Last week Mr O and I went on a little trip to Amsterdam. When we were in South Africa earlier this year my friend, Bronwyn, suggested that we come and meet her and her husband, Dave for a couple of days in the city where they were stopping over en route to a Roundtable conference. I have really strong ties to Amsterdam because both my dad and my Oupa (grandad) were born there so I jumped at the chance to see it.
We flew out really early on Monday morning from Gatwick airport on Easyjet, which actually wasn’t bad at all. It’s only a 45 minute flight from London and it’s perfectly plausible to spend two nights away from home with just hand luggage. Although I can’t say I had the most cheerful face on after getting up at 4am.
Our hotel, The Meininger was in the Oud Wes region of the city. It’s a little bit away from the main touristy bits but it’s right next to Sloterdijk station, which means it’s only 10 minutes by train from both Schipol Airport and Central Station. The number 12 tram stops right outside and there are a few bus routes that service the hotel. I have to admit that Paul and I were surprised that our room had a bunk bed in it as well as a double but as we spent more time there we realised it’s kind of halfway between a hotel and a youth hostel. There were loads of lively young guests but we never found them noisy or disruptive and we quite liked its buzzy vibe. Our room was big, clean and comfortable and excellent value for money.
Bronwyn, David and some other Roundtable friends were staying next door so we met up with Bron and headed down to Museemplein on the tram to check out the famousRijksmuseum. It houses an impressive collection of Dutch Golden Age masterpieces as well as an extensive collection of European art. We were able to buy three day tram cards for only about €16, which was a great deal and enabled us to get pretty much everywhere we needed to the in city.
Outside the museum is a massive installation which spells out I AMSTERDAM, which is a great place for posing for photos. We couldn’t resist.
We probably spent a good couple of hours exploring the museum and we could definitely have spent more. I particularly enjoyed the Rembrandts and Van Goghs as well as the amazing pottery, 18th Century photography, epic library and the slightly creepy dolls houses. As per usual I couldn’t resist recaptioning some of the photos… these were my most popular.
If you get a chance the museum has an absolutely beautiful manicured garden, which is lovely to relax in.
There is a fountain in the middle of it where the water drops and rises and gives you the opportunity to run in and stand in the centre without getting too wet. Guaranteed to bring out anyone’s inner child.
By then we were starving so we went on a wander to find some food. Walking the streets of Amsterdam can we a bit hair raising especially if you’re used to the traffic being on the left hand side of the road. If that wasn’t enough to contend with there are also trams and buses… and bikes. The Dutch are seriously big fans of cycling and bikes take precedence over just about everything. I learned very quickly that if you have to ask yourself the question “am I in the bike lane?” the answer is almost guaranteed to be, “yes”! There is something very cool about how they get around by pedal power especially when you see when you see parents with little wagons with kids in them and dogs in baskets and couples riding on the back of each others’ bikes as long as you make sure you get out of the way before they start angrily ringing their little bells at you.
After some delicious sandwiches we jumped back on the tram and headed to the floating flower market. The market is home to a row of stalls set out on floating barges, which sell every possible kind of fresh flower you can imagine as well as cuttings, seeds, bulbs and kits to grow flowers, vegetables, fruit, trees and pretty much anything with leaves. Of course the most popular item is tulips, especially sold in clogs. It’s a little touristy but a must-see if you enjoy gardening or just beautiful plants.
After Bron bought some “shoelips”, as we decided to call them, we took some pics in Dam Square, marveled at the Royal Palace and posed for this absolutely epic photo in a clog before taking a short walk to the Red Light District.
Amsterdam is particularly well known for this area where sex workers ply their trade legally and there are loads of bars, strip clubs, adult cinemas and to sex shops. I have to admit that I found seeing women standing in windows in their underwear quite unpleasant. Although I realise that everyone has the choice to do whatever they like with their body it made me a little sad and I didn’t want to stay long. We did pop into the Erotica Museum, which was less of a museum and more of a random personal collection. Probably not worth the €7 entrance fee but at least we kept it classy.
