Let me start by saying how special of a place Amsterdam is… It's a place that I've always wanted to visit, and definitely a new love of mine! My girlfriend (Harmony) and I have actually booked flights before but didn’t get as far as booking accommodation, which is really expensive as it turns out! When we started to plan another trip to Amsterdam, it was hard to believe but incredibly exciting to know that we'd finally be going!
So, Harmony and I were swapping the beautiful, British countryside for the tulip fields of the Netherlands and the romantic canals in the city of Amsterdam! The day started with a lengthy, but scenic, spring time drive from morning to midday, followed by one bus ride, one flight and one train journey.
Thanks to how evidently wet the country is, we could see how lush and green the countryside was from our aeroplane window, with the exception of the occasional colourful field of course.
At the airport, we were a little confused as to how to get a ticket for the train, but that's when we realised that there was a counter right at the end of the station. The self service machines didn't take cash (only card or coins), so it was good to deal with a human being, and someone who, like almost everyone else, spoke such good English! The ticket cost just over 5€ and the journey took about 20 minutes, which flew by as we admired the interesting buildings, more of the greenery and the many water ways on the way into the city!
The City Itself
Even after a long day of travel, it was still light out when we got of the train, so we were excited to spend the evening exploring the city and seeing what it was really like. First of all, we were baffled by the amazing architecture and blown away by the beauty of the canals! We also quickly noticed the obsession with bicycles - it was clear that bikes to the Dutch are like scooters to the Vietnamese! We also had to become aware of and watch out for trams, but they didn't pose as big of a risk as the bikes did!
Lucky for us, we were staying in the Canal Belt, where elm trees lined the canals and tall houses tilted to one side… That was one of the city's many quirks that we absolutely loved! Also around the Canal Belt were lots of cute cafes (opposed to the countless “coffee” shops and fast food takeaways in the city center). But don’t get me wrong, the city center is a side of Amsterdam that was exciting and an experience in it's own right, and a walk through the Red Light District is not to be missed. Even there, the atmosphere is easy going and the vibe can't be beaten!
Where We Stayed
The name of where we stayed was Nine Streets Inn. For Amsterdam, it was relatively affordable and, when we stepped through the door to our room, we were very impressed! In fact, we thought that we had hit the jackpot! Our very own apartment, minus the kitchen facilities, but with everything that we would possibly need! Being located in the Canal Belt, the location was unbelievable and the surrounding area was stunning!
Where We Ate
On our first night, we stopped at Bravi Ragazzi for a perfect pizza that wasn't too expensive. The Heineken however was 7€! Whilst walking around the city, we were happy to find falafels everywhere to, as falafels are a favourite of ours. We frequently went to Maoz falafel bar on Damrak for falafel pitas and salad bowls, but there was a bad experience with the gang of pigeons that hang around outside!
For breakfast, I absolutely loved Koffiehuis De Hoek because of the omelettes. It wasn't easy to find anywhere that opened for breakfast, so this place was a godsend! Another good place that we went to for coffee and a fruit salad one morning was called Royal 98. The pastries and sweet treats looked amazing there as well!
Museums & Musings
When it rains in Amsterdam, there's really only one thing to do - spend the day seeking shelter in the city's many museums! Firstly, we wanted to go to Anne Frank's House, but we could only get tickets on the door from 3:30pm. Instead, we headed to the nearest museum - The Sex Museum. It was an unusual experience to say the least, but it is arguably a must do, especially at 5€ each! We spent a little over an hour looking at the exhibits, which nothing could've prepared us for and in no way could be described!
Next, we went to The Amsterdam Museum. It cost 12.50€ each and included an audio guide, though there weren't many audio points and, when there were, the guide was un-engaging and drastically dragged on. Somehow, we spent a couple of hours in the museum, but a lot of it didn't appeal to us – including the information about Schipol Airport and all of the old paintings. However, the explanation of how Amsterdam was built made the visit completely worth it!
As it turns out, Amsterdam was built upon large tree trunks and still needs them for support today (just like Venice)! That's why so many of the buildings are lop sided and look like they're about to topple over! It also amazed me that most of the city sits below sea level! The exhibit about the second world war was really good as well, but there should've been a lot more to read and look at. Then again, I suppose you have the Resistance Museum for that, which we did later visit.
The Resistance Museum was absolutely incredible and amazingly moving. The audio guide was much better here and told us a lot about when Nazi Germany took over and occupied The Netherlands. Thanks to the well put together, permanent exhibit, I was able to see the series of events at an individualistic level, looking at how it effected everyone as people, trying to live their everyday lives.
The facts and figures were obviously astonishing - the children that were killed and the people that starved (let alone having to endure the discrimination). But it was reassuring to hear how many people supported the resistance movement and opposed the Nazis. The museum captured us from the start. For 10€, it's a must for all of Amsterdam's visitors. I just wish that we weren't in such a rush as there was also the Holocaust Museum nearby.
