Amsterdam is an organized mess of canals, roads, bike lanes, tram rails, sidewalks, and parked bicycles. It is such a unique city, and it’s not hard to tell that the people living there are happy.
I was super excited about this stop (Mar 31st – April 4th) for a number of reasons, the first most being that I would be exploring it with my friends Mara and Marissa. An extended weekend to spend with my friends exploring a new city – what more could you want?
We decided to get the ‘I amsterdam’ card, which is a card that lets you get into a ton of museums for free as well as get discounts on a lot of other things and free rides on all public transport. It ended up being very worth it, if not just for the ease of showing a card everywhere instead of paying for everything each time.
My first impression of Amsterdam was “why the heck is public transportation so expensive?” I had arrived late at night and wouldn’t be able to pick up my I amsterdam card until the next morning. It cost €2.90 for a single ticket to ride the tram. My next thought was “Ok trams are awesome and this system they’ve got going is impressive.” That system was one where you simply tapped your ticket on a sensor as you entered the tram and that was it. I thought it was pretty impressive technology compared to the Leeds bible-paper-thin bus tickets that people are always waving around. (As a side note, having now travelled to a number of cities, I am a firm believer that subway is the best way to travel.)
I then got lost trying to find the AirBnB place where Marissa and Mara were waiting for me. After much confusion, multiple phone calls, and Mara yelling out “Marco!” into the night, I eventually found the AirBnB. The AirBnB was nice but nothing glamorous; we had an entire flat to ourselves. It was small, but nice to have our own space to relax in. The bed was very high up and I had to use a step-stool to get onto it (which you know is saying a lot, because I rarely have trouble climbing onto things).
Our first stop was the Anne Frank House. Despite arriving 45mins before the museum even opened, there was a long line to get in. It was a good idea though, because when we left the line was literally curling around the block. People have asked me if it was moving, and it was. But I feel like I learned more than I was moved. I knew the basic premise of Anne’s story, but realized that I didn’t know a lot of the details (whether the blame for this lies with the Ontario schooling system or myself, I don’t know). For example, I was shocked to see the space that they stayed in while they were hiding. I had assumed that they were living in a small, single room. However, they had multiple rooms and a kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, it was still small and cramped, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone to have to stay there, but their conditions were better than what I had envisioned. It was also cool to see Anne’s diary. I hadn’t realized that Anne wanted to publish her diary and had actually started rewriting her entries with the goal of having them put together as a book. It was her father, Otto Frank, who put together a combination of original entries and these rewritten entries to make the book we know today. With the idea of finding stamps still fresh in my mind, I was excited to see that the Anne Frank House had special commemorative stamps.
We then stopped by Het Woonbootmuseum, or the Houseboat Museum. Basically this guy had a houseboat and was asked by people what it looked like inside often enough that he decided to buy another houseboat to keep as a museum, that would let people see the inside of a houseboat. This one happened to be an old sailing boat that had been turned into a houseboat. It was interesting to take a look around. The beds would have been a problem for me – they were so short! There was a little porch at the front of the boat that was lovely.
We then headed towards the I amsterdam sign. It wasn’t until I was researching the sign that I realized that there are actually 3 of the signs: one in Museumplein (Museum Square), one in front of the airport, and one set that travels around the city. This third set is rainbow coloured and currently stands in front of the National Opera House. Of course, everyone was climbing on the letters and if you wanted to get all of the letters in the picture (which span 24m) there would be so many people in front of you that you wouldn’t be able to see the letters anyways. Being the climber I am, I was determined to climb to the top of a letter. (this is the set in Museumplein, in front of the Rijkmuseum).
We had been planning to visit both the Rijkmuseum and the Van Gogh museum that afternoon but (surprise surprise) they closed at 5pm and we didn’t have time to do both. So we headed for the Van Gogh Museum.
I loved the Van Gogh museum. It wasn’t completely his works, but I would say 95% of the things in that museum were by Van Gogh. We got the audio guide, which I really enjoyed. It was great to see his work in a chronological order and see how it changed. He started off using earth tones a lot and painting every day life scenes, which evolved into the iconic Van Gogh style that is known today. I knew that Van Gogh painted a lot of paintings in a short period of time, but I hadn’t realized how extreme it was. There was one period of his life where for two months he painted two paintings a day. I was also very interested in learning about the events leading up to him cutting off his ear. The exact details are not known, but it likely stemmed from working and living with Paul Gauguin. They had different approaches to their work and got in an argument, which triggered a psychotic episode. I also hadn’t realized that when he shot himself, he lived for another two days before he died. Apparently the bullet was deflected by a rib and didn’t hit any internal organs. He ultimately died from an infection in the wound. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the museum, which I was upset about. But I guess it makes you appreciate the original more.
That evening, Marissa and I went to Python Bridge, which is way out on the edge of the city. We only went because it’s the wackiest bridge we’ve ever seen and we had time to kill.
On Saturday, Marissa and I went to Artis Royal Zoo. I think Marissa was a little reluctant to go at the beginning since there are zoos everywhere, but by the end we were having a blast. I didn’t mention this earlier, but I had mistakenly put the wrong lens on my camera when I ventured out on this trip. This one had a much higher zoom than was practical for taking pictures of things like people in front of buildings and such. (For reference, I had to walk to the other end of Champ de Mars before I could fit the entire Eiffel Tower in one shot). However, I was extremely happy to have this lens while I was at the zoo, because I was able to get some really great close up shots of the animals.
I am also impressed with the number of shots I was able to get with the animal looking right at the camera.
