Amsterdam 4/15-4/20 - a trip report

Old Apr 22nd, 2004, 05:04 AM
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Amsterdam 4/15-4/20 - a trip report

Thursday, April 15

Our United Airlines flight from Dulles was scheduled to leave at 5:30 pm. It looked like we might get to the airport extra early, so we stopped for a wonderful Persian lunch (Shamshiry) - one minute off the Dulles access road in Tyson?s Corner. The non-stop flight was uneventful.

Friday, April 16

We got in to Schipol International Airport at 6:45 am. The Netherlands are six hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Daylight Time. We had packed two smallish bags and a backpack, and so had carried on our luggage. This made getting out of the airport a breeze ? there was no line at customs, and the train station is directly below the terminal. Our only stop was at an ATM and a cafe?, then the train ticket office to get our tickets to Amsterdam Central Station. The train system in the Netherlands is amazingly efficient and a wonderful way to get around. Another reason that the Netherlands are particularly travel-friendly is that, although the people speak Dutch, everyone also speaks perfect English, as well, so there were no language problems or difficulties in getting through the inevitable logistics of traveling. Our train got us from the airport to Central Station in the heart of Amsterdam in 20 minutes. We walked through the busy train station to the tram plaza outside, quickly figured out from the user-friendly transit maps and schedules on the shelters that we needed the Number 4 tram, which comes every 10 minutes or so, and took a quick tram ride down (south) along the main drag Damrak, past Dam Square, the Royal Palace, and the National Monument; to Rokin Streeet, past the lead tower at Muntplein; then dpwn Utrechtsestraat into the Canal Ring, getting off at Rembrantplein, a pedestrianized plaza a block from our hotel, the Seven Bridges. We got to the hotel around 8:30, too early to check in. We dropped off our luggage, chatted a few minutes with the hotel manager about when we could come back (at noon), left our jackets ? it was a gorgeous, sunny morning ? got the camera and a walking tour of the Canal Ring, and set off on our first good look at Amsterdam.

Our first priority was more coffee (!!!) and a light breakfast. We walked down to the Bloemenmarket, a floating flower market just a couple of blocks from the Rembrantplein. It was beautiful ? cut flowers, bulbs, potted plants, and souvenirs line the side of a canal on floating stalls with awnings that stretch onto the sidewalk. We stopped at the Divertimento café for coffee and croissants, then got out our walking tour materials and explored the ?Golden Age Canals? ? the Herengracht (Gentlemen?s Canal), the Keizersgracht (Emperor?s Canal), and the Prinsengracht (Prince?s Canal). These canals were dug in the late 16th and early 17th century to accommodate a growing city. The tree-lined streets along these canals are lined with beautiful old canal houses with gables in various styles (bell, step, neck, and variations), classical facades, houseboats, bridges, cafes, restaurants, and boutiques. Our apartment, managed by the adjacent Seven Bridges hotel, sits at the corner of the Herengracht and the Reguliarsgracht, and if you stand at the top of the hump-backed bridge over the Herengracht, you can look down the canal and see a line of seven bridges. It is particularly gorgeous at night, when all the bridges are lined with lights.

At 12:30, we returned to the hotel to officially check in. We were not staying in the hotel proper, but in the canal house next door, in an apartment owned by the Seven Bridges management. The apartment was on the second floor, and had a big picture window looking out over the Reguliarsgracht, a large living room with table and comfortable arm chairs, sofa, TV, phone, and coffee/tea making facilities; a separate bedroom; a refrigerator in a closet on the hallway; and bathroom with a deep tub and shower. It was as large as any D.C. one-bedroom apartment, and was $140 Euro (about $175 dollars) a night. We were exhausted from the flight and our walk, and napped for a couple of hours. While I slept, DW went to a grocery store, fruit stand, deli, chocolate shop and bakery to stock up on provisions.

After a quality check of our groceries, we walked some more, getting as far as the Museum district, which is past the Canal Ring (after crossing the outermost Singel canal) and walking through the Albert Cuyp street market, which was shutting down for the night. We happened upon a wonderful ?brown café?, a local bar that was at least 300 years old and looked to have all its original furniture. There was sand on the floor, which is traditional. We had coffee, which gave us the strength to walk back to the Utrechtsestraat for dinner at Tujuh Maret, an Indonesian restaurant. I was intent on trying the rijsttafel, or rice table, which is a popular Indonesian meal in Amsterdam. This is an elaborate price fixe meal with two kinds of rice and 18 small dishes of different meats or vegetables, plus 4 side dishes. There is a variety of mild to very spicy dishes, with different flavors (peppery, tangy, sweet, barbeque, etc.) and textures. It was quite the experience ? we rolled out of there and walked back to the apartment for an early night.

