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isemida Jun 12th, 2019 04:15 PM

3.5 Days in Amsterdam
Hi guys,

Wanted to share some notes from our recent trip to Amsterdam - my second time there and my husband's first.

Day 1

We arrived into Amsterdam via a somewhat unconventional route - a five-hour drive from Hamburg with a stopover at the incredible Kroller-Muller museum in Otterlo.

Quick backstory on our itinerary: We’d started our trip with 5 days in Copenhagen and foolishly decided to forgo the rational option of flying from there to Amsterdam. I don’t love flying and I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to drive instead?

No, fellow travelers. No, it was not.

Our first plan, a cross-country road trip through Germany, was quickly scuppered when we discovered that the car rental would be extremely expensive. So we booked a train from Copenhagen to Hamburg and then a car from Hamburg to Amsterdam (for some reason, much cheaper). I have a friend in Hamburg, and it’s a nice city, so it seemed logical to spend a night there to break up our trip.

Well, the “train” from Copenhagen to Hamburg turned out to be a bus ride followed by a 3-minute train trip onto a huge ferry...then disembarking from the train to ride the ferry, then back on the train for the rest of the journey. All in all, quite exhausting.

Hamburg was pretty but frenetic (we only had half a day, after all)...and then we still had the 5-hour car trip to look forward to. In short, next time I will be flying!

The one saving grace of our insane itinerary was the chance to visit the Kroller-Muller museum, which is some distance from Amsterdam and difficult to get to without a car. As a result, it’s less touristy than the Amsterdam museums, though the collection is equally impressive.

The setting: a huge, bucolic forest/park, with free rental bikes scattered about. A huge, meandering sculpture garden. And the museum itself, a thoughtfully curated collection full of masterpieces, including the largest collection of Van Goghs outside the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. (And, unlike the Van Gogh museum, you can take photos here, plus no need for timed tickets, lines, or crowds).

We arrived at about 2PM and grabbed a late lunch. The museum has a casual cafe (perfectly satisfactory) as well as a fancier restaurant called “The Taste of Van Gogh.” I don’t know about you, but that name put me off a bit - Van Gogh may be my favorite artist, but I don’t want to taste him.

Then it was on to the art - the permanent collection, where we spent the most time on the Van Goghs but also enjoyed some Dutch pointillism, early Mondrians, and various modern masterpieces. The museum also puts on temporary exhibitions, and we enjoyed a small exhibit of Jan van Munster’s energy-inspired sculptures before heading outside.

The sculpture garden was the biggest I’ve been to, with dozens of works to discover and forest paths to get lost on. The collection featured both big names and sculptors I hadn’t heard of, and I absolutely adored exploring every corner of the grounds until closing time. Then we ran back inside for another quick look at the Van Goghs until the guards ushered us out and it was time to get back on the road.

We dropped off our car at the airport and found a bus into town. 25 minutes later, we were at Leidseplein, where we would be spending 3 nights at the Tulipa B&B. We made our way to the B&B, were greeted at the door by our hosts, and were led up one flight of stairs to our canal-view paradise.

Our suite was truly exceptional - large, light, and airy, charming furniture, and a bay window with a bench for admiring the canal view. When it was time for bed, the strategically-placed curtains blocked out 95% of the light, helping us sleep :)

We changed and headed out to dinner at the Foodhallen, which is (as you might have guessed!) a food hall with a couple dozen stands serving all sorts of food, from poke bowls to tapas to traditional Dutch bitterballen. There was music, beer, and a young, lively crowd filling up the large communal tables. We found a spot, downed our food, and headed out pretty quickly (it had been a long day and the music was a bit loud for me).

Then, we walked from the more residential, “real-Amsterdam” neighborhood where the food hall was located through the canal ring and into the city center, where we checked out iconic sights like Dam Square, the Old Church, and, of course, the Red Light District.

