This is part 12 in a series about my summer 2017 trip, which took me to Norway, the Netherlands, and Malta. You can read an overview of the trip here.
I spent two days in Amsterdam on this trip, which was the only repeat destination of the two weeks. I’d previously visited with my study abroad program in 2003, and on a one-night layover on the way back from Warsaw in 2012. It was the low-point of the trip, due to frustrations getting there, my one truly bad hotel experience of the trip, not great weather, and the crowds of tourists that mob Amsterdam in July. It really has been a long time since I went to a European tourist capital in peak season; I did not like it. Note that since this was my third visit to the city, I skipped a lot of the top tier tourist activities and sights, but I still managed to get a lot done in my day and a half, and found some pleasant bits throughout the city.
Taking the train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam was insanely complicated, because the ticket machines do not accept American ATM or credit cards, and only accept coins, not bills. I do not carry sixteen Euros in coins with me. So, I had to wait on the very long line to deal with a person. The system entails taking a number after pressing a button for domestic or international, like at a deli counter. There were about 15 numbers ahead of me. While I was there, I saw a set of computers that advertised self-service. Great, so I went and purchased a ticket on the website, and hit print after my payment went through – at which point the computer collapsed and indicated it wouldn’t print. At that point, my number was called, but that woman wouldn’t help because if you buy it online, it becomes an “International” ticket. So, I took a new number. While I waited, I went to see if the pdf on my phone would scan at the gates. It would not. But in the meantime, my number had been called. I had to wait a third time. All told, it took 30 minutes to get a ticket for the 45-minute train ride. Lesson: buy and print your ticket ahead of time or carry coins.
The train ride itself was uneventful and I arrived into Amsterdam’s Centraal Station around noon. Both of my hotels were right by the train station on this stay- the Park Plaza Victoria and the Doubletree Amsterdam Centraal, and I’ll cover them in a separate post (preview: surprisingly nice and surprisingly awful, respectively). Although it was pretty early, I was able to check in at the Park Plaza and drop off my bags, before starting the day of sightseeing.
My plan was to hit up the cafeteria on the roof of the Central Library, which is right on the IJ, something that I’ve done before and really enjoyed. So, I walked over there, just east of Central Station (and the Doubletree), and rode 3 or 4 levels of escalators up, only to discover that it was closed for construction and there was a temporary Vapiano on the ground floor. No thanks.
So, I ended up wandering in disappointment, taking a longish meander south through the heart of tourist Amsterdam. I decided I’d go to “The Butcher,” a hamburger place that had good reviews and appeared several places online. I thought I’d go there and then the Albert Cuyp Market. I didn’t pay attention to Google Maps, though, as The Butcher is now a chain, and I had it direct me to one of the outposts connected to the W Hotel; the burger was fine, but it was basically a Shake Shack/Five Guys type place, and overpriced.
The walk over had at least allowed me to get some wandering in, and the streets of the city were packed with tourists and bachelor/bachelorette parties on a Friday afternoon. I wasn’t far from the Amsterdam Museum, so I figured I’d check that out. It’s a little pricey, at 12,50 EUR, but it has a fairly comprehensive history of the city through the centuries, which I found interesting. The ticket included an audio guide, and entrance to the special exhibitions, which included one about fashion designers Puck and Hans- who I had never heard of but grew to enjoy. It wasn’t too crowded, so I recommend it if you’re a history person looking for a little culture in the nonstop debauchery of Amsterdam and have knocked off the big art museums.
Close by the Amsterdam Museum is the Begijnhof, an oasis in the city- a lovely courtyard that was originally part of a convent. It’s now mostly open to the public, although single women still live in the homes surrounding. There are signs asking you not to take pictures out of respect for the privacy of the residents, and to be quiet. But since people are terrible, people were loudly taking photos like there was no tomorrow. And because I’m a sheep, I took some photos too, before finding a quiet spot and sitting and reflecting for a bit.
I had thought about doing a canal tour afterwards, but instead decided to celebrate the end of my federal civilian employment by trying space cake- something I did not indulge in the past two times I was in Amsterdam. The internet sent me to the coffee shop “Paradox,” where I had half a super thin piece of cake, didn’t feel anything, and moved on. I headed back to the hotel, where I took a nap before heading back out. On the way, I passed the Homomonument – a memorial to gays and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution. Oddly, there was a long line of teenagers snaking around the Westerkerk church right there, and I couldn’t figure out what they were waiting for. (I checked Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes’s tour schedules.)
