A Day and a Half in Amsterdam

Every time we told people we were going to Amsterdam, we got the Red Light District and pot warnings. According to them, the only reason to go to Amsterdam is to indulge in the seven deadly sins, so why on Earth would we want to go to such an EVIL place when we are such nice, upstanding citizens who don’t even drink, much less smoke or do drugs? Well, I’ll tell you.

TRAVEL TIP: Maybe I should label this a life tip. No matter where you go, you will find what you are looking for. Is there filth and legalized lechery in Amsterdam? There is. Did we see any of it? No, we did not. We were there to see the beauty of a historic European town that was once the financial capital of the world, and that is exactly what we found. It was charming and lovely. I’ll show you.

Let's start the clock for our day and a half. We landed around 11:30, and as always, I was hungry. We planned to have lunch at Gartine, but when we got there, it was closed for a family emergency, according to the paper taped to the door. Instead we went to Singel 404 for some awesome sandwiches. We stopped and had a quick bite of lunch.

TRAVEL TIP: As I plan our trips I look up a few restaurant options in each area we plan to be in. You can waste an extraordinary amount of time trying to figure out where to eat, reading reviews, etc. I like to have a first, second and third choice in each neighborhood. Since we are such foodies, we don't want to walk in and eat just anywhere. We want good food. Local food. 

After lunch we dropped off our bags at the hotel, which is right on Dam Square. It's called  The Grand Hotel Kraznapolsky. I would definitely recommend it. Great location, nice rooms. No complaints. Free of our bags, we left for our appointment at the Anne Frank House.

TRAVEL TIP: I can't stress the importance of this one enough. Most places now allow you to book timed entry tickets online. We had an appointment for an English tour at 2:30.

Here is the first part of the line of people who did not book advance tickets. The line went on for blocks. These people waited for HOURS in the cold, windy, rainy (end of July) weather. I won’t show all the pictures of the line, but walking up to the door and walking right in was great.

Due to the nature of the house and the events that happened there, they ask that you be silent and not take pictures inside, out of respect. Also, the house is stripped bare. Anne’s father wanted it that way to show that everything was taken from them. It was extremely moving to watch the videos of interviews at various places in the house and just feel the energy there. It is definitely a must do in Amsterdam. It is another testament of the the bravery of some to save others. There is good in the world, even during the ugliest times.

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Next up was the Van Gogh Museum. As much as we’ve traveled, we’ve become extremely selective about the museums we go to. We’ve been to a lot of them around the world, but this one was on my list. I’m fascinated with impressionism. 


Here’s another line we didn’t wait in. Why? Because we bought timed-entry tickets online before our trip. See that girl giving me the stink eye? That’s because she has been out here for several hours in the rain waiting to get in. She hates us for walking to the front of the line. I’m ok with that.

TRAVEL TIP: Don’t carry a big bag around town for lots of reasons, but in this particular case, because you will have to wait in this looong line to check your bag and again to retrieve it. With the state of the world these days, museums and high security places make you check a bag larger than a small purse. I have a specific purse for when we travel. I carry this one by Bagalinni. I've had it for four years and love it. Is it glamorous? No, it's not noticeable at all, but that's one of its charms as a travel bag.

The Van Gogh museum was great. They ask you not to take pictures inside. I know other people do, but I didn’t.

 

Amsterdam is full of charming parks. There were hydrangeas everywhere, and I love them because they remind me of home. 

After Van Gogh we decided to take a boat tour of the canals. This is not something you need tickets for. They depart every 30 or so minutes, and you won’t have to wait more than that. It was drizzly, windy and chilly, so it was a nice way to get out of the weather but still be able to enjoy the city.  It was great to see the city from the water. The streets are so narrow you can’t see as much as when you can get a little distance. 

Interesting fact: There are over 2,000 registered houseboats with canal addresses. You know why we had time to take this lovely, relaxing tour? Because we didn’t spend hours waiting in line at the other two places. In fact, without those tickets, the Anne Frank House is the only thing we would have been able to do this day. MAYBE. If we had been lucky enough to get in. Ok, I think I've made my point.

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Cheese shops. These are everywhere, and they all have SAMPLES. Lots and lots of samples. You will never be satisfied with American cheese again. There is just no comparison. We walked in and out of so many of these shops sampling every single cheese they offered. It was a substantial afternoon snack. Not that we needed one after those sandwiches. 

