Firstly, I don’t smoke. Secondly, I prefer to get around on foot when on holiday, but I needed to get your attention somehow. Sun – now that is something I did experience whilst spending a long weekend in Amsterdam.
Arriving in Amsterdam at midnight and attempting to find a hotel in the labyrinth of canals and lanes is no small feat. After being aided with our map-reading by more than one “happy” local, me and my partner eventually tracked down NH Doelen, our hotel for 3 nights. Lastminute.com is a fantastic site for spontaneous, budget trips away: we managed to get flights and hotel accommodation for £200. The location of our particular branch was sublime (NH has 13 hotels in Amsterdam) as we backed onto one of the canals, with our own balcony looking out over the water. After our initial marvel at the room’s commodities we crashed, ready for an early start the next day.
A day in Amsterdam should start with sweet-toast and fruit compote. (http://lionandmaven.com)
Before travelling I was warned that the Netherlands serve sugared sprinkles on everything. I’d taken this assertion with a pinch of sprinkles, however during breakfast on our first morning, we found ourselves devouring the most delicious sweet-toast in a café. Our chosen café (not to be confused with a coffee shop in which you buy and smoke marijuana) was tucked away in a small lane off one of the main thoroughfares and only consisted of eight tables. Being a recommendation in Lonely Planet’s guide to Amsterdam, it was not surprising to find that almost all of the tables were reserved. We did however, manage to wrangle the best seat; a single table placed on a small mezzanine, overlooking the rest of the café. Once settled, we chose to try the renowned sweet-toast. The best way to describe sweet-toast is to compare it to eggy bread. Instead of egg however, the bread was soaked in sugar and toasted, producing a tasty treat, somewhat reminiscent of a waffle. If that wasn’t sweet enough, the toast was served with an apple and cinnamon compote. Continue reading
As our plans for day two consisted mostly of being indoors, it was only fitting that when we woke up, we were welcomed by the most fantastic glare trying to penetrate through our curtains. Naturally, on opening them, we found beautifully clear skies and dazzling sunshine bouncing off the canal’s surface and almost blinding me in my morning grogginess. Unperturbed by this potentially annoying situation, we simply started the day very slowly, glugging pints of free coffee on the balcony before heading into town to pick up a pastry on the way to the Van Gogh Museum.
Whether or not you’re one to enjoy admiring paintings in a museum setting, the Van Gogh Museum is a must if you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam. Take yourself away from the hustle and bustle of the streets for a couple of hours to really enjoy this experience – you may think you’ve ‘seen it all before’ but this museum offers a slightly different structure. The 200+ paintings in the museum are arranged chronologically – a nice touch which makes for quite a moving experience as Van Gogh’s mental decline can be seen to emanate through his works as he gets older and more unhinged. In one stroke, his general progression can be described as going from dark, dank moor scenes and straight-laced puritans, to the bright summery colours and swirly brush-stroked flowers for which he is so famous. Ironically, the most famous painting from Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflower’ series had been moved – very recently – to the National Gallery in London. Of course I would go to its usual home only to find that it’s been moved to my usual home. Gogh’s equally famous ‘Starry Night’ can be found even further afield, in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, but they’ve had it since 1941 so that didn’t smart as much.
Back out in the sunshine we headed for the gloriously-named Vondelpark for a bite to eat. Lured in by the tempting smell of a food-vendor’s cart, we found ourselves in possession of two rather delicious hotdogs which we overloaded with free sauce and toppings. Wiping sauce off of our mouths and eyebrows (don’t ask) we started our walk to the Heineken Experience. Now, where do I start with this? Well, it certainly is an experience and a rather wonderfully cheesy one at that. I have been informed that about 20 years ago, it cost the equivalent of about £2 to enter the ‘Experience’ and that entry came with unlimited beer throughout your allocated time-slot. It is safe to say that this is no longer the case (sorry!) but instead you are charged €18, which includes three ‘free’ drinks. Despite the incredible inflation, I would highly recommend this experience — even if, like me, you’re not a huge fan of lager. With a prime spot on the canal-side for transportation of ingredients, this gigantic establishment used to be the brewery itself. Throughout the tour you learn the history of Heineken and how it made such a big name for itself; you see the original mash tuns that were used during the different stages of brewing; you get turned into a beer yourself (via a fantastically cringe-worthy animation, full of 4D effects); and the best part, of course, you get to try some.
Stashing our suitcases with all the free coffee sachets and cotton buds we could manage, we packed our bags just in time to make check-out. Considering the fact that no one wants to sight-see whilst dragging luggage along, we were very grateful to dump our bags with the concierge before heading out armed with camera and guidebook. We thought we would spend our final day exploring a slightly different side of Amsterdam’s cultural heritage, focussing less on the art and more on the people. With this in mind, our first port-of-call was the Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish Historical Museum), however on the way we felt compelled to take clichéd photos in front of — and in, for that matter — the ‘I AMsterdam’ sign. (I should probably digress here and warn you that, if you ever find yourself in Amsterdam, they won’t let you leave the country if you don’t pose with at least one of these signs. As a result, I highly recommend a quick snap.)
The clichéd ‘I AMsterdam’ sign is a must for all tourists. blog.friendlyrentals.com
Found in the southern area of Amsterdam’s Jewish quarter, the museum is located within the walls of the Great Synagogue — one of four synagogues to make up the Museum complex. The tickets for entry into the complex are €6 for students and come with a free audio guide. Built in 1671 to accommodate the ever-increasing Ashkenazi community, this beautiful synagogue now houses a very extensive and comprehensive exhibition. Inside its main atrium, you can spend hours looking at the exquisite torah accessories, collected from the last four centuries, ranging from velvet Torah mantels to ornate silver breast plates which hang from the Torah in full view. I found the videos the most powerful part of the exhibition: you can take a seat in one of the remaining pews and watch interviews with past and current members of the synagogue’s community, talking about experiences in the war, what it was like to move to Amsterdam and reminiscences of being a child attending services. Upstairs the exhibition continues in a more general vein as the history of the Jews’ exodus to Amsterdam can be traced back to 1635. From that date to the present day, you can also learn about the artistic and cultural output of the Dutch Jews since establishing themselves in the Netherlands, as this particular exhibition showcases a range of curiosities from art to film, from literature to youth culture.