I thought there might be a good happy hour on a Friday evening, so headed to the one gay bar that the internet suggested, Taboo. It was on, Reguliersdwarsstraat, a cute little street which actually had a number of gay bars, and the crowd was filling the street. But I was the only one under 55, so I wasn’t feeling it.
So, I wandered back towards the hotel, stopping for dinner — one of the highlights of my time in Amsterdam. I ate at Kantjil & de Tijger, an Indonesian place that was well-reviewed. I didn’t have a reservation, but didn’t have to wait. The place was crowded and very warm, and the service was not good, but the food was delicious. I had a sort of sampler plate of Nasi Rames – almost like a combination plate at a Chinese restaurant. It was flavorful and not that spicy at all, with a variety of meat stews, and not that expensive. Groups can do one of four “rijsttafel”, which are more expensive, but have the waitstaff bringing plates upon plates to your table. Do it.
After dinner, I walked back to the hotel, and thought I’d go out after. I had the second half of my space cake which hit all at once. It was pleasant. But I decided the smart move would be to not leave my hotel room the rest of the night.
After a nice night’s sleep, I hit the Park Plaza gym before checking out and bringing my luggage over to the Doubletree. I had mapped out a bit more of a plan for the day as it was my only full day in town, and had purchased a 24-hour transit ticket the night before. I still ended up walking quite a bit. I figured I’d start in the area east of Central Station, which I’d never been to before. So, I walked over to Hannekes Boom, which is an outdoor bar/cafe just past the library, right on the canal. It was open, but dead, which was kind of nice. I was able to order a coffee and sit and read in a very pleasant environment for a bit, before continuing on.
My next stop was Amsterdam Roest. I took a train over two stops, and for some reason thought there would be food and day drinking at this outdoor bar converted from industrial use. There was not. There wasn’t anything going on at all, actually. I quickly Googled “brunch” and my phone directed me to Brunchroom, in a cozy neighborhood nearby, where I was able to sit outside and enjoy a spicy egg dish, a “cocktail” of espresso and tonic, and read. I really wish I’d spent more time exploring neighborhoods like this in Amsterdam, and if I find myself back there, I will make an effort not to stay in the center of town again!
My Saturday wandering continued, and I made my way through some really interesting residential areas towards the Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum). It wasn’t a particularly sunny day, but folks were still out enjoying the summer and hanging out on the canals. I walked past the zoo and saw lots of kids having a great time. And then as I approached the Resistance Museum, I realized I totally had been there before, and remembered not finding it worthwhile. Well at least I remembered before I went in and paid.
So, next stop was the small Holocaust Museum. The ticket is a joint entry with the Jewish Museum and Portuguese Synagogue – but I went to the Jewish Museum (which is excellent) last time, and the Synagogue is closed on Saturdays. My 15 EUR was basically a donation, then. The Holocaust Museum is very small and doesn’t really tell much that a student of 20th century history wouldn’t already know, but it definitely makes sense to visit in connection with the large Jewish Museum.
I continued along, getting stuck in the nightmare that is Rembrandtplein in the summer – packed with international tourists and drunk twentysomethings. I had thought about going to the Tassenmuseum – the Museum of Bags and Purses – but I decided even I am not gay enough to spend 12,50 EUR for a purse museum. I did get to wander through some more local neighborhoods with boutiques and shops, before ending at Albert Cuyp Market. The Albert Cuyp Market is a street market that goes for blocks and pretty much sells everything under the sun – from tourist shlock to washing machines, fresh fish to artisan chocolates. It was a bit of a scene, but kind of cool. I got a waffle.
And from there, I headed back to the Doubletree for a vain attempt at a map, before exploring some local nightlife – including my first taste of Bitterballen – little traditional beef croquette balls, and a few beers at popular gay bar Prik. It wasn’t a wild Saturday night at all, and a very non-Amsterdam experience, but it was what I was feeling at the moment.
Maybe I’m just too old for Amsterdam….