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Amsterdam

    Where to stay in Amsterdam, and a few cool places to visit

    So, we’ve only been there once, but based on what we saw over our four days, and a few online and offline requests here’s a lightening quick set of ideas and a few tips we picked up whilst staying in late September.

    Transport

    Amsterdam isn’t huge. See that random line I’ve added through the centre of the below map from the train station? The first near Bloemmarkt is about 10 minutes on the tram, and the second mark near the Vondelpark where we stayed was about 20 minutes on the tram.

    Where to stay in Amsterdam, and a few cool places to visit - a visitor ap

    It’s a compact city with a lot packed into the centre. Knowing that I don’t cycle, the best tip we had before departing was to get a 72hour tram pass (thank you Runawaykiwi!) on arrival. Basically, leaving the main train station, hook a left out of the main entrance and head for the blue and white information centre. When we visited, the 72hour pass was €16.50 for unlimited access to GVB metros, trams, and buses. We caught the tram the whole time; you just tap the pass on the scanner coming in and out. Easy peasy.

    Where to stay in Amsterdam, and a few cool places to visit

    Where to stay in Amsterdam
    Advised to book somewhere quickly, as accommodation is usually pretty pricey, we ended up with a good deal from lastminute.com at the Park Plaza Vondelpark. Nestled on the edges of the Museumkwartier, the neighbourhood is a nice quiet  family area, with the Amsterdam Hilton (for Beatles fans) just around the corner. The hotel was fine, nothing to write home about bar the slightly strange translucent bathroom walls, but was surrounded with cluster of local restaurants and several tram lines – which for us was great.

    Where to stay in Amsterdam, and a few cool places to visit

    A friend of mine hired a houseboat via AirBnB in the Jordaan area, just to the east of the main train station. It’s a more funky, lively area full of traditional canals, brown cafes and a short walk from Dam Square and the red light area.

    What to do on a city break to Amsterdam
    This is probably the $65 million dollar question! I’ve picked out a few of our favorites on the map above – the van Gogh musuem, a proper Dutch windmill (with great beer), the famous Bloemmarkt (the floating flower market) and the Albert Cuyp Market. Of course, you’ll need to visit the Tassenmuseum – handbags and purses – and the Kattenkabinet – Cat museum). A top tip to sneak your way there is to insouciantly just wander that way, accidentally ‘discovering’ what you’ve stumbled upon.

    Where to stay in Amsterdam, and a few cool places to visit; the bloemmarkt
    The business end of the Amsterdam Bloemmarkt containing riotous floristry

    The Anne Frank Museum is unmissable, but to beat the queues book the tickets online (I did as soon as we booked our train) or get there as early in the morning as you can! Also, the queues for the van Gogh museum were rather immense, but our hotel had a special pass available for jumping the queues which we highly recommend.

    Where to eat in Amsterdam
    There are funky bistros all over the city, but after our foodie tour, we kept wandering back to the Jordaan area (after our foodie walking tour – the Eating Amsterdam blog is also fabulous for tips) or near our hotel as it was so convenient.

    Where to stay in Amsterdam, and a few cool places to visit

    If you’re going to try *ahem* special brownies, do you research beforehand and suss where you fancy going. They are usually called Coffee Houses, and have a greena and white label in the window confirming that they are licensed. Oh, and eat afterwards – the munchies can be pretty strong, so I’m told! Just ask the staff in the coffee houses if you’re unsure about what to have. Rumour also has it that the coffee houses often have the best coffee and juice selections…

    How to get there
    It is so very easy. We caught the Eurostar from London, managing to take advantage of a super cheap upgrade (we traveled Friday morning and Monday afternoon) to business class. You transfer in Brussels to the Thalys network which were beautiful trains with wifi, a plethora of snack meals, drinks and their rather friendly staff. There are also business lounges in the station where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the main thoroughfare (and watch the Dutch version of Great British Bake Off if you’re lucky…)

    Where to stay in Amsterdam, and a few cool places to visit
    Amsterdam Centraal Station

    Top tip: do not book the last train of the day. Enroute home, the Thalys from Amsterdam to Brusssels was a touch late, making the transfer through Brussels station rather rushed. Chatting with a few regular travellers in our carriage this can happen, but they always spoke with the manager & were placed on the next train to London, usually upgraded – hence not booking the very last train, just in case. Also, when booking your seats the train staff said book the fartherest carriages from the middle of the booking page – they are usually much quieter.