After the zoo, we headed over to the Rijkmuseum. Marissa was especially excited about this because she had recently learned that her great uncle had a piece of art in the museum. So we made sure to take the time to try and find that. One of the most famous pieces in the Rijkmuseum is Night Watch by Rembrandt. I was shocked but not really surprised to learn that the painting was once bigger, but had been cut down in order to fit through a door once upon a time. A different artist had made a copy of the original before it was cut down, and this copy now hangs beside the original (although the copy is much much smaller than the original).
The exhibition they had going on was called Catwalk, and it was all about the progression of fashion. They had this really cool runway with mannequins wearing clothes that moved up and down the runway in an endless loop. You could sit along the edge and read about the clothes as they “walked” by. A highlight was the widest dress in the Netherlands: Helena Slicher’s wedding dress.
Marissa and I then made our way to the Royal Palace. Little did we know that we had actually passed the building multiple times already. Needless to say, it was not the grandeur we were expecting of a palace. Dare I say the shopping center behind it was a more impressive building?
We had fish and chips for dinner, as Marissa was set on having a proper fish and chips at some point. Looking back, we should have had fish and chips while we were in London together, but better late than never. I was forced to order a drink, because the restaurant “doesn’t serve tap water”. I should mention that I don’t get tap water just because it’s free (although that is a large part of it). Mainly, I don’t like pop, or anything fizzy, and that’s usually all restaurants have. This restaurant had sparkling ice tea, which I figured I’d give a try. Never before have I been so disturbed by a drink in my entire life. It would start out good with the taste of the ice tea, but a second later the bubbles would hit you and it was so wrong. My brain couldn’t handle it. Here was a taste that I knew and understood, being combined with the fizziness of Coke or Pepsi. Not a pleasant experience.
We then headed back to the flat to spend some time with Mara. We played cards and watched some TV. Then, because you can’t not, we headed out to the Red Light District. I was slightly surprised to learn that the Red Light District was smack dab in the center of the city and we had been skirting its edges all weekend. I don’t have much to say about it, other than it’s an accurate name for the area, and I never would’ve gone had I been alone. I’ll leave it at that.
Our first stop Sunday morning was finding the bench that had been used at a pivotal point in the movie The Fault in our Stars. The bench is now covered in graffiti, most of which is TFioS related.
We then walked to the nearby Floating Flower Market. It is indeed floating, but they’ve built the ‘boats’ up so much that you can’t tell that it’s floating unless you look at it from the back. If you were to walk by, you’d think it was just another row of shops. I wish I could’ve bought some bulbs to bring back to Canada. There are so many more varieties of tulips than I could’ve ever imagined.
Next, we went to Rembrandt House, where Rembrandt lived and worked at the height of his career. However, on the way there, we discovered the other set of I amsterdam letters, so of course we had to stop again and take pictures on these ones. These ones were also considerably less busy than the ones by the Rijkmuseum. Having conquered a simple letter like the ‘s’ last time, I went more ambitious and choose the ‘d’. However, it’s easier to climb the letters that have a piece going through the center, so I climbed the ‘s’ and crawled across the ‘r’ to the ‘d’. The crawling across part was scarier than I had imagined, as there was more space between the letters than I thought and it had rained earlier so everything was a bit slippery. But as they say, ‘high risk, high reward’ 🙂
In Rembrandt House, there were a number of paintings on the walls but the focus of the audio guide was his life there, rather than the paintings he produced. Unfortunately, a lot of the paintings weren’t labeled, so I couldn’t learn more about them. There was even one point when the audio guide said “the walls are lined with painting both by Rembrandt and others that he worked with”. So I couldn’t even tell if the paintings I was looking at were by Rembrandt or not. But the house was interesting to look at. Rembrandt taught a lot of artists, and dedicated the entire top floor of his house to be a studio for them to work in. While we were there, they did a printing demonstration using an etching similar to the ones Rembrandt created. We also got a bit of a lesson on the different types of etching and how Rembrandt used each one.
Afterwords, we went on a canal cruise. That was enjoyable. It was nice to be able to just sit and relax as we toured the city. There was a pre-recorded guide that played as we drove around. Interesting, but not as exciting as the other tours I’d been on. That lasted for about an hour and a half.
We then went to Museum Van Loon. A similar situation to the Houseboat Museum, where it’s just letting you see the inside of a house. However, the Van Loon family was and is a wealthy family, and still live in a section of the house.
Afterwords, it was a little early to start heading to dinner, so we decided to hang out in Museumplein, which is a square/garden named for the fact that it’s surrounded by museums (Amsterdam is full of museums, some of which are really just stores calling themselves a museum because they have an informative display about what they’re selling). It was a lovely day. There were no clouds and it was warm enough that I was fine in my t-shirt. I had a lovely and much needed nap. I think Mara and Marissa just chatted.
We then headed out for dinner. Mara had found a restaurant she wanted us to eat at. It was a tad expensive, but it was a very nice meal. I had a salmon dish which was lovely. We had planned on taking a quick train up to Zaanse Schans to see some windmills, but dinner ended up taking longer than expected, so we just headed back to the apartment and watched Antman.
Even though Mara and I’s flight didn’t leave until 1:15pm in the afternoon, we didn’t have any time to do something Monday morning. The flight was a small one, so much so that we walked onto the plane from the tarmac using a set of stairs. Some would say this indicates a cheaper airline, which they would be completely correct in saying, but I was loving it. It made me feel like I had a personal jet that I was getting on. We landed in Edinburgh the same time that we took off in Amsterdam, thanks to the time difference. But I’ll leave Edinburgh for the next post!