Greetings from the other side of another exam! Anesthesia school is no joke, and we had another exam today. Our trip to Amsterdam feels like it was so long ago even thought it was only a few weeks ago. Amsterdam had been on my travel list for awhile, mostly because I wanted to visit the Anne Frank House, but it also sounded like a fun city. As I mentioned in a previous post, we got our plane tickets for quite a steal making it all a little bit sweeter.
To be honest, we did mostly touristy things, but I usually figure things are popular for a reason. (Except for Times Square. Still boggles my mind.) Overall, it was really fun, so hopefully this either inspires you to add Amsterdam to your list or gives you some ideas if it’s already planned!
Where We Stayed
When I polled my Facebook friends for recommendations, a couple people recommended using AirBnb. I’ve never used AirBnb before, but a quick look around showed that it was a better price than a hotel. Might as well give it a try, so I booked an apartment in the De Pijp neighborhood. It’s a trendy-ish neighborhood outside of the downtown/tourist hotel area. It looked like it was walking distance to a few of the things on my to do list, so why not. (If you’re familiar with Amsterdam, we were two blocks south of the Heineken Experience.)
I really liked the De Pijp area. It was walking distance to the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, the Heineken Experience, and the I am Amsterdam letters. (They may change the location of the letters – not sure either way.) Lots of super cute restaurants and bars. It was a little bit further to other things we did – 40 minute walk to the Central Terminal (trains) and about 30-35 minutes to Anne Frank and the Red Light District. I considered this to be walking, but I don’t think Eric was super pleased with me after a few days of this. Public transportation also looked easy, and you can rent bikes as a primary mode of transportation too. I just like walking. If I were to go back, I might stay in the Jordaan area – another area with lots of restaurants and culture a little closer to the middle of the city.
What We Did
We did the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, both of which are art museums and are basically right next to each other. I had initially planned to do both of these on the same day, but we were more jet lagged upon arrival than I had planned so that didn’t pan out. I’m glad that’s how it worked out because although the art was great to see, I can only see so much art in one day before I’m like, “Alright, I’m good.” It was impressive that Van Gogh did enough amazing work to have an entire museum dedicated to him. The Rijksmuseum was really good too – I especially liked the more famous works of art had big placemat-sized cards you could pick up to read more in detail about the specific pieces. They would point out various aspects on the paintings, even showing where a visitor fell into a canvas – it has since been repaired.
Anne Frank House
I read her diary way back in the day (and thought about reading it again before going to Amsterdam, but grad school…) and always thought it was fascinating. I still think it’s fascinating that people had to hide (or die) just because of their religion (and more so that the Nazis got away with it for so long). I’d heard stories about having to wait in line for houses to get tickets, but luckily they’ve moved to an online ticket system, so I picked an entry time before we went and we were golden! Some tickets include a 30 minute introduction, which I chose to do. They gave a presentation on the timeline of the Frank family and the people who helped them, which was nice knowledge to have before touring the house, although most of the information was also on the self guided tour.
I hesitate to say the Anne Frank House was “good” (because that sounds wrong), but it was really well done and it’s crazy to think that they hid there for over two years. I still wonder who turned them in.
If you can’t tell, I’m somewhat fascinated by World War II and all that happened. We checked out the Resistance Museum and I’m so glad we did! It’s a really well done museum with an audio tour and lots of information about the political parties during WWII as well as those who helped out in the resistance. Highly recommend!
I wouldn’t say this is a must do, but we spent a long time in Amsterdam, so we got to do a few more things. It was originally built as a city hall, but was turned into a palace by one of the kings. It did go through a lot of the history of Amsterdam and the Dutch and of course it’s a huge building with huge rooms with extravagant tastes. They had an audio tour which helped you understand what you were looking at.
Red Light District
I ambitiously booked a night tour for the Red Light District on our first night in Amsterdam. Luckily we took a longer nap upon arrival, so we were good to go. There are tons of companies to chose from for tours, but I chose this one because it had good reviews. The tour started at 9pm and it was a Friday night, so the area was hopping and the red lights were on, if you know what I mean. Our guide shared a lot of information about the city, the Red Light District, and prostitution in general. He walked us all over the area and it was kind of crazy to see the women in the windows. (Many of them were scrolling through their phones, which was funny.) Our guide explained the protections in place for the working women, and it made you think a little more about the legality of it all (whether you support it or not). Of interest was that there are no male prostitutes because there’s not enough business for them (although blue lights are for transgender prostitutes and they do well). Our guide did make a point to say that if you don’t want prostitution, taking away the women won’t solve the problem…you have to take away the men. Food for thought, everyone.
