We left Helsinki by plane about 4pm, arriving in Amsterdam airport about 6pm. Got out bearings and found the shuttle bus stand. Our hotel is on the bus route, but it turns out we missed it by 15 min and it only goes once an hour. Wandered around the airport for half an hour until the next one turned up. It was quite cold and windy and seemed to be on the verge of raining most of the time. Got in the bus and was waiting for it to leave when it started peeing down. Good thing we brought the umbrellas with us!
Map of the centre of Amsterdam. Locations mentioned are marked in red.
Bus to the hotel took about half an hour or so. Relatively speaking accommodation in Amsterdam is quite expensive. Both places we looked at were quoted at around 80 – 100 EUR a night each, but we took the more expensive of the two. One because it was a bit closer to the city centre, two because they provided breakfast and three because I thought it would be a nicer place. We got two out of three :-). That was also when we realised that there is no such thing in the Netherlands as a non-smoking area, well almost.
Hotel room and the view onto the street.
Once we sorted out the room it was still quite early, and we thought we’d have a look around. The hotel is on the outer ring of canals from the centre, but the centre of Amsterdam is reasonably compact, so it wasn’t long till we found something interesting. After walking around a bit we managed to find Leidseplein which is a square on one of the roads leading to the centre. The area around it is full of restaurants, cafes and coffee shops.
Lesson number one
Restaurant in Amsterdam is a restaurant, seems likely to be either Dutch food, Indonesian or Argentinean Steak.
Cafe is actually a bar where you can get food if you are lucky, or usually, beer.
Coffee shop is a place where you will get coffee if you are lucky, but more likely magic mushrooms or hash, both of which are freely available.
After investigating all the options in Leidseplein, we go to Burger King for snack.
Everyone has a bike, and one of the most famous “Coffeeshops”, the Bulldog.
Tuesday is a shopping day. Or at least that is the plan. Breakfast at the hotel first. Not quite what we expected for the price, but bread, sliced meat, and cheese available along with cereal and coffee, etc. In the dining area there is a big fat ginger cat lying in the middle of the floor. He doesn’t move for anyone. Right next to the dining area the receptionist is smoking at the desk.
Headed to town at 9am. No shops are open yet! Get kicked out of one shop because it is 2 minutes before opening time even though they have all the doors open. Keep going towards the town centre and find the floating flower market “Bloemenmarkt” . It is a flower street market with the stalls half sitting on barges in the canal. There are frequent heavy showers, but we remembered to bring the umbrellas again. Get a few packages of tulips in Dutch blue pottery. Getting damp and cold and need somewhere to put on more clothes, but there is nothing open yet besides McD’s :-(.
Amsterdam floating flower market.
After having made a bit of a zig through the flower market we make a zag back through the Kalvertoren shopping area. Small streets with lots of shops and a large shopping plaza. Lots of expensive places there, but we locate the American Book Centre that Pia found on the internet before we left. About 5 floors of English books on every subject. Very scarey place for the wallet, but so much stuff we come away empty handed. Better to buy it later when we don’t have to carry stuff all over town.
Keep going heading north and end up at the main square, Dam Square . Impressive looking place, the original centre of Amsterdam (ie the place the first dam was placed on the Amster river!). The Royal Palace is at one end of the square, it used to be the town hall. At the other end is the Dutch national monument.
The Royal Palace with the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church – 500 years old) behind it and the Magna Plaza shopping centre.
Its getting about lunchtime, but we are near the Magna Plaza shopping centre, so go there and try to find a place for lunch. No such luck. Nothing besides a tiny coffee bar and an expensive restaurant that is full of smoke. Head north again along Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and find a restaurant. It is quite empty and they have a nice covered terrace on the street. Almost manage to have lunch before someone starts smoking. We both got a Dutch omelet with ham/cheese and bacon.
Continue on and try to find a large souvenir shop, supposedly with a clog factory. Find the address eventually, but no shop. We have come up to the west of the main shopping area, so cut back towards there through the small side streets. They are full of shops as well and plenty of tourists wandering around. Seems to be a large quantity of shoe shops and party clothes. Probably for all those drug induced raves :-). We find the main street again and come across a tour office, just down the street from the Central Railway Station. Decide to book a canal tour for the evening.
