I’d accrued a few days’ holiday when I handed my notice in at work so decided to book a city break. I’d correctly predicted that working my notice and, in particular, my last day at that job would be incredibly difficult. I was right. I was also right to go to Amsterdam it appears. Whilst the rain kept coming in Nottingham, I got sunburnt in Amsterdam and had to find shade out of the sun.
Wednesday 19 June
The journey to Amsterdam was smooth and uneventful, which was nice. My flight wasn’t until the afternoon so by the time I got to Centraal station, it was after 6pm. I ended up coming out of the back exit and was greeted with the sight of the canal – fantastic welcome. I decided to walk to my hotel and followed the route round and enjoyed acclimatising myself. Because I came out the back exit of the station I ended up missing the main part of town and went around the edge. Whilst it would have been quicker to go through town, this was a bit calmer. Before I went, a few people had warned me about the bicycles. But I quickly realised that they do stick to the cycle tracks and the rules of the road (or maybe I was just lucky) so as long as you look before crossing, you’ll be fine.
My room was nice. It was a canal facing room and lying in bed at night with the window open listening to the quiet noises of the water, the canal traffic, and people walking or cycling past, was amazing! Nice and relaxing to fall asleep to.
Blue Boat Company
That first evening I’d booked a canal cruise so after checking in, I headed out again. Walking through the streets, I tried to soak it all in. My first impressions were that it was a vibrant and lively city.
On the canal cruise, we were given headphones to listen to the narrative as we went along the canals. The cruise was 90-minutes long and felt like it could have continued for the same again and still not been long enough.
The narrative was in the form of a married couple giving you the tour and teaching the history of Amsterdam as we went past the buildings and places. It was very interesting. It was a great way to start a visit to the city. Amsterdam has an incredibly rich history and any history helps shape the present-day culture and atmosphere. It also taught us about the architecture: why the tall and skinny houses; and the tradition of having a carving of a person’s profession on the house in the time before house numbers.
I can’t leave the topic of the cruise without mentioning the captain. Well, one instance in particular. The boat was quite long and at one point as we were coming up on the medieval skinny and narrow canals and he’d given us a warning that it was narrow so keep hands and arms in and don’t try and help by pushing the boat. We came up to a bridge at practically a right angle from how we came up to it. After going forwards and backwards a bit, we cleared the bridge with room to spare each side and not even a tiny bump. The captain was pleased with himself and raised both his arms in a cheer. I never doubted.
C’est Magnifique, Café
Walking back towards my hotel from the cruise, I was drawn to the delicious stropwafel display at this café. I’ve been buying the supermarket stropwafels for years but the original Dutch is to die for. They’re big, warm, and messy. Fantastic. Very sweet. I had mine with a mini smarties topping. When I go back to Amsterdam, I’m planning on having one a day. Goals.
Thursday 20 June
The FOAM museum is a photography museum. At the time of my visit, the exhibit was by Alex Prager. Alex Prager is an American photographer who uses people and creates scenes. It was an interesting exhibit but not to my own personal taste. They were a bit too fake for my liking. When it comes to photograph, I prefer the realistic scenes rather than too posed. When I was talking to the tour guide on the Red Light District walking tour later, he recommended Huis Marseille. On my list for the next trip.
Jewish Cultural Quarter
This stop was incredibly fascinating but, as you can imagine, quite moving and harrowing. As it was my first visit to the city and I was only there for two full days, I’d booked quite a few bits in. This is one that I would definitely spend more time in these buildings. The Jewish Cultural Quarter is made up of five institutions – the Jewish Historical Museum; the Children’s Museum; the Portuguese Synagogue; the National Holocaust Memorial; and the National Holocaust Museum. I visited three. When I visit again I’ll make sure I spend a whole day visiting the Jewish Quarter. I rushed a bit too much and ended up missing a lot of the audio guide.
- The Jewish Historical Museum – if you go, make sure you get the audio guide, the information it contains is invaluable. In this museum, you start with an exhibit about the Jewish religion. This is a great start. I don’t know much about the Jewish faith so found the information incredibly useful for the rest of the tour. Following this, you go through rooms and exhibits detailing the influx of Jewish people into Amsterdam and the growth of the Dutch Jewish community. It describes the most popular jobs and professions; the community; and how the new Jewish community and the existing Dutch community interacted (spoiler: harmoniously and integrated). It moves on through the significant times and eras when there was a large Jewish community in Amsterdam: eighteenth-century plus; World War I; World War II; the aftermath of the Second World War; and the later part of the twentieth-century when large numbers of Jews left Amsterdam.
- The Portuguese Synagogue – this one I rushed through too much (tip: if you’re getting hungry, eat, don’t go on to the next stop) and didn’t go through it in much detail.
The Synagogue is still a working synagogue so some areas are closed off to the public. But going through you still got a good experience of the different areas and operational importance of the synagogue.
