Less than an hour after taking off from Birmingham, we’re touching down at Schiphol Airport. 4 euros each, a half-hour bus ride and we arrive right outside our hotel. Or so I think.
Somewhere between booking the hotel a couple of months ago, and arriving in Amsterdam, I have managed to convince myself that we are staying at the Eden Amsterdam American Hotel on Leidseplein. And when we try and check-in at the aforementioned hotel, I am politely told by the check-in staff that my reservation is actually for their sister hotel at Rembrandtplein. The Eden Amsterdam. Full stop. No American. With a sympathetic ‘it-happens-all-the-time-madame’ glance, the concierge kindly calls us a taxi which finally drops us off at the correct hotel. Except it’s not. We are now trying to check in at the Eden Rembrandt Square Hotel. Our reservation is for the Eden Amsterdam Hotel. Luckily, these two hotels actually occupy the same building, and we are ushered out of the 4* lobby into the 3* lobby and finally, the Fletches are in the correct place!
Thankful that we’re finally in the right place, we drop off our luggage and go off in search of our first beer of the weekend. We wave hello to Mr Rembrandt presiding over the square that bears his name and settle down for a Heineken in the 3 Sisters Pub. The weather is decidedly cooler than an April spring break would suggest so we take a short detour back to the hotel to stick on another couple of layers before heading out to discover the city.
I hastily study the map to familiarise myself with our new location. We quickly work out that every street and every canal looks the same and it ‘s easy to lose our bearings. Eventually, after taking a long and complicated route, we find ourselves in the labyrinth of narrow streets that is the Jordaan. We have a much needed drink in a tiny bar on Niuewe Leliestraat before heading back south down Prinsengracht.
I get a first glimpse of long, winding queues outside the Anne Frank House – despite the fact that it is early evening, ridiculously cold and just starting to rain – and feel smug that I’ve booked our tickets online. We manage to stumble along in the right direction and back to Rembrandtplein. Neither of us can feel our limbs anymore, so numb we are with cold, so we head into La Maddonina restaurant for food, drink and warmth. I have a very pleasant veal schnitzel while Mr Fletche has pizza. We are tucked away in the back of the restaurant, so service is a bit hit and miss but the food is good and we take the opportunity to thaw out.
Discovering a new city is always exhausting and slightly overwhelming, and we decide to head back for a quick drink in the hotel bar and an early night. Mr Fletche is most impressed by the complimentary selection of nuts delivered by the barman… until he tastes an interesting-looking green object which makes him pull the most disgusted expression, claw at his throat and spit it across the room…
History, culture (and the Red Light District…)
Our cheapo ‘buy-two-nights-get-one-free’ offer did not extend to the hotel breakfast, so in order to satisfy Mr Fletche’s caffeine craving – and my pastry craving – we start our morning in the Starbucks on Rembrandtplein. The reason we go to Starbucks is that we are sure that this “coffee shop” does indeed sell coffee. After discussing the day’s plan and filling up coffee, tea and pastries, we’re ready to face the outside world
We retrace our footsteps down the Amstel and cross the river at the Magere Brug – the Skinny Bridge. We continue walking towards the Plantage area of the city; there are long queues for Artis Zoo on a sunny but cold Sunday morning. We carry on to Wertheim Park – home of the Auschwitz Memorial. This memorial, made up of broken mirrors reflecting the sky, is a stark reminder of the Dutch Jews that were deported to concentration camps during the German invasion. It would be easy to miss this simple memorial, hidden away in this tiny park, but it is a serene location away from the hustle and bustle of citylife.
A quick off-plan detour takes us to Oosterdok, for a quick nose around the docks and wander past the NEMO science museum shaped like a ship’s hull. Back ‘in-land’ and we find ourselves at Nieuwmarkt just in time to have lunch at De Waag (Weighing House). Originally part of the city walls, and host to anatomical dissections in the past, De Waag houses a café/restaurant. The interior is beautiful, almost entirely lit by candlelight. It’s definitely a tourist trap, but the food is good, if a little overpriced.
Nieuwmarkt is just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Red Light District… and it would be wrong to come all this way and not take a peek. Families with young children mingle with groups of young men; hot dog vendors, coffee shops (not Starbucks) and sex shows sit side by side; and scantily dressed ladies of the night – or in this case, ladies of the daytime – wave happily from their red-lit windows. Somehow, on a bright Sunday afternoon, it all seems very incongruous.
Back up to Centraal Station, and we then head down Damrak. Formally a canal, now it’s a shopping street with souvenir shops, tour & ticket offices, fast food restaurants and high street stores nestling together. Trams, tourists, shoppers… the peace and quiet of the Auschwitz Memorial seems miles away.
Damrak leads into Dam Square, which appears to be home to the largest bicycle park I’d ever seen. Through the sea of bicycles – and pigeons – the National Monument is barely visible; finally we clamber up the steps for a panoramic view of Dam Square.