Saturday, April 17

We woke up refreshed and ready to explore some more. It was another picture perfect day: sunny, and temperatures climbing to a high of about 70 degrees. After breakfasting at the apartment on quiche and fruit salad from our second shopping expedition Friday, we broke out our next walking tour ? the Old Center of the city, beginning at Dam Square, which is the city?s center, with the Royal Palace and the National Monument. The Netherlands? biggest national holiday, Queen?s Day, is celebrated on April 30th, and the celebrations were already underway. There was an enormous ferris wheel and street carnival set up in Dam Square, smack in front of the palace. The high points of this tour were the Museum Amstelkring (Our Lord in the Attic), a tiny, beautiful Catholic church hidden in the attic of a perfectly preserved 17th century canal house; the exhaustively complete Amsterdam Historical Museum; shopping at a secondhand book market at the Oudemanhuispoort (part of the University of Amsterdam?s library); and the Begijnhof convent, which is a quiet complex turned inward on a garden courtyard, where devout women lived from the 14th century, and which includes the oldest house in Amsterdam. We lunched at De Waag, which was once one of the city?s medieval gates, and later the weigh house and guild offices. After lunch, we crossed into the Red Light District, where prostitutes wait for customers behind full length windows (or the curtains are closed if business is being conducted). What was amazing was that the ground level ?window shopping? area surrounds and abuts the Oude Kerk (Old Church), the city?s first great Gothic church, where Rembrandt?s wife Saskia is buried under the floor, along with hundreds of other devout Catholics. The church is still in regular use for services, as well as concerts and social outreach missions.

We got back to the apartment about 4:00, just exhausted, and rested a couple of hours before setting off for dinner at Café De Prins, on the Prinsengrach across from the Anne Frank House. The restaurant was a terrific local spot, very inexpensive but delicious, with lots of families and groups of friends crowding the small dining area and bar. After a wonderful dinner, we crossed the canal to the Anne Frank House, which has hordes of tour bus visitors during the day, but tapers off after 6:00 pm. We arrived at 8:00, and had a very uncrowded tour. The museum is very affecting and well-presented. Though the Anne Frank story is familiar, actually seeing pages from her diaries, and looking at the magazine pictures clipped and pasted to the walls of her little room really brought home the ordeal of hiding in fear for 25 months.

It was a long walk back to the apartment, so we stopped for a beer on Utrechtsestraat at a low-key little bar with spacey music and good Belgian beer. It was time for bed ? we had walked many miles.

Sunday, April 18

The day dawned clear, but clouds were gathering on the horizon by 10:00. We decided to skip church and rent bikes early. Early is a relative term, however. I awoke much earlier than DW, wandered the area south of the Canal Ring, called De Pijp, all the way north to the Old Center, looking for a convenience store that was open. No luck ? Amsterdam is a city that, by and large, opens late and closes early, and that general truth is exaggerated on Sundays. I finally hit a bakery that was open and got croissants, bread, and other pastries, enough to feed an army. After a delicious breakfast, we walked to the bike rental place in Waterlooplein, McBike, arriving at about 10:30. Waterlooplien is in the Jewish Quarter of the city, which was a thriving, bustling neighborhood for centuries -- until the Nazis made it a ghetto and deported more than 90 percent of the people living there. Because there were so few survivors left to return back to their homes, the area has not been preserved the way that other parts of the city have been. However, we had a walking tour of the neighborhood in our backpack (surprise!), and planned to explore the Quarter after our bike ride.

We decided that a more hearty breakfast was in order before beginning setting off on our bikes, and stopped in at the Rembrandt Corner café just across the street. This brown café did not have a lot to recommend it, unless you happen to be visiting the Rembrandt House next door and are very hungry. We ordered the English Breakfast . Scrambled eggs, about 1/4 pound of undercooked bacon, 4 sausage links, 2 pieces of white bread toast and jam, a pot of baked beans topped by half a broiled tomato, orange juice and coffee -- it was a bit much. Weighed down with a full pound of greasy hot food, we took off on our bikes into the gray day.

We headed back to the apartment first. We had left without our jackets, and it was becoming obvious that the weather was not going to be very cooperative. Then we headed south toward the Museum district, parked our bikes among the hundreds that were chained to fences, posts, trees and benches, and paid the hefty admission to the Van Gogh Museum. It was a knockout! The museum is large and well-organized, introducing many contemporaries and immediate predecessors of Van Gogh who had strong influences on his painting, then moving through the periods of the artist?s life, grouped by where he lived ? the Netherlands, Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy, and Auvers-sur-Oise. The museum does not dwell too much on Van Gogh?s tragic life, but lets the paintings tell the story. We then retrieved our bikes and pedaled to the nearby Vondelpark, an enormous city park filled with lakes and streams, fields and playgrounds, bikers, joggers, dog walkers, babies in strollers, in-line skaters, and families out enjoying the gray afternoon.

