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Published: August 25th 2012
Amsterdam. A city as infamous as it is famous. Martin was last here in 1999 and it was Bunny’s first visit, so we were both pretty keen to see what the Dutch mecca had to offer. We arrived early on Saturday morning and had several hours to kill before our Norwegian cruise was set to depart, so we stashed our bags at the Central Station and set off to explore on a lovely sunny day.
Amsterdam is not huge, so it’s easy to navigate on foot; large portions of the city are almost completely devoid of cars, the traffic consisting almost completely of trams and endless bicycles. The sheer number of bikes is staggering; they line all the streets and canals and are clearly the most popular mode of transport. It does require you to keep aware as careening bikes can pop up from anywhere, heralded only by the furtive ‘ring ring’ of their bells. However the lack of any other traffic noise and fumes are a welcome relief and there is a definite sense of relaxation hovering over the city (not just from the notorious coffee shops!).
Amsterdam is more-or-less laid out like a rainbow, with the canals
spreading out from the central train station, so we headed out and wandered the streets. Our initial rambling took us through the nefarious red light district, which at 10am was pretty quiet, but the sex shops and garish advertising still made for a laugh or two, especially the ‘condomarie’ WTF (see photos). We felt the Damark was a bit touristy and very similar to a million other European cities so we headed west to the quiet region of Jordaan. This whole area is beautiful; picturesque canals and quiet streets lined with trees and quaint shops and eateries. The sun was shining and Bunny wanted to absorb as much as possible so we leisurely strolled through the streets and canals and just soaked up the atmosphere.
As we walked we were naturally drawn to the signage of ‘The Cheese Museum’, sounds good right? And it was! We must have sampled 20 cheeses, from wasabi cheese to 2 year matured gouda…Which was very gouda! (Lame pun, but couldn’t resist!). We actually found several cheese shops where they had loads of free samples… not a bad way to spend some time! We even bought a mini-raclette… can’t wait to fire that puppy
After much walking we wanted a wee break so we stopped at a cool little bar that had seating on a canal boat – a lovely way to enjoy a cool drink and watch the canal boats full of tourists cruise on by. Feeling peckish we then stopped at a recommended Pannenkoeken (aptly named the 'Pancake Bakery'😉 and were rewarded with some absolutely delicious savoury pancakes. If you have never had these, put them on your list! Huge, thin pancakes packed with the toppings of your choice- from bacon to feta, the variations are endless…. And yummy!
After lunch we had to head to the cruise terminal to board the ’Brilliance of the Seas’ for our Norwegian Fjord exploration, but we were gratified to know we had two full days at Amsterdam to look forward to after the cruise!
We arrived back in Amsterdam on a dreary, wet and murky day and quickly made our way to the hotel to avoid the impending rain and in hope of an early check in… which we got as well as an upgrade and escorted to our room by the Manager personally! Ahh 5 stars. Yay! So
by 10.30am we were relaxing in our very quirky room – the high ceiling was dominated by some sort of giant mill wheel.
We headed back into the city on a day that was completely the opposite of our first in Amsterdam, there was a bitter wind whipping through the streets and the constant threat of rain hung in the air. Yet this actually made a strangely appropriate backdrop for our visit to the tragic home of Anne Frank. Bunny had the foresight to book express tickets online beforehand (50cents extra!) and this saved us at least an hour + of queuing! The queues were huge!!! This extra time was well spent sampling the wares of several cheese shops… mmmmmm cheese.
The Anne Frank house tour was both fascinating and harrowing, the hardship those 8 people endured, only to end up captured by the Nazi’s was heart breaking to say the least. The whole experience is tastefully done and quite an emotional experience, the sheer tragedy of the Jewish plight in WW2 is just insane, at times it just doesn’t seem real.
After leaving the house of Anne Frank (which is a must for any visitor to
Amsterdam!), we walked to the famous floating flower markets at Kalvertoren. These market shops are all on the canal itself, on shop-sized floating boxes. The range of plants available was incredible; from endless tulip varieties to bonsai to Venus fly-traps! Even cooler were the several cheese shops nearby that offered a vast array of free samples… mmmmmm cheese… again.
Next we walked to the trendy and very popular area of Rembrandt Plein, a flashy and modern area dominated by a large square featuring a massive statue of the legendary Dutch master… although it must be pointed out that the statue’s gaze seems to focused on an Indian restaurant… weird.
Next we headed to the Magna Plaza in search of a much heralded coffee shop. However, as luck would have it, we stumbled across the greatest beer shop in the world! (According to Martin!) They had thousands and thousands of bottled beers from all over the globe – including NZ!! Bunny eventually dragged Martin away and we headed to Abraxas.
The coffee chops of Amsterdam have a pretty established reputation… and it’s not for coffee. Unfortunately this leads to some pretty munted clientele, from simple tourists to hard-core
pot-heads who don’t appear to leave… ever. The place was cool, but pretty soon we decided we needed food other than brownies ;-) (munchies?!) so we headed to a restaurant that had rave reviews… and was closed. Boo. On the plus side we stumbled across a great restaurant called Het Karbeel and enjoyed an epic cheese fondue, complete with an olive and sundried tomato tapenade floating in the middle… soooooooo good it’s ridiculous!
After dinner we decided to wander through the Red-light district (basically to look at all the prostitutes advertising their goods from behind thin glass doors… pretty amusing stuff, they range from absolutely gorgeous to completely revolting). Can't get over how surreal the whole idea is....! During our roaming we got a text from Aiden and Deidre asking if we wanted to meet up, as we tried to figure out where we actually were in order to reply, we looked across the canal and saw them … laughing at our confused selves. The four of us had a great time judging the prostitutes and stopping at bars for ‘happy hours’ one bar of particular note was a Thai bar where we couldn’t understand a word the bar-girl
said – quality.
The next morning we had a welcome sleep in as check out wasn’t until 5pm!! (yay – all hotels should do this!!). We hit the streets again and soaked up the Amsterdam vibe by walking all over the place, we feel we must have wandered down pretty much every street in a 3 mile radius! In search of a real Dutch lunch, we found ourselves drawn back to Het Karbeel for some delicious savoury pancakes… soooooooo yummy!
We had to return to the hotel at 5pm to check out and stash our bags, then we had an hour or two to kill so Bunny got a completely decadent cheesecake waffle (liquid cheesecake poured over a waffle!) and Martin revisited his second home… the beer shop!
All too soon it was time to board the train to Schiphol Airport, the whole trip was only 9 days, but it felt a lot longer in that really good way, surely an indication of a wicked holiday!
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