By this stage we were tired and a bit hot and bothered so we headed back to the hotel to cool off and relax before catching a tram into the main part of Oud Wes where there are loads of cute little restaurants along the canals. Away from the hecticness of the main tourist area it’s an atmospheric and relaxing place to spend an evening without the hyped up prices. We decided to have dinner at Cafe Thuys where we had a great view of the water as well as excellent service and absolutely delicious food. I would highly recommend the veal burger.
Tuesday morning took us to Leidseplein where we had breakfast pancakes at Pancake Corner. Although the pancakes were nice they weren’t amazing and the service was a bit crap. I would recommend walking five minutes down one of the side roads to find something better.
If you did want to visit an Amsterdam coffee shop for some traditional recreational activities the ones just off Prinsengracht near Leidseplein are a lot nicer and more chilled than the ones in the red light district and that’s all I am going to say about that.
After we’d had our breakfast we decided to do some market shopping and headed to the Albert Cuyp market. Unfortunately it was a big disappointment akin to Romford Market on a Saturday. Unless you really want to buy budget bog roll or the most plasticky of souvenirs I really, really wouldn’t bother. However the Waterlooplein Market is worth a visit if you’re interested in vintage clothing or accessories. Paul and I both made purchases but our spending spree was cut short by a sudden shower. We did spot this very cool former warehouse with its striking red shutters.
After all the shopping we were really hungry so we went back to Oud Wes to find dinner. This time we stopped off at Van ‘t Spit (which means “from the rotisserie” in Dutch). Here they just serve chicken. You can buy a quarter or a half and then pick from a selection of about four side dishes. It is perfect for the indecisive. We ordered a full chicken to share, thinking we’d struggle to finish it but it was probably the best chicken I have ever eaten and as you can see below, we made light work of it.
I got chatting with the manager afterwards and he told me that it’s a relatively new concept only open for a few weeks but it’s proving really successful. I am not surprised with such beautifully seasoned food. He was the epitome of the residents of Amsterdam, all of whom are effortlessly cool and stylish, while always appearing friendly and approachable… as long as you aren’t standing in the bus lane.
On our last day we decided to go an a canal boat cruise to get a view of the city from a slightly different angle. Amsterdam has over 100km of canals, which give it an almost coastal vibe without being near the sea. We arranged our tour through our hotel and were able to get tickets for a 75 minute cruise, which included the harbour for only €10. It was less than half of some of the prices we saw advertised so it’s worth shopping around. Our cruise was provided by the Blue Boat Company and left from Leidseplein. The commentary is a bit cheesy but it gives a great overview of the history of the city.
It’s also a good vantage point for checking out Amsterdam’s beautiful and very unique architecture. I loved all the different styles of gables as well as the “wonkiness” of the buildings. Apparently some of them lean because their foundations are rotting but others were built pitching forward because it supposedly makes them look bigger.
This tilty house has a bell gable as well as a “gevelsteen”, which is the decorative plaque between the windows. These plaques sometimes displayed the name of the occupant but other times their profession as well. They’re everywhere once you start looking for them.
Of course a trip to The Netherlands wouldn’t be complete without purchasing a little (read so much it’s hard to fit it into the suitcase) cheese so after our cruise we headed to the Cheese Museum, which isn’t really so much a museum as a shop. It does have a basement where you can check out some information about how cheese is made and take a stylish photo of yourself in traditional Dutch dress.
The very friendly staff are happy to let you taste all the cheese so if you want to get an idea of what The Netherlands has to offer in terms of dairy, this is definitely the place for you.
Next up was Rembrandtplein where a reproduction of the great master’s Nightwatch lives in statue form.
Presided over by the man himself. It’s an excellent place for photos and there are also some lovely bars and coffee shops nearby to relax with a drink and do some people watching.
Our final adventure for the day took us to NSDM-werf, a derelict shipyard, which has become a kind of hispter haven complete with weird graffiti, junk art and houses that seem to be made out of storage containers. You can catch the ferry for free from behind Central Station and it’s a fun way to see a different part of the city. There are some really cool bars at the wharf, one of which had deck chairs where people were chilling out in their bathing costumes. We decided to get a couple of ice-creams and enjoy the sun, which was a lovely way to say good-bye to the city.
As we caught the ferry back to collect our luggage and head back to the airport, I snapped this picture which I think totally sums up our experience in Amsterdam. Definitely a must-visit kind of place.