Bike culture in Amsterdam

Although I’ve recapped the activities of my 5-day trip to Amsterdam…

posts here:

Travel day and hotel
Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk
Day trip to Rotterdam

…I would be remiss to conclude a recap of my trip without mentioning the incredible bike culture in Amsterdam. Yeah, yeah, it’s legendary, but I still couldn’t help being amazing when basically every.single.road had a protected bike lane along it. Not only were there bike lanes, but also bike traffic signals, bike parking garages, and bike culture was clearly strong enough to be considered a primary means of transportation for more than just the most committed segments of the population.

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Wow – this sure would be a fun city to bike in! Before the trip, Noah and I had thought that we would definitely rent bikes one day and do some sort of bike trip or tour. Unfortunately, when the weather was very different than we anticipated (ie, rainy and cold instead of sunny and warm) biking no longer seemed like the best activity for the day. Still, we loved seeing so many bike paths and bikers. It reminded me a little of my beloved Minneapolis (admittedly, this may be the first city I’ve seen to really rival – and dare I say, succeed – Mpls’ bike path system).

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Oddly enough though, with all these bikes, I didn’t see one helmet. Hmmm…

helmet [source]

One other noticeable difference between the Amsterdam streets and others I’m familiar with was the abundance of electric vehicles. Even the taxis were electric – we got from the airport to the hotel in a Tesla Model S!

There were charging stations for electric vehicles along almost every street. Here’s a picture of a charging station near one of the canals by our hotel:

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And a nearby charging station with a Tesla plugged in:

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Yes, Amsterdam certainly seems to be a good city for the eco-conscious!

Day trip to Rotterdam

After a great three days in Amsterdam, Noah and I wanted to take a day trip to another city in the Netherlands. Rotterdam was an easy day trip and offered some interesting sights related to architecture, so we thought this would be the perfect destination! Trains from Amsterdam to Rotterdam run frequently, so getting there from the Amsterdam Centraal Station wasn’t too much trouble. Unfortunately, the express train we had planned to take was cancelled (surprise surprise!), but the local train only took about 15 minutes longer, so it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.

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Adventurin’…

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Rotterdam is known for its unusual and modern architecture. The city was basically entirely destroyed in World War II, so the entire landscape shows a very ‘new’ look, and it seems that the remodel opportunity was used to have some architectural fun. Architecture is an interest of Noah’s, so he was especially excited to see the city. We used an app (Rotterdam Info) to guide us on an architecture walk through the city.

The first stop…Rotterdam’s Centraal Station – this was easy since our train from Amsterdam arrived there!

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Rotterdam’s main train station, this building was revamped and reopened to the public in March 2014:

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Right near the train station were several other interesting buildings including Groot Handelsgebouw, an enormous business center that covers a building block of 720 x 275 ft. Also, this is the style that once symbolized post-war reconstruction in Rotterdam:

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Delftse Poort are high-rise office buildings just across the street from Centraal Station that immediately give the city a metropolitan feel. These buildings are an imposing 495 ft. tall and have a mirrored facade:

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De Calypso is a colorful building with sloping walls. Inside are apartments, offices, shops, and, naturally, parking:

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And, to make things even more fun, there’s an oddly shaped church attached to the end of De Calypso:

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The Westersingel canal (a primary canal in Rotterdam that runs from Chinatown to the Museum Quarter) has interesting sculptures dotting the pathway along the water. The name for this route is Beeldenroute Westersingel (Westersingel Sculpture Route). There are 17 sculptures featured, created by artists from around the world:

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The end of the sculpture walk brought us to an odd (and apparently somewhat controversial) statue. The statue’s official name is ‘Santa Claus.’ but it is known at the Buttplug Gnome (hence, the controversy as to whether this type of statue should be displayed by the city). It is supposed to be making a comment about pop culture.

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Moving right along…SHOPPING!!!

