Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, known for its elaborate canal system and rich history and culture was a quick stop over for the Vades in the Fall of 2015 as part of their European adventure.
Founded in the 12th Century, Amsterdam began as a fishing village located on the Amstel River. By the 17th century, the canals you see today were formed and are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Today, the city is a hub for some the world’s biggest tech companies. Renown as a beacon for innovation and creativity, drawing people in search of open and liberal politics and attitudes.
Amsterdam draws millions of tourists every year, looking to experience its history and romantic scenery and architecture. Amsterdam’s main attractions include the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum (which holds the largest collection of his work in the world), the Anne Frank House, the Heineken Experience and the Royal Palace of Amsterdam. Many tourists visit searching for experiences that might be more illicit in their hometowns. These include its famous red-light district and its many cannabis coffee shops.
Amsterdam is the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. Over 60% of inner city trips are made via bikes. With 1.1 Million people that number is impressive and makes riding a bike in the city a must try experience. It is rumoured that there are more bikes in the city than residents and thousands are dredged up from the canals every year.
Amsterdam Day 1
We landed in Amsterdam Schiphol airport, located approx. 20 km South West of the city. We had researched and discovered, taking a train is the cheapest and quickest way to the city. The station is located directly underneath the airport so finding the platform and getting tickets was easy and convenient. We loaded ourselves onto the train with the other tourists and we were on our way to Amsterdam Central station. We had booked a serviced apartment within walking distance of the station so we checked in and then headed out to explore the canals.
We were pretty tired from the previous days travelling around Paris, so we took a relaxed evening stroll to get our bearings. It was obvious that we had some work to do, learning to navigate the many bridges and canals can be challenging. It is easy to get disorientated and turned around.
Amsterdam Day 2
As usual, we had planned a jam-packed day. To kick it off we arose early for some exercise. As we mentioned above, the most popular transportation method in Amsterdam is bike riding. We just had to put our feet on the pedals. There are dozens of rental shops in the city. You can do a self-guided tour, or as we chose, a guided tour. Our tour took us through the city and out to the countryside. It included a to visit the windmills and one of the cheese and clog making factories the Netherlands is well known for.
We met our group, grabbed our bikes and listened to a brief safety meeting with tips on how to ride in Amsterdam. We set off weaving in and out of the city streets, over bridges and canals making our way south of the city along the Amstel River. We made many informative stops along the way. Our guide educated us about the history of the city, how it had evolved and how they planned to change and adapt towards the future. We made a couple stops at some of the remaining authentic Dutch windmills; including the Riekermolen. It is a working windmill with a family living inside. It was a great photo op opportunity and also included a remembrance statue dedicated to Rembrandt.
Back on our bikes, we stopped at the Rembrandthoeve farm. There we visited a Dutch farming family and their cheese farm/clog factory. We saw a demonstration of the traditional art of making the wooden shoes, a quintessentially Dutch experience. We then visited their herd of cows and saw the cheese making process, of course, we got to try their tasty Gouda cheese.
Back on our bikes we road through the farmland towards the city centre. The flatness of the farmland was intriguing. At that moment the reality of the land in the Netherlands is below sea level felt tangible. It makes their ability to hold back the tides and manage their farmland even more fascinating.
We pedalled back to the city centre and dropped off our bikes thanking our guide. We felt refreshed and energized after a full morning of riding. It was a wonderful experience. We continued on foot around the city, stopping at bridges and crooked buildings, taking in the history of the city.
We often follow in travel shows and blogger footsteps when we travel. This afternoon stop was inspired by our favourite tv chef and traveller, Anthony Bourdain. He has visited Amsterdam a number of times, and on one occasion visited a bar that had an interesting story and history. Hidden away off the main streets, nestled in a small laneway, we found De Drie Fleschjes or The Three Little Bottles. One of the city’s oldest bars, in operation since 1650, it is famous for serving a wide variety of a traditional Dutch spirit called Jenever. Jenever is made from distilling juniper berries and has a similar taste to gin. De Drie Fleschjes offers it in several different flavour options. The place is small and dark and it doesn’t look like it has changed much since the 17th century. On one side of the bar, it is lined with rows of Jenever casks. The casks are rented by locals and use for their own private consumption. Each cask is embossed with each family’s name, with some families renting them for multiple generations. Many of the families hold their casks as a very special tradition and are proud to celebrate special occasions with a tipple of Jenever.