    It’s also rather straight forward to fly – the airport has good train connections from the main station.

     Where to stay in Amsterdam, and a few cool places to visit

    Overall, just wander and enjoy the laid back lifestyle.

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    Amsterdam’s Cat Museum and Handbag Museum

    Trust me ok, hear me out (and yep you read the title correctly). Whilst we visited the the wonderful national museums; the ornate Rijksmuseum and the fascinating Van Gogh museum, we also decided to stray a touch off the beaten path.

    Amsterdam's Cat Museum: KattenKabinet

    Y’all know we have our own wee moggy, and are as obsessed as most ‘fur parents’ are, but the KattenKabinet aka Cat Museum was another level entirely.

    Amsterdam's Cat Museum: KattenKabinet

    The ‘museum’ consists of three or so huge rooms in a beautful canal house covered floor to ceiling in an eccentric collection of  feline flavoured art. Posters, paintings, statues – you name it, it was there.

    Amsterdam's Cat Museum: KattenKabinet

    And we aren’t the only ones to find this unusual collection fascinating.

    Amsterdam's Cat Museum: KattenKabinet

     

    The reason for the museum?

    Amsterdam's Cat Museum: KattenKabinet

     

    Amsterdam's Cat Museum: KattenKabinet

    Sadly we didn’t get to meet the museum muse,  a ginger tom called JP Morgan…

    Amsterdam's Cat Museum: KattenKabinet

    …but we were luckily enough to encounter the museums current colonel. (The best moment of the holiday was my Northern blokey husband moaning because – and I quote – ‘it’s a rubbish cat museum that doesn’t have a real ca… ohhhhh loooooook!’ And that’s why I married him.)

    Amsterdam's Cat Museum: KattenKabinet

    Amsterdam's Cat Museum: KattenKabinet

     KattenKabinet – Herengracht 497, 1017 BT Amsterdam, Netherlands

    A short stroll along the canal later, we happened upon (ok, that’s a lie, Mr Kiwi was led “accidentally” to) the Tassenmuseum, a shrine to Handbags and Purses. Oh yes.

    Amsterdam's Handbag and purse museum - Tassen museum Hendrikje

    Set in another beautifully ornate canal house – though this was a whole new level of ornate sumptiousness – the museum consists of 3 floors of hangbags and purses, ranging from medieval dress pouches to iconic Chanel.

    Amsterdam's Handbag and purse museum - Tassen museum Hendrikje

    All of the exhibits were fascinating, beautifully laid out and full of interesting facts you’d never think to know. There is an intriguing mix of fashion, craftmenshipand opulent luxury to keep any one interested (except maybe Mr Kiwi who opted to “watch the canal boats” outside. Hiss loss, honestly.

    Amsterdam's Handbag and purse museum - Tassen museum Hendrikje

    Amsterdam's Handbag and purse museum - Tassen museum Hendrikje

    Amsterdam's Handbag and purse museum - Tassen museum Hendrikje

    Amsterdam's Handbag and purse museum - Tassen museum Hendrikje

    Amsterdam's Handbag and purse museum - Tassen museum Hendrikje

    Tassen museum Hendrikje: Herengracht 573, 1017 CD Amsterdam, Netherlands

    Both museums are fascinating, under 10 Euro entrance and only around a 10 minute walk from the infamous floating flower markets in the central city. Perfect for an afternoon walking off the flavour tasting of Amsterdam’s foodie specialities…!

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    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    Stroopwaffels (waffles sandwiched with toffee), hagelslag (chocolate toast sprinkles that melt) and herring were the only flavours I’ve ever associated with Holland – flavours that are scrumptious enough, but there are so, so many more.