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Lijnbaan, the busiest shopping street in Rotterdam, was the first pedestrian shopping area in Europe. There was a large mix of stores including popular American brands I recognized as well as smaller boutiques:

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Just off of Lijnbaan is the City Hall building. There’s a street running under the center of the building!

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Interesting window shopping continued at the Beursplein, also sometimes called the ‘shopping trench’ because it is a below street-level pedestrian shopping area:

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Walking through the Beursplein led to a momentous occasion…my first Swatch! Noah is a big Swatch fan, and I finally let my envy of his cool watches get the better of me:

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The Grote of Sint Laurenskerk (often called Laurens Church) was built sometime in the late 15th or early 16th centuries and is the only surviving late-Gothic building in the city. Today, the building is used not only by tourists and churchgoers but also for concerts, lectures, and other large events:

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After all this sightseeing, Noah and I were hungry for lunch and excited to stop for a bite to eat at one of the most interesting buildings we saw…Markthal:

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Markthal (Market Hall) is a recently-opened indoor food market with shops, stands, produce vendors, restaurants and more. Of course, I would love this sort of food market no mater what, but the building itself is part of what makes this place really interesting. The building is built with apartments and offices forming a partial oval around an open-air center area. In this picture, the internal area extending from the large central window is the open-air market while the exterior ring is office buildings and apartments:

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Inside…food, food, food!

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From the inside, the ring of offices/apartments looms high above all the action, and the dividing wall is decorated with flower images:

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Here is a view to the outside from the center of the market:

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So neat!

After lunch, we looked at a couple of the other neat buildings in the immediate vicinity. Directly across the street from Markthal was Bibliotheek Rotterdam, Rotterdam’s public library:

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Also across from the Markthal are the iconic cube houses:

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These houses were designed by an architect named Piet Blom. His vision was to make the houses look like trees and have the complete unit appear like a forest.

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One cube house is a small museum of sorts where visitors can go inside and see what it would be like to live inside one of these houses. From the inside, the design seemed like a pretty inefficient use of space to me, but it was fun to get a view from within! Here’s a peek out of the attic window:

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Our last adventures of the day were to walk along the Nieuwe Maas (the large river running through Rotterdam) and to visit the Het Nieuwe Instituut.

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The wind next to the water was incredible. I literally thought I might be blown away, so we didn’t spend too long there before seeking cover on a different walkway. The Het Nieuwe Instituut is a contemporary museum about innovation. Unfortunately, our visit was a bit disappointing because half of the 4 exhibits were closed or not completed. There was a fairly detailed exhibit on 3D printing though….if that’s you’re thing. 🙂

Other posts from the Amsterdam Trip

Travel day and hotel
Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk

 

Anne Frank House, Amsterdam Museum, and Oude Kerk

While I was able to get advance tickets to the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum, there were no online advance tickets available for the Anne Frank House. From the website, it seemed as though there are only a small number of advance-purchase tickets available to the Anne Frank House for any given day and they sell out well in advance (I didn’t see any tickets available until late May!). Since this is one of the most popular attractions in Amsterdam, I knew we would should expect some high waiting times in line (and, in the days prior to the visit, I saw long lines snaking around the blocks near to the museum).

The House opened at 9:00am, so Noah and I got to the line at about 8:30 – there were already over 100 people in front of us (yes, that is the line snaking up the block and curving to the right):

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Within the next half hour before the museum opened, the line increased to a few hundred (I couldn’t even see the end!):

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Holy cow – this was quite the line! We waited close to two hours in line before getting into the museum…good thing I brought my book! Inside the House, no photos were allowed, and it was very crowded. Basically, everyone walked through the rooms in a line, reading the information on the walls and looking at some of the artifacts on display. It was definitely a worthwhile visit, and I found it particularly interesting to see who was in the crowd of visitors. The Diary of Anne Frank is the Holocaust book that has achieved the greatest degree of worldwide popularity, and as such it seems to have become a symbol and point of connection to the Holocaust within communities and people that might not generally have much in the way of Holocaust education and exposure. As someone who has had a higher degree of Holocaust education (and especially after my Heritage Seminars trip to Poland in January), I found it very interesting to see the difference in people and feeling at the Anne Frank House.