The Rijksmuseum is one of Amsterdam's most visited museums, and is the highest ranked on Tripadvisor. Our tickets cost 17.50€ pre-booked, which we probably could've saved as we would've been perfectly happy exploring the grounds and admiring the architecture of the building, as well as snapping a few selfies at the Iamsterdam sign outside. The museums is mostly dedicated to art and holds some really famous pieces of art at that, but we weren't that compelled by it all after being so impressed by some of the other museums. Although, because the Van Gogh Museum was fully booked, I was happy to see some of his originals and a few of Vermeer's.
Anne Franks House
If you don't already know, Anne Frank was a diarist living throughout the German occupation. Well, she started writing in her diary two years prior, which is what made what she wrote so special. Her diary entries about her teenage angst and attraction certain boys, soon started to contrast against entries about the seriousness of the war and what it was like to live life in hiding. The secret annex that she hid has since been turned into a museum that draws about 1.2million tourist to Amsterdam each year.
Harmony and I were stupid enough to think that we could just rock up and have a look around, but it wasn't that simple. Luckily, we only had to queue for an hour, as some can be standing in line for 2-3 hours! Our tickets only cost 9.50€ each though, and they were open until 10pm to afford as many people the chance to visit as possible.
What really got me was how us bunch of tourists brawled and bundled our way through the annex, yet Anne and her family wouldn't have been able to make a noise, and would fear that the creaky floor boards would give them away. Anne's bedroom was redecorated with her old images, just as many girls would have their room. With Anne's words echoing in our heads, it was as if she haunted the place to this day.
“I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I've never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
Before coming to Amsterdam, we were desperate to tour the canals by boat. Your average canal tour costs just 10-15€, which isn't bad at all! But, after a days worth of walking, we thought that it could be a good idea to get a 24hr hop on/off boat and bus ticket, opposed to just a one hour tour. Granted, it was almost double the price and the buses took ages to get around!
The bus pulled up outside the "Tours and Tickets" office on Westermarkt road and, when we stepped aboard, we were given a pair of headphones in exchange of our tickets, which were scribbled upon and then given back to us for future use. We sat for most of the journey with our earphones in, waiting for the prerecorded audio to play. This only happened a few times, but we were told some really interesting facts about the city's history, buildings and coffeeshop laws when it did play. The tour by boat was as good as I had imagined and I could've stayed on it all day!
Harmony and I had to pay a visit to a coffeeshop whilst we were in Amsterdam... We walked past a fair few, but a place called Resin looked the most favourable. Inside, it was very chilled, the staff were friendly and there were plenty of places to sit (including a swing hanging from the ceiling). We paid 9€ for a packed, pre-rolled joint and lets just say that we had a lot of laughs from then on that night!
The Ice Bar
The Ice Bar was another bit of fun that I don't think I've ever seen in any other city. We bought our tickets from "Tours and Tickets" for 16€ and were given three free drinks tokens when we arrived. Before going in, we were also given gloves and a puffy coat in an attempt at making the low temperatures a bit more bearable. Really, it was unimaginably cold and almost unenjoyable at -9.5 Celsius! But of course we did actually really enjoy ourselves and also appreciated how cool the interior was, with multicoloured LEDs lighting the walls, a large polar bear ice carving, the helm of a ship and some other items that fit with that boating theme. What made the experience was having to drink out of cups made from solid ice!
Harmony insisted that we spent some time shopping and, I admit, it was actually quite a good activity to do to after the museums had closed. The shops around the Canal Belt were really cool to, and there were a lot high street fashion shops on Nieuwendijk Road, in the city center.
Rembrandt and Dam Square
I walked through Rembrandt Square on one of my early morning sunrise missions and, though it was a bit over cluttered with lights and benches, I favoured it greatly over Dam Square. That's because of how bland and empty Dam Square seemed but, that said, I did like the look of the Royal Palace there!
Sadly, before sunrise, the city seemed to loose it's charm because of all the rats and rubbish everywhere. However, once the sun rose and city started to wake up, that was no longer the case! It also wasn't that bad further out of the city center and around the Canal Belt, but I still wouldn't say that a walk around at sunrise is something that I'd recommend. As cities go, Amsterdam isn't actually that busy and the streets don't get too cramped so, if I wasn't photographing, I could've saved myself an extra hour in bed!
Annoyingly, I kept having to deal with the city's street lights turning off early in the morning, and sometimes the lights on the bridges wouldn't even be on. I also ran into the issue of construction work at Zuiderkirk, where I hoped to take a fantastic photograph! Then again, it was made up for in other ways - on one morning for example, there was a truly incredible, colourful sunset and I captured it with Munt Toren in the background! For my other sunrises, I mainly just photographed at blue hour (before the sunrise), which is what's great about photographing cityscapes, but is why I needed the city lights so bad! I didn't get all of the photos I wanted (like out into the countryside with windmills and tulip fields), but that just means I have a reason to come back!
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