The centre of Amsterdam on the left, Damrak on the right.
Its mid afternoon and our feet are getting a bit buggered and it is a long trip back to the hotel, so start heading back. Continue on to the east and do a bit of a loop back through the red light district. On the way there from the main street you pass through another maze of small side streets. These are probably the worst and most of the porn movie shops and sex shops are found. Although it is afternoon, so its pretty quite there. The “real” red light area is pretty dead too. A few women sitting in the windows, but most of them look pretty bored. Don’t seem to be many customers either, just tourists wandering down alongside the canal. Last time I was there with Contiki it was night and there was much more happening.
The red light district and a couple of the places there. The other more interesting ones didn’t allow photos 🙂
Finally get back to the hotel and our feet are completely knackered. Probably did about 10km today. Evening cruise doesn’t start until about 7.30pm, but it is only about 5pm now and we don’t have any idea about dinner. The guide book says that an Indonesian meal in the Netherlands is about the same as having a curry in England, so we give that a go. There is a place right across the road so we go there.
The restaurant is almost empty, just a couple of locals there. There is a small Indonesian guy waiting on the tables. His English isn’t so good, but he manages quite well. On the menu is “Rijsttafel”, a rice table, it is similar to a Chinese banquet in that you get a small portion of everything. I decide to take that and Pia has Nasi Goreng. When the waiter starts bringing out an extra table for me I start to panic! By the time he finished I had 26 portions of food in something like 20 different plates! The locals are staring and within 10 minutes all the kitchen staff have passed through watching us. I think they enjoy scaring tourists. A short while later some more guests arrive and end up with similar quantities of plates at their tables, so I don’t feel so bad :-).
Dinner holds a few surprises!
An hour later and we are about at deaths door. Have to go and have a quick rest before the canal tour so I don’t explode. Luckily it passes quickly, bit like chinese I guess, and we are able to walk around the road to the canal tour dock. It is a bit cool still, but not raining for the moment. The tour is full, but everyone has their own chair and table, so we aren’t squashed in. The evening tour goes for 90 minutes and passes through some the more interesting areas of town and does a loop out onto the Amster river and back. By the time we are about half way through the light starts to fade and all the canals and bridges are light up, which looks good. The tour guide explains the history of Amsterdam and the reason for the design of the houses alongside the canals. Towards the end of the tour it starts to rain again, but it is almost dark and not much to see any more.
The houses in Amsterdam next to the canals were taxed on their street frontage. So they are very narrow and tall. The most narrow house is about 1.8m wide!
Because the houses are so narrow there is no way to get furniture inside. All the houses have a hook poking out from the peak of the roof to hoist things up to the top floors.
The evening canal tour around Amsterdam.
Today we thought to visit Anne Frank’s house. The guide book said that if you are there first thing in the morning you can beat the rush, so we started out just after 9am. It was a few kilometres walk there and it was raining the whole way, although it was canal side the whole time, so it wasn’t too boring. When we arrived the line was already about 20 metres long outside and it took about 15 minutes to get in. Glad we bought the umbrellas.
The house has been preserved from the time just after the war. All the furniture was stripped by the Germans, so it has been kept in that state, with short movie clips in each room and small items left over from the family’s time of hiding there. Later in the tour there are versions of her diary in all the published languages along with the story of how her father got hold of the diary after her death in the concentration camp. There is also a bookshop where you can buy her diary in several languages, including the latest unabridged version. I hadn’t realised that both she and her father had edited the diary. The first version published was one that she had re-written once already and that her father had also removed some passages.
Standing in line and the front of Anne Frank’s house.
We finished at the house after about one and half hours. Since we had managed to do most touristy things and didn’t feel like going to museums, etc we decided on a bus tour. We had found two in the brochure that looked okay. One was to the tulip fields, the other to the countryside and windmills. The windmills won. Once we arrange the bus tour at the same office as the canal tour we found a KFC up the road and stopped there for lunch (KFC doesn’t exist in Finland). There was also time for a bit more shopping before the tour started, which was about 2.30pm.
