“…the smell of canals and cigarette smoke, all the people sitting outside the cafés drinking beer, saying their R’s and G’s in a way I’d never learn… Some people think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin!”
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Amsterdam… a city that boasts of a unique culture… a city in which thrive a hoard of young, vibrant, and inebriated youngsters and which still values its medieval art with its plethora of carefully preserved lovely old buildings and amazing artwork. It is a city where you can absorb yourself in the lovely artwork by great painters like Van Gogh, and cruise through the canals by the forward-tilted, pointy-headed, traditional Dutch houses during the day, and by the night, party like there’s no tomorrow, in the city’s rocking clubs, intoxicated with the magic mushrooms or the hash brownies, and walk through the city’s world-renowned red-light district drenched in fluorescent lights.
One of our most recent trips to Amsterdam was during the 2016 Christmas! Booking a hotel in Amsterdam is a tricky affair… add to that the rush of Christmas, and you have a nightmare in your hand: during the holidays or the summer seasons, the simplest of hotels anywhere near the city center at Leidesplein (an area boasting of an amazing night-life with its cafes serving all the hash brownies you want), you would end up paying a bomb! Last year in April (2016), we stayed over at the Backstage Hotel [Instagram] near Leidesplein for a night. Although the hotel was well-maintained and decked up really well as per its music theme, we had to pay almost 140 Euros for the night for a tiny twin-bed room with a shared washroom. So, if you want cheaper options to stay in the area, book well in advance in one of the many nice hostels or hotels in the area. Cutting back to our Christmas trip, we could not afford a hotel in the area, so we booked a hotel, The Alfred Hotel, a little off the city center (a short tram ride to the city center) but near the Museumplein. The hotel was quite well connected to the other parts of the city via trams and buses and is located about 10 minutes’ walk from Museumplein (a famous square of the city where the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the famous I AMSTERDAM sign are located).
Chubbies’ Tip: Another option is to stay near the Schiphol airport (especially if you are traveling via air) in branded hotels at decent prices and take day trips to the city.
We reached Schiphol airport on 24th December 2016 at noon and spent some time lazing around in the airport, filling our stomachs with fresh, warm food and enjoying each other’s’ company as we were meeting after 9 months. Just outside Schiphol airport is the less famous sister of the famous ‘I AMSTERDAM’. There we posed and happily clicked some pictures, trying hard to manage our flying hair in the strong, chilly winds. We then proceeded to The Alfred Hotel via a bus, which dropped us at 2 minutes’ walking distance from the hotel. The main attractions of Amsterdam lie largely between the hotel near the Museumplein and the Amsterdam Central station. Therefore, after relaxing a bit in the hotel, we started straight for the station, via a tram. The city provides good connectivity via its tram lines, but for locals, bikes are the main source of commuting, as they are really easy to navigate between the canaled lanes.
Chubbies’ Tip: A tourist also has the option of renting a bike and touring the city. Biking around the city is the best way to explore the city and the dutch lifestyle.
After reaching the station, we first made sure to check out the timings of cruises and museums, so that we could get tickets and plan our itinerary in ahead. The ticket booths are strewn across the city, at regular intervals, and therefore quite easily accessible. These booths hold tickets for all the museums, cruises and conveyance as well and you may get bulk discounted tickets for conveyance depending on your duration of stay. We took a 48-hour conveyance ticket, which allowed us to take multiple trips via trams for the next 48 hours, at a discounted rate. The street placed diagonally opposite to the station exit is lined with a plethora of eateries and souvenir shops. We strolled down that lane, picking up Amsterdam souvenirs from many of these shops, and binging on hot churros and pommes (that is, thickly cut potato fries) from the ‘World’s Best Pommes Shop’ (although we did not think so) called ‘Mannekin Piss’ (The name comes from the statue of a small urinating boy in Brussels… we wonder how the shop got its name)!
- Red Light Secrets Museum
After walking around for about an hour and a half, we walked down the streets to the famous Red Light District of Amsterdam and went straight for the Red Light Secrets Museum. As the name suggests, the museum showcases a lot of facts and trivia related to the prostitution business in the city. Apart from other things, it has a typical prostitute’s room on display and lets you have a peek into the daily life of a prostitute with the help of a video. The most interesting part is an acted out version of the view from a prostitute’s window, where different kinds of people from different classes of the society show varied emotions when crossing the window! The museum is definitely an interesting one and should not be missed if you are visiting the district. We spent the next hour in walking through the surrounding lanes, looking at the windows and browsing the shops displaying an array of erotic items and costumes. One can also go for a live sex show in the area. We kept walking through the canaled lanes well past 12 am, along the beautiful lighted up rails and Christmas trees! After having dinner at a Wok that we were crossing, we called it a day and took a tram back to our hotel.
- The Cruise
The next day, after having breakfast at the hotel, we went straight to the Amsterdam Central Station again, as we had booked tickets for a morning cruise starting from there. The cruise, which is usually an hour and a half long, takes you around the city through the canals, reciting the history and the importance of each area it crosses, via an audio guide. It is highly informative and enjoyable. One particular captivating part of the cruise was the view of the houseboats, boats which have been turned into permanent, floating homes by the traders and boat-owners, each with its own unique style of decoration. Check out a clipping of the cruise here.
