We Went to Amsterdam… And Survived!

So this summer vacation we went to Amsterdam for a few days. It was between Amsterdam and London, but we couldn’t find anything decently priced for London (train and hotel), and we could find something for Amsterdam (drive and hotel). And this is the story of our trip.

Tuesday 5 July
We got up bright and early (not really), packed a suitcase with all of our stuff, and hopped in the car to drive to Amsterdam. We made a stop for lunch before we left our beloved Belgium, and then went on. We managed to get close to Amsterdam without the GPS or a map and not get lost! And then we turned on the GPS to find our hotel, Hotel Casa 400. And that’s when we took a wrong turn in a crazy Dutch roundabout (or traffic circle, or rotary, whatever you want to call it), and ended having to drive a couple extra kilometers. But in the end we made it safely and found the underground, locked, parking garage where our car would stay for the rest of the trip1.

I Amsterdam logo

We checked in, and puttered in the room until around 5, when we decided to head out and do something. So we bought an I Amsterdam card that includes transport and entries to most museums and other attractions. With this in hand, we went out to explore the transport system and got to the Museumplein. We walked around a bit, and took some pictures. It was getting late-ish, so we decided to have dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe since neither of us had been to one before. We had a Veggie Leggie burger each, that came with a nice side salad, and we had troubles finishing. And eating, actually, because they pile it so high, it’s impossible to take a bite.

After eating, we kicked back a bit, had a peek at the Hard Rock Cafe store and got scared at the prices of merchandising, and decided to heat back to the hotel to watch some tv and get some rest.

Wednesday 6 July
We got up with time to go down for breakfast in the hotel, where we enjoyed the usual fare in a continental breakfast buffet. Then we grabbed our stuff and headed out to the center, taking the tram to the Museumplein again (easiest route for us). We spent the morning visiting the Rijksmuseum. The general exhibition is magnificent, an we got to see some famous paintings, and lots of not so famous ones. There is a lovely replica of a ship on the left of the first room that is lovely.

Rijksmuseum

We grabbed some lunch from the Albert Heijn supermarket (salads to go), and picnicked in the park / Museumplein, like so many other tourists and not-tourists. Observation: Dutch people are weird and like to have milk / milk based drink / yogurt based drink with their lunch.

After lunch, seeing as it might start to rain soon, we headed to the Van Gogh Museum. Two tips: 1) do get your tickets in advance, or use the I Amsterdam card here, 2) they have free WiFi. Why should you do number 1? Because there are always queues. Long queues. With advance tickets or the card, you get to skip those queues and get in way faster! Number 2 is handy sometimes ;-) Anyway, we enjoyed viewing the exhibition, including the room where they explain about restoration, x-ray, comparisons, etc. Oh, and they have some tablets where you can explore certain paintings and their x-rays and so on. Quite nice. Since it was still raining when we finished, we had some down time in the Museum Cafe, where we enjoyed some coffee & cake.

Van Gogh Museum

After the Museum, we went for a boat trip through the canals. They give you quite a nice overview of the city and point out some things that otherwise you wouldn’t see. Of course, it started raining again while we were on the boat, but luckily it was covered, so we didn’t get wet. Since it was too early to have dinner, but too late to go anywhere (museums closed already) we went to an Irish pub to have a beer and decide where to have dinner. We walked to De Bolhoed, that came highly recommended. However, it seems to be very recommended and it was full (another couple got also turned down). Then we tried to find another veggie restaurant called Green Planet, but it was no longer there (that’s for having an older travel guide). Finally we gave up and went to have dinner at Wagamama, a noodle bar chain we had tried in Canterbury. Tip: if you use FourSquare, check in here and get a free drink with your meal2! We ordered some spicy food that was quite mellow, so we had to order some extra spice!

Once fed, and tired from the exploring day, we headed back to the hotel to sleep.

Thursday 7 July
Wake up call. Or rather, alarm on the cellphone. Breakfast, and then some planning for the day. We headed to the Centraal Station, and from there walked to NeMo, the Science Museum. It’s mainly oriented towards children, but we are children at heart and it was quite fun to play with all the experiments and learn some new things. We also climbed to the terrace, where you get an incredible view of the city.

Nemo

Afterwards, I wanted to visit Ons Lieve Heer op Solder, a traditional 17th Century canal house that hides a complete church in the attic. However, we didn’t find the street, and I got frustrated with it, so simply gave up. Now I see that it’s undergoing restoration and it’s empty, so we didn’t really miss much in the end.

View of Amsterdam

Lunch time arrived, and we went again for a picnic in the Museumplein. Well, it is cheaper than eating in a restaurant or a cafe! And the Albert Heijn has a nice selection of take away meals. Afterwards we headed for the Diamond Museum, mostly because I was curious, since Jan had already been in it with work on a previous visit. Lots of bling-bling to see, but most of the jewels are certainly not my style at all. Probably because of too much bling-bling.

We then decided to take a look at the House Boat Museum. It is, as its name says, a house boat. You can see the bedroom (two small chambers that fit a tiny bed, and that’s it), the kitchen with stove and cupboards, the family room with tiny B&W tv. Basically, all you’d need to live in a boat. You can also have a cup of tea or coffee in the family room if you wish.

Family room - house boat

When we left the museum it was still early but we had had an overdose of visiting, so we decided to relax a while with a drink. We were lucky to get a table on the terrace of the Hard Rock Cafe (great place to people watch), and ordered a cocktail each. Apparently, people are willing to wait, standing, for over an hour, for a table to eat here. And they give pagers to let you know that a table is free. Crazy! How do we know? Because there was a couple with one of those pagers waiting around, that jumped at our table the moment we stood up to leave. At least they were nice enough to give their pager to another couple so they could still be on the list to dine inside.

View of Amsterdam

We had decided to have our dinner at an Indonesian restaurant that was recommended to us, Kartika (warning, website with music). And we have, in turn, recommended it to friends that have gone to Amsterdam. Why? It was, simply, delicious. The service was amazing as well. We ordered the Shinta rice table, a selection of 12 vegetarian dishes, served with rice. For 18€ per person, it was a very cheap dinner, considering all the dishes we tried. Happily stuffed, we headed back to the hotel to sleep.

Friday 8 July
Our last day in Amsterdam, we got up and had breakfast, and decided to spend a couple hours in the center doing some shopping. Jan had brought a couple of gift-checks that were only valid in the Netherlands, and we used them to buy a Wii remote. Yes, we could have bought the same here, but this way we got rid of those checks. I wanted also to pass by Penelope Craft to have a look. I only bought two knitting needles of a brand I can’t find easily locally. The yarn, while pretty, didn’t really call my name. Our last purchase was lunch. We also returned a (plastic) bottle to the store, since they give you credit for even plastic bottles.

And with that, we returned to the hotel to pick up our car, and come back home. We thought that leaving around noon we would be able to avoid all the traffic jams, but we were wrong. A trip of 3 hours turned out to be more than 5. But we got home, and were happy to be back.

To see all the pictures of our trip, please visit our gallery.

  1. We got warned several times that parking a foreign car on the street in Amsterdam is risky, and you can wake up to a vandalized car. So underground parking for us.
  2. Actually, just check in everywhere you can, it is widely spread and many places offer specials for a simple check in (meaning, you don’t have to be the major)
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