After the museum, Noah and I visited the Amsterdam City Museum. This museum is enormous – something we unfortunately didn’t realize until we were already there. The museum includes a ‘DNA’ exhibit where visitors can learn about the basic history and ‘makeup’ of Amsterdam:

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Beyond the DNA exhibit, there are exhibits on art, culture, and social movements throughout essentially all of Amsterdam’s history. We were disappointed we didn’t realize how large and thorough the museum was before going because we timed the visit in such a way that we were tired after only an hour or so there – I felt like it could have taken half a day at least to see everything!

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Before too long we left to rejuvenate with lunch at the Luxembourg Cafe (my burger was great!):

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A complete pick-me-up wasn’t complete though until post-coffee. Coffeecompany is a chain around Amsterdam, and the swanky looking interior caught my eye:

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It turned out this was a very nice coffeeshop – high quality espresso, freshly brewed coffee for each order, and some interesting espresso drinks (like a more authentic version of the flat white – Starbuck’s new menu addition). I ordered a regular coffee which was brewed in front of me using an aeropress:

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After coffee and lunch, we did some sightseeing around Dam Square. Dam Square is in the center of the city and derives its name from the fact that it was at this location that the Amstel River was dammed and, thus, Amsterdam was created – originally, Amstelredam. Today, the square is bordered by some pretty impressive buildings. Most namely, the Nieuwe Kerk (Amsterdam’s principal church when it was built in the early 15th-century):

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And the Koninklijk Paleis:

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This building’s current name (Palace), however, is slightly misleading because the building was originally built to be the city’s town hall and didn’t have any royal occupants until the French occupation of the city (1795-1813).

From Dam Square, Noah and I ventured further into the city center to see the Oude Kerk and have a peek into the Red Light District. The Oude Kerk is one of the city’s most beautiful churches…and it happens to be right in the middle of the Red Light District. The church has been here since the mid-13th century and became something of a pilgrimage site after there was a purported miracle that occurred here. The story of the miracle is as follows: a dying man took communion here and threw up his Host. When it was thrown up, the cracker was thrown onto a fire, but it didn’t burn up. The un-burned cracker was then put on display and people would come to see it – hence, pilgrimage site.

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The church was quite impressive, but I felt most of place’s spirituality was dampened through distraction from the rest of the environs:

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After the Oude Kerk and Red Light District, we walked to Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest green area, to relax and stroll around a bit before dinner:

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On Saturday night (two nights before), Noah and I had tried to go to Moeders one of the [few] Dutch restaurants recommended in our guide book. Unfortunately, when we got there we were told that they were totally booked. I called later to make a reservation and they didn’t have any availability for two days (!), so I made a booking on the only available night. If difficulty to get a table corresponds to quality of food, then this place must be pretty good!

The environment at Moeders is a lot of fun (the name means ‘mothers,’ and the walls are covered with pictures of peoples mothers!

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Noah ordered a fish special and I ordered vegetarian hotchpotch – a Dutch dish made with mashed potatoes, veggies and cheese:

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We shared a dessert called ‘Dutch delights’ that had small samples of a few traditional Dutch desserts: spiced biscuit ice cream, small pancakes, and custard with fruit curd.

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Yum!

Coming soon…a recap of our last day in the Netherlands and a trip to Rotterdam!

Other Amsterdam Posts

Travel day and hotel
Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Day trip to Rotterdam, architecture tour

 

Amsterdam Canal Cruise, Canals Museum, and the Jewish Quarter

The second full day in Amsterdam was just as busy as the first! First thing in the morning, we went to buy tickets for a morning canal cruise.

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Canal cruises – one hour boat rides along the canals – are very popular in Amsterdam and there are a lot of different companies you could go with. We decided to go with a company called Reederij P. Kooij, although I suspect most companies would offer a pretty similar program. The canal ride offered some interesting information about the city and some great views of canal houses:

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And we got some interesting views of water homes:

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Overall, the cruise was fun but it was sometimes hard to see outside the window because it was raining and getting fogged.

