After arriving late on a Friday evening, we woke up early on Saturday and after breakfast we got tram 5 to near the Hard Rock Cafe and got onto the hop on hop off bus. Our first stop was Begijnhof, which is a really peaceful courtyard in the middle of the city centre. It’s unknown when the Beguinage was founded but the first ‘unofficial’ Beguines were reported in the 12th century. It later became a place for religious women who did not want to live in a convent and also has the oldest house in Amsterdam, which is also the only remaining wooden house due to fires in the city.
We jumped back on the bus and then wondered down Amsterdam’s last floating flower market. The Dutch are famous for cut flowers and bulbs and so we saw a lot of bulbs! I was expecting more of the cut flowers but what did I know (apparently nothing)? It was quite nice to walk along but was busy and touristy.
Simon really wanted to try raw herring as it’s apparently an authentic Dutch eating experience, traditionally eaten with raw onion and pickles. From reading online we were under the impression that the stands are everywhere in the city but we didn’t see many so if you want to try it, get it when you see it. Our stand was just at the top of China town. The best time to try it is meant to be between May and July but Simon really enjoyed it and I thought it was ok – very meaty fish.
Our next stop was to the Sex Museum, which was interesting! Worth a visit but very interesting to me that nearly all of the images were of women or including women, highlighting how women have been sexualised and objectified since the beginning of time. There were a few funny mannequin type things including a flasher and a fat lady trying to grab you. We then wondered round the nearby area, which is the city centre, with lots of shops and coffeeshops.
We meandered around the Jordaan area, which is a lovely historical part of the city. It has lots of one-off shops and lots of cafes. There were quite a few markets that we had a look round selling everything from dresses to traditional Dutch gourda cheese to Buddha heads. This part of town didn’t feel so touristy and the market definitely felt like the place to be with the locals! We had actually mentioned during the morning that we had only seen one supermarket so Amsterdam is definitely a city of cafe culture and markets.
Our final day stop was Magere Brug, which is a traditional double-leaf Dutch drawbridge connecting the River Amstel. Simon wasn’t too impressed (apart from the fact that it was made of timber not steel) but I thought it was quite nice. It’s meant to open every 20 minutes to let boats through but we didn’t see it.
After going back to the hotel for a rest and a quick change, we got the tram back to near the Jordaan. I had been recommended an Indonesian restaurant called Max but we hadn’t made a reservation and they were fully booked. There was a Vietnamese restaurant up the road that looked nice called The Taste of Vietnam so we went there instead. Great choice! We had fantastic food and great service for €55 including starters, mains and Saigon beers. The best Vietnamese food I’ve had outside of Vietnam!
After dinner we wondered round the Red Light District, which is one of the oldest parts of Amsterdam, and I was surprised at how spread out it was. We both thought it would be confined to one street and be really secret and seedy. However it was very overt with around 300 red light windows and the women all seemed ‘of age’ (I’d been told that you have to be over 25 and they have strict sexual health regulations to protect the women – Amsterdam legalised sex workers in 2000) and were pretty casual about it e.g. sitting down on their phones. There were quite a few curtains closed (which apparently means that room is occupied) but we didn’t see anyone approaching the doors. We then went to a couple of coffee shops but only drank beer because we’re hardcore like that.
Sunday morning was quite lazy with another epic breakfast. We checked out and caught the tram to Vondelpark, which is named after a famous 17th century poet and playwright. It was created in 1864 and modeled on Victorian England gardens. The park was really busy with cyclists, runners, exercisers, families with small children and many others. We walked the 3.5km loop around the park and even then couldn’t manage to work out the unwritten rules e.g. who has right of way! We then sat down and had a coffee and a tea in a lovely quiet spot in the north of the park. We also managed to see some live classical piano and classical opera at the free Vondelpark Openluchttheater (an open theatre), which was very nice.
Next we tried to go to the Albert Cuyp Market, which is located in the old Latin Quarter of Amsterdam and is the largest street market in the Netherlands. BUT Amsterdam isn’t a great place for tourists who aren’t into culture on Sunday’s and alas there was no market there!
Our bad Sunday luck continued as the next plan was to go to Westerkerk, a lovely church from the 17th century where Rembrandt is buried, which is next to the Anne Frank House. I was again recommended it for beautiful views over the city but the only day it’s closed is… Sunday! No views for us. Instead we walked around the bit of Jordaan that we hadn’t seen and sat on the canal watching the world go by on boats, bikes, and mopeds.
We had reserved tickets for the Anne Frank house, which is a MUST (every time we went past on the bus the queue was huge). It was a really well laid out and insightful museum. I read Anne Frank’s diary when I was about 15 but going to the house makes you realise what a tiny space it was for 8 people with no daylight for two years. Life history is the best kind as Anne Frank to me was a normal teenager who doubted herself and had crushes on boys, but all this within horrendous circumstances. It puts into perspective that this situation could happen to anyone but at the end of the day we are all human and fundamentally all want the same things.
Our final stop was to an Indonesian restaurant called Long Pura. We wanted to try Indonesian food before we left after our fail at Max’s and this had a lovely interior and nice food. It was slightly overpriced in my opinion for what you got as we just had two mixed mains with coconut vegetables, beef rendang, chicken stew, rice and some prawn crackers and no drinks for €55. However, a nice final meal!
Just some general observations about the city: it’s a young city with lots of young families and has a great laid back atmosphere (outside of the Red Light District/ city centre) with a fantastic cafe culture vibe. Everyone seems to be very fit and active with cycling everywhere and lots of runners. It’s a really cultured city with lots of world class museums e.g. Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum, however we aren’t that into culture so that side of it doesn’t feature in this blog. We are more walkers/ explorers/ doers!
I would like to go back to Amsterdam as there are a number of things that I would like to do that we didn’t fit in on this trip, including riding a bike (around the park not the city as it’s manic!), going on a canal boat, and a walking tour to learn a bit more about the history. Watch this space!