Last week I wrote a blog about my Dad’s visit to Germany, and mentioned that we took a short road trip to Amsterdam while he was here. There was so much to write about in regards to this one experience, that I have saved it for a blog all it’s own.
Before my Dad arrived in Germany, I asked him if there were any places in particular he really wanted to see within Europe. It’s such a long stretch to come from Canada to Europe, but once you’re here it is fairly affordable to get from one European destination to another. Dad said that he would be more than happy to stay in Berlin for the entirety of his stay, but out of places he would love to see, he listed Italy, Spain, and Amsterdam. Because I was working during Dad’s visit, we only had about five days in which we could travel. We could leave on the Thursday directly after I finished work, and thanks to a bit of lenience in my schedule, we could return late the next Monday. We decided on Amsterdam, since it can be done as a road trip instead of by flying.
Sebastien and I travelled to Amsterdam about three years ago, with a group of friends. We had a good time, but out of all my travels it was not the most fondly remembered. The canals were gorgeous, we had great weather, and it was interesting to see a completely different culture. But our accommodation was very basic (no toilet paper or soap, and kitchenware only in one building), the trams took forever to get around in, and it felt like no one we interacted with was very friendly. It didn’t help that my German was so bad that I couldn’t really converse with my companions. But I was more than willing to go back with Sebastien and my Dad, even if it was more for the sake of a road trip together than for the destination.
I finished work pretty early on the Thursday, so we were able to get on the road by about noon. Our first stop was Wolfenbüttel, where we admired a historical library (wonder who requested that stop?). We then continued on to Herford, where we enjoyed dinner and climbed up to a fortress as darkness was setting in.
The next morning, after breakfast at our hotel, we headed to a swimming pool that Sebastien had found online. It was pretty spectacular, with a wave-pool and two water slides – one of which went super fast, and the other involved riding in a tube. At first we didn’t see why there were so many more people going for the tube slide instead of the other, but once we experienced it we couldn’t get enough. The entire slide was painted on the inside, with different animals and scenes, and music playing and lights flashing. There were tons of places where you could spin and rock back and forth on the sides of the slide. It’s a bit hard to describe, but the point is that we had a great time.
After that, we got on the road again. Sebastien booked us a bed and breakfast in Amsterdam that was a bit far from the city center, but much cheaper than anything directly downtown would have been. We had thought that our living space would be in the house of the owner, but he actually drove us to an apartment a few blocks down. The apartment had three bedrooms, but only one other couple was ever there during our stay. The owner stocked our fridge with breakfast supplies, but besides that we were free to cook for ourselves, plus use the big-screen TV in the living room. It turned out to be a great deal! On our first night, we found a grocery store and bought a few things to cook our own dinner, then watched a movie and went to bed.
There was a train-station not too far from our bed and breakfast, and it was an extremely quick way of getting downtown. As soon as we emerged from the station downtown, Dad started taking photos of the scenic canals and bicycles that were everywhere.
It wasn’t very long before we reached our first cheese shop of the trip. I don’t remember a lot of cheese shops being involved in my last visit to Amsterdam, but they are indeed everywhere! Big huge stores filled with wheels upon wheels of cheese. My first meal downtown consisted of samples at a cheese store – you can sample just about every product they offer, and each one is tastier than the last. It was extremely hard to choose a favourite, but I think it was the pesto. It looked unique since it was green, and I loved the garlicky flavour of it.
The pictures above that are taken inside a cheese store actually show one of the smallest ones we visited. The “Old Amsterdam Cheese Store” in the last photo is one of the bigger ones, but we didn’t take pictures inside. This cheese store was in the same square as the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, which proved to be a great beginning point for our walk through the city.
One interesting aspect of seeing the canals in Amsterdam was seeing the amount of houseboats. Instead of buying a house on land, just make room for yourself on the water!
One of our first stops was the Anne Frank House. I heard from a friend back home that this was a memorial definitely worth seeing, and I wanted to be sure and experience a bit of history on this trip. Unfortunately the Anne Frank House was extremely lined up, so we decided to wait until the next day, and try to get in first thing before it would get too busy. The plan didn’t exactly work, but more on that later.
From there, we decided to slowly make our way to the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. This was the other major historical site I wanted to make a point of seeing. It was a fair hike away, but of course we managed to take in lots of other sights as we walked along.
There were bikes and people absolutely everywhere. The three of us agreed that it would be quite ludicrous to try and drive a car through downtown Amsterdam, because there are so many pedestrians! A lot of bikes had makeshift ways for passengers to ride along. Some would have a spot in front for someone to sit, some would have a trailer behind, or a seat behind, and some people would just ride along with their bums stuck in a basket. As we walked through the streets, we often heard the dinging of a bell as some biker was trying to get through the crowd. There were a lot of very full streets in which I would have dismounted and given up on biking, but these guys knew what they were doing. I’ve gotten very good at moving out of the way! Another aspect of all the biking was all the parking spots for bikes. Anywhere there was a bit of space, a bike would be parked. The train station was absolutely insane – there was a big concrete structure where people could leave their bikes, and it was completely full. There was even a boat nearby where people could get on and leave their bikes there – and this of course was full as well.