After the cruise, we went to the Museum of the Canals – a fairly new museum that has an interactive exhibit showing how the city was built on swampy marshland (spoiler: by driving long piles – aka, huge stakes – into the ground) and how the current canal system was designed and came to be.

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The museum was interesting and presented its information in an unique format that I thought was fun, but I don’t think this would be a ‘must do’ if you’re pressed for time in Amsterdam.

After the museum, we went for a quick lunch at the Amsterdam chain, Bagels & Beans:

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The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring and seeing the sights of Amsterdam’s old Jewish Quarter. In the eastern side of the city, the Jewish Quarter was the crowded and busy home of Amsterdam’s Jews since the 16th century. Historically, Amsterdam had been something of a haven for Jews escaping persecution throughout other parts of Europe. While equal rights and fair treatment were not completely extended (for example, Jews had to buy citizenship, couldn’t join guilds, and were forbidden to marry Christians), there was a degree of religious tolerance that wasn’t enjoyed elsewhere in Europe. At the beginning of the Nazis’ rise to power, the Jewish population of Amsterdam doubled (from 60,000 to 120,000) as it accepted Jews fleeing from Hitler. Tragically, Nazi forces eventually occupied Amsterdam as well and murdered almost the entirety of the city’s Jewish population. At the end of the war, only 5,000 (out of 120,000) remained alive.

Today, what was once the Jewish Quarters is dotted with various memorials, museums, and Jewish historical sites that remind visitors of the area’s former inhabitants. We started our exploration of the area by looking at a memorial statue of Baruch Spinoza, a Jewish philosopher and theologian whose progressive thinking placed him in conflict with community leaders of the time:

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Next to the Spinoza Statue was a memorial to honor the dead of the Jewish resistance. The black stone is inscribed with a quote from Jeremiah which reads, “If my eyes were a well of tears, I would cry day and night for the fallen fighters of my beloved people.”

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Next, we went to perhaps the two biggests current sites within the Jewish Quarter: the Joods Historisch Museum and the Esnoga.

The Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish History Museum) gives an overview of Jewish life in Amsterdam from the 16th century through the present day. While it had an interesting exhibit on the Holocaust, the museum focused on a broader picture of Jewish life, emphasizing the vibrancy and practices of pre-war life as well as the situation of the current Jewish community in Amsterdam. My favorite part of the museum were video interviews that visitors could watch relating to historical events and present circumstances experienced by Jews in Amsterdam.

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Close to the Joods Historisch Museum is the Esnoga – an enormous synagogue completed in 1675 for Amsterdam’s Sephardic Jews. The building in quite impressive…

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…and the mere fact that a building of this grandeur could be built for Jewish ritual life illustrates the relative tolerant tendencies in Amsterdam at that time. Inside, the building has wooden benches, beautiful chandeliers holding candles (there is no electric light), and large pillars supporting the building.

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The Esnoga synagogue sits within a larger courtyard that houses other rooms and services such as a smaller winter synagogue (with heat), a mikvah (traditional Jewish bath for ritual purity), a kitchen, and storehouse.

Something interesting that Noah and I noticed when visiting the Jewish museum and synagogue was that the security at these buildings was much less than what is typically found at other Jewish sites in Europe. For example, there was no security entrance at the Esnoga, and the museum only had one basic metal detector (vs. many other museums I’ve been to which include body and bag scans, proof of identification, etc.). We wondered if the relative leniency in Amsterdam was a result of non-violent attitudes towards Jews post-war as opposed to other places in Europe which have continued to deal with anti-Semitic acts and attacks from post-war even until the present day.

The last stop in the Jewish Quarter was the Auschwitz monument in Wertheimpark (a small, canal-side park). The monument was fairly simple – broken mirrors and an inscription reading, “Auschwitz – Never Again.”

