When Diana and I were planning our trip to Brussels, she said that we should also visit Amsterdam for a couple of days since it's only about two hours from Brussels and then fly back from there directly to Barcelona. Of course I said yes as Amsterdam's one of those places that I've heard about all my life and never thought I'd get to visit. And, hey, the Netherlands is another country to add to the growing list!
Me (and two people from China) at the Amsterdam sign in the park behind the Rijksmuseum of art. And yes, that's my WINTER jacket on! Does it ever get warm in northern Europe?
I really ended up liking Amsterdam for a lot of the same reasons that I really like Barcelona. The city's relatively small and very dense, you can walk almost everywhere, the architecture is lovely, and there are a ton of things to see and do. On the down side, walking around the city seems DANGEROUS!
How many different types of road users can you find in this one intersection in Amsterdam?
Yes, they say that Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world but, guess what, the combination of trams, buses, pedestrians, mopeds, cars, and bicyclists makes you take your life into your hands crossing every intersection. The problem is that the town is set up to favor bicycles (too much in my opinion), which makes being a pedestrian a little nerve wracking. I'd have to imagine that at least one person a day gets severely injured crossing the street. Crazy!
But, except for that one criticism, Amsterdam's a pretty amazing city. The combination of small streets, lots of shops and restaurants, and the signature canals makes for some great sightseeing and photos. (Note how it's virtually impossible to take a photo anywhere in Amsterdam without having at least one bicycle in the photo.)
The Heineken Brewery and Experience building, which we didn't go in but I figured that my dad, brother, and sister would enjoy seeing/visiting.
There's an odd combination of, for lack of a better way to say it, lifestyles in Amsterdam. The city seems very family friendly as I saw many walking and bicycling around, in the parks, and just hanging out. On the other hand, is the "other side" of the city where it's known for its red-light district. Yes, you can find "coffee shops" on many corners (like this one below) where you can smoke some hash/marijuana or even buy some hallucinogenic mushrooms.
The red-light district is also full of store-display windows like those in almost any town in the world with the exception of what the shops are selling. It was a very weird experience walking down the street and being "called over" to the shops by girls in their (small) underwear "on display" in the shop windows. Unlike when we were in Brussels, we didn't take the time to sample anything that the shops were selling. Maybe next time, right?
Diana enjoying a corn-on-the-cob that she found in the red-light district. She's got an unnatural ability to find it anywhere in the world!
One of the most interesting things that I saw in Amsterdam were bicycles built for family use. As anyone who's spent more than a short time in Europe would know, Europeans see bicycles as a form of transportation while people in the United States tend to see bicycles as something you use for recreation. Lots of bikes that I saw have modifications for use to transport goods and people. My favorites were the bikes that had three or more seats or the ones that combined both utility and people-carrying like this baby-seat-and-utility-basket one below. Oh, and almost no one has a helmet on!
So, what's the local food specialty? We asked our (airbnb) host what she'd recommend we eat that's verrrrry "Amsterdam-ish" and she said that we should find some herring sandwiches. Well, it just so happened that there was a newspaper-stand-style shop that sold herring and other sandwiches a couple of blocks from where we stayed. We asked the guy what he'd suggest we try and he served up a (raw) herring-pickle-and-onion sandwich on a hot dog roll called a "broodje haring". Other than the onions, which I could leave off, it was excellent and not-at-all scary like you might think. It's definitely up my dad's alley. Highly recommended!
We visited two museums while in Amsterdam. The first was one that Diana wanted to see, the Van Gogh Museum, which, if you're a big fan like she is, is impressive and a must-see. If, like me, you've got a passing interest, it's an art museum with a lot of people in it.
The second "museum" we went to was one that I wanted to experience, the Anne Frank House and Museum. Anne Frank, as I'm sure you already know, was a young Jewish girl that spent two years hiding out from the Nazis during World War II with a small group of other people in a hidden-and-windowless apartment above her father's business. She's most famous for writing about her experiences in her diary (you know, whereisannenow), of which the museum has on display.
The Anne Frank Museum (center) and House (second building to the left of the museum - the one to the right of the one with the red awning in this photo):
Let's think about this for a moment. You know when you're with your family, like maybe on vacation, and you need to spend extended times together in small spaces like your hotel room? Yeah? Now imagine doing that for two years with not only members of your family but with a couple randoms as well. Oh, and you can't really move during the day as people in the company's offices below, who don't know you're there, might hear you and could tell someone! Not really my idea of fun but you have to admire what the family was able to endure during that time. The space is not very big and knowing what could happen if you were found out must have been tough.
The only photo I took in the museum before a burly and not-so-friendly guard told me that I couldn't take any photos:
I'd say that the Anne Frank house was probably the highlight of Amsterdam for me. It was very cool to see Anne's handwriting in her actual diaries at the museum. While looking over them, I thought back to reading the book during high school and how, being in the building where it took place, made it so much more real (sort of like the bible). When you read the book, yeah, life seems not too great but when you're actually standing there in the dark and cramped space looking around, well, yeah. Respect.
One last (random) photo that I wanted to share from our trip was this one I took of Diana at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. Schiphol, which is pronounced sort of like "ski pole", has a rooftop viewing platform where you can walk around and look out over the entire airport including the runways and lots of planes loading and unloading. They've got a place to eat and get drinks they've also got an old Fokker airplane (gotta' love that name!) that you can check out up close (but not nearly as close or cool as this). Diana asked me to take a photo of her with her models in the first-class section (note that all the folks behind her are actually in a photo). It looks real at first glance.
Anyway, I was very impressed with Amsterdam and would highly recommend that you visit one day if you get the chance. Good food, fun people, great architecture, and very walkable. What's not to like? Well, other than the fact that everyone on the road is trying to kill you, maybe???