Mike’s Bike Tours
On a lighter note, you can’t go to Amsterdam and not go on a bike tour! We used Mike’s Bike Tours in Munich and enjoyed it, so I was happy to see they’re in Amsterdam as well. They do a city tour, but I opted for the country tour since I figured we’d be going around the city a bunch on our own. It was a 4.5 hour tour and someone’s watch said we did about 13 miles – definitely leisurely, so no worries if you’re not a master cyclist. (Although you should probably at least know how to ride a bike – a couple ladies didn’t and they headed back after about a block, oops!) We rode a little around the city for some background info before mostly riding along the Amstel River, stopping along the way for little bits of info from our tour guide. The path along the Amstel was super busy because there was a huge crew race on the river! Some very Dutch stops included a windmill and a cheese farm with a guy who makes clogs. The cheese was delicious (we brought some home!) and the clogs were….wooden clogs.
We rode back through the countryside and it was so much fun. We had a little time at the end and the group stopped at a bar, which was a nice touch. Highly recommend this tour!
When I was telling my dad about what we planned to do on the trip, I mentioned in the Heineken tour. He said, “Oh! I remember we were in line for the Heineken museum when we first heard that Nixon resigned.” (There was no presidential resignation during my visit, in case you didn’t notice.) The “Experience,” as they call it, was definitely an experience. It’s all self guided and they take you through the history of Heineken and how they brew their beer. As you get toward the end, they have a lot of interactive activities – you can take a video of you singing while riding a bike, you can kick field goals on a video game, you can dance while moving lights around (I explained that poorly). Of course, at the end, you get a couple beers. I hope you like Heineken! (It didn’t taste different than in America.)
Canal Boat Tour
Amsterdam is full of canals (and bikes!), so you can’t not take a boat tour. We chose to do one at night, and most of the companies seemed to be about the same – we booked with Blue Boat. My main recommendation would be to get to the boat early so you can sit along the sides of the boat. We got there just as all the window seats were taken, but no worries. Our driver had some impressive skills as the turned the boat and took us through some super narrow canals. The tour is given as an audio tour so it’s a little less personal, but still a relaxing time.
I Am Amsterdam letters
I mean, you can’t NOT take pictures here.
Over the Edge
My internet searching led me to find A’DAM Lookout with the Over the Edge Swing. After a ferry ride from the Central Station, you just walk over to the lookout. It gives you great views of the city and is complete with the highest swing in Europe! Since I’m a great girlfriend, I added this to the list for Eric because it sounded like something he would enjoy whereas I prefer to keep my feet on the ground. You lock and load into the swing (okay, it’s a fancy seatbelt), they they lift you up and swing you out over the edge of the building. I’m terrified of heights so I timed how long other people were swing – 2.5 minutes. I had fun for about 20 seconds and then I had a death grip on the side rails and did some counting. I looked down once, so I’m pretty proud of myself. Eric enjoyed it, so I recommend this if you’re not scared of heights! And obviously the lookout had some good views too. You can go up at night as well, which would be a completely different experience!
This is a big street market that just happened to be near where we stayed, so we went almost every morning. It reminded me of any other street market – t-shirts, dresses, flowers, postcards, suitcases, washing machines (???), plus flowers, a fish market, smoothies, juice, nuts, sandwiches, and the beloved stroopwafels and poffertjes.
Stroopwafels are a super thin waffle (cinnamon-y, if you ask me) sliced in half and filled with caramel, then put back together. They are especially delicious when hot off the press and I would eat one every day if I could. (And I can for now since we brought a bunch back…)
Poffertjes are mini pancakes and they are HEAVEN. I found a poffertjes guy in the market and went there three days in a row. I was almost embarrassed the last time, but I’m sure he doesn’t care as long as he gets business! Mini pancakes covered with powdered sugar and dipped in nutella. Wow.
The Nine Streets
Apparently this is supposed to be a super cute shopping area with lots of local stores, and we did find some cute stores….although you have to be looking to wander in cute little stores, which isn’t always my favorite thing to do. We did stop for a beer in the area and found Eric’s street, so life is good.
Dutch food is (not surprisingly) very much like German food – sausage and potatoes! Other Dutch foods include bitterballen and raw herring, one of which we did not eat. (I’ll let you guess.) And of course the stroopwafels and poffertjes, which I most definitely ate multiple times. I also can’t possibly leave out the Dutch apple pie, which we had at the popular Winkel 43. There’s apparently a better place across the street, but we went for the popular place.
Bitterballen: We ate them multiple times, but I couldn’t get into the texture. They’re fried meatballs with a meatball-like puree in the middle, and it’s pretty mushy.
Dutch apple pie: Okay, I’ll admit I don’t really like apple pie. (And neither does Eric, you learn something new every day!) But we had to try it. It was pretty good although I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it. I did like that the crust was more crumb-cake like than straight pie crust (I ate a lot of the crust) and that the textures on the apples sat well with me.
