Friday, May 7, 2010

Amazing Amsterdam

I visited Amsterdam via my Contiki tour, and surprisingly (to myself) it became one of my absolute favorite European cities.

You see, I had heard that Amsterdam was "dirty", and the people who claimed it was dirty insisted that that word encompassed a realm of nasty little details. But as I said, this city became one of my favorite European cities--definitely in my top three--and only counting major cities, I've visited nine cities all over continental Europe, as well as in Ireland. No, I haven't seen anything close to everything over there, and I am certainly less well-traveled in Europe than I am in the US; however, I've seen much more of Europe than those who told me Amsterdam was dirty. Hmm...

My sister and I arrived in Amsterdam around 8 AM the morning of July 5, 2007.  We caught the free shuttle to our hotel--the Ibis Schiphol right near the airport--and they were nice enough to check us in and send us right to our room! We immediately went to bed and slept the morning away, got up and ate lunch at the hotel (in the little diner--the food wasn't that great but at least it wasn't overly expensive), then went right back to bed. We woke up one more time later that day, went outside for some fresh air, and ended up going back to bed in hopes that we could get up early the next morning and simply head right into the city for some sightseeing.

Although I feel as if maybe we did waste our first day/night in Amsterdam, it was nice getting up the morning of July 6th and not being exhausted--I think we were probably two of the few people who were caught up on sleep and ready to do whatever when the tour met up later that day! Anyway, we had to take the shuttle bus to the airport, and the train into the city, which took us nearly an hour, but once we got into the city we went directly to the Rijksmuseum. Although it was a bit smaller than I expected, I was excited to go there because it has a higher concentration of Vermeer paintings than any other museum in the world, and he is my favorite artist. The museum also had a huge Rembrandt painting, The Night Watch, as well as a really neat collection of antique dollhouses and the like. After talking with some of the other people on our tour who saw the Van Gogh Museum, I got the impression that that museum was very small and that a lot of people didn't think it was worth the money, whereas I really liked the Rijksmuseum. My opinion? If you're going to be in Amsterdam for a short time and have to be selective about what you see, my vote is for the Rijksmuseum!

Enjoying free beers at the Heineken Experience
After the Rijksmuseum, we went for lunch at a little cafe. It was only a couple blocks from the museum and was called the Hans en Grietje Cafe. I was actually impressed with the prices and the food (great sandwiches and french fries!). After that we headed over to the Heineken Experience, which was probably one of the top things we saw in Amsterdam! Although we only spent about an hour in the Rijksmuseum, we spent about three hours at the Heineken Experience ;o) Besides telling the history of Heineken and how it is made, the Experience had a lot of cool interactive activities, and there were three beers included in your admission (plus a free gift). If I were you, I definitely would not miss this, err, "museum".

We were feeling pretty good after the Heineken Experience, and it was nearing 4 PM, so we made our way back to the hotel. It actually didn't take us quite as long to get back as it did to get into the city that morning, but that was probably partly because we knew what we were doing the second time around ;o) We freshened up and met up with our tour group. The meeting was short and sweet, we all had dinner together (included dinner at the hotel, it was a buffet and it was nasty), then some of us had a few drinks in the bar before heading out for our (unofficial) optional excursion to a sex show! The sex show itself was weird (the people in it weren't very attractive, and the sex was, well, without any sort of feeling or passion at all), but my sister got pulled up on stage to strip a stripper, which was hilarious, and I think it was an interesting sort of bonding experience for all the people on our tour, and hell, there were two drinks included! After the show a bunch of us went to The Grasshopper, which I wasn't too impressed with. It was definitely a tourist trap--the waitresses in the basement (read: smoking) area were bitches and everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) was really expensive there. My sister and I hung around until almost midnight, at which point we rushed back to Centraal Station to catch the train back to the airport (because that late at night, they only run every hour). Once at the airport, we waited a ridiculously long time for Burger King, but in hindsight I'm not too annoyed about the wait because I think it kept me from having a hangover the next morning ;o) We then caught the last shuttle back to the hotel and somehow made it into bed by 2:30 AM.

On the bicycle tour, seeing the windmill in Edam
The next morning we met up with our tour group to go to a cheese and clog factory, where we stood through a short but sweet presentation and then boarded the bus to go to Edam, this beautiful little town out in the country. We took a bicycle tour through the village, which was actually a lot more fun than I had expected, and saw a beautiful windmill, among other things.

See! I told you there was a Sex Museum!
After the bike ride, we headed back into Amsterdam, and a bunch of us visited the Anne Frank House, which was extremely moving and another Amsterdam must-see! After the Anne Frank House, we ate lunch at one of the many pancake houses (it was okay, nothing to brag about) and then did some shopping! I found that Amsterdam actually has a lot of cool Amsterdam souvenirs, and even some good deals on things like purses and jewelry. After shopping, we visited a coffee shop, because who can pass up a pre-rolled joint of White Widow for 6.50 euro? It was just after our coffee shop sojourn that we discovered the Sex Museum, which is nestled amongst other stores and the Victoria hotel not far from Centraal Station. For only 3 euro, this is another must-see, simply because it's cheap and absolutely hilarious. I also heard, from some other people on the tour, that there is a Pot Museum! Sadly, we missed this, as well as the Amsterdam Historical Museum (sorry that the link is all in Dutch--I couldn't find the link for English), but I heard both were cool and plan on checking them out on my next trip.

We then went to a restaurant that was located right under the Victoria Hotel (I don't think it was part of the hotel, though, and unfortunately no longer remember the name). I can't remember the name, but it's right there and you can't miss it. The food was excellent, especially for the price, but I will warn that I was feeling pretty good at that point and that might have affected my opinion ;o) After dinner, we met up with the other people from our tour for our canal cruise--another must! With unlimited drinks and the ability to see a little more of the city then we might have otherwise, I definitely recommend doing a canal cruise if you visit Amsterdam!

Of course I partied hard my last night in Amsterdam, but that tale is a bit more personal and will remain so ;o)

All in all, I was impressed with how clean the city was, and how friendly the people were, especially after hearing such negative things about Amsterdam, but having seen how dirty Rome was, and having been to numerous icky Caribbean islands (i.e. St Maarten), I didn't see anything to really complain about.

So that was my short but amazing trip to Amsterdam--although I'm not sure it is the type of place I would spend a full week at, I have to admit that I would have loved to stay at least another day, maybe two, and I will probably go back!

(I was told that I should include more pictures on this blog, so let me know what you think. Too image-heavy? Just right? Better with pictures, or without? All that good stuff!)

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