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After a full day of exploring (unfortunately, often in the rain!) we were tired and ready for dinner. We went to a vegetarian restaurant near our hotel called Bolhoed. We ordered a tzatziki appetizer, bean/cheese enchiladas, veggie casserole, and a chocolate/peanut butter mousse for dessert.

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And just for fun, we saw – in action – the way people get furniture upstairs in spite of the extremely small canal house staircases!

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Other Amsterdam Posts

Travel day and hotel
Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk
Day trip to Rotterdam, architecture tour

 

Visiting the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum and Keukenhof Gardens

After a long travel day on the first day of vacation, the first full day in Amsterdam was very busy! After breakfast, we headed to the Van Gogh Museum for a 9:00am entrance. Many of the museums in Amsterdam are very popular and can get some pretty incredible lines so, when possible, it’s definitely a good idea to buy advance tickets. With our 9am advance tickets, we walked right into the Van Gogh Museum.

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The museum offered an audio guide that was probably one of the best audio guides I’ve used. Usually, I feel like audio guides have way, way, WAY too much information and it would take hours to go through everything. Also, the descriptions can often be so long it’s hard to stay interested for the entire recording. The Van Gogh Museum, however, offered several options on their audio guide, including a 40-minute highlight tour through the museum’s three floors which was perfect:

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The museum, in combination with the audio guide, gave a very interesting overview of Van Gogh’s work and life (which was very tragic). This location was one of the trip highlights:

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After the Van Gogh museum, we headed to the Rijksmuseum (the Dutch National Museum) which was basically right next door. We also had advance tickets to the Rijksmuseum, so we fortunately could breeze past the line.

The Rijksmuseum is in an incredible building built in the 1880s:

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The inside foyer was no less impressive:

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This museum was huge – it would have taken all day to see everything! We focused on looking at the Rembrandt works, instruments, doll houses, town houses (furniture and art), and some ship models. By the end of the visit, I was in desperate need of some energy and rejuvenation.

Lunch at the nearby cafe, Panini did the trick. Noah and I shared a panini with peas/tomatoes and a mozzarella salad:

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After lunch, we hit up one more museum: Huis Marseille.

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This museum is comparatively small and entirely devoted to photography. My impression was that the quality of any given visit would depend a lot on what exhibits were showing. My favorite exhibit during our visit was a collection of photos from North Korea – fascinating!

Afterwards, we took a trip out of the city to visit Keukenhof Gardens. Getting to Keukenhof required about an hour of transit using a train and bus:

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The weather was still a bit dreary when we arrived to the gardens…

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But some beautiful tulips were still on full display:

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Goofin’ around…

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Keukenhof is the largest flower garden in the world, and it’s only open for a couple months of the year. We were lucky enough to be here just after they opened to the public. Unfortunately, this meant that a lot of the flowers weren’t yet in bloom…

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Nonetheless, there were some indoor areas that had quite impressive flower displays, and the outside flower areas were still fun to walk around even without an overabundance of flowers:

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Returning to the city after the gardens was fairly uneventful, but by the time we were searching for a place to have dinner I was very hungry! Eventually we decided to go to the Pancake Bakery – a restaurant recommended by our guide book and serving the Dutch delicacy, pancakes. 🙂

We shared a pancake with goat cheese/sun-dried tomatoes/honey and a veggie/cheese pancake:

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For dessert, we had some traditional Dutch desserts (when in Rome Amsterdam, right?): appelgebak (chunky apple and cinnamon pie) and stroopwafel (two thin wafers sandwiched together with a light syrup).

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Check back soon for a recap of a canal cruise and other activities during the second day!

 

Other Amsterdam Posts

Travel day and hotel
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk
Day trip to Rotterdam, architecture tour

Traveling to Amsterdam, staying at the ‘t hotel

Sorry for the break in blogging…I’ve been out of town! First, I was on a tiyul to the North with Pardes for three days (posts about that trip coming soon), and then Noah and I took a trip to Amsterdam for 5 days. We were extremely busy – rushing around to see lots of sites, visit museums, and enjoy exploring. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great during our visit to Amsterdam, and most days it was fairly cold and rainy. Nonetheless, we had a great time!