Chubbies’ Tip: Around Christmas, there are special night cruises that allow you to see the Festival of Lights – which consists of several beautifully lighted up installations in the canal waters – up close.
- Madame Tussaud’s
There is a cafe-cum-bar where the cruise ends, and we could not refrain from going for a warm drink as it was pretty chilly and windy outside! After warming up a bit inside the cafe and gulping down some hot chocolate, we walked up to Madame Tussaud’s along the street by the Damrak Canal. The museum is located at a corner of the Dam Square. You can save some time by getting the tickets beforehand online or from one of the ticket booths, as there is always a mile long queue waiting outside the museum. The Amsterdam wax museum contains some famous historical characters, like Albert Einstein, as well as characters from modern pop culture, the likes of Justin Bieber. It also has some idols of fantasy characters, like the Avengers and the lovely Fiona from Shrek! By the time we came out, it was almost 3:00 p.m. and we were starving. We had a quick lunch at one of the restaurants in the surrounding area and proceeded to the famous Flower Market of Amsterdam via tram.
- Bloemenmarkt and the Rembrandtplein
The Bloemenmarkt, the world’s only floating Flower Market, holds a large display of bright and varying colored tulips, which makes a lovely view even if you don’t plan to buy them. They sell tulip bulbs too, which you can carry with yourself back to your country for planting. If you are not interested in the real flowers, then you can also get a bunch of plastic or wooden tulips, which are equally beautiful. Apart from tulips, you can find a bunch of other interesting things like ‘Weed Growing Start-up Kit’, along with the typical wooden shoes of Holland farmers and other souvenirs! The view and the aura are supposed to get even prettier during the summer and the spring seasons, so we have heard!
Chubbies’ Tip: The Bloemenmarkt closes by 8 pm in the evening, so if you plan to visit it, better do so during the first half of the day.
The Rembrandtplein is 5 minutes’ walk from the Bloemenmarkt. As the name suggests, the square is a tribute to the great painter Rembrandt, with a statue of him created by sculptor Louis Royer in 1852, placed at the center of the square. The square also holds a bronze-cast representation of Rembrandt’s famous painting, ‘The Night Watch’, which was established here in 2006 to celebrate the painter’s 400th birthday. The square is a nice place to sit and spend some time at, absorb the historical importance of the place, marvel at the sculptures around and simply soak in the contrasting and vibrant aura of cafes, restaurants and entertainment centers surrounding the square.
Since it was Christmas, so we wanted to do the least bit of celebration by having some good food, and so we took a tram for Leidesplein and spent some time in selecting a restaurant. This becomes slightly tedious at times because one of us is a pure vegetarian, and a lot of restaurants have very limited options in vegetarian food. Although we could find a suitable restaurant after some significant effort, it was worth the wait! We had unlimited spare ribs and one of the best Lasagna we had ever tasted, with the perfect amount of cheese (alas, we don’t remember the name of the restaurant)! Overall, it was a beautiful Christmas day, well spent!
- Van Gogh Museum
This was our last day in Amsterdam and we were planning to start by mid-day for Aachen, but then plans are not always made to be followed, are they?! Our primary target for the day was the Van Gogh Museum, where we reached by 10 am. We had a nice breakfast at the museum, at its posh dining space with a delicious, big menu for breakfast, after which we started our tour of the museum. It consists of 3 floors, with the lowest depicting the earlier stages of Van Gogh’s works and his progression in life as we move up. Van Gogh’s initial works mostly consist of his own portraits, mainly because he could not afford a model. These portraits have been drawn in different shades and experimented with different styles and strokes of paintings. What captured our attention most was an entire wall-sized painting called Haymaking by Leon-Augustin Lhermitte! It was so life-like, with some beautiful strokes and subtle colors, depicting a simple scene of peasant life. Lhermitte was one of the painters who inspired Van Gogh hugely, and we could see why! Van Gogh’s paintings show how much an artist had to struggle in those days, as his work got famous posthumously and he struggled financially throughout his life, and mentally as well, towards the end of his life. In here, we sadly discovered that one of his most famous paintings, The Starry Night is not in this museum, but is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Despite that fact, there are a lot of his brilliant works to be enjoyed here. The museum also sells some beautiful souvenirs themed on his paintings, and we could not help but pick up some!
Touring the entire museum took us about 3 hours and when we came out, we had plans to have a quick lunch and leave for Aachen. But on the way, we caught a glimpse of a local fair being put up close by and we hopped in to look around once. Although it was freezing that day and the winds were strong and chilly, we ended up spending more than an hour in the open fair, gaping at the beautifully decorated stalls, and enjoying some of the local homemade cuisines.
We then proceeded back to our hotel and started our trip back to Aachen.
Chubbies’ Plans: The Rijksmuseum and the Anne Frank House are two other places that a history buff should not miss out during a visit to Amsterdam. We deliberately did not visit the Anne Frank House as neither of us have read Anne Frank’s Diary yet, hence we plan to pay the house a visit after reading the diary so that we could absorb its significance in a better way. Also, we skipped the Rijksmuseum – the Dutch National Museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam – for a later trip as we wanted to spend more time walking along the canals of the awesome city absorbing its unique vibe. We definitely plan to visit Amsterdam again, when we plan to visit the unexplored places – the Anne Frank House, the Rijksmuseum, and the Heineken Experience (an interactive tour of Heineken’s brewing history)!