Many of the cheeses can be stored at room temperature while still sealed, so feel free to buy a wheel or two and put it in your suitcase for home. Not to worry, if a wheel is too much, they come in much smaller slices. Each one of those babies weighs about 30 pounds. They do ship, though, if you don't have room in your bag for a tire of cheese or if you need more after you get home.

This is the floating flower market from the canal side.

Inside those floating greenhouses you can buy tulip bulbs and tourist junk, I mean authentic Dutch treasures. Be aware that many countries won’t allow you to bring something like tulip bulbs or any plant matter from another country. I also read reviews of unhappy purchasers who got home and the bulbs they thought they bought were entirely different from what popped up the next spring. It’s not like you’re going to go back and complain or return them, right? They were closed by the time we got there, but I wasn't looking to buy anyway, just admire.

When we travel I like to buy a kitchen item that I can use and be reminded of my trips. I wanted a Delft pitcher. I know Delft isn’t made in Holland, but it’s close-ish. There is a Delft store here, but I didn’t see what I was looking for. I have this problem where I want what I want. Adam calls me Sally, as in When Harry Met Sally. I’m ok with being particular.

We went to dinner at Van Kerkwijk. It was so tasty and cozy and quaint and very close to our hotel. We had smoked mackerel on toast points, Stilton stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, filet mignon in strawberry sauce (the only thing we didn’t like), and hake crusted in anchovies.

We were exhausted, so we went to bed early, as we always do on our first night. And by early, I mean 8 p.m.

The next morning it was hard to get up, but such is jet lag, yes? We got up anyway and headed to the train station. We wanted to see the Dutch countryside, so we chose the village of Zaanse Schans. It is about a 20-minute train ride and a 10-minute walk out of Amsterdam, but it looks like it’s a world away. This village is famous for its working windmills.

It is storybook picture perfect. I mean, when can I move in with my little lambs and Mother Goose?

There are a few other villages we wanted to see, and there are tours that take you to three villages in 4 hours, but we chose to see one village to our hearts’ content rather than be rushed from one to the next. Honestly there were quite a few places we would have liked to see in the countryside, but time didn’t allow.

TRAVEL TIP: Sometimes we choose the tour and sometimes we explore on our own. It's really a case by case judgment call. In this case, after reading the reviews, we decided there were too many commercials in that brief tour (basically sales opportunities instead of seeing the villages), so we decided to see just this one village, and it was so beautiful that we were glad we had time to wander around and soak it all in. In other cases like Nikko, we never could have gotten to everything in one day without a guide.

That tiny closet of a building is actually a pewter shop.

Inside they will do a demonstration. In order to get that aged, oxidized look, they dip the pieces in acid to speed up time 30 years.

Everywhere we went was so beautiful and picturesque. As threatening as the clouds look, it never more than drizzled, and the sun broke through at times.

It happened to be a windy, drizzly, blustery, chilly day, so it was perfect for making our own hot cocoa. Besides, the weather was perfect for a warm beverage. Just what we needed. And to be honest, while that kind of weather isn’t my most favorite, being cold-natured the way I am, it was perfect for where we were and what we were seeing that day. I’ve never been a lover of sweets, but I do love how beautiful all those candy molds are on the wall. What a gorgeous display! 

Next we hit up the main attraction, which is the working windmills. It was very cool to go inside and see the moving parts. 

Each windmill grinds something different, and in this one they grind minerals to use as dyes. If you aren't able to do stairs well, be aware that these are not quite steep enough to be a ladder, but too steep to be stairs. Going down was a little scarier than going up because the rungs are so narrow. Because of the high wind speed that day, the windmill was flying, and so were all the cogs and wheels. We even got to go up top to see the windmill spinning. 

From the windmill we went to the baking museum/display they had all kind of tools and pans on display. This I can relate to more than the candy molds.

Of course the museum was attached to a bakery that had the most amazing waffles. They are sugar-crusted yeast waffles and you can choose a variety of toppings. I chose a young gouda, and it was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I would eat that a hundred times over if I could. It was the best one of my whole trip.

At the cheese store factory, there was a little demonstration through the glass window. But more importantly there were samples GALORE. Oh my goodness the cheese there is divine. Eating it was well worth the symptoms of my dairy allergy that came with it.

Every home had a beautiful garden. We enjoyed wandering around admiring all the homes and gardens. See how beautiful the orchard is? It makes the fruit look all the more tempting. I never got tired of all the lovely hydrangeas. The one thing I’d like to know is how they keep the chickens from scratching up the mulch into the grass. That’s what chickens love to do. It’s the first thing my chickens do in my yard when the escape their yard.