Anyhow, enough about the bikes. Our big event of the afternoon was visiting the Van Gogh Museum. The line to get in was a little long, but I’m very glad that we endured it. The museum itself had a lot to offer. Different phases of Van Gogh’s life were emphasized on different floors of the museum, and it was fascinating to see how his technique changed as he developed as a painter. He used to do a lot of very dark work, and it wasn’t till later in his career that he began working with bold colours and paint-strokes. I often had to remind myself that what I was seeing was a real painting. There are so many copies of what Van Gogh has done, in the form of purses and posters. It was so hard to believe that I was in the presence of something that Van Gogh had physically painted himself! I enjoyed looking closely at the painting and examining the light shining off the paint itself as it varied in thickness and texture. There was one painting featured that is apparently “newly validated” as having been done by Van Gogh. I found this extremely cool, but my dad found it funny that they suddenly knew every single detail of how he painted it even though it took them so long to figure out he painted it. Going through the entire museum took quite a while, but it was an enriching experience to be sure!
By the time we were finished in the museum, we decided to head back to the bed and breakfast for the evening. The next day, we headed straight to the Anne Frank House…and it was just as lined up as it had been the day before. We decided to do the wait, since it isn’t every day you have the opportunity to see something like where Anne Frank lived. We had to wait in the rain unfortunately, but it gave us a good excuse to buy an Amsterdam umbrella.
The Anne Frank House was amazing to see. We were able to see the entire set-up of the house, from the offices downstairs to the cramped living space upstairs. The rooms were unfurnished, but there was a photo showing how the furniture had been when the house was being lived in. The bookcase that had been used to disguise the entrance to the secret living area was still there, which I found fascinating to see. I got a lot more than what I expected from this tour; while I had figured I would just see the living area itself, interesting artifacts such as Anne Frank’s physical diary were also on display. We definitely got our money’s worth from this museum.
During the rest of our day, we found a row of stands selling tulip bulbs, and Dad made sure to pick up a few to take home (and as it turns out, one for Seb and I to try planting in our own garden!). We also took a small ferry across the water to another part of town, which proved to be quite suburban. On this excursion, we found a group of elaborate houseboats that were connected to the land with patios and gardens.
For dinner that evening, we found a great little pub along a side street that sold reasonably priced food. It was really interesting to listen to our waiter as he spoke different language with everyone in the place – English with us, German at the next table over, and Dutch with his friends. It was a nice way to take a little rest while we waited for it to get dark out – we had yet to see Amsterdam at nighttime!
It was interesting to see sights all lit up at night, and we walked along various different streets – including the red light district. I see now why they call it that: there is indeed a red light glowing everywhere you look! Along this street they have everything from sex shows to “the museum of prostitution” and girls standing in windows waiting for customers. During the day, these windows blend in with every other window on the street, and you’re surprised when you realize there’s a half-naked woman standing there. But at night they have a red light above them, so that you know where to look if you’re so inclined. I feel bad for people that live in a normal apartment along the red light district, because a lot of tourists go oggling into your window while you’re trying to eat dinner or watch TV.
In any case: the three of us did not do anything more in the red light district besides walk around. Amsterdam has such a shocking culture in general – I think it was pretty awesome to see for a weekend, but there is no way I would want to live there.
The next morning, it was time to begin the road trip home. We had the chance to see a lot of interesting things from the highway, including sheep and windmills (very typically Dutch!). We also took a stop at the dam that was built to keep Amsterdam from flooding. It has been in place for so long that, while the ocean side is salt-water, the other side is fresh water.
After we had walked around and admired the huge dam for a while, we got back on the road. We stopped briefly in Hamburg that evening, for a walk around and a bite to eat. I was briefly in Hamburg when I was with my high school band in grade 11, and on that trip we had taken a boat tour around the coast. A lot of that trip blends together for me though, and it was great to see Hamburg once again. We spent a lot of time along the harbour, and then we found a restaurant with a great view of the water.
As the sun was setting, we were able to check out the parliament building, followed by what I believe was St. Michael’s Church (but please don’t quote me on that!) After that, it was time to travel the final stretch back to Berlin.
I had a fantastic time on our road trip. I hadn’t had high expectations, but had such a great time that I was devastated when we had to drive back to Berlin! It was great seeing what Amsterdam had to offer culturally, and it was nice that we were able to fit so much in to just five days of travel. I’m so glad that we were able to fit in a dream destination on Dad’s list, and am very grateful that Sebastien is such an amazing travel planner. I’m a lucky girl indeed!
Thank you so much for reading about all of my adventures!