Exploring the heart of Amsterdam

The cooler weather has definitely settled in and I believe I’m falling into the British habit of talking about the weather all the time. I’m not sure how I feel about that. But anyway, thermal layers, gloves and scarves came out to play during our sojourn in Amsterdam last weekend. In wind, rain and hail, we found Amsterdam to be a fantastic city with plenty to do and the friendliest of people.

 

If we return to Amsterdam, it will be in part because it’s so quick to get there. The flight was around 45 minutes, most of which I slept through to make up for the 3am wake-up. The airport is connected to the train station which made it super easy for us to purchase a two day travel pass and head towards our hotel. The homing beacon for us during our stay was Amsterdam Centraal Station. It’s a beautiful building bustling with travellers going to and from national and international destinations.

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We found the food in Amsterdam was great and for a decent price. From our previous travels, I’ve learned that it is worth while researching where to eat, and making sure we eat something upon arrival so we aren’t tired AND hungry later in the day. A very highly recommended café, Omelegg, looked right up our alley (eggs all day? Win!), but we failed to get a table after multiple attempts – proving how popular it is! Perhaps that will also be a reason to return.

Our first meal was a satisfying lunch at Van Kerkwijk Café. Meatballs, salad, roasted aubergine, gooey goat’s cheese, bread and tea – perfection.

Saturday night dinner was a slightly fancier affair at a restaurant called Herengracht. Indulging in lamb, pheasant, beer and a warming hot toddy, it was hard to muster the courage to step back outside into the chilly night!

On Sunday we had lunch at a popular pancake shop simply named Pancakes Amsterdam. It was there that I had a fresh mint tea which was on offer at most cafes there. I worried that the flavour would be too strong for me but it was entirely refreshing. It’s easy to imagine how well it would go with meals heavy in red meats and bread.

My research also indicated that fries are a big thing in The Netherlands. There were several stores selling fries in paper cones but I wanted to make sure we tried the right one so we headed down to Vlaams Friethuis and waited in a line that seemed too long just for fries. The line doesn’t lie however; they were probably the best fries I’ve ever had. Double fried in batches, they were crisp on the outside and fluffy within. All the fries were equally perfect which is a feat in my mind. They also have 25 different sauces you can have on your fries! Decide in advance if you are often plagued by indecision.

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There are plenty of museums in Amsterdam and we started off at the iconic Rijksmuseum. This beautiful building houses an elaborate collection of Dutch, and international, art. With the amount of art we are exposed to in Europe, I sometimes wish I had paid more attention during high school art history. We’re leaning at every step though! I really enjoyed this museum because it is so thoughtfully laid out. The space is utilised effectively to ensure each piece has its own space which also meant it didn’t feel so crowded when you tried to get a good look. There is also an audio guide which was the least cumbersome to carry of all the previous audio guides we have tried. It has a large touch screen and allows you to choose a “highlights” tour. We chose a 90 minute highlights tour which provides instructions on where to go, taking you through the museum and providing information on the most notable pieces of artwork held there. There was also a 45 minute highlights tour for those on a tight schedule. I think that has to be the most considerate audio guide we have come across. The descriptions provided were also useful for people like us who aren’t very knowledgeable about art. We were provided with explanations on why particular pieces were significant; I like leaving a museum feeling like I have learned something.

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While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Amsterdam, it is there that Anne Frank and seven others hid from the Nazi’s for two years during WWII. I read about the ridiculous queues for the Anne Frank House so we woke up early on Sunday morning to minimise our wait time. The museum opens at 9am and we arrived at about 8:40am. A significant line had already formed which is pictured below, but it would be nothing compared to the snaking line around the block a couple of hours later when we exited the museum!

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After a 45 minute wait, we began our tour of the building. No photography was allowed in the museum so a brief description will have to suffice until you get to go yourself!

The building is where Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, ran his business preparing pectin for jam production. We began in the offices and storeroom before proceeding behind the secret bookcase which hid the annexe where Anne Frank and her family hid. The rooms themselves were left empty as instructed by Otto Frank, to symbolise the loss of life which occurred both in his family and across Europe. It is impossible to imagine being cooped up with seven other people in that space for two years, not being able to walk around or have water running during the day for fear of workers hearing below. I admire the strength it must have taken Otto Frank to return to this place after the war and finding out that his wife and two daughters would not be coming home. I think having museums such as the Anne Frank House are invaluable for teaching and also reminding us of the mistakes of the past.

 

We had a bit of a serious museum moment on our second day, visiting the Verzetsmuseum after Anne Frank House. This small Resistance Museum focused on how various groups of people dealt with German occupation during WWII and tried to fight against it. The quality of the museum was not the best in my view. There were a lot of documents and items in cabinets which only had small glass viewing panes. Only one person could see each section at a time and you need to stand quite close to read the information. It was great however, that there were English translations of almost everything throughout the museum. It was interesting to find out more about Dutch attitudes before and during Nazi rule. Their extensive publication of illegal newspapers and methods to receive radio news from abroad were tremendous examples of ingenuity and tenacity.

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There is certainly a sombre aspect to the historical museums in Amsterdam, but there is also another kind of Amsterdam that plenty of rowdy young people on our plane were likely there for. Some of our friends are likely curious so I will confirm that we did not visit any “café’s” while in Amsterdam and nor did we visit the red light district at night. We walked through the red light district on Sunday morning between museums so generally everything was closed. A few adult stores were open and we saw a couple of girls in windows but mostly it was just a really nice tree-lined street with a canal flowing through the middle – hard to imagine?

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The scent of marijuana was around the whole city for sure. Several of my fellow AGGS girls may recall a familiarity with the scent from walking to and from school along K Road – memories.

 

Despite the cold weather we visited Vondel park which is a huge slab of greenery close to the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. The sun was beginning to set already and the clouds were ominous but we were still caught by surprise, along with most other people, when a sudden hailstorm struck. I heard it hitting the water in the lake beside us a second before we were pelted with remarkably bouncy hailstones. It induced a kind of mild panic in everyone resulting in some dashing about between cyclists and runners, and a frantic opening of umbrellas. We found ourselves laughing along with a group of fellow tourists huddling under a small awning at how sudden and enthusiastic the hail was. It lasted no more than five minutes at the most and afterwards it looked like it had been snowing a bit; it was quite beautiful really. The temperature had dropped noticeably and once it was over we made a beeline for the exit.

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Among the many factoids about the Dutch, most of you are probably aware that they are on average the tallest people in the world. I find that easy to believe considering the number of super tall people we came across. Notable mentions include a waiter at Herengracht who bent over in half to reach the patrons seated at tables, and a lady who walked past me with her hip at my elbow level. There are very few places in the world where I can feel tall but at the same time, I have never felt so short! Everyone we came across was tremendously polite, spoke perfect English and seemed genuinely happy to help us out. Across all of our dining experiences, we felt that service was quite slow but since they were all like that, I have to think that it’s simply the pace of life there.

 

Our journey home was delayed by an hour which might have frustrated us a few months ago but we’ve come to expect it now. The brief flight home made it more bearable and we weren’t home too late. Temperatures in London had fallen while we were away so we returned to about the same kind of weather we had in Amsterdam. I’m half excited by the prospect of a winter Christmas and also half wishing I was in the southern hemisphere ready to welcome summer. My self-prescribed solution is to get into Christmas cooking. Should any of it work out well, I’ll be sure to share it with you!

 

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