To be perfectly honest, I really didn’t know too much about Amsterdam before going into this. I had visions of windmills, cheese, wooden shoes and people wearing ensembles that our ancestors on the Mayflower would be envious of. Of course, I also knew about the seedier stories of Amsterdam — legalized marijuana, prostitution and the infamous Red Light District. However, I didn’t anticipate just how much all of it blends together.
I’m pretty sure that the travels gods were trying to issue us some sort of warning. We hit a MAJOR traffic jam on the autobahn, as well as EVERY. SINGLE. red light between the autobahn and the train station. We made our train, but each train was running behind and we had to kick people out of our seats. Six hours, a whiny Girl Child and two transfers later, we made it to Amsterdam Centraal Station.
Oh. for. the. love. of. all. bikes. Lemme just say, the situation with the bicycles in Amsterdam is unreal. It is so NOT a stereotype. There truly are more bikes in that city than there are people. Every year, the when the city dredges the canals, they retrieve more than 10,000 bikes. Broke a chain? Broken pedal? Chuck it in the canal. Actually, please don’t. Seriously though, there are millions of bikes here. You don’t need to worry about getting run over by a cab; you need to worry about getting hit with a bike.
Trip win #1: The Anne Frank House. After we dropped the bags and had dinner at a divey Italian joint (*snicker*), we walked over to the Anne Frank House. I had reserved our tickets online ahead of time, so we didn’t have to wait in line. Since Girl Child really hasn’t had that much exposure to World War II history, I opted for the extra 30-minute overview. We didn’t regret it.
The Anne Frank House is amazing because it gives you access to tangible history. Pictures she pinned to the wall remain, as do the original books on the hidden bookshelf. There is no furniture, but the starkness adds to the atmosphere. I recommend going at night, as you get a true feel as to how claustrophobic and fearful the situation was. Sparky mentioned that she could barely make it an hour inside, let alone 25 months — the amount of time the Frank family was in seclusion. Tips for visiting: Leave the large bags/backpacks/purses, etc. behind. You’ll have to carry it in front of you, if you choose to bring one. Please be respectful and don’t take pictures inside (unless they say it’s okay).
Trip/Parenting Fail #1: Amsterdam at night. I’ve got to rewind for a second. Before we made our trek to dinner and the Anne Frank House, we realized that we needed to have a super awkward but necessary discussion with the kids. You guessed it … crash course in legalized pot and prostitution. “Kids, you’re going to smell some really weird and strong cigarette smoke.” and “If you see a red light in a window, you might want to look away.” Parenting. Win.
Fast forward to the end of the Anne Frank House visit. We decided to lighten the mood and look for a place with gelato and/or adult beverages. As we were walking, we passed many “coffee houses” (totally NOT coffee) and also managed to find some windows with red lights. We passed many “toy” shops (definitely no Legos there). Luckily, neither kid was looking as they were too busy attempting to avert their eyes from the *other* windows.
We didn’t have anything on tap until 11:30 a.m., so we were able to slow roll ourselves out the door. We met up and took the scenic route to our next destination: the Van Gogh Museum. On the way, we grabbed breakfast at Le Pain Quotient, a tasty organic bakery that offers chocolate spreads with bread and two different size bowls of coffee.
After properly caffeinating, we took a detour through the Bloemen Market. Fragrant flowers and any type of tulip bulb you could want. We found the Van Gogh Museum, produced our tickets and walked inside.
Trip fail #2: Van Gogh Museum. Yep. We started out this day with a fail right away.Word to the wise: Don’t bring any sort of bag inside. No pictures allowed (I’m looking at you, old lady tourist). You will have to check your camera bag, purse or backpack. Once you get through that, get your armor on, yo. There were more people in this museum than there were at the Louvre. There are two different areas: the exhibit about his battle with mental illness (he ultimately lost), and the art gallery. There were a few of his more famous pieces, but some of the really big show stoppers that you would expect aren’t here. If you do go, I’d recommend buying tickets for the opening hour. If you’re not a fan of crowds, then I’d say pass.
Trip win # 2: The Heineken Experience. Since our Van Gogh visit left us a little meh, we made the spontaneous decision to hit up the Heineken Experience, which was basically across the street. Best. Decision. EVAR. Sparky bought tickets at a street kiosk, which allowed us to skip the line. At the entrance, they asked for Boy Child’s age. Being an honest one, I told them 13. They looked at him, looked at me and said, “Nope. He’s 12. Go on in.” Yes, thanks!
The coolest thing about the Heineken Experience is that it really is kid friendly. Hands-on stations about the brewing process, clydesdale horses, and even a 4D ride that turns you into a bottle. Cheesy? Totally, but who doesn’t like a little queso every now and then? It adds to the experience and makes a brewery tour awesome. Not to mention the two free beers at the end (sodas available for kidlets and non-drinkers).
We had a little bit of time to kill before we met up with Husband’s family, so we walked to Dam Square (cue the giggles). It’s lined with museums, a church and plenty of shopping. It’s also lined with a lot of characters. There was a guy blowing massive bubbles, to the delight of Girl Child. On the other hand, there were also two dudes dressed as grim reapers holding joints. So there’s that.
Trip win #3: Dinner cruise on the canals. It was finally time to meet up with Husband’s fam! We haven’t seen them in a little over a year. Because we live so far away, we’ve missed out on family get togethers (namely nephew J’s high school graduation this summer). When the opportunity presents itself, we try to meet up however we can. Husband’s Dad made reservations ahead of time to do a pizza dinner cruise on the canals. We had the option of either burgers or pizza. We weren’t sure about the burgers, so we opted for pizza. Once the boat was loaded and all orders had been taken, we set sail.
This is absolutely a great way to see the canals. If you’d rather do a smaller boat, there are many private options available. This one included beer, wine, sodas, chips, pizza and dessert. We toured for about 45 minutes and then went back to the dock and they brought in the freshly prepared pizzas. We toured for another 45 minutes or so, while chowing down the grub. I would definitely do it again, only we’d opt for the burgers next time.
(Continue to Amsterdam, The Netherlands (twee) )