We spent the first night of our trip in Amsterdam before we headed to Brussels for 2 days and then back again for the rest of our trip. Since we went over Easter holidays it was mad busy and booking a hotel for the weekend was not very easy which is why we spent the weekend in Brussels first.
Everything went really smoothly, arriving in Amsterdam, finding the train to central station and then of course the thing we were dreading..finding a hotel for 1 night before the long weekend. We went to the tourist office outside central station and everyone else seemed to have the same idea so we waited about 40 minutes before talking to someone. It wasn;t looking good as we kept seeing people walk away upset or stand there for so long as the guy at the counter called around numerous hotels. When we got our turn the guy told us that there was nothing under 150 Euros for the night all over Amsterdam. The notion of staying up all night and sitting in a coffee shop was looking more appealing! By chance the guy got a break when he called a hotel and they said they just had a room become available and for only 70 Euros! Thank goodness!
We took the tram across down the Damrak and across the canal and found the hotel pretty easily thanks to Rich! My map skills are abhorrent! the hotel, Crystal Palace, ended up being really sweet! Though this was the beggining of our luck at having rooms on the top floor! Up 6 flights of the steepest stairs I have ever seen, so steep you were actually climbing them with your hands and feet..and also carrying luggage!
The hotel we stayed the first night
We changed and dropped our stuff and debated about what to do. I wanted to head to the red light district as I was curious as hell about it. By chance, 2 of Richard's friends, Justin and Chris, who were on a backpacking trip around Europe, showed up in Amsterdam that evening as well. So we all met up at central station and headed over the red light district together. It wasn't quit dark yet, so we found a coffee shop...what an experience!! We walked around the area and was I ever shocked. I mean, I knew what it was like from reading and hearing people talk about it..but to see the ladies in the store windows like dolls for sale was a bit different! I eventually got used to it but always felt a little weird about it. I wanted to take more pictures but unfortunately it's frowned upon in that area because of the women in the windows. So I didn't want to get into any altercations with anyone!
We made it an early night as we had to catch a train th next day for Brussels. Some cool things I noticed at first about Amsterdam is that in the loos at the airport (or bathrooms for you Canadians!) they had disinfectant toilet wipes in the stalls...maybe not cool for some but I was totally chuffed as i absolutely hate public bathrooms! Also, the dutch speak fantastic english and some signs and almost all menus have english on them making it so much easier to go about things! Another thing is that the metro has double decker trains. Such a damn good idea as everyone wasn't mashed into a car with luggage and all.
Back from Brussels Days 4 - 8
Back in Amsterdam and another hotel, Hotel Manofa which was right on Damrak across from the red light district. I was disappointed as this hotel wasn't as nice as the others we stayed in, and of course on the top floor again! but location was what the hotel has as it was right in the middle of everything which was cool. We went and walked around the canals and had dutch frites which were really yummy. We made another trip to the coffee shops and then went and had cocktails at a little spanish bar.
The next day we set out for a canal cruise. Really awesome although packed and couldn't get any great pics. It was nice to sit in the back of the boat though and look at all the house boats lining the canals. it is said there are about 2500 house boats in Amsterdam. There are even shops on the boats and little gardens.
We found an amazing restaurant, The Soup Kitchen, where they had the tastiest soups I've ever had. This was the only restaurant that we went back to more then once the whole trip!
We wanted to see more of the non touristy areas in the city so we just wandered through the canal streets and eventaully ended up far enough away that there were less shops and more houses. The flats here on the bottom level of the houses looked like shops with windows in the front. Really interesing architecture in amsterdam..the buildings are so lovely. They are also bike mad which are predominant all over the city. Bike paths line the streets and I must say there are way more bikes then cars. I almost got run down numerous times as you don't realize you have to watch for them too! On the canal cruise we even saw a massive 3-floor bike parking lot by central station. so crazy!