The bus tour started with trip through the countryside and then a stop at a historic site where they do all the touristy things for the local Dutch and tourists. On site were working windmills along with a clog factory and various arts and crafts place. Bit of a tourist trap, but otherwise quite nice. Stopped in the clog factory for a quick demo and then the purchasing could start. Not quite feeding time at the zoo (that would come later), but almost. Manage to escape with our lives and a pair of clogs. Surprisingly enough, they were no more expensive than the tourist shops in town. A couple hundred metres away were three windmills, two that were working still. The wind was blowing quite hard, so they were really going for it!
The Dutch countryside, the clog factory and shop and a few windmills.
After the stop there we headed towards Edam — the place the cheese is from. Actually we didn’t quite go there, but stopped at a cheese factory nearby where they made Gouda instead :-). Another quick demo and then the chance to buy authentic Dutch cheese. This time it really was like feeding time at the zoo!
Cheese, cheese and more cheese. All Gouda!
Next stop was Volendam, a touristy place that used to be a fishing village on the sea shore. In the early 1900’s, during a patch of particularly active dyke building, the Dutch managed to wall off the entire sea and cut them off from their fish. So they have relied on tourism ever since. Nice little village even if it is a bit of a tourist trap. At this point most of the tourists took the ferry to Marken, an island in the “used to be” sea. We went by bus instead. Thoughtfully they had built a 2km long dyke to the island, otherwise we would have gotten wet feet.
Volendam, and it’s used to be sea, now a lake.
In Marken, since it was an island in a “used to be” sea, they had tides, or once did. Anyway, because of the tides they built the houses on stilts, but of course since it is a lake now and not a sea they don’t have tides any more. I guess because of living on a little island with nothing to do and having expanding families they needed space and built extra rooms beneath the houses filling in the space between the stilts, giving rise to the current design of houses there now, with the front door on the first floor (second floor if you happen to live in place where they count the floors wrong).
Marken and the filled in basements. The port at Marken.
Once we picked up the others off the ferry it was back to Amsterdam. We arrived back in the centre of town quite late, so it was another long day and walk back to the hotel. Don’t know if I mentioned, but it is about 3km or more from the town centre to the hotel.
Start by walking to Alberts Cybdmarkt street market first thing in the morning. Supposed to be the biggest street market in Amsterdam. Just over a km walk from the hotel. Along the way we find the pride of the Amsterdam fire brigade and a gem and fossil shop, that was closed. Made a note of it for the trip back. Finally get to the market just as it is opening. Stalls line both sides of the road for several streets, but not so much interesting stuff. Lots of cheap “party” clothes and shirts, etc. Shoes, belts, some jewelry as well. Also some food stalls, but not really anything very special. Walk up and down the market for about an hour and then back towards the hotel. Remember to visit the fossil shop on the way and find it is open. The guy running it is quite friendly and end up getting a 50 million year old fish :-).
The joy of the Amsterdam fire brigade, the Alberts Cybdmarkt street market, and our old fish.
We are running out of cash and it is nearly lunch time, so try to find a cash machine. They all seem to be hiding until we finally find one in Leidseplein. I finally get my dutch croquets for lunch. After lunch there is still quite a lot of time, so we finish off our shopping. First back to the Kalvertoren shopping area and get a large Easter egg from the Australian chocolate shop (which is owned by a Belgium company!). Visit the American Book Center again and get all the books we didn’t take the first time, then grab a few more tulip bulbs at the flower market.
Back to the hotel again and wait for the bus. Bus is right on time (early even) and it turns out he thinks he is in Formula 1. He drives the bus like a Mini and we arrive at the airport a bit more pale than when we started. Although we are early!But then we are so early we can’t check in :-(. We wait some more and then check in, pass through security and find more shops. Same shops as all airports with the exception of all the tulips and one place that sells nothing but scale miniatures of aircraft. All the aircraft you could possibly imagine at all scales. I get two Air New Zealand 747-400s, one in the Lord of the Rings colours and the other in All Black colours. We visit all the other shops on the way to the gate and arrive at the far end of the airport only to realise we forgot to take the fresh tulips for home 🙁 They were about 50 for 10 EUR, but no time to walk back. Its still raining when we leave at 6pm. We arrive back in Finland about 10 that night.
Homeward bound and still raining!