We then returned our bikes at Waterlooplein and began the walking tour of the Jewish Quarter, beginning with a stop at a charming café and shared a couch with another friendly couple. The place was packed with people ? mostly families, groups of friends, and their dogs. The first stop on the tour was the Church of Moses and Aaron, which had a local art exhibition going on. There were also older homes on the tour sprinkled among the circa 1950 and later buildings that clearly took the place of canal houses that were left empty and unclaimed after World War II. These older homes had a story ? some had been Jewish hospitals, orphanages, and newspapers. None were being used for those purposes now. The area also has the Botanical Garden and Zoo, which we did not visit. Our final stop on the tour was the Dutch Resistance Museum, which was fascinating. The Netherlands had wanted to remain neutral as Hitler rose to power and the Germans began invading their neighbors. This principled stand went by the wayside when Holland itself was invaded. But even then, there was a lot of internal tension about how hard to resist and how much to go along in order to survive. The museum is comprehensive and clear-eyed ? I highly recommend it.

We walked back to the apartment and fell into an exhausted heap for half an hour, then dragged ourselves out to Rembrandtplein to the amazing art deco movie theater Tuschinski, to see ?Lost in Translation?. It was presented in English with Dutch subtitles. A wonderful film! Then we walked down to Dam Square and bought tickets for the 9:00 canal boat tour. We had 20 minutes to spare, so we ducked into a café for the fastest dinner on record ? a bowl of chicken soup, french bread and tapanade, which the barmaid got to us in less than 5 minutes and we ate in another 5. We stepped onto the boat just as the captain was casting off, and settled into our seats for a beautiful ride among the canals. All the bridges and streetlights were lit and glowed softly in the damp air. The tour (in four languages) took us through the canal rings, behind Central Station to the River Ij and the harbor After the tour, we walked home and fell into bed.

Monday, April 19

Our last full day in Amsterdam! Another cool, cloudy day, too. I was so stiff waking up ? the combination of walking and bike riding was getting to me. It was a good day for a train ride. We ate the rest of the pastries from Sunday morning, then took the tram down to Central Station and got on a train to Leiden, about 35 minutes away. We then had to go shopping ? I had left without my jacket, and there was a cold wind. So we dropped a hundred Euros at the Dutch version of REI for a very high-tech windbreaker, then got on the privately run Connexxion bus service to the Keukenhof Gardens.

OK, words fail me here. I was experiencing sensory overload ? the gardens are about 4 football fields in length and 2 wide, and every square inch is covered in blooms. Tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, azaleas, dogwoods ? everything in perfect bloom. It was the most gorgeous place I have ever been. (Even though the wind was freezing and the skies were overcast.) There was a windmill at one end of the gardens you could climb, and overlook the tulip fields stretching away to the horizon. Unbelievable!!

We took the train back to town. It was time to go to the Rijksmuseum, Holland?s National Gallery. Fortunately for us, the Rijks is closed for renovation, and only the Masterworks are on display. This was perfect ? sort of like a Reader?s Digest condensed book or opera highlights CD. We saw amazing Hals, Vermeers, and Rembrandts, including ?The Night Watchmen?. Now I was tired ? but there was one thing left to do. We walked across the open area that the museums are arrayed around (a bit like the National Mall), and walked into the Concertgebouw to see if concert tickets were available for that night. And they were! Great seats, too. It was the concert hall?s ?British Season?, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus was performing Edward Elgar?s ?The dream of Gerontius?, which I had never heard of. But I knew that I liked ?Pomp and Circumstance?, so how bad could it be?

We had time for one last fancy dinner, and, based on a Fodor?s rec, chose a French restaurant, ?t Fornuis, which was a block from the apartment on Utrechtsestraat. The restaurant was in a beautiful building that used to be a church, and still had the choir loft (balcony seating), dark, rich wood paneling, and ? oh, yeah ? amazingly delicious food. The fixed menu was 25 Euro. After dinner we took the tram back to the Concertgebouw and experienced one of the greatest concerts I have ever heard. It was just the one work, but a full hour and 45 minutes of astoundingly beautiful choral and symphonic music. The story is of St. Gerontius, who is on his deathbed and has lived an exemplary Christian life, and so is assured by his guardian angel of going to heaven. But upon hearing the shrieks of agony of souls that are going to Hell, he decides to volunteer to spend eternity in Purgatory, comforting the souls there until the Judgement Day. OK, maybe you had to be there. But it is an amazing piece of music, and a new discovery for us. The Concertgebouw itself has the most perfect acoustics of any concert hall in the world, and it was sure evident.