We left last Friday morning bright and early. Noah wasn’t feeling well so he tried to sleep during most of the flights.

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After a fairly full day of travel, we arrived to the Amsterdam airport shortly after 5:00pm.

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The Amsterdam airport is fairly unique in that it is very close to the city center. In fact, it takes slightly under 15 minutes to get from the airport train station (Schiphol) to the Amsterdam Centraal station in the Old City Center.

That is if the train is working….

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We waited for about 15 minutes by the tracks until someone came and told all of the would-be passengers that the train wasn’t running. After trying to figure out the bus system, we gave up and ended up taking a taxi into the city. The ride wasn’t too expensive though because two people behind us in line (a couple of travelers from Spain) asked if we wanted to share a cab!

I will say that the public transport train system in Amsterdam was pretty terrible from our experience. During our 5 days, we tried to use the train 4 times. 3 out of those 4 times the train wasn’t working (!!!) – something we discovered after buying tickets and spending time waiting around for the train. Fortunately, the train service desk was always very willing to give us a refund. Still, I hope our experience isn’t reflective of standard transit service, or I imagine it would be very frustrating to be an Amsterdammer.

After an unfortunately long amount of time, we finally made it to our hotel: ‘t hotel. Noah found ‘t hotel online while he was looking for a canal house we could stay in during our trip. The hotel is also a tea/breakfast shop, and the adorable sitting area greets you upon walking in the door:

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Our room was lovely – fairly spacious with a hot water station and comfortable bed (although there was some pretty gaudy wallpaper). The only downside of the room was that there was very little lighting (hence why the pictures are blurry/dark). I will, however, take full responsibility for the mess. 🙂

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To get to our room, we had to climb two extremely steep sets of stairs, a typical feature – we would soon learn – of canal houses:

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After dropping our stuff at the hotel, it was time to PLAY!!

We walked around and looked at some fun shops including this store which seemed to be one big, hot-food vending machine of sorts:

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We also stopped into a candy store and saw this funny display of American “candy:”

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Eventually we went to dinner at an Indonesian restaurant called Puri Mas. Indonesian food is very popular/common in Amsterdam (Indonesia used to be a Dutch colony), and we read about the traditional rijsttafel dinner in our guide book. Rijsttafel is a Dutch word that literally means ‘rice table,’ and it’s basically a sampler dinner of sorts – small servings of different meat and vegetable dishes accompanied by rice. We ordered the rijsttafel dinner at Puri Mas and it was delicious (although some dishes were a bit spicy):

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Post-dinner included a little more window shopping and a walk through Leidseplein – a square in southern Amsterdam with lots of shops, restaurants, and entertainment. The area seemed to be very popular among tourists, and we spotted one of these pop-up urinals:

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Exactly as it sounds, this urinal pops up from the ground at night to provide a place for people to relieve themselves that is more pleasant (for others) than the ground. We also saw these warning signs all over the place telling people to be careful about what drugs they buy (apparently some people were sold heroin as cocaine and died):

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I guess the rumors about people going crazy in Amsterdam are true…

Not everything in the square was so edgy though…such as this Mini Cooper store:

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Eventually, we were exhausted from the early start to the day and headed back to the hotel for some sleep.

In the morning, we got up fairly early to have breakfast before our 9:00am pre-arranged ticket time at the Van Gogh Museum. Breakfast was provided at the hotel and included juice, yogurt, coffee or tea, and – Noah’s favorite breakfast! – bread and cheese:

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While good, the breakfast got a little redundant after 5 days…I sure missed my yogurt and oatmeal. 🙂

Check back soon for the first day’s activities such as the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhoff Gardens!

Other Amsterdam Posts

Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Keukenhof Gardens
Canal Cruise, Museum of the Canals, and the Old Jewish Quarter
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam City Museum, and Oude Kerk
Day trip to Rotterdam, architecture tour