I’m ashamed. I’ve been back for nearly 6 months now and haven’t completed my “destination” posts from our Europe trip this past summer. I swear I won’t take so long in the future. Anyway, here goes. First up – Amsterdam. I’ve wanted to go to Amsterdam since whatever age I read The Diary of Anne Frank (probably 3rd or 4th grade I imagine). On our way from Raleigh to Venice, we had to have at least one or two layovers. Most of the cheapest flights connected twice – once in the US and then once in Europe. I noticed several going through Amsterdam, so I chose a flight that gave us about 11 hours in Amsterdam.
Images: Canal, the Westerkerk, Pancake Bakery, a neighborhood near the van Gogh museum.
The airport: The Amsterdam airport is definitely set up for international travelers. There are shower facilities in two of the KLM lounges. (Source: Skyteam.) I did a bit of research about these, and it sounds as though the deal is that anyone flying KLM can use them for free. The only problem is that those on a red eye may run into crowds. The airport hotel, HMSHost, also has shower facilities if you just want to freshen up without getting a room. I believe the cost was €12. We ended up not feeling like we needed a shower badly enough to take the time to do it, so I can’t tell you what the facilities are like. We did, however, use the luggage lockers. The lockers are located on the lower level between the major arrival halls. They have a bunch of different sizes. Try to avoid eating or drinking in the airport. Although they have a nice little grocery store, everything else is pretty lame. I was horrified that I could find exactly two brands of beer in the airport – Heineken and… Grolsch, I think was the other one. Heineken was everywhere.
Taking the train into town: This was easy but slightly more difficult than I’d expected. The trains were easy to find coming in from the arrival area. We had credit cards as well as some money leftover from a previous trip, so we thought we might be able to use the machines to purchase our tickets into town. No such luck – they didn’t accept plastic and we didn’t have enough coins. We headed over to the ticket counter and were able to pay with our paper euros. We were very lucky – there was a train leaving just after we got our tickets, so we didn’t have to wait long. They seem to run pretty regularly, so I wouldn’t worry about losing too much time in that regard.
Transportation around town: There are a few too many options in this category! I’ll keep it short: you can take the metro system (combination of above and underground), ride on boats, rent a bike, or walk. If I could ride a bike and felt good about my ability to memorize a map pretty quickly, I’d totally rent a bike. My husband was practically jumping up and down (with excitement) about all the bikes (of course, he was also intrigued by the fact that we didn’t spot a single helmet on the dozens of riders we saw). They seriously had bike-only garages and parking lots. Very cool. The city is also pretty walkable (only 1.2 km from Centraal Station to Anne Frank’s House). We mainly walked as a way to see the city, though we did take a sneltram at the end of the day because we were so tired (stupid jet lag). The boat routes are very handy for tourists (esp. the Museum Boat), though I definitely think they charge a premium as compared to the metro system.
What to do/see: I had two reasons for wanting to trek into Amsterdam – Anne Frank’s House and the Van Gogh Museum. If you’re looking for something a bit different or have longer, consider Rijksmuseum, the Artis Zoo, the red light district, Vondelpark, the Royal Palace, Hermitage Amsterdam, the Rembrandt House Museum, the Westerkerk (the church near the Anne Frank House), and the diamond district. (Links to info about these places and more via Wiki.) I’d love to see some of these places, and I’d really really really like to go back for the tulip festival sometime.
Anne Frank’s House: This was astounding and moving. I re-read the book just before we arrived so it would be fresh in my mind. The way she describes her home for those years spent in hiding only somewhat prepared me for the real thing. I was able to really appreciate what tight quarters the families shared. I was also shocked by the staircases in the house. I have climbed/seen some crazy staircases, but I’ve never seen stairs so teeny and steep. The museum at the end was interesting too – it provided more info about what happened to the hideaways after they were discovered than my book had.
Van Gogh Museum: Van Gogh is one of my favorite artists. I love his landscapes and still lifes. The way van Gogh uses impasto is just amazing to me. I’ve been dying to go to this particular museum since I was pretty little – probably since one of my first art museum trips with my parents when I “discovered” him back in elementary school. This museum in Amsterdam was even better to me than Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris. It had many of van Gogh’s most famous works, and it was really fun to see how his work changed as he went along – and how it didn’t.
Eating: If you visit the Anne Frank House just before lunch, then you can go to the Pancake Bakery like we did. It’s allegedly the most famous Dutch pancake and omelet place in Amsterdam. All I know is that it was sooo good! We saw some of the pancakes the other patrons ordered, and they were huge. We decided to split a savory and a sweet. I definitely recommend doing that.
- Be prepared for people to break in line ahead of you. I was shocked. I’d heard of this happening to a friend who visited the Middle East, but I’d never heard of it in Europe. We’d had people cut in front of us 3 times before we even left the airport. It was bizarre. We do allow people to have personal space, but it wasn’t so much that a person could have legitimately thought we weren’t in line.
- If you go to Anne Frank’s House, take a picture with her statue in front of the church around the corner before you go into the house. You’ll actually be able to smile in the picture if you go beforehand. I was choked up for quite a while after we left the house.
- Be prepared for cool weather even in the summer. We were so cold! You should also be prepared for rain.
- Wear walking shoes and hit the sidewalks. It’s a great place to wander around and enjoy the architecture.
Check out more of my pics here.