 

Wooden shoes were very practical in these parts, though not worn much anymore. They were cheap, easy to make, kept feet dry and above the mud and muck. They could even have spikes on the bottom for better traction on icy surfaces. The most practical of practical shoes. 

Even though wooden shoes were invented for practicality, they can still be beautiful. These are bridal clogs. The tradition is for the groom to carve them for his bride. Of course the diamond clog would be the ultimate, right? 

They sell these right and left. The only temptation I felt to buy a pair was for my 2-year-old to see her stomping around in them with those chubby little legs. Oh, the cuteness!!! If I could have been sure of her size, I would have done it.

They manage to make everything in this village beautiful, even wooden shoes. I loved the display. And see, I got my clog fix without needing to take a pair home. Ok, I did take a tiny pair home as a Christmas ornament, but they are very small and made to be an ornament, and ornaments are something I buy on all of our trips.

My very favorite was the shoe made for two. This big beauty is outside the wooden shoe store factory, which is where the magic happens.

There were chickens everywhere, and I took pictures of them for our little chicken lovers at home.

Along came some swans, and I thought maybe all fairytales were composed here.

We headed back to Amsterdam to see a little more of the city before our train.

We got tickets (in advance) to see a temporary exhibit built on top of the Oude Kerk, which means old church. It is the oldest structure in Amsterdam. It also happens to be in the heart of the red light district. What?? We went to the red light district? We did. It has some of the most beautiful and oldest architecture in the city.

We had no desire to have the traditional red light experience, but we did want to visit this church and see some buildings. So how did we do it without getting an eyeful? Go during the day, my friends. The earlier, the better. Those who prowl those streets at night for other reasons are sleeping/hung over/passed out during the day. Some of the windows were open by that time (around 2:30), but in the daylight, you have to really want to see what’s in them. There is light reflecting off of them from the sun, even on a cloudy day. So unless you get close and try to see in, you really won’t see anything until it gets dark. We were there in the afternoon, and I bet that the windows aren’t even open in the morning. When in doubt look up. From the second story upward, you will only see beautiful buildings. We had a great walk through that neighborhood and got to see the things we wanted to see and missed the things we didn’t. I would even take my kids there during the daytime.

We went up to the exhibit first. Taturo Atzu is a Japanese artist and travels the world doing temporary exhibits. His name is also temporary, and he changes it with each new exhibit.  I will say the view from the top was spectacular. The rest of it was…this. It is called The Garden Which is the Nearest to God. In the middle of the white platform is this little living room for…something. And…yah. You go for the view. Clearly I’m not cultured enough to appreciate this fine art.I think the combined entry to see the church and the exhibit was 12 euros, so it wasn’t like we felt cheated. It was worth it to see the views of Amsterdam. I don’t think there is anywhere else you can do this. 

We climbed a metal scaffolding up to a big open platform on top of the church. I was a little mesmerized and terrified by the scaffolding and stairs holding it up though. It's better if you look up while you use the stairs.

Inside the church was beautiful. It is very different than the cathedrals of England, Italy and France. It was very simple by comparison, but very beautiful. The ceiling reminded me of the hull of a ship.

And this was our last piece of Amsterdam. We headed to the train station to head to Brugge to catch a 4:30 train. Stop the clock. We saw all of this since we landed yesterday at 11:30 a.m.

TRAVEL TIP: Buy your train tickets in advance when possible. Like plane tickets, they get more expensive the closer you get to your departure. It does take a little of the spontaneity out of travel, but it will save you 30+ euros per ticket. Since we took 3 train rides between countries, the advanced ticket purchase saved us about 200 euros. That is not insignificant.

We intentionally chose a train that had a little longer layover in the Antwerp train station, meaning 45 minutes instead of 15, because we wanted to see the beautiful architecture. The main hall is magnificent. But we could have seen it all even with the 15-minute transfer. Walk in, admire, take a couple pictures, walk out. Two minutes, max. All of this is just in the main hall. The rest of the train station is just a normal station.

And finally, our waffle greatest hits from Amsterdam/Antwerp. Adam’s favorite waffle of the whole trip was the Bavarian cream in the Antwerp train station. Mine was the gouda. 

TRAVEL TIP: Eat all the waffles and cheese every chance you get. Seriously.