Three Days in Amsterdam
May 14. We left home yesterday and I have missed a night of sleep. I don’t function well without sleep. Just a warning! In the last eight hours I have come to the realization that we are sitting in the two worst seats of the entire airplane — 10D & E. They are over the bulk head so there’s plenty of leg room, but not much else — my arms are glued to my sides and with an entire 20 inches of space from side to side sleep has evaded me. And I despise the woman next to me who has managed to sleep most of the way, only waking long enough to eat. How do you do that? I can tell it’s going to be a very long day. But a very long day in Amsterdam — I can manage somehow!
But I digress. How to handle jet lag is the question of the day. Arriving at eight in the morning, it was the easiest customs stop ever. They were even smiling and ever so disinterested in the entire procedure. I suspect it is the either the end of their shift and they are dying to get home or they just started and we are the first of the day. An easy trip from the airport by train to Centraal Station, and another 20 minutes to our hotel. Dream Hotel is a very modern and comfortable three star establishment and very friendly.
They welcomed us in, offered coffee and gave directions. Leaving our bags, we headed back to Central Station where we embarked on a one hour canal cruise gratis from the hotel. As it is with most of the tourists here, it seemed like a good place to start. Even though the canals are a dirty muddy brown color, we learned the canals are cleaned regularly by opening the canal gates and flushing out the old water. We were told they are actually clean enough to swim in, but I didn’t see anyone swimming. We floated by some very interesting architecture that one doesn’t expect from Amsterdam – the EYE Film Institute for one, and NEMO, a Science and Technology Centre.
Arriving back at the dock and with lunch on our minds we headed down a very small street that lead to even more small streets and even smaller streets. Bitterballens or croquettes (ground meat(?), breaded and fried) are on the menu, so of course we had to try them – definitely won’t be eating them again any time soon. That’s all we could manage for the first day; it’s now 22 hours since I slept so back to the hotel. Turns out our hotel is only three blocks from a great shopping area and a whole block of different restaurants (I didn’t plan that, honestly.) Amsterdam is a plethora of unique and different food, there are just too many choices.
Our first dinner in Amsterdam was a Tapas restaurant run by two young Spanish guys. Dinner consisted of prawns at least four inches long including heads; the best calamari ever; and a giant order of the stinkiest, gooiest blue cheese on bread; and of course beer and wine. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Day Two – what to do?
After a very good sleep and a delicious breakfast at the hotel we are headed back to the shopping area. One of my favorite ways to see a city is by walking tours. And that’s what we did — a three hour tour of the main areas of Amsterdam (20 Euros each). But not before we had our lunch though — the best french fries ever, served in a giant cone, with mayonnaise.
Now the trick to eating these delectable delights smothered in goodness is not to get the mayo all over your fingers while you get the last of the tasty morsels from the bottom of the cone. With time on our hands before the tour we stepped into a “Coffee Shop” — just to look. It was one in the afternoon, dark, full of the distinct aromatic smoke of marijuana with this low subdued music beating in the background. No one was talking; all you could hear was the intermittent coughing of the patrons. They were men and women, young and old, from seemingly all walks of life and from the recreational to the seasoned “coffee drinker”. I wonder how many were tourists?
We were very fortunate to get Steven as our guide. He was so knowledgeable and the tour was history lesson combined with all the detailed information about the life and times of Amsterdam today. First we walked through the Jordaan area which was built as a district for the working class. Steven tells us that the population increased enormously over the centuries with Protestant Fleming, Spanish and Portuguese Jews as well as French Huguenots flocking to the area. By the early 1900’s there were 80,000 living there and it was considered a terrible ghetto. Today only about 20,000 remain. Next, the Red Light District – amazing place, even in the middle of the afternoon. I was told to put my camera away and definitely not to take pictures of the sex workers. They will come tearing out of their windows in a rage if they think you have taken pictures of them. I couldn’t comprehend the open display of the sex workers and the seemingly relaxed and laid-back attitude of the people around me.
Everywhere you look the houses are so narrow and tall. Steven explained this is because property taxes years ago were subject to the footprint of space the house takes up. He also pointed out the hooks on the side of the houses used to pulley up furniture and other belongings through the windows on the second or third floor — it’s impossible to carry them up the narrow stairs. He pointed out The Dancing Houses where you can see the houses have shifted over the years to the left or the right. One of the larger houses on the canals is The Tripp House at 72 feet wide. Across the canal you find the Little Tripp house. The story is the coachman was overheard saying that he would be happy with a house as wide as the master’s front door — 8 feet. He got his wish, the Tripp brothers gave him the house when he retired. But this isn’t the smallest house…that house is only one meter wide, barely wider than the front door.
Today, houses on the canals sell for one and one half to four million euros. Renting is between 2,000 and 3,000 euros. With the average monthly take home pay about 1,700 euros you can see why not just anyone lives in the canal area.
Day Three – Damn it’s cold — and rainy.
Am I glad I packed a raincoat at the last minute (but it’s still cold.) Today we are touring by bus outside of Amsterdam — the windmill village, Zaanse Schans and Vollendam. The Zaanse Schans was quite the surprise — A living, working community dating back to the 18th and 19th century. It’s packed with wooden windmills, houses, barns and museums all relocated here in 1961. We walked through an actual working windmill and into several souvenir shops and a cheese demonstration. Then on to Volendam, a beautiful fishing village, which at one one time was a prosperous village with a big fleet of fishing boats and becoming very popular with artists and journalists. Behind the harbor full of restaurants, all serving some sort of fish it seems and souvenir stores is a maze of old fisherman houses, and very narrow canals. Very quaint and just what I expected a Dutch fishing village to look like.
A delicious fish lunch complete with beer and back on the bus. By the time we returned in the late afternoon, we were just too chilled and tired to do much of anything else. We ended up our day buying our picnic dinner at La Place, a huge store overflowing with delectable delights from sandwiches to full course meals all cooked and ready to go; returned to our room; indulged in a two hour nap, and after our picnic dinner ended our evening by watching The Big Bang Theory reruns. Dinner consisted of salad, chicken, pizza and dessert, chocolates and a bottle of wine. (Note to self…we really need to book bigger hotel rooms.) It was a very lovely relaxing evening sitting in the Dream Hotel in Amsterdam. Tomorrow we are off to Nice. Hopefully it will be warmer.
Amsterdam is really an amazing city, so full of history and interesting facts. I don’t think we did it justice, but we will be back. It is a hub of KLM Airlines and they offer a 72 hour lay-over for no cost. So next time you fly KLM take advantage and spend three days in Amsterdam.