It was about 10:00 on a Friday night, so the streets were full of people. On the main thoroughfares, crowds spilled out of bars and coffeeshops onto the streets - laughing, eating, drinking, and smoking. Ducking into the side streets, we saw the prostitutes’ windows - caught up in the mostly-male crowd, we had to move along pretty quickly (also, I don’t know about you but I’m a bit shy about ogling people at close range, even if they are displaying themselves in windows :)

Leaving the hubbub of the Red Light District, we walked along quiet canals and cute streets back to our BnB and collapsed into bed after a veerrry long day.

Day 2

I awoke early and spent a contemplative hour by the window watching the canal - nearly deserted at 8 in the morning. When my husband woke up, we headed to a nearby cafe, the meeting point for the half-day food tour we had booked. I’ve only recently discovered food tours, and I’m obsessed with this ingenious method for combining my love of sightseeing with my love of food.

We joined five other tourists to visit a half-dozen eateries on the Canal Belt, featuring such delicacies as:
  • A plate of tiny, fluffy pancakes covered with powdered sugar
  • Herring that tasted like butter + fresh oysters
  • Dutch cookies and chocolates
  • Bitterballen (fried gravy balls) with a pint of beer
  • Tasting some Dutch wine (yes, that is a thing!)

The tour finished with an hourlong canal cruise on a small boat (so much better than the huge boats cramming in 40+ people at once!), where we enjoyed more wine, Dutch cheeses and cold cuts.

Maybe it was the wine, but I thought this was such an incredibly romantic experience and one of my absolute trip highlights!

After the cruise, we went off to the Van Gogh museum, where we’d made a reservation (and good thing we did, as they apparently no longer sell walk-up tickets at the museum itself). Despite the crowds, we really enjoyed this museum - the paintings, of course, but also the exhibits tracing Vincent van Gogh’s fascinating, tragic life. Van Gogh’s career as an artist lasted only a decade; the museum offers a beguiling journey through the evolution of his work from dark, muted peasant portraits to the frenetic, color-saturated paintings he is famous for today. We also enjoyed the temporary exhibit at the museum, which juxtaposed van Gogh’s landscapes with the art of David Hockney.

After the museum, we ran home to change for dinner and set off on the long walk to Ciel Bleu, our fancy dinner for this trip (we’ve recently been booking one big splurge meal at every destination we visit). We enjoyed walking through Museumplein and then onto less-touristy areas of the city, watching daily Amsterdam life in action.

The restaurant was located on the 23rd floor of a hotel, resulting in breathtaking views of the city. We got a table by the wall of windows for maximum enjoyment. The menu included 16 inventive, beautifully-plated, and delicious courses. By the end, I was absolutely stuffed (I should have held off on the bread and butter, but it was just too good -- 4 different uniquely-flavored butter choices with the freshly-baked bread!!)

The pace was a bit slower than we would have liked (we had another similar 16-course-meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Copenhagen that week that was perfectly timed; in contrast, Ciel Bleu’s waitstaff gave us substantial breaks between courses). At this point my husband and I had been together 24/7 for over a week so we really didn’t have enough to talk about for an extra-long meal! Plus they were plying us with wine, which made me quite sleepy. We asked the servers to pace the courses a bit faster and they sped up - and our meal was still 4+ hours with the faster pace.

It was nearly midnight by the time we finished dinner, but we chose to walk home anyway. The streets were quiet, but felt quite safe, and before long, we were back at our B&B and fast asleep.

Day 3

As before, I started the day by relaxing in front of our canal-view window and contemplating big life questions. Then, it was on to more practical concerns - namely, breakfast. We decided to try Dutch crepes at The Pancake Club on Leidseplein and were not disappointed - pancakes, service, and ambiance were perfect.

Next, it was onto Museumplein to meet our guide for a bike tour we had booked with Joy Ride Bike Tours. We found a stand to buy some baguette sandwiches for lunch (sadly not included with the tour), listened to some safety tips about biking in Amsterdam, and headed off to a second spot to actually pick up our bikes.

The tour lasted about 5 hours, with several stops to learn about Dutch history and culture. Our group had about 15 people in it, and we all biked in a row like ducklings following a mother duck. Despite my fears about biking in this city of experienced-and-sometimes-aggressive bikers, we really didn’t have any issues.

