Sunday, April 3, 2011

Amsterdam Trip

We have started the process of packing up and coming home but wanted to finish off the season with one more short trip to Amsterdam. End of March-May is tulip season and that's one of the things Amsterdam is known for. We left last Tuesday afternoon and flew on a direct 1.5 hour flight with KLM.  It barely felt like we were in the air which made up for the 2 hour train ride we had from Lillehammer to the airport in Oslo.  When I flew Luftansa Air (German airline) to Munich in Dec, I remembered seeing everyone on the plane ordering alcoholic drinks/other beverages and as much as they wanted.  I had ordered a coke and the guy next to me ordered wine, coffee, and orange juice.  Then told me you can ask for whatever you want and it's free.  WOW, big change from airlines in the USA where you barely get a water and if you're lucky, a small bag of pretzels.  On this 1.5 hour flight, that was full, they managed to stop by twice with food (free sandwhiches and cookies) and beverages.  We were so suprised, we had to take a picture.

Gino happy with his Heineken. 
I've flown into the Amsterdam airport a few times and it's got to be one of the easiest airports to get around in.  We found our bags right away and were out to catch the train to Central Station where we would jump on a tram (similar to the metro in downtown Mpls).  We arrived at Central Station around 5pm and assumed it was rush hour by how packed it was with people and everyone running in every direction possible.  It was a little stressful trying to figure out where to get our tram tickets, which weren't sold in Central Station but in a little blue building about 2 blocks away.  Once we finally got our tickets and hopped on the right tram we got off on the stop right next to the Heineken Brewery, our hotel was about 5 blocks from there.
The weather was in the mid 50's and sunny for the first 2 days and then was rainy and cloudy the last day. But comfortable enough to wear a light jacket.  After checking into our hotel we decided to hit up the Anne Frank house.  It's open until 9pm and we thought going late enough in the day would be less busy.  Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take any photos inside the house so I only have one of the outside.  But, where Anne and her family stayed was actually kind of an addition on the back side of the house.  They lived in a 2 floor area and it was alot bigger than I had expected.  We were able to see her diary and her bedroom with pictures that she glued to the wall from magazines.  At the end of the tour, there was a video of Otto Frank, Anne's Father, in 1960 walking through the house and annex again.  He said that he knew his wife had died in the camps but didn't know where his children were, so after the war he posted an add in the newspaper with their descriptions etc.  Soon after, he found out what had happened.  It took him a few years to read Anne's diary and when he did he said he didn't realize how deep her thoughts really were and how much she knew and understood what was actually going on.  One thing he learned about his daughters diary is that you never truly know your children.  I'm glad we went to the house but it was pretty sad walking through and knowing what happened.

The front part of the house was a buisness, built on the back of this building is where the Frank's stayed.
After visiting the Anne Frank house, we headed to the Jordaan area of Amsterdam for dinner.  Around the 17th century, this area was the home of thousands of immigrants. It was a very rundown and poor part of town for a long time.  Now, it's an artsy area with cafe's, every kind of restaurant you can think of, and shopping. We walked along the canals and saw house after house built right into the water, well on a slab of cement that was directly in the water.  What a cool way to live!

The weather was beautiful on Wednesday so we decided this would be our busy day of sightseeing.  We started the day off by walking the street market which was directly behind our hotel.  It was full of fruit/veggie stands, clothing, jewlery, etc.
Oh and I forgot to mention the clog slippers!! THEY ARE EVERYWHERE. 

We shopped a little and decided to stop in a cafe for some Dutch pancakes.  Even though it was only 50 degrees, all the cafe's had their doors wide open and some without a door at all. I wish we had more places like this in MN, we don't need to hibernate once the temp drops to 30 degrees!  All the outdoor cafe's over here have heatlamps and are open year round, snow and all.

Of course I have to add a photo of our delicious pancakes! Gino had apple and I had ham and cheese.

Not to continuously talk about beer, but it's the culture in the Netherlands.  They love their beer!  The reason why Gino has a beer in this picture at 10am is because when we walked into the cafe, everyone was drinking beer with their breakfast!  So we thought we should jump right in.  "When in Amsterdam, do as the Dutch do"

After breakfast we headed to Vondelpark, basically the Central Park of Amsterdam.  On our way to the park we ran into the "I Amsterdam" letters located in Museumplein, in front of the Rijksmuseum.  An icon of the city.

Vondelpark was really beautiful and there were alot of people walking their dogs, having picnics, playing music, reading, etc.   There were about 3 restuarants, a playground, bridges and fountains.  What a cool thing to have in your backyard!