    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    We always find eating abroad the hardest, and best problem of travelling. How do you balance flavour, cost and not knowing anything about the quality where you could eat?

    We’ve started a tradition of hunting out foodie walking tours in new cities we visit (luckily they are becoming something of a phenomenon) at the beginning of the holiday. They help us to familiarise ourselves with an new area, teach us a few facts & most importantly serve a slice of the city that we probably wouldn’t discover on our own. New York, Rome and London herself are cities we’re explored via the medium of foodie walking tours and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    Disclaimer: I was an invited guest of Eating Amsterdam, but my (many) opinions are only ever my own, and I would never recommend anywhere that I wouldn’t happily visit own dime. In fact, Mr Kiwi happily paid for his place on the tour.

    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    Arriving at the pretty brown café in the Jordaan (so called because of the traditional wooden wall panels) we were out of breath from racing about the city, only to be greeted with a hot coffee, huge smile and ridiculously good slice of handmade Dutch apple cake. The morning could only get better from there!

    Our guide explained that Dutch apple cake is a feel-good staple – happily eaten for breakfast lunch and supper – which we heartily approved of.

    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    Plates cleared, we set off for a rather epic 3 hour exploration of the Jordaan; a pretty quarter of the city; fulls of narrow alleys, leafy canals lined with 17th-century houses and quirky speciality shops, full of tasty treats.

    Along the way we learnt about the melting post of Amsterdam’s trading history; rich in spice, salted preserves and good hearty carbs to keep the merchant sailors & workers fuelled throughout their busy days.

    We sampled a ridiculously good peanut sauce from a local Surinam shop with counters full of exotic treats, wonderful handmade sausage served with trademark Dutch mustard, wonderfully soft herring which wasn’t at all fishy and super healthy and freshly caught and battered cod.

    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    We also learnt a new fact: each Dutch person eats – on average – around 4 pounds a year of liquorice. More than any other nation of the world. Loved for it’s medicinal value – from helping sore throats to soothing sore tummies – the Dutch adore it, usually the saltier the better. They call it ‘drop’ and it’s often flavoured with an assortment of unusual additions (well, to our palates any way); French Thyme, honey, salt, double salt and sometimes triple salt.

    Yep, that’s right, and I earned my orange shirt and approval of the shopkeeper by falling in love with the double salted liquorice. I actually really dislike liquorice, but the flavourings of these make for a soft aniseed tastebud explosion.

    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    Then, as if that wasn’t enough, we were taken on one of the most beautiful canal boats I’ve seen, and treated to a cruise through the canals. I could get used to this. We celebrated a variety of traditional Dutch cheese with a chilled glass of bubbly,

    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    … sampled a local beer…

    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    … and tried traditional Bitterballen delivered piping hot to our boat. Our lovely guide Chrisje, serial traveller, carb addict and whippet slim (it must be all of that cycling) shared with us her homesickness for Bitterballen whilst travelling through South America, and her joy at coming home to ready supplies.

    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    We finished our day with poffertjies, a fitting dessert of mini pancakes dusted with icing sugar (and doused in the house favourite maple syrup). It was food heaven.

    They kindly made sure every taste of this fabulous city had a gluten-free alternative for my problematic stomach and entertained us so well that 3 hours absolutely flew by. We did need a rest afterwards, it must be said, so we found a sweet canal side pub to watch the world-go-by until we recovered from our food coma for more traipsing.

    Amsterdam #foodporn & exploring the Jordaan

    I’d highly recommend the tour – it has a wide variety of tourists, both from as far as American and close as neighbouring areas of the city. The Eating Amsterdam crew have a great website and blog as well – they couldn’t have been friendlier or more helpful to everyone of us!

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    Anne Frank’s Diary and the Anne Frank Museum: Amsterdam

    I knew I’d cry. She was an ordinary little girl, living through an extraordinarily difficult situation where one wrong step at the wrong time could cost the lives of her whole family.

