Amsterdam, Holland

It’s been a while since I’ve done any exciting traveling other than between Rahway and Sheffield, but this past month I’ve picked up the pace a little again. Let’s start with Amsterdam – which has definitely become one of my top 10 cities in the world. I loved Amsterdam.

Now, since I was traveling with my boyfriend, this wasn’t my usual hostel, cheap as possible trip, but we did try to do everything on a budget as best we could. I’ll readily admit I didn’t do my best at the budget traveling in this case, but of all the cities I can think of to spend a little more cash than I wanted to, I’m content it was in Amsterdam.

Let’s begin with accommodations. We stayed in the heart of Amsterdam for 4 nights before heading off to Brussels for a days and then we spent one night outside of Amsterdam because round trip plane tickets from Manchester to Amsterdam were cheaper than Manchester to Amsterdam and then Brussels to Manchester. We also picked a sketchy week to be traveling because, despite (between the two of us) 9 years working for a Dutch cruise company, we both completely forgot about Queen’s Day, when Amsterdam went orange crazy.

We stayed at Hotel Torenzicht in the heart of the Red Light District for about 80 euros a night. And when they said heart of the Red Light District, they meant it. Here’s the view from our window:

Red Light Ladies

Considering how difficult it was to even find a hotel, I was pretty happy with it, but my boyfriend and I definitely realized I have the much lower standards between the two of us. My happiness wore off when we tried to go to bed the first night and it was so freaking loud and the bed was so uncomfortable (it was two singles shoved together and we both pretty much kept falling through the crack in the middle) that we established we’d better spend the rest of our evenings drunk or stoned if we actually wanted to get any sleep. This system, we later found, did work.

After lugging all our belongings up what was essentially a ladder to our room, we went out to explore and were pleasantly surprised to find a random carnival happening nearby with a totally terrifying ride that was like the swings you might find in an American amusement park, only they went up several hundred feet. We also found that despite the crappy state of the hotel, it really was in a good location, as long as all the nearly naked ladies don’t bother you.

Tip #1 for traveling in Amsterdam: Make sure to change over some cash at the airport if you come in at night to tide you over until the next day. We couldn’t find a working ATM ANYWHERE. We went to at least 15 ATMs and every single one was out of order. We had about 20 euros to get us through our first evening in Amsterdam, which bought us dinner and a ride on the haunted house at the above mentioned carnival.

Tip #2: Probably skip the I Amsterdam City Card. I don’t know if you read any of my other posts, but I’m usually a huge fan of these cards, so I talked Tim into getting the Amsterdam one for 59 euros for 72 hours. However, unlike the London or Edinburgh pass, it’s really 90% museums and 10% random discounts, but not free admission. I made sure that we saved some money, but to do so, we went into a bunch of things we probably wouldn’t have otherwise and were pretty indifferent to.

Our first stop using the pass was to the Heineken Experience, which the Amsterdam Pass offered a small discount to enter, still leaving the experience at a whopping 11.25 euros, after the discount. All my previous reading had said that this was the place not to miss. It also featured a unique set up where you get to experience life as a Heineken bottle, which appealed to the geek in me. Tim, a beer connoisseur, wasn’t too keen to go drink Heineken beer, but I talked him into it. Overall, if you’re really into brewery tours, it’s a decent one, but for most visitors, you can really skip this major tourist trap. It’s like most other brewery tours and the beer isn’t that great. Also, all the build up about getting to be a bottle of beer is pretty much a rip-off.

The only major museum we checked out was the Rijksmuseum, which was one of the few things that made me happy we had the Amsterdam Pass. This is the “big deal” museum in Amsterdam and if you’re only going to go to one, this is probably the one you want to go to. Admission with the pass is free, without it was something like 12.50 euros and it’s full of the Dutch masters. I’m not really all that excited by art, but I’m glad we went in.

We also utilized our pass for a discount on canal bikes and spent an interesting hour exploring the Amsterdam canals. It was an interesting bonding experience between me and Tim as we tried, unsuccessfully, to maneuver this nightmare pedal boat in a busy canal full of other canal bikers and assorted marine traffic. If pedal boating is really your thing or you’re interested in seeing what sort of abuse your relationship with your significant other can hold up to as you yell at each other while trying to avoid getting hit by a boat, go or it – if not, Amsterdam is a lovely city for walking.