We walked through the park for an hour or so and then started our walk to the Red Light District.  I loved walking down random streets with all the old skinny buildings and alleys, you could get lost! Amsterdam reminded me alot of Venice with all the canals and water everywhere but much busier and "city like".

We turned down one street and saw a line of people infront of a homeade french frys stand.  We thought, if there's a line of people, it must be worth a try.  They were awesome! They came in a cone and had a a little toothpick type thing to eat them with.  Which is genius because they pour ketchup right on top of the fries so if you use the pick you don't get your fingers messy.

Using your bike as your main form of transportation is very common. The streets all have a car lane, bike lane, and walking lane.  I was more afraid of getting hit by a bike than by a car!  If you heard a bike bell, you better jump out of the way. That took a couple scares to get used to. People are crazy with those bikes and they're literally parked all over the street in random areas.

Once we got to the Red Light District, it wasn't exactly what I had pictured.  There were many families with children walking around, restaurants, alot of "coffee" shops.  If your not familiar with the whole Marijuana scene in Holland, Coffee shops are where you can legally buy the green stuff.  Cafe's are where you purchase cofee and food.  I didn't end up taking pictures in the Red Light District because to be honest, the streets looked exactly like any other street we ran into in Amsterdam.  Gino had found this cool 17th century liqueur distillery online that he wanted to check out which was in the area.  It was a little hard to find becuase it was down an alley but once we got there we could tell it was something special.
Wynand Focknik
They specialized in sweet liqueurs and you could try them for 3 Euro.  They came in these little shot glasses and were filled to the brim.  We watched what other people were doing when they got their shots so we would know how to drink them.
Everyone bent down and sipped a little before picking up the glass and drinking it.  I tried raspberry and Gino tried a coffee liqueur.  They were both pretty sweet but good!
Shelves of liqueur behind the bar
At this point it was about 4:30pm and we wanted to get to the final tour at the Heineken Brewery by 5:30 so we started back towards our hotel.  Being that the Heineken Brewery is located in Amsterdam, it's on tap basically everywhere.  The brewery tour was about 14 Euro/person which included a self guided tour, video, simulation ride, and a Heineken bracelet that had 3 drink tokens atatched.  It was well worth every penny and we would suggest this to anyone visiting Amsterdam. 

The tour took about 90 min. At the end, we were shuttled into a bar type room where the bartender gave a little presentation and demonstration of how to drink your beer.  If you take a sip of Heineken from a tap beer, it will taste bitter because all your drinking is foam.  Your supposed to drink a big gulp so that you can taste the beer.  

On the last full day of our trip we decided we needed to see some tulips! We read about a garden/park called Keukenhof. It's located about 30 min outside of Amsterdam and famous for its spring flowers.  We jumped on the bus near our hotel, and it took us to the airport where we picked up another bus to the gardens.  The weather wasn't cooperating and it had been raining all morning on and off.  When we got to Keukenhof the rain was more of a mist but it was pretty windy.  We ended up buying ponchos in the gift shop with big tulips on the back.  We were the only people under the age of 70 with ponchos on, but we embraced it!
The gardens were designed by the same architects as Vondelpark, that we visited on our first day.  It was created over 60 years ago.

I got a little crazy with the flower photos...they were all so bright and beautiful! I couldn't resist.

Okay, you get the picture, lots of flowers.  There were also examples of patio gardens that architects create. I think we saw about 7 of them.  Here are a few photos.

Of course you can't go to Holland without taking a picture of a windmill!  

There were 2 greenhouses full from top to bottom with flowers of every color.  It smelled amazing!

Our flight back to Norway wasn't until 8pm on Friday night so we had another full day in Amsterdam, which was great, but we were exhausted from all the walking we did in the past 3 days!  We decided not to plan anything and to just explore the streets of Amsterdam.  We had brunch at a cafe in the flower market which was really neat.  Picture a normal street fair/market but with every stand selling flowers, plants, and seeds. 

The floating flower market

We walked along the canals a bit and stumbled upon a book market as well!  Alot of the books that were being sold were in English.  Actually, we both said that we heard more English being spoken in Amsterdam than any other language.  In the picture you can see men sitting on chairs in the middle of the market.  Those were set up specifically for reading.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city with much more to do and see than I had thought!  3nights/4 days was perfect for us but I think you could do the trip in 2 nights/3 days if you wanted to.  This has been a crazy year for us and we enjoyed every minute of what Europe had to offer.  We fly back to Minnesota tomorrow (Mon) and are very excited to see friends and family and to sleep in our own home! 
Hope you have a great Summer and I'll start back up with blogging next season/ August-ish!

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