to 2000s. Delft collections and other ceramics/potteries left me in awe for more. There is also a small portion of Waterloo, ship models, dolls’ houses, art nouveau, arms, jewelries are just some of the sections you have to visit in Rijksmuseum.
Rijksmuseum is located near Museumplein and the “Amsterdam” sign. Ticket is 15 euros per adult and free for anyone below 19 years of age. Guided tour is available for 5 euros only which takes about an hour. We toured the museum by ourselves and it took about three hours…may take more for others if you take time to go thru everything. There are some cafes/restaurants inside the museums as well as a big gift shop. Despite having hundreds and thousands of visitors each day, the staffs of Rijksmuseum is extremely helpful and friendly.
6. AMSTERDAM by BOAT: I couldn’t leave Europe without taking a boat ride in the canals of Amsterdam at least once. Opposite of Rijksmuseum, there were few boat companies who offer different options for canal tours. The one we took was “Lovers”. It was a 45-minutes ride which starts in front of the museum and took us to the big canal near Central Station. We were dropped off very close to the main train station. The boat runs thru historic buildings and landmarks like Anne Frank’s House and famous churches and cathedrals. You also have the option of getting off at any particular spot and get on the boat again when you are done.
Our one-way ticket was 10 euros per person. Round trips are also available for 14 euros which is for 1 1/2 hours ride.