That afternoon we went to see Anne Franks house. I had read the book in school many years ago and didn't remember alot about it but still was really interested to visit the house. There were sooo many tourists there and although it is a must see when visiting Amsterdam, the fact that your cattled around inside is really disappointing. it was eery to see the small rooms and the pictures that are still on the walls that Anne put there (although covered with plastic now). After we finished the tour, I bought the book. I read it in 2 days and it was by far the best book I've ever read. I must not have paid attention in school when I read it! I would highly recommend reading it before you go to get the full experience. I wish i could have gone back after. Again I couldn't take pics inside but heres one from the outside anyways.
Of course the evening was filled with more good food, eating through the belgian chocolate we bought in Brussels, drinks, strolls around the city and coffee shops!
On Wednesday, we finally made the free breakfast downstairs which always consists of bread, meat and cheese over here. Then we set off early and took the train to Leiden, which is an hour out of Amsterdam. We were going to Lisse to visit Keukenhof Gardens which is 77 acres of woods and flowers, and Holland's most famous gardens.
There were so many beautiful flowers , art sculptures, artistic flower displays, and the grounds were amazing. There was a massive windmill on the edge of the fields where rows and rowns of tuplips grow. Of course, Holland is famous for their tulips and windmills. I was so mad as after we got home I realized that my camera was on some multi burst function which made all my pictures do this...
We spent most of the day in Keukenhof and headed back to Amsterdam in the evening. On the train back, there was an accordian player walking through the cars playing and asking for change. It was quite amusing as all you ever see at home in Toronto is bums and crazy people begging! In England I have yet to see anyone begging on the trains. Anyways, rich tried to be nice and dug into his pocket to get some change and ended up coming up with only 25 cents, all the change he had...haha! Better then nothing right.
We were wiped out from the day and the fact that the guys in the room next to us were running up and down the halls all night in a manic drunk state. We decided just to have a nice dinner and chill out, after all it was our holidays! We went and ate at an Indonesian restaurant, which was a first for us both. We figured it would be similar to Thai food. So wrong, it was really different, in a fabulous way! I've never had quite a mix of so many different flavours or food on one plate. I'm anxious to check out one here soon.
Our last full day in Amsterdam, and I was in shopping mode. I tend to not shop for the first part of the trip whenever we go somewhere as I always think that I'll find something better, which I usually do! Plus I'm always consious of the fact we have limited room in the bags to cart things home. I hit the souvenier shops and grabbed some stuff to send home, and for us. Amsterdam has some really great shopping, alot of stores that aren't in the UK.
After I had depleted most of my Euros fund we decided to go to the sex museum. It was literally 2 mins from our hotel, a definate must see just for laughs. Some seriously old porn pictures from the 1800's even! haha.
We wandered around the canals the rest of the afteroon, looking in shops and taking pictures. We found a great bookstore that at the back of the store had a big collection of old books in english. Some dating back to the 1600's. They also had old war time issues of Life magazine which Rich was really excited about. We ended up getting to magazine issues and I picked up a book for someone for a present.
We went for dinner at a steakhouse in the Rembrandt area. Really great food and lovely people. As it was our last night we just wanted to go and have drinks and have fun. We headed over to the red light district one last time and hit the bars and coffee shops.
The next day we had to catch a flight home, but not until the afternoon. We decided we wanted to get some more Life magazine issues so after breakfest we went to find that book shop. Of course after a half hour of wandering we couldn't find it! I headed back to pack our stuff and Rich continued looking. Check out time came and Rich returned with no luck. Ah well, at lease we got a couple. We checked out and went to a cafe down the street to sit outside and veg out before we headed to the airport. It was an absolutely beautiful day, quite hot out even!
Amsterdam turned out to be much more then I thought. I envisioned it being more seedy because of the red light district, legal prostitution and legal pot smoking. It turned out that's just a small part of the city. I was surprised that so many families visited there and were even bringing their kids and walking around the red light district...how would you explain that?? but I realized it's really just my North American view on these things as in Europe it's much more laid back. It's a very interesting city full of artistic people and trendy shops and cafes.
Also, it's less then an hours flight from Southampton so we will definately be making a trip back!