    Growing up protected in a small country that had felt the effects of World War I and II (in a much different way), as school children we read the Diary of Anne Frank in an attempt to understand and empathise with what happened half the world away. In many ways we could never truly put our feet in her shoes, but it helped us to understand why our servicemen were so proud to help in any way they could.

    Anne Frank's Diary and the Anne Frank Museum: Amsterdam

    There are a few ‘must do’s’ when visiting Amsterdam, none so seemingly so busy as a small canal house a few blocks from the shopping streets (and red light district) directly in the centre of the city. Hundreds of visitors queue for hours outside the house & museum to physically inhabit the tiny space that has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions. If only Anne Frank somehow knew.

    Anne Frank's Diary and the Anne Frank Museum: Amsterdam  

    Her ambition as a thirteen year old was to be a famous writer and journalist, but sadly it was her posthumous diaries of the two years and a month hiding from Nazi persecution that made her one of the most discussed Jewish victims of the Holocaust. German-born, her family moved to Amsterdam in 1933 to set up a new life free of the restrictions places on Jewish families. With the dawn of 1940 and the German occupation of the Netherlands, by 1942 the Frank family were forced to go into hiding in a cleverly crafted ‘secret annexe’ where they relied upon staff working in the front warehouse to supply them with essentials and keep their enormous secret.

    Anne Frank's Diary and the Anne Frank Museum: Amsterdam

    We were struck by how small a space the family inhabited – Mother and Father, Edith and Otto Frank, and her older sister Margot – to then be joined by their 3 friends the van Pels family and additionally Fritz Pfeffer. Living within 500 square feet of walls that they could never leave created a maelstrom of pressure, personality conflict and self-awareness that leaps from the penned prose of her diaries.

    “I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve
    never met. I want to go on living even after my death! And that’s why
    I’m so grateful to God for having given me this gift, which I can use to
    develop myself and to express all that’s inside me!”

    We shuffled through the few small rooms with respectful hushed tones through to the permanent exhibition with carefully spaced videos of painful holocaust facts and memories, original pages of her diaries and finally a theater room with the gathered reactions of famous and thoughtful visitors. Set up through her Father, sadly the only surviving member of the German camps, the museum is a beautiful testimony to the individual suffering affecting thousands of families so cruelly troubled by horrific atrocities committed. Of an estimated 107,000 Dutch Jews said to be deported from the Netherlands between 1942 and 1944, it is thought that 5,000 survived.

     
    If you are visiting Amsterdam, it really is an experience that must be undergone (but to avoid the hours of queuing behind other tourists, book ahead online as early as possible before you go. Seriously, it was wonderful to be able to queue jump the hoards of people waiting around the block). Oh, and that Oscar? It’s the Academy Award given to Shelley Winters for her portrayal of August van Pels in the movie The Diary of Anne Frank.

    Having visited the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the evocative memorial site of the Twin Towers and the sobering remains of Hiroshima, the museum was a sobering reminder of how lucky we really are.

    Lest we forget.

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    Amsterdam: Canals, tulips, windmills and clogs.

    We rather loved Amsterdam, so Adventures of a London Kiwi is turning a week-long (particularly fetching) shade of royal orange in tribute (much our trips to the green fields of Ireland and yellow cabs of New York).

    We loved it’s quirky vibe,

    the well named streets…

    life lived on the canals…

    pirates…

    practical furniture hooks at the tops of buildings (owing to the narrow stairs)…

    and old school shop signs…

    the Vondelpark, a very pretty leafy bit of green…

    Beatles links (the Amsterdam Hilton was the stage for John Lennon & Yoko Ono’s honeymoon bed-in protest for peace)…

     

     
    an adoration of cycling…

    juxtaposed with the red light district…

     
    and the voluptuous flower markets hugging the towpath…

    clogs, always clogs – though everyone just wore trainers…

    hours of childhood jokes about how Edam is made backwards…

    surprising museums…

    breathtaking art galleries…

    windmills… but of course! 

     and ridiculously beautiful train stations…

    But that’s simply not all…

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