We took the 10:34 AM direct train from Berlin to Amsterdam and got into Amsterdam around 5 PM. We had first class tickets for the long ride and thought that coffee and tea were included but found out that was not the case when Diem ordered some tea. The 6.5 hour ride was made worse because our little cabin’s AC wasn’t working and it got really hot. We didn’t make it to our Airbnb until about 6:30 PM since we were staying in Uithoorn, which was outside the city public transportation. To get there we had to buy a more expensive all-zone 24 hour travel pass that was 13.50€ pp, but the place was nice. We were pretty tired so we just went to dinner at a pizza place nearby then came back and went to bed. Amsterdam has the reputation for vices because of its marijuana-dispensing coffee shops and for the Red Light District. Amsterdam also has many other sights and attractions to see for those of you who are more pure of heart. It has beautiful canals throughout the city, wonderful museums (e.g., Anne Frank, Van Gogh, etc.), and various parks and plazas.
On our first full day we had lunch at a tapas place, PIQNIQ, in Amsterdam proper that was pretty good. My seat at the restaurant was next to a sleeping cat that didn’t seem to mind that we were having lunch there. I usually hate cats but this one was chill and didn’t bother me. After lunch, we took the free Sandeman's walking tour at 1:30 PM. The tour met at the Dam monument to the casualties of WW2 across from the Royal Palace. While Netherlands stayed neutral in WW1, it couldn’t in WW2 due to Hitler’s aggression and a national Remembrance of the Dead ceremony is held at the monument every year on May 4th to commemorate the casualties of World War II and subsequent armed conflicts.
Our tour guide told us that Amsterdam was named for a dam that was constructed on the Amstel River and then did a joke about the originality of the Dutch, similar to the jokes the tour guides in Scandinavia made about their respective countries. Our first stop was in the Red Light District at the Old church that used to house prostitutes. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam and the Red Light District is famous for its numerous glass doors with girls selling their services. We learned that the girls are independent contractors and there are no “pimps” or bosses of the girls. The girls simply pay a fee for the room and are free to set their own rates and hours. Next, we stopped at one of the Hidden Catholic churches in Amsterdam. For centuries after the Reformation, Catholics were not allowed to openly practice their religion so there are a number of hidden Catholic churches in the buildings in Amsterdam. We also went to the Begijnhof Convent that houses only females and has a long waiting list for prospective tenants.
Our tour walked by the Amsterdam Museum but we didn’t stop to go in. The Amsterdam Museum tells the story of Amsterdam through a large number of masterpieces, such as an aerial map from the Middle Ages and Breitner's The Dam. Entry is 12.50€ so we decided against coming back to visit. We next stopped at one of the leaning buildings of Amsterdam and the guide told us that they are tilted forward to get larger items to the higher floors. We also went by the Jewish Quarter, the World’s first stock exchange, the widest bridge and the narrowest house in Amsterdam, and stopped at Multatuli’s giant head. Multatuli, real name Eduard Douwes Dekker, was a Dutch writer famous for his satirical novel Max Havelaar (1860), which denounced the abuses of colonialism in the Dutch East Indies. After a short break, we did a Reypenaer cheese tasting, saw the New Market, the Dutch East India Company, and ended the tour at the Homomonument next to a church. In keeping with Amsterdam’s quality of tolerance, the Homomonument commemorates all gay men and lesbians who have been subjected to persecution because of their homosexuality. Opened on September 5, 1987, it takes the form of three large pink triangles made of granite, set into the ground so as to form a larger triangle. As the tour guide pointed out it is definitely ironic that Amsterdam decided to construct the Homomonument near the historic Westerkerk church. It was the first monument in the world to commemorate gays and lesbians who were killed by the Nazis.
After the tour we went to Brouwerij’t brewery next to a giant windmill and did a taster of some beers. The beers were pretty good but we didn’t stay long since we were getting hungry. We went and had dinner at the Pantry, a Dutch restaurant. We had the Beef & Onion Stew and the Hutspot (mashed potatoes mixed with stewed beef, carrots and onions). Both were pretty delicious and hearty so we needed to walk it off a bit. We decided to check out the Red Light District at night. The area is much different at night but it was still pretty early so it wasn’t too busy but there are actually some pretty nice lights along the bridges across the various canals to go along with the red lights of the glass doors and the lights coming from the various bars. We were pretty tired so we went home after a short walk.
On our last day in Amsterdam we left our luggage at the train station and went to Zaandam windmills about 45 minutes away from the Central Station. Bus 391 Connexxion takes you there for 5€ each way if you pay in cash but there is a discount if you use the OV card. The town is really nice and quaint. There’s a chocolate museum next to the Zaandam Sauss museum and most of the town smells like chocolate, delicious. We think Amazing Race did a stop there because I definitely remember seeing the giant old timey windmills on the show. There is a cheese museum that had free tastings so we took advantage of that, walked around the windmills and then headed back to downtown Amsterdam. We only spent a couple of hours but I think we saw the main parts of the town. We saw people who rented bikes to go around the town and there is a ferry going across the river to the neighboring town. It would have been cool to bike and explore the entire area but I don’t think it’s necessary. Once we made it back to the city, we went to the “I Amsterdam” sign and took some pictures then walked to lunch at Broodje Bert. The restaurant is in a nice area and we got a table outside right next to the canal where we had some good people watching. We had a burger and a salami melt which were both decent and then we took the train to Brussels.
Amsterdam is called the “Venice of the North” and it’s easy to see why. There are lots of bikes, canals, and boats. The Red Light District is interesting to behold and the architecture throughout the city is also very European and bright. We did a quick trip to Amsterdam but I feel we could have stayed longer. We didn’t do the Anne Frank Museum, the Van Gogh Museum, or the Rijksmuseum since we’re not doing many museums that charge admission to stay within budget. I’ve actually been to both the Anne Frank and the Van Gogh Museum but it still would have been nice to see again. All in all, I think it would have been nice to have maybe one more day in Amsterdam but I don’t really feel like I’m dying to go back either.
See the full gallery of our time in Amsterdam here: Amsterdam, Netherlands.