Stroopwafel and poffertjes: ALL DAY EVERY DAY.
We obviously got some restaurant recommendations before we left and also counted on good old Yelp for other suggestions. Our restaurant selection included:
The Pantry: Dutch food, surprise surprise. It is very Dutch to put things in your mashed potatoes. I had sausage and mashed potatoes mixed with sauerkraut and Eric had the Hutspot, which is traditional sausage and mashed potatoes mixed with beef carrots and onions. I really like sauerkraut.
Pancake Bakery: We ate here before the Anne Frank House since it’s right down the street. Eric thought that pancakes meant pancakes as we know them, but they’re more like a large crepe. I had mine with nutella and bananas and it was delicious but super sweet! They have just about any combination of sweet or savory pancakes, so you can find something for everyone.
Bakers & Roasters: A popular brunch place in De Pijp near where we stayed. It was super popular and I can see why! Classic Eggs Benedict (with bacon, not Canadian bacon, so good).
G’s: Probably one of my favorite meals! I had a blood mary and a single two eggs with toast…but they had a seasoning on them that was like an everything bagel, it was fantastic. Eric’s French toast also got two thumbs up.
Mastino: Fancy pizza in De Pijp. Highly recommend!
The Butcher: The way people talked about this, I thought this would be a fancy burger place, but it was more like an upscale fast food place. It wasn’t bad, just wasn’t what I was expecting.
DONOR KEBAB: We stopped at a neighborhood place because I love donor kebabs. The garlic sauce is so delicious.
I always fall in love with lattes when I’m in Europe (which isn’t often, despite what that sentence may sound like). They just do them so well! I will admit that we frequented the nearby Starbucks as well because sometimes you just want a drip coffee. (And a mug to add to your collection.)
Eric and I also enjoy beer, so I looked around for breweries and bars. Amsterdam did not disappoint!
Troost: A De Pijp neighborhood joint, and it was packed on the Friday night we went! Luckily they had two seats available, so we got some bitterballen and some beers. I did a flight and life was good.
Brouwerij ‘t IJ: The windmill brewery! It was packed on the weekend when our bike tour went by, but we headed back during the weekday and had plenty of room. The brewery is actually in the windmill, so that’s pretty cool.
Gollem Beer Cafe: A beer bar right near where we stayed. So many types of beer! (There was also another location that we stopped at.) My research found it before we crossed the pond, but our AirBnB hosts recommended it too!
Cafe T Smalle: Over in Jordaan near the Anne Frank House. An old time feel with wood paneling on the walls and a good vibe. Nice place to hang for a little break!
The Day Trip
We took a day trip out to Rotterdam, which was about 50 minutes on the express train. I admittedly could have planned this better and perhaps should have chosen a different location for a day trip, but I saw the Cube Houses and thought they’d be fun to see. (Newsflash: It takes about two minutes to tour.) Rotterdam was nearly flattened in WWII (….here we go again), so the buildings are much more modern than in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is an awesome city full of canals and more bikes than people! Everyone speaks English (like much of Europe), which makes it very easy to do everything. I love all the buildings – they’re slightly tilted due to horrible foundations in Amsterdam (….it was swamp land, so there you go). The houses also have very narrow stairways, so there’s a hook at the top of each building so you can use a pulley system to get large things in and out of your house. I really wanted to see someone doing this, but instead we saw the fire department take a woman out of a third story window on a stretcher and ladder combo.
I wish other cities had the bike culture that they do in Amsterdam. Dedicated bike lanes everywhere and people actually respect people on bikes. In NYC, you can’t leave your bike out for four seconds without something being stolen off of it, and while bikes get stolen in Amsterdam, it’s not like they’re stripped to the bones like you see here. That must be nice.
We lucked out in that we had perfect weather – I kept checking it, and Amsterdam was very rainy. By some magic, the rain stopped the day before we arrived and started the day after we left. 50’s and sunny or cloudy the entire time – can’t beat that for March in Amsterdam! (And thank goodness because my 20,000 steps per day wouldn’t have been nearly as fun in the rain……sorry again, Eric.)
Did I mention the poffertjes and stroopwafel? I want one now.
Naturally I looked up the marathon – Amsterdam is a super flat city (minus the bridges over the canals, but even then, not a big deal), so I think it’d be a great race. I wish I could have run along the Amstel while I was there, but maybe next time. (I was resting for the stress reaction….but we sure walked a lot!)
And that’s a wrap! Eric and I are savoring our stroopwafel until they’re gone (He wanted me to remind you how good they are.) and dreaming of our next trip. I hope you enjoyed this, but if not, it was fun for me to relive our trip!