The last leg of our vacation, we stopped through Amsterdam for a couple days - logistically there is one big thing I would do differently. I ended up choosing a hotel close to the airport because I figured it would be good for our flights and it was significantly cheaper than anything I could find near the canals. The hotel we stayed in was nice - it was clean and the staff was very friendly - but the convenience of staying in the city might have been worth the money. Also, the buses stop running frequently late in the evening, and if you miss one (or they miss seeing you because you’re the only ones at a remote stop by the highway…), you either have to wait, or figure out a way to suck it up and take a cab.
After landing, checking into our hotel, and cleaning up after a day of travel, we took the train from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station, which is beautiful - seriously, train stations in Europe (at least the ones we’ve been to) are just amazing! We got the three-day train/tram/bus pass, which definitely paid for itself, but there were a couple buses that wouldn’t let us on because I guess there are a few separate companies. Just make sure you look out for these trams (and bikers) - it can be a bit scary if you're not paying attention to where you're going!
That first evening consisted of sunset photos over the canals, wandering through the cute little streets, and visiting the famous Bulldog Cafe (the first “coffee shop”). Even though I live in a place where marijuana is legal, we don’t yet have shops where you can smoke it (or enjoy it otherwise) in public. Even if you’re not someone who uses marijuana, the history of this little shop is pretty cool. Around the rooms, they show where they kept stashes during raids, and talk about how the bartenders upstairs did their best to protect the patrons downstairs if the cops came. We also walked down the streets of the Red Light District. I was amazed at how crowded that street was - we literally had to push through. And while I think it’s great that Amsterdam has found a way to regulate prostitution and keep it safe, as an American, this was a super bizarre experience!
The next day we packed with touristy experiences. First we hung out in Vondelpark, the Central Park of Amsterdam. We walked leisurely and found a nice shady patch of grass to sit on and watch birds in a pond. There were so many interesting birds! A few different types of ducks went by, and some birds that were more gull-like flew around looking for food, but our favorite was a family of what we named “bone-heads” because their white beaks have a piece that extend up their foreheads. They also have crazy-cool scaly feet. We watched a family for a while. The baby kept stealing food from the mom’s mouth.
We then headed to the Rijksmuseum by walking down one of the main shopping streets, P.C. Hooftstraat, where even the designer stores are integrated into the charm of the Dutch canal houses. Rijksmuseum is a huge art and history museum with huge stunning paintings by Rembrandt, beautiful models of ships, not to mention the architecture and stained glass of the building itself. The sheer amount of pieces in this museum could keep you busy all day, and I would gladly go back. Also, if you’re looking for a good photo opportunity, the I amsterdam sign is nearby.
Our next tourist stop was the Anne Frank House. I didn’t take any pictures here, because I don’t think they’d do justice to the experience you have walking through the house. Even though I identify as Jewish, I couldn’t have anticipated just how much this museum affected me. There typically is a very long wait for this, but if you want to understand the horrors of the Holocaust more deeply, I think it is worth the wait.
Our last day we strapped on our backpacks, started exploring by foot, and found two markets - Bloemenmarkt, a floating flower market and Albert Cuyp Market, which seems to sell anything and everything (I got a delicious peach!). If you’re looking for inexpensive souvenirs, or fresh food, definitely do some research on markets in whatever areas you’re visiting. Also, walking from market to market and up and down the streets with the canals led us to buildings and monuments that we probably wouldn’t have actively sought out ourselves. We stumbled across the Oude Church, Baseiliek Van de H. Nicolaas, and a National Monument without even trying!
After a couple full days, we took a train back to the airport (which is quite futuristic and into green energy - plus they had a super nice place to wait while our flight was delayed). After seeing no one at the counters to declare things for a VAT refund (if you buy enough merchandise as a tourist, you might be able to get the value-added tax back), we decided to skip it - it probably wouldn’t have been that much money, even though we were budgeting, and they didn’t make it easy for us.
I hope we get a little more time in the Netherlands someday - we thought this was a perfect way to finish up our trip!