We were greeted warmly by the bartender who provided a quick education on Jenever, it’s history and influence on the city. He lined up two glasses and we were then taught how to drink it properly. The correct technique requires the bartender to fill the glass all the way to the rim. To drink, you put your hands behind your back and lean over to take the first sip. We obliged and were delighted by the experience and the taste. We settled in with our glasses and enjoyed some conversation with some other tourists enjoying their first Jenever experience. A short time later, 2 local women came in for a quick drink. They overheard our accents and came over to introduce themselves. One of the women was originally from Alabama and had lived in Amsterdam for many years after marrying a local. They were very friendly and we started talking sharing stories about our visit and what else we planned to see and do during our stay. One of the ladies got up and walked over talking to the Bartender. The Bartender turned to the back of the bar and bought out a box of keys. Our new found friend was the owner of one of the casks on the wall. She told the story of her late husband whose family have had a cask in the bar for many generations. They had just recently had a party to celebrate his passing and said that we must drink the last of the cask in his memory. The cask was opened and we drank and heard more stories about her husband and family. It was a wonderful end to a fantastic day. We ended our night visiting a few local bars and then had a wonderful Dutch Indonesian feast. Indonesia is a former Dutch colony and they have borrowed many of the culinary traditions with many restaurants popping up in the city centre. The meal featured many small plates, giving us a tour of the tastes from the region. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
Amsterdam Day 3
We awoke very heavy heads from our Jenever tasting experience. We needed a cure and quick! Upstairs Pannekoekenhuis was on our radar. Located in a traditional Amsterdam house dating back to 1539, you have to get here early if you want a table. The restaurant is the smallest in Europe with only 4 tables tightly packed into its two small rooms. We were lucky to get in for the second sitting. Seated we quickly ordered our Pannenkoek and coffee. Pannenkoek is a Dutch version of an oversized pancake (the size of a large pizza) it is almost as thin as a crepe. You can order them in a variety of savoury and sweet flavours. We ordered one of each and dug in with vigour. They were both delicious and helped to absorb the Jenever from the night before.
With full bellies and our heads feeling slightly better, we strolled to our next tour destination. Perhaps our unplanned night of Jenever would come back to haunt us. When moments pop up you have to embrace them, but, in all honesty, we could have planned it better considering we were about to embark on a tour of the Heineken brewery. It certainly wouldn’t have been our first choice if we had more time in Amsterdam. Our hangovers were thumping and the smell of what would normally be yeasty amber goodness was a bit of a struggle to handle at the time, but we pushed through!
The Heineken Experience takes you through the original brewery. They teach you about the history of the brewery. Founded in 1864 by Gerard Adriaan Heineken who convinced his wealthy mother to buy De Hooiberg (The Haystack) brewery. Heineken began brewing using the Heineken yeast using Bavarian bottom fermentation. Today its Lager is sold in over 170 countries and brews over 16.46 million litres globally. The tour continues through the entire beer making process, from cooking the grains to the bottling. At the end of the experience, you get multiple samples of beer.
We spent the rest of the day strolling around the city. Seeing the many famous sites like the Iamsterdam sign and some of the most famous buildings and bridges.
Our last evening in Amsterdam was spent on a sunset canal cruise. The city is surrounding by water and is often referred to as the Venice of the west. It made sense to get a view of the city from the water. The cruise was a relaxed affair and allowed us to get a unique perspective of the buildings and bridges we had walked past. At the midway point, the captain stopped the Dutch barge and the staff brought on pizza for dinner. We enjoyed some pepperoni and a glass of wine as we gently sailed back to the main wharf. We disembarked and made our way back to our apartment to prepare for our last day and the next leg of our European vacation.
Amsterdam Day 4
On our final morning in the city, we were told that we had to find a store called Febo and sample their food vending machines. Yes, it sounds crazy but these stores are very popular in the Netherlands and are super convenient. The stores are normally frequented by late night revellers as they drift from bar to bar or on their way home. The machines are filled with a variety of hot foods, from burgers to croquettes. You select the dish you want, enter your money and the box code allowing the box to open for you to retrieve your food. All the dishes we tried were on par with any other fast food place. We watched through the box as the staff hustle to restock with fresh dishes. The croquettes were quite delicious and helped to prepare us for our afternoon commute to the airport.
Our next adventure awaited us. We packed up and headed to catch the airport train. Our time in Amsterdam was memorable, but by no means enough. We wish we had more time to visit the many museums and the art galleries. More chances to explore different canals and streets, meet the people and immerse ourselves in their culture. We highly recommend you afford yourself more time when you visit. Amsterdam is a lively and vibrant city. Its residents are welcoming and its history, art and cultures are fascinating. Often people think of it as a party town, sure it has that element, but it is so much more. It has something for every travel style and interest. We look forward to coming back one day and experiencing more.
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