We’ve walked LOTS already today and the feet are just starting to protest so we decide to head back to home base… knowing that we’ll be walking all the way back here a couple of hours later for our Anne Frank reservation. It seems a long walk back to Rembrandtplein, although we do find ourselves taking a different route back every time – indeed this is the only time we find ourselves scratching our heads, turning the map 180 degrees and concluding that we must have surely wandered onto a street not displayed on our pocket map of Amsterdam…
By the time we’ve reached our hotel, we have time for a quick rest before heading out again, retracing our steps to 263 Prinsengracht. I read Anne Frank’s diary as a teenager, and again recently, so the Secret Annexe was a definite must-see for me in Amsterdam. We arrive fifteen minutes early, and at our 7pm timeslot we bypass the queue still winding its way around the side of the building and enter the museum.
The self-guided tour takes us through the warehouse and the offices before entering the Secret Annexe through the moveable bookcase. Quotes from Anne’s diary are displayed on the walls and accompanying exhibits. Seeing the marks on the wall used to measure Anne and her sister Margot’s height, and their shared bedroom with the film posters still tacked to the walls are particularly poignant moments in the tour, as is the image of Otto Frank revisiting the annexe after the war and the loss of his entire family.
We leave the museum suitably reflective and sombre, imagining what it must have been like for the eight people hiding in the Secret Annexe for two years, and those that assisted them. We silently thank Anne for leaving such an eloquent and wonderfully-written legacy, and Otto for allowing her diaries to be published.
Finally getting the hang of navigating this city, we head back into the heart of the city in search of food. For the second night running, pizza-phobic Mrs Fletche finds herself in an Italian restaurant. I make a rash and spontaneous decision to try something different. So, I ate pizza. It wasn’t the most unpleasant thing ever. But you won’t catch me making a habit of it. And the tiramisu I promised myself for being daring was well worth the pizza-eating pain.
To walk off the delicious tiramisu and erase memories of the melted cheese and tomato combination, we go to have another peek at our friendly neighbourhood prostitutes. Once you’ve seen one barely dressed lady in a window, you’ve seen them all… Curiosity sated, we decide to leave the seedy nightlife behind and head back for a civilised beer at the hotel…
A sunny Dutch day
The pizza experience has caused me no ill effects, although my feet are still screaming about the torture I am putting them through. The sun is shining, and the temperature appears to have crept up a degree or two, so we revisit Starbucks before setting out on today’s trek.
Our first task is to time how long it will take it will take us to walk from Rembrandtplein to our bus-stop at Leidseplein. Taking into account ambling tourists, trams and bicycles, and dragging our suitcases, we estimate a 25 minute walk. We check out bus times and plan the timetable for the next morning.
Practical bit done, it’s a short walk from Leidseplein to Vondelpark – an oasis of calm and tranquillity, bike riders, dog walkers and joggers. This is a huge park, and despite the aching legs we walk the length and breadth of the park. We make a very welcome stop for a hot drink at Groot Melkhuis, and we’re finally able to sit outside on the terrace – this is the weather we were hoping for!
After a pleasant couple of hours in Vondelpark, we head out to Museumplein. Our travelling style is very much ‘outdoorsy’ – , a lot of walking, admiring the exterior of buildings – rather than spending time inside museums and galleries. I may have been tempted by Rijksmuseum had half of it not been closed for renovation. We stop to enjoy an al fresco baguette at one of the cafes and people-watch.
A special mention has to go to the toilets at the Cobra Café… For 50c you get the amusement of hoping that the transparent cubicle doors actually DO go frosted when the door is locked (mine did… I hope).
Continuing our mission across Amsterdam, we head for De Pijp and the famous Albert Cuyp market. We appear to have left our fellow tourists behind but we enjoy wandering around the colourful stalls, with the scent of waffles, herring and cheese permeating the air around us. A quick detour to Saraphati Park, before we decide that we really can’t walk any more. We finally locate the Amstel River and make our way back to the hotel – stopping for a quick beer at The Old Bell pub on Rembrandtplein.
Despite it being our last evening, we can’t face another trek so decide to keep it local with our dinner choice. We decide to return to The Old Bell for dinner. Food is excellent, and we soon rack up the beers – not too far to stumble home, and no risk of falling into any canal…
Final morning, Final thoughts
It only seems five minutes since we were unpacking our suitcase and saying hello to our new home… now we’re throwing everything back in the case and heading to our real home. The hotel was pre-paid, with just the 12e City Tax to pay, and check-out is quick and painless. It takes us less than the anticipated time to walk to Leidseplein so we have time for a quick drink and blueberry muffin at the Starbucks on Leidsestraat.
The 197 bus is bang on time and within half an hour we find ourselves back at Schiphol. Bags are checked in using self-service… and we have time for a final traditional Dutch meal (McDonalds) before departure.
Mr Fletche and I had a wonderful weekend; however we were a little underwhelmed by Amsterdam, and disappointed that the city wasn’t a little – well – prettier. We’ve probably been spoilt by other cities we have visited over the last couple of years. We found that in many of the squares, the neon lights, happy hour bars and fast-food restaurants spoil the beautiful architecture.
On a positive note, we received excellent customer service everywhere we went, and everyone was extremely friendly and spoke perfect English – a special thank you to the lady who tried to assist us when we were wrestling with the map! We obviously looked lost!
Many of the photographs featured here were taken by Mr Fletche – CPF Photography