- The National Holocaust Museum – Take tissues. The museum starts in a darkened room with a projector with a quote to the effect of, by remembering the names of those who died, they will live on. On little desks, there are iPads where you can look through lists and family trees of names of Dutch Jews who died in the Holocaust.
The next room is dedicated to a few of the children who died, exhibiting stories about their lives and some of their personal items.
The next exhibits feature a couple of short films and boards detailing the timeline of World War II and the effect on Amsterdam and how people reacted. The final exhibit gave me a much more physical reaction than the rest of the museum. It was a room stacked with replica suitcases with children’s names and ages on them. It was a silent room with these suitcases making a powerful and physical statement. It felt disrespectful taking a photo of this, but I felt the powerful message should be shared.
Café Smit en Voogt
I stopped off here for a spot of lunch. Ordering a tuna melt panini I expected it to just be a bit of fuel. But…well, see for yourself:
Seemingly when you order tea in Amsterdam, you get a mug of hot water and a selection of tea bags to choose from. Fortunately I love fruity and herbal teas but I must admit, I was very glad to have a normal cuppa when I arrived home on Saturday. I ordered a tea and got a wonderful selection of teas to choose from that I had to share:
But at least I can now happily report that I’ve had a Monkey’s Wedding tea.
After the emotional National Holocaust Museum, I decided to sit in a park that I’d passed to collect my thoughts.
The weather was beautiful whilst I was in Amsterdam – sunny and mid-20s – and so another reason for sitting enjoying an hour in the park was to enjoy the weather. When away I enjoy visiting cultural sites, but these are mostly indoors so setting aside time to spend outdoors, especially when it’s sunny, is important and uplifting.
It was a nice little park with grass, a few seats, a little fountain, and a holocaust memorial plaque. Despite being next to a tramline and busy road, it was peaceful and tranquil. One thing of note about Amsterdam is the good-looking-ness of everything. The men and women (distracting). When in the part I saw two gorgeous looking dogs on their walkies.
Sexmuseum de Venustempel
After I’d collected my thoughts and enjoyed the quiet reflection time, I decided to walk back towards town. I had booked on a walking tour of the Red Light District at 5.30 so thought it best to wander back in that direction. I was a bit early so decided to pop in to the Sex Museum first.
Hmm. Tacky. Wish I hadn’t wasted my money.
Red Light District Walking Tour
Remember earlier when I said Amsterdam was full of great looking people. Tadas (the tour guide) – hello! Very good-looking, cheeky, sexy. I could go on…
The tour was incredibly interesting. We stopped at specific stops on the way round for him to explain the history of the red light district; how it has developed over the years; and how things are now. There were also stories about Mata Hari and others along the way. Tadas pointed out a good sex museum to go around – you even get to sit in a window to experience it for yourself. As it was still early evening, there weren’t many women stood in the windows, but that was ok, that’s not why I went. I’m interested in history and the information provided and retold was thought-provoking, knowledgeable, and informative. It’s definitely worth going on the tour.
Friday 21 June
Today is the day I’d been most looking forward to as I was meeting up with my Dutch penpal, S, for the first time. We’ve been writing to each other for years – it’s got to be nearly 10 years now; we were discussing it but couldn’t quite remember when we started writing – but have never met in person before. By the end of the day we both said we can’t believe we’ve never met before.
First stop: Rijksmuseum. Wow. Just the building from the outside was phenomenal so the inside took my breath away! There aren’t the words to describe the impressiveness of this museum.
S was keen to see Rembrandt’s “Night Watch” painting (a great idea) which was on the second floor so we decided to start there. We had massively misjudged how long it would take to go round the museum. Definitely a whole day(+) job!
We spent a wonderful couple of hours walking round and viewing the art work on the second floor. The art work was great and it was nice to be going round with someone who likes art.
But, the biggest and most exciting room was the library. It’s a working library and reading room so there were signs outside warning you to be silent when in the viewing room. It was floor to ceiling of books and an amazing winding staircase. I was in heaven. I could have stayed there for hours.
Getting hungry, we wandered back towards town to find some lunch. The weather was bright and sunny so when we saw a nice outside table at Café de Spiegel. S had said she wanted me to try Dutch mayonnaise with chips so we both ordered a cheese burger and chips. Delicious! It was so nice sitting by the canal, chatting, and eating.
Stromma Boat Tours
Very small boat.
As mentioned in the first boat tour, the medieval canals are smaller than the rest. Because we were in a small boat, we were small enough to fit under one of the tiny bridges – but only if we all got on the floor and crouched down! First time I’ve ever had to do that.
Being in a small boat meant that we felt every wave. Each time a bigger boat went past. I personally quite liked it. It was relaxing bobbing along on a sunny Friday evening.
I walked S back to Centraal station before heading back to my hotel to pack and get ready to head home early Saturday morning. I was very sad to leave Amsterdam. It was such a welcoming city.