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Published: December 8th 2018
I've always enjoyed traveling solo. I love the freedom of being able to decide on where I want to go each day; of how long I want to spend in a particular museum or site; of deciding when, what, and where I want to go to eat.
Last May, as I entered my 76th year, the idea of being alone in a foreign city and possibly having a medical emergency made me think that perhaps being solo wasn't the best idea. Please welcome to my blog my travel companion, my nineteen year old granddaughter, Stella Jarmulowicz.
I'm about to share with you the highlights of Carolyn's and Stella's Excellent Adventures in Amsterdam; Bruges, Belgium; and Iceland
. Spoiler alert: she was a great travel companion!
We left Newark, NJ aboard an Icelandair flight which first stopped in Reykjavik, From there we got another flight to Amsterdam. Why? Two reasons: 1. It was about $350 cheaper per person than a direct flight on Delta and 2. We got a free stop over (up to 7 days) in Iceland. So why not? Just be aware that with that really cheap flight comes not so nice things such as
you have to buy all
your food...hint - stick with the ham and chees baguette. Another big hint is to travel light - one suitcase (yes, we fit all our clothing in one
25" checked bag) cost $158. Another time I would do a small roll-a-board suitcase and a backpack. Just be aware that overhead bin space is at a premium.
After flying all night and arriving in Amsterdam around 11 a.m.(their time), groggy and slightly disoriented, I opted to take a cab to our hotel. I know, I know there is a great train that goes directly into the city - but see above - almost 76 years old. We checked into the Hotel City Garden.
I had gotten it on booking.com.
It was not cheap (about $200 a night) but the area was clean and quiet and very close to several of the museums I wanted to visit. Our room was clean but oh so tiny. Apparently, the concept of 'unpacking' has gone out the window. There was no bureau or set of drawers to unpack into. Luckily we had both used a set of packing cubes (I swear by these as they have helped in many
situations - you can get them at Magellan's or on Amazon), so we used a few shelves and the table top to put out our clothes.
I've learned that the worse thing I can do is go to sleep during the early afternoon. The best thing to do is stay awake. have an early dinner and get to bed around 8:30 or 9pm. I've found that by getting into the time schedule of wherever I am as soon as possible helps reduce 'jet lag'. So we went off to explore our neighborhood and to find a place to eat dinner.
The first thing we noticed was how quiet our street was. It was a dead end with the gates of Vondelpark opened for bicyclers and walkers. Vondelpark is a free public park of about 120 acres. We learned very quickly to be aware of bikes coming in all directions. I would not be joking when I tell you that bicycles are King
in Amsterdam. They have their own right of way and they take their riding very seriously. It is not for the faint of heart or the casual rider. On the corner of the next block we
found 'Small Talk
' - a casual restaurant with a very friendly waitress. No cities are cheap so I was rather pleased that we got two full dinners and two waters for about $45. Our waitress was very helpful. She pointed out a supermarket that was just up the street. It was mostly underground so we would never have recognized it as a store of any kind. We were able to buy 2 liter bottles of water for use in our room.
So why Amsterdam? Well, it goes back to my river cruise in France in May 2016. We had made a wonderful stop in Arles, where Van Gogh, despite being very troubled, did a lot of painting. Only Arles didn't (at that time) have any genuine Van Gogh's. They had placed replicas of his paintings on easels in front of the places where he had painted them. I asked Olivier, my guide, where I could see the real thing? He told me to go to Amsterdam to the Van Gogh Museum. No one needs to tell me twice - so 2 years later I headed to Amsterdam in the Netherlands or is it Holland? Why does one country have
two names? It sort of fits in with the schizophrenic nature of the city. It is a mecca for art lovers and high culture and also a place known for its red light district and cannabis shops. For those of you looking for details of the seamier side of the city you might want to leave now. I was strictly there for the museums, the canals (they have more than Venice), and possibly a glimpse of their famous tulips.
Nuts and bolts: There are three different discount cards to choose from: Amsterdam Card
: Provides admission to 30 museums (Rijksmuseum $20- not included), a canal cruise, and discounts at shops and restaurants. Also includes a GVB transit pass. Useful for quick visits to the city. Available at VVV I Amsterdam Visitor Centres and some hotels (iamsterdam.com) Holland Pass
- Similar to Amsterdam Card, but without the rush for usage; you can visit attractions over a month. Prices are based on the number of sights, which you pick from tiers (the most popular/ expensive are gold tier). Also includes a train ticket from airport to city, and a canal cruise. Purchase it online; pickup locations include Airport and the city
center (hollandpass.com) Museumkaart
- Free and discounted admissions to about 400 museums all over the country for one year(Holland residents only
- all others it is for one week). Purchase at participating museum ticket counters and some hotels (museumkaart.nl) I purchased this one. It pretty much paid for itself and was very convenient.
First stop on our first full day was the Anne Frank House. I had purchased tickets on line. You can get them starting two months before the day you want to go
. I found this out through a Facebook group I am in called 'Women Who Travel'. It was a good thing too because they were doing construction and there wasn't even a ticket booth. It was very sad to see people walk up and be disappointed because they were not able to buy tickets. The Anne Frank House draws more than a million visitors a year. This was a lifetime goal for me. I had read the book when I was a teen ager and reread it just before the trip so every step was fresh in my mind. It was a more than a bit sobering to walk in the steps of Anne and
her family. We walked upstairs and behind the bookcase that hid the staircase to their hiding place. Seeing Anne's bedroom with the posters of movie stars still on the walls was eerie. Remembering her dislike of the dentist who shared her room was reaffirmed as the size of the actual room was quite small. The moment I got the full impact of her book and her words was when I climbed the stairs up to the attic room of Peter Van Daan. I could see the tree tops, the bright blue sky, and hear birds in trees. I saw immediately why she spent so much time up there. It was her only glimpse of nature and the outside world.
The tour is quick as time is limited. We exited into a light rain. We decided it would be a good day to do hop on/ hop off canal tour. It was a fulfillment of yet another dream to ride through the canals of Amsterdam. We rode all around, even out into the harbor, then back to the Anne Frank House where we found a good pancake house for lunch. We got back on the boat and rode back to
the Rijksmuseum. it was raining again so we tool a bicycle cab back to our nearby hotel.
Late afternoon- sounds like rest time to me....Carolyn (and Stella)
Possibly of interest:
Hotel City Garden. Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat 162, 1071 CH, Amsterdam; hotelcitygardenamsterdam.com in May about $200 per night; free wifi, elevator, good breakfast, good public transportation nearby, clean, very quiet, steps away from Van Gogh, Stedelijk, Rijksmuseum and Concertgebouw very good neighborhood.
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