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Amsterdam vacation wrap-up

Andi and I really loved Amsterdam. The city is beautiful, the people were friendly and helpful and we had great weather for the whole trip. It's a city designed around people (and canals), like an urban playground with great mass-transit, with bicycle paths everywhere and open-air cafes on just about every corner and filling every square. We enjoyed the place so much that we spent a fair amount of time discussing what it would be like to move to Amsterdam for a couple or years or more. Here's a write-up of the vacation part of the trip (not including ApacheCon). I'll cover what we did each day and give some mini-reviews of the things we did and better places we ate.

Frederik Park HouseTuesday arrival. Andi and I left Raleigh around 6PM Monday April 23, passed through London Gatwick and arrived at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport around 1PM Tuesday. We were happy to find sunny and warm weather, and the same forecast for our entire stay. We took to train to Central Station and the #4 tram down to Frederiksplein, which is south just before the last of the three ring canals.

Around 3PM, we checked in to the Frederick Park House, which is a small hotel with only four rooms; an old house but the rooms are modern, roomy and well decorated. We decided to remedy the jet-lag by staying up as late as possible and so we headed out for a walk. We walked south, strolled through the Albert Cuyp market, took the Heneken museum (Stadhouderskade 78) tour, which was mediocre, and then walked back north up to Rembrandtsplein for more exploring. I had a reasonably good and fiery hot Indian dinner at Tagore (Utrechtsestraat 128) just around the corner from the hotel. Andi had something mild and didn't really like the place so much.

Wednesday walk. We got off to a late start and then took a long walk through central Amsterdam, checking out the shopping, people watching and stopping for a late lunch of apple pancakes in a little alley-way restaurant. We walked through Dam square  and Beginhof as we made our way back south to the Leidseplien theatre area to see if there were any shows to see, but couldn't find what we wanted. Instead, we signed up for a 8PM canal boat tour -- which turned out to be excellent with nice views of the canals, canal houses, the harbor and with a very good tour guide.

Thursday flowers. We decided to take a day trip down to the Keukenhof gardens. We took the train to Leiden and took the #54 bus from Leiden to Lisse. The weather was beautiful and the tulips were in full bloom, so we spent the day slowly walking through the gardens, taking pictures and having a nice light lunch at one of the restaurants there. Back in Leiden after that we decided to explore dinner possibilities, so we walked down one of the canals and found a floating cafe where we had drinks in the late afternoon sunlight. It would have been nice to have dinner and explore more of Leiden, but the chill of evening was coming and we decide to go back to Amsterdam. That night, we ate at Golden Temple (Utrectsestraat 126), an excellent vegetarian restaurant just around the corner from the hotel.

Friday museums. Next we decided to explore the museums in Amsterdam. We found the lines were too long at the Rijksmuseum, so we went to the Van Gogh museum and took the audio tour, which was very good. After a sunny outdoor cafe lunch in Leidesplien, we toured the Van Loon (Keisersgracht 672) and Willet-Holthuysen (Herengracht 605) houses, which were interesting but I wonder if we should have tried to get into the Rijksmusum instead. That night we went to see Boom Chicago, an American improv-comedy show which was truly great entertainment. We did the dinner deal and overall the dinner was good, much better than you'd expect for a comedy-club (but I do not recommend the steak).

Saturday biking. I'd been wanting to rent a bike the whole week, but Andi was a little unsure of her cycling skills. Saturday morning I finally got my way and we rented a couple of very nice bikes at Mac Bike and biked down the Amstel river south of village to Oudekerk aan Amstel. It was a beautiful day for cycling and we saw windmills and lots of pleasure boaters along the way. We explored the village, enjoyed a latte in a river-side cafe. While riding through the neighborhoods we came across a crowd of families in the street having some sort of pony race/competition. We couldn't figure out exactly what was going on, but we didn't try very hard; we just enjoyed watching the fun. Saturday afternoon we  took another ride, this time to the Plantage. We rode through the park there and went into the de Hortus (botanical gardens).

Sunday Haarlem. We decided to take another short trip from Amsterdam, this time to Haarlem, which is only 20 minutes away by train. Haarlem seemed very quiet compared to Amsterdam, possibly because it was Sunday and Queens Day eve.  We enjoyed the Frans Hals museum, which has an interesting collection of paintings reflecting Dutch history and life, with lots of paintings of governesses, governors and old Haarlem militias. We also took a boat trip of the Haarlem canals. That night we had dinner at an argentinian place and watched a movie (Next) at the Pathe Tuschinski theater.

Monday Queens Day. We were a little apprehensive about Queens day because we had heard that everything would be closed, the crowds would be unbearable and the night would end with police and tear-gas -- plus it was the last day of our vacation. Despite all that we ventured out around 11AM for a long walk down the Prinsengracht to the Jordaan area. The crowding was pretty bad on the way home, but we enjoyed the walk, seeing the ad hoc party boat parade that filled the canals and the yard-sales that lined every street. Later in the afternoon we ventured out again to see the party in full-swing. The party-boats in the Amstel river were quite a spectacle and I took a lot of pictures. As usual we walked further than we expected to and ended up close to Central Station. We were happy to find plenty of restaurants open and stopped in a nice little fondue place for dinner. On the way home, just after sunset, the party seemed to be winding down.

The next morning I accompanied Andi up to Central Station to see her off at 7AM, checked out of my hotel and took the tram to ApacheCon. That was it for vacation.

If you want to see more, check my my Flickr account. I also created a Google Map of some our travels with about 30 place markets, each with a description and some with photos. To try the Google Map, click here. It covers a wide area, so zoom in. Once the map loads, click an icon or one of the links on the left and then use the +/- zoom control to zoom down to a city/street level view of that point.


That bike trip down the Amstel sounds like a blast! Unfortunately, it was far too cold for such a bike ride when I visited Amsterdam, but I <em>so</em> wanted to ride. I can't wait till I get back there...

Posted by Scott Johnson on May 06, 2007 at 02:15 PM EDT #

Yes. The biking was a high-point for me. If I can afford to vacation there again someday and the weather is fair, I'll rent a bike for the duration. - Dave

Posted by Dave Johnson on May 06, 2007 at 03:10 PM EDT #

I lived in Amsterdam for a while... it's a very interesting city. Lots of things going on all the time, incredibly friendly people, great food... all in a nice place to visit.

Posted by weeble on May 07, 2007 at 07:03 AM EDT #

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