The following day, I dragged Tim off to my idea of a good time, The Amsterdam Dungeon. I’m not even going to try to pretend like it’s not a super tourist trap, because it is. There’s no denying it. But I LOVE this stupid little franchise. I’ve been to both the London and Edinburgh Dungeons and I think they’re so cheesy and campy, but that’s exactly my sense of humor. I also enjoy the dark bit of history you get in the experience as well. The Amsterdam Pass offered a small discount, but I noticed that there were signs all over for places offering free coupons with the same discount and an even better one if you were interested in going to Madame Tussaud’s as well. I’ve got to say though, The Amsterdam Dungeon let me down. The stories were good and it was well performed, but they left us standing down in some odd waiting area, too far from the exit to give up and leave, for about a half an hour. Maybe it was a fluke, but if not, you might want to give this Dungeon a pass.

We also went to The Houseboat Museum. When we started planning our visit to Amsterdam, I REALLY wanted to stay on a houseboat. I love boats and the feeling of falling asleep to the movement of the ship. When working for cruise ships, I even like rough nights (not while working, they’re a nightmare in the theater, but to fall asleep to). The cost of staying in a houseboat for four days during April was a little more than we could swing though, so that dream’ll have to wait. We did go visit a small houseboat museum which soothed my desire to step foot on a houseboat, but certainly wasn’t the same as actually staying in one. The admission to that museum was covered by the Amsterdam Pass, which was a perk.

That evening we went on a canal cruise with Holland International Rondvaart. The canals were really pretty all lit up at night, but it probably would’ve been smarter to go during the day. If it had been one of the romantic candlelight dinner cruises, it might have been a different story, but it was just your typical around the canal and back again cruise that would’ve provided a much better opportunity for pictures during the day. This was one of the other times I was content we had the Amsterdam Pass, because the Pass covered a free canal cruise with one of two lines. I don’t know if it would’ve been better if we’d picked the other line, Blue Boat Company.

We then decided we couldn’t go to Holland and not check out the windmills, and in this regard, the Amsterdam Pass was very useful, despite having to leave Amsterdam to use it. We took the train to Zaanse Shans, where all the windmills are, which was only about a 20 minute train ride. The Amsterdam Pass covered entry to several activities within the city, most notably, the assorted windmills.

We visited the three main operating windmills there, a dye mill, oil mill and lumber mill, and climbed all over the mills. If you ever go to Amsterdam, I can’t emphasize enough how worth it it is to head over to this city. I loved it. It was probably my favorite part of our trip. Well, that and the macaroons in Belgium, but that’s a different entry.

The entire area is gorgeous and picturesque with lots of little canals running through the residential area near the entrance, several small cafes and a place where you can buy cheese and wooden shoes (not that there’s any shortage of that anywhere in Holland). The area by the train station is also next to a chocolate factory and air smells amazing. Amazing.

On our last full day in Amsterdam, we wandered around a lot and finally made it to the Anne Frank House, a museum we both really wanted to visit. I thought it was amazing.

Tip #3: Do not miss the Anne Frank House. It’s worth the line.

Walking through that house seemed completely surreal to me. I’m well aware Anne Frank was a real girl, but being where she had been and seeing recreations and then actually walking through where she lived really reminded of how insane and awful humans can be to each other. I think it’s an experience not to missed, but I can’t honestly say it’s a very happy one.

Tip #4: Sometimes you will wait in crazy lines, notably the Anne Frank House or waiting for trains. Tim and I found a fully charged iPod full of Angry Birds made that time pass pretty tolerably.

On our final night in Amsterdam, after being dropped off by the Eurolines bus from Brussels, we went through the city center of Amsterdam, on Queen’s Day, which was a nightmare, a bright orange, intoxicated nightmare, to get to Wormerveer, where we were staying for the night at Hotel Huise Te Zaanen. I loved this hotel. It is inconveniently about a half an hour from the center of Amsterdam, but it is out only one stop past Zaanse Shans, where all the windmills are. If you’re looking to spend a night or two out of the city and exploring the gorgeous countryside, I can’t recommend this place enough. It was also less than a five minute walk from the train station and we found it was very easy to get to the airport from there the next day.

All in all, I’d go back to Amsterdam in a heartbeat. Besides all the cool site-seeing stuff we did during the day, it’s also got a completely unique nightlife. After a year of living in England where everything closes up by 11:00 pm, I was completely enthralled to see Amsterdam still wide away at 2:00 am. There are countless bars, cafes and coffeeshops to frequent through the evening as well as endless street vendors hawking everything from frites (french fries) to Chinese food to pizza dogs (and yes, that is a pizza hot dog – a horrifying, amazing creation that could only come to be in a place where pot is legal).

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