Tuesday, April 20

Oh, no! We have to leave! We woke early and packed, then ate every last bit of food in the apartment. We checked out, assuring the manager that we will recommend Seven Bridges to anyone we know who considers going to Amsterdam. There was time for a short shopping stop at the Bloemenmarket, where we couldn?t get bulbs (they were not authorized for shipment to U.S.), and had to content ourselves with souvenirs.

We took the tram down to Central Station, got on the train to Schipol Airport, and waved goodbye to Amsterdam ? on another clear, beautiful, sunny morning (it figures!). Our flight back was in Coach (no Loring around to help us get upgraded), and I sure could tell the difference. It felt longer going back, since I wasn?t tired, and I felt every one of the seven hours and 45 minutes tick away. But finally we got back to Dulles, got through customs, reclaimed our car, and fought our way around the Beltway to get home and real life back in D.C.

bardo is offline  
Old Apr 22nd, 2004, 05:46 AM
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Great report and glad you had good weather. Also glad to see that somebody besides myself thinks there is more than just ONE area in which you "have to" stay in Amsterdam. I'll be there again in June and I appreciate your detail in terms of where and what you had to eat. Cheers!
Old Apr 22nd, 2004, 09:22 AM
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Silly me - I thought the canal ring area WAS the place to stay. So what IS the "have to" area??
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Old Apr 22nd, 2004, 11:27 AM
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Thanks for your wonderful report, Bardo. It brought back happy memories - although it sounds as though you had much better weather than I had!

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Old Apr 22nd, 2004, 11:42 AM
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Great report. The basement of the Van Gogh museum has many of his letters. I really enjoyed that peek into the artists life.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2004, 06:13 AM
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bardo -

Welcome home. I'm glad you had a safe and wonderful journey. We were in Amsterdam last April and saw many of the same sights that you visited. Reading your trip report brought me back to my travels last year. Thanks for the memories. Peace.

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Old Apr 23rd, 2004, 07:02 AM
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Hi bardo - enjoyed your trip report. I noticed that you dined at De Waag and also at Cafe De Prins. Which one would you suggest for our one night in Amsterdam?
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Old Apr 23rd, 2004, 09:25 AM
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Your talking apples and oranges here but.... De Waag is slightly more expensive, at a major tourist sight (Nieuwmarkt), but the food is very fresh and very good (continental). Plus you're eating in a castle. Cafe De Prins (when I was there) was all locals, not quite as refined, service a bit slower, but the food was also great (though more "french homestyle"). Located in a typical canal house. They are located some distance from one another - I would just go whichever you are closer to at dinner. They both rock - in their individual way.....
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Old Apr 23rd, 2004, 09:31 AM
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Thanks for posting such a fun trip report. Much appreciated!
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Old Apr 23rd, 2004, 10:59 AM
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bardo (after the NoVa pub?? used to hear their ads on WHFS back in the day) - Great report! Your traveling style sounds familiar, though I would've stapled your jacket to you after day 1. I haven't been since a post-college daytrip, but now that I'm kind of a grown up I'd love to go back and see the flowers and more museums. Thanks!
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Old Apr 23rd, 2004, 11:54 AM
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Ahaugeto, Yes (sadly, now defunct).
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Old Apr 16th, 2007, 07:41 AM
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Old Apr 17th, 2007, 04:49 AM
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Many thanks for your lovely trip report, you presented it in a lovely warm fashion, I like the way you tell a story! We were there last April, and It brought back all the memories of the lovely few days we had together ( on our own)for the first time in 20years.
Well done

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Old Apr 17th, 2007, 05:47 AM
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Great report. We were trying to schedule Amsterdam for this summer, but with the price of tickets (for 5 people), we're going to have to put it off until next summer.
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Old Apr 23rd, 2007, 10:54 PM
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Outstanding bardo!
My first trip outside the U.S. will be to the Netherlands, flying out May 31st for 12 days. Your adventure is much like what I have in mind. That and take in a few Karting tracks. I'll be staying in Hilversum with a new friend. Remember well the culture shock of moving from North San Diego County to the upper Mojave Desert 24 years ago, surely this will be a welcome surprise.
Thanks for the mental images.
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Old Apr 24th, 2007, 04:53 AM
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Your trip brought back memories of my daughter's and I's trip to Amsterdam last year. The places we visited like yours except we did to to Harleem on the train. I would also recommend The Dutch Resistance Museum which many people do not visit. My tulip bulbs which I bought at the Kuekenhof Gardens bloomed recently which brought back memories again of that beautiful garden. Sorry you did not get to bring back the bulbs.
Also ate at the De Prins cafe.
Amsterdam is a great city to visit. Thanks for sharing.
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