Jolene goes to Amsterdam
STAY: Hotel Ibis
EAT: Bulls & Dogs
GO: Anne Frank Huis
NOTE: I SINCERELY APOLOGIZE FOR THE LENGTH & WORDINESS OF THIS POST. I DECIDED TO MAKE THIS ONE QUITE PERSONAL; IF YOU'D SIMPLY LIKE TO READ ABOUT WHAT I DID, PLEASE SCROLL DOWN.
If you've been following along with my Europe posts, you've probably noticed the long gap between this one and my last. The truth is, I've been struggling with how to approach this blog, how to write about my short experience in Amsterdam. I always try to be mildly objective in my reviews - each person can have such a different experience, and each traveler has her own quirks that affect how she perceives the destination.
That being said, my experience in Amsterdam was generally sour, and more of a rollercoaster than I would've liked.
After our time in Copenhagen, we were already well past halfway in our European adventure. Jennifer and I had a complete blast in Copenhagen, but looking back, I now realize how tired we had become. We loaded up with souvenirs and lugged our heavy bags onward and upward.
The good news is I was very much impressed with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. I'd never flown with them, but it was more than appropriate to take a Dutch airline en route to my first Dutch experience. Not only was the flight incredibly smooth, but the service was impeccable. We were all graced with a complimentary hearty snack and drinks. These days, it's rare to find an airline willing to shell out this kind of service, or maybe that's the norm on inter-continental European flights. After a quick 1.5-hour flight over beautiful greenery and coastal scenes, we had arrived in Amsterdam. Half jokingly, my first observation was there was no "WELCOME TO AMSTERDAM" sign anywhere that I saw, so my first impression of Amsterdam was being disappointed I couldn't continue my trend from London and take a Boomerang with the sign. I know, very millennial of me.
We followed signs in the airport for trains, as I knew we had to take a train from Schipol Airport into the city (Amsterdam Centraal). I'd Google Mapped our trek beforehand, but even with some prior knowledge, our voyage into the city just seemed difficult. The train we took had extremely narrow aisles and was significantly different from the other overground trains I'd taken in Europe. We struggled to figure out where to place our bags, and we uncomfortably sat down for the half-hour commute, trying the best we could to stay out of the way. Once we arrived at Amsterdam Centraal, we had to take a bus to our "hotel." We struggled to purchase travel cards - I don't even remember how we were able to get transportation. There was only one kiosk that we saw and it only offered specific train tickets.
This is where my sour experience truly began to curdle.
For whatever reason, I saw at least one person on our bus recoil as we walked past with our luggage. I'm not sure if there is a general disdain for tourists in Amsterdam, but I definitely got the feeling we were not welcome. This feeling continued with every judgmental stare, and even with some comments that were made to me about the luggage we were carrying.
After being tired, hangry and feeling self-conscious, we made it to our "hotel." I think you all know by now, I did not haphazardly plan this trip to Europe. I did my best to plan a luxury budget trip, doing research and scouring the internet for helpful blogs, booking sites and recommendations. I went with one of my go-to sites, booking.com, to find a place in Amsterdam (sadly the boat houses were outside of our budget). So in place of a boat house, I settled for a boat-hotel. The location was good, the boat was docked in a place with a view, and it seemed like a great option. I knew accommodations would not be glamorous and space would be small, but apparently my expectations were still not accurate.
After risking our safety trying to walk up a small metal plank to the deck (WITH BAGS!), we were left confused and wandering around the small deck with some other guests because the hosts were not there to greet anyone. After sending Jennifer to see if she could make more progress, she was able to flag down the hostess, after relentlessly pounding on a closed-door office. We were then given a piece of paper with instructions and had to fend for ourselves. We tried our best to make it down the ladder-type stairs (WITH OUR BAGS) and shoved ourselves into our tiny room. It. Was. AWFUL. That was when we realized we were running late to our Van Gogh Museum reservation so we decided to deal with this problem later.
Unfortunately, they forgot to leave us a key in the door. We had to call the phone number on the paper given to us, only to be snapped at and hung-up on. Long story short, the hostess had been notified by her partner and came down to test a key on our door. Instead of apologizing, she basically shamed us and started to tell us about her food sickness that day. On one hand, we felt bad, but on the other, we felt totally scammed! I purposely didn't book any hostels on this trip because our goal was a fairly luxurious trip (on a budget), but this was basically a hostel on a boat with even less amenities than other hostels!
/END PERSONAL DRAMATIC STORY
After being angered further, we rushed to the Van Gogh Museum, learning to navigate the trolley system on the fly. Thankfully we made it! Although our first impressions of the city were not positive, I still opted for total touristy photos in front of the Rijksmuseum. I had booked my Van Gogh tickets months in advance, to eliminate any wasted time having to buy tickets upon our arrival.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Van Gogh Museum (no photos were allowed, sorry!). One of my favorite parts of the museum was its commitment to not only showcasing Van Gogh's work, but being faithful to tell his life story, illustrate what he experienced in his life. When we saw everything, we used the free wifi to do two things: 1) Book a different hotel and 2) Find dinner. I took care of the latter and Jennifer, being an angel, treated me to new housing. We opted for a normal, roomy space at Hotel Ibis. Service was absolutely wonderful, and I was impressed that a "budget" hotel had a modern, clean interior with such a luxurious feel. It was the antithesis of the sad boat we had booked.
Even though we had a rough start in Amsterdam, we were ready to experience something positive in the city. We'd become accustomed (somewhat) to the transportation and found our way to the Pancake Bakery for breakfast, before heading to Anne Frank Huis, the famous canal home and annex where Anne Frank and her family were hidden.