We rode through a park, some quiet streets, a fancy houseboat community (and I mean fancy - there was a $3 million euro houseboat!), another park, fields/countryside, and finally to a working dairy farm that also produces clogs. On the farm, we were treated to a pun-filled overview of the cheese-making and clog-making processes and got to eat samples of 4 kinds of gouda. I kept coming back for more because I was super-hungry.

After the farm visit, we perched at a couple of picnic tables to eat our baguette sandwiches and started the journey back into town, pausing to look at a windmill. There really aren’t many traditional windmills left in the area - even the one we saw had to be brought in from elsewhere.

Overall, my husband loved the bike tour and I mostly loved it (I feel like they could have fed us better!) We saw and learned about “real-world” Dutch life vs. visiting tourist landmarks, which means that everything was less picturesque and Disneylandy than at a tourist site. If this sounds appealing to you, I suggest checking out these tours!.

Once we dropped off our bikes and returned to Museumplein, we couldn’t decide between visiting the Stedelijk Museum and MoCo (the contemporary art museum) so, of course, we visited both. I wish we had more time to explore all of the wonderful exhibits at these museums.

At MoCo, we were captivated by the Banksy exhibit, the intriguing contrast of contemporary art in a historic mansion, and cameos from other favorite artists from Jeff Koons to Yayoi Kusama. At the Stedelijk, we most enjoyed the bottom floor - a whirlwind chronological journey through a century of art, from Matisse to Malevich, from conceptual art to feminist video installations - with an informative and entertaining free audioguide leading the way.

For dinner, we wanted to try risjttafel at the highly-rated MAX Amsterdam...but the waiter yelled at us and kicked us out because we asked for a menu and they didn’t want to give us one. (If you’re interested in more details, you can see my review on TripAdvisor called “How to Get Kicked Out of MAX Restaurant” - I don’t feel like reliving the experience by writing about it again.

We ended up having a quick meal of iffy pizza at some touristy spot down the street. It started raining - which perfectly matched my gloomy mood. We pulled on our raincoats and walked to the Anne Frank house, where I got over my first-world problems very quickly ;)

Our reservation for the Anne Frank House was for 9PM on a Sunday night. Now, when I was last in Amsterdam in summer 2011, I remember the house being absolutely deserted at this hour. It was just me and one other visitor. The atmosphere was haunting and I felt pulled back in time with Anne and her family.

This time, we had no such luck. A lengthy queue snaked out the door, and as we were let in, we were caught in a perpetual traffic jam of visitors. Just the line to see the Secret Annex was 20 minutes long! If you are claustrophobic, it might be a little bit tough to deal with. I asked one of the staff members about quieter times to visit and he told me it’s hard to predict. Seems like the Anne Frank House, like the Mona Lisa and other small-but-world-famous gems, has become a victim of its own success.

Our moods were somber after coming face to face with Anne Frank’s story. We ambled home in the rain, where, fortunately, a bottle of Dutch wine and a beautiful canal view awaited.

Day 4

On our last day in Amsterdam, we packed up and checked out of our B&B, grabbed tea and pastries at a local coffee shop (not to be confused with a coffeeshop :/), and headed to the Rijksmuseum.

We first saw the extremely crowded All the Rembrandts exhibition, which, like it sounds, is an exhibition of all the Rembrandt paintings and drawings the museum owns. It was about to close, with the most famous Rembrandts slated to return to their usual homes in the museum’s permanent galleries.

After the Rembrandts, we looked at the other highlights of the collection - primarily art from the Dutch Golden Age. We also checked out a few rooms of more modern art (de Stijl), 19th century art (another brief meeting with van Gogh), and also an unexpected surprise - a gallery with an actual plane.

It was time to grab our suitcases and make our way to the airport to return home, which I did very reluctantly. If not for our kid waiting for us back home, I would be very tempted to “miss” the flight for some more time in this incredible city!

lavandula Jun 12th, 2019 09:13 PM

Nice trip report!


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