PRO TIP: BOOK YOUR TICKETS ONLINE RIGHT WHEN THEY BECOME AVAILABLE, 3 WEEKS BEFORE YOUR DESIRED VISIT DATE.
Overall, words can barely begin to describe our visit. The museum is incredibly well organized, despite the fairly chaotic crowd that gathers outside. There seems to be a regular confusion as people don't know you can buy tickets ahead of time, since literally every time slot sells out regularly! Staff is more than helpful to direct guests where they need to go.
What to expect: There are quite a number of stairs. The museum offers a complimentary audio tour available in several languages; commentary is automated and synced with each room you enter. You will begin on the bottom floor and ascend through the canal home. I have to admit, my knowledge of Anne Frank was extremely limited, only stemming from the time I read "The Diary of Anne Frank" in high school. I was blown away by the thoughtfulness and detail exhibited at this museum - in my opinion, our entire trip to Amsterdam was worth it if only for this visit.
We were feeling a little down after our museum visit, so we decided to walk over to Lanksroon for some stroopwaffels before taking an Uber to the Zaanse Schans.
Our original plan was to take public transportation, but to save time we opted for an Uber, which cut the time in half. I'd read several mixed reviews about the Zaanse Schans, both praising and criticizing the iconic Dutch tourist attraction. On one hand, it's very commercialized, full of tourists and probably not the most ~authentic experience.
Located about 30 minutes from central Amsterdam, the Zaanse Schans is everything you think of when Holland comes to mind - windmills, cheese, clogs, and the occasional grazing sheep. My expectations were low due to the negative reviews I'd read, but I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the scenery was.
PRO TIP: DRESS APPROPRIATELY. WE WERE VISITING IN OCTOBER - IT WAS GRAY AND NOT VERY WARM. THE WINDS ALSO PICKED UP HALFWAY THROUGH OUR VISIT!
One of my favorite parts was being able to climb into one of the last remaining working windmills. This is not for the faint of heart - there are ladders that take you up toward the top of the windmill, bringing you out onto a balcony to get close to its rotating blades. Even with its small fee, it's worth the visit. It was not only enlightening to see what is actually inside a windmill, but I appreciated the detail regarding the product produced in the windmill. It was like a glimpse into traditional Holland.
Afterwards, we continued our exploration, tried some cheese, and gawked at the clog makers. Watching a clog being made is quite an experience! I decided against spending the money to buy my own pair (I was also concerned about the lack of space in my luggage), so I compromised and bought myself some clog-shaped slippers.
PRO TIP: IF YOU CAN SPARE THE EXTRA CASH, ASK IF ONE OF THE RETAILERS CAN SHIP A BOX FOR YOU. ONE OF THE SHOP OWNERS EXPLAINED TO ME THAT THERE IS ONE FEE FOR A 5KG BOX, THEN ANOTHER FOR 10KG. FILL A BOX SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT YOUR LUGGAGE WEIGHT!
We only spent a short few hours there, but it was time to get back into the city and make our last few hours in Amsterdam count. Once we were back in the city, we went to a sushi place in Amsterdam Centraal, then headed off to our last adventure: the A'dam Lookout.
The A'dam Lookout opened within the past few years, so it's a fairly new tourist attraction. The Lookout is basically a hip, modern play on a traditional rooftop viewing area. I'm a sucker for beautiful city views, so I'd booked tickets ahead of time in hopes of seeing Amsterdam from a new perspective. Fortunately, that's exactly what I got!
The Lookout is located just across the channel from Amsterdam Centraal, and is visible from the station. Just hop on the free ferry and you'll be right at its doorstep. We presented our tickets and were mesmerized by party tunes and a neon light show in the very aesthetically-pleasing elevator.
As a person who is afraid of heights, I knew it was a risk to book the "Over-the-Edge" swing. It is, quite literally, over the edge of the building. When I was purchasing my tickets online, I had the option to add a ticket for the swing... and I thought, why not? How many times will I be in Amsterdam?
It was honestly an incredible, but horrifying experience. One of the staff members was extremely helpful in offering to quickly snap some photos of us before the swing began, which are wonderful souvenirs to have. The ride was a lot longer than I thought it'd be, or maybe it felt like eternity since I was terrified.
We spent some time circling the Lookout, since it's a 360º view. Contrary to the business of the city, there was something so serene and beautiful about the view. The bright lights and prominent "AMSTERDAM" on the roof of Amsterdam Centraal were a beautiful sight to behold, and because we were visiting on a weeknight, there were very few people at the Lookout.
When we were satisfied and had our city light fix, we ventured back into the city for some shopping at Dam Square Souvenirs, the biggest collection of Dutch souvenirs in Amsterdam. We made it just in time, and right before it closed, and grabbed a few things. Because we didn't have anymore concrete plans, we decided to wing it, and see if we could grab a canal cruise.
By this time, it was past 10PM. so we weren't sure if any canal cruises would be running so late. Thankfully, a cute boat with tables and cozy lighting caught our attention. Friendship Cruises was one of the only boat companies we'd seen running late, and the boat was considerably more comfortable than I was used to, as far as tourist cruises go. The only "catch" was that they had to have at least 6 people on the cruise, which joined shortly after we sat down.
The cruise was everything we needed to conclude our time in Amsterdam - our guide was knowledgable, and the city was absolutely stunning at night. You can't go to Amsterdam without taking a canal cruise!
Since we had to leave relatively early the next morning, we knew our time in Amsterdam had come to an end. We found our way back to the hotel and got ready for our next adventures in Paris. Overall, my impression was not the most positive. However, it was more than obvious that Holland is rich in history, culture, beauty, and great food. Amsterdam is surely a colorful city in many respects, and definitely worth a visit!
Until next time,