Part-time Traveller, Full-Time Brummie

A Long Weekend in Amsterdam

A Long Weekend in Amsterdam_ A Brummie Home and Abroad_ April 2012

Less than an hour after taking off from Birmingham, we’re touching down at Schiphol Airport for our weekend in Amsterdam. 4 euros each, a half-hour bus ride and we arrive right outside our hotel. Or so I think.

A Tale of Two (Three) Hotels

Somewhere between booking the hotel and arriving in Amsterdam I have managed to convince myself that we’re 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; we are ushered out of the 4* lobby into the 3* lobby. Finally, we are in the correct hotel and our weekend in Amsterdam can begin.

Thankful that we’re finally in the right place, we drop off our luggage and go off in search of our first beer. 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 study the map to familiarise myself with our new location. 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 down Prinsengracht.

All the canals look the same!

I get a first glimpse of long, winding queues outside the Anne Frank House. It’s cold, and just starting to rain. I feel smug that I’ve booked our tickets online for the next day. We somehow 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. Right 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. In order to satisfy Mr Fletche’s caffeine craving – and my pastry craving – we start our morning in the Starbucks on Rembrandtplein. We are confident that, being a Starbucks, this “coffee shop” does indeed sell coffee.  After discussing the day’s plan and filling up on coffee, tea and pastries, we’re ready to explore Amsterdam.

We cross the Amstel 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 this 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. 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 city life.

Amstel River
Amstel River
magere brug, amsterdam
Walter Suskind Bridge
Auschwitz Monument, amsterdam
Auschwitz Monument

An 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 a tourist trap, but the food is good, if a little overpriced.

Oosterdock. Amsterdam
All aboard!
Cafe in de Waag, Amsterdam
Lunch at Cafe in de Waag

Nieuwmarkt is just a short stroll from the famous Red Light District. Of course we take a peek. Families with young children mingle with groups of young men; hot dog vendors, coffee shops (definitely not Starbucks) and sex shows sit side by side. 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 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. The peace and quiet of the Auschwitz Memorial seems miles away. Damrak leads into Dam Square. AKA the largest bicycle park I’ve ever seen. Through the sea of bicycles – and pigeons – the National Monument is barely visible. Finally though we clamber up the steps for a panoramic view of Dam Square.

Bicycle Park of Dam Square
Bicycle Park of Dam Square

We’ve walked LOTS already today and the feet are just starting to protest so we decide to head back to the hotel for a short while. It seems a long walk back to Rembrandtplein. We don’t recognize our surroundings. 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.

Visiting the secret annexe of Anne Frank

By the time we’ve reached our hotel, we have time for a quick rest before heading out again. We retrace 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 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. 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 are the images of Otto Frank revisiting the annexe after the war, mourning the loss of his entire family.

An amazing young woman, with hopes and dreams of a happy future...
A young woman, with hopes and dreams of a happy future.

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.

Amsterdam by night
Amsterdam by night
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. This is an oasis of calm and tranquillity, bike riders, dog walkers and joggers. It’s a huge park, and despite the aching legs we walk it’s length and breadth.  We make a very welcome stop for a hot drink at Groot Melkhuis; the weather is finally nice enough for us to sit outside on the terrace.

Where are all the tulips in Amsterdam?  This is the only one we found!
Where are all the tulips in Amsterdam? This is the only one we found!

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 Albert Cuyp market. We enjoy wandering around the colourful stalls, with the scent of waffles, herring and cheese permeating the air around us. There’s 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.

Spot the non-dummy
Spot the non-dummy

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 the canal.

Final morning, Final thoughts

It 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 back to the UK. The hotel was pre-paid, so with just the 12€ City Tax to pay 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 Leidsestraat.

The 197 bus is bang on time and within half an hour we find ourselves back at Schiphol. Our bags are checked in using self-service and we have time for a final traditional Dutch meal. At McDonalds.

Mr Fletche and I had a wonderful weekend; however we were a little underwhelmed by Amsterdam. We were disappointed that the city wasn’t a little – well – prettier.  We may have been spoilt by other cities we’ve visited. In many of the squares, the neon lights, happy hour bars and fast-food restaurants spoilt 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. You can check out more of his work at

A Long Weekend in Amsterdam

9 responses to “A Long Weekend in Amsterdam”

  1. Mz. Nichols says:

    Loved your post! We are going to Amsterdam next June as the last stop on our 3 week escapade! Of all the things you did, what would go back and visit in a heartbeat? And restaurants as well!

    • emfletche says:

      Definitely fit in the Anne Frank House if you can; its such a piece of history and I’ve never seen anything like it. Personally if i returned I’d avoid anywhere near Centraal Station, Damrak, Dam Square and the RLD like the plague 🙂

      We were less adventurous with food and travel three years ago, so we tended to stick to restaurants in tourist areas, but we would definitely try and seek out something a little more authentic if we return.

      Happy travelling 🙂

  2. chiara says:

    It sounds like you had a fun trip, especially regarding the Hotel in the beginning;)
    I really want to go back to Amsterdam now and visit the Anne Frank House.

  3. Abby's Atlas says:

    Great read! Hoping to make it to Amsterdam one day 🙂

  4. Snuffy says:

    Oh, I can totally relate to having sore feet after a weekend of trying to see everything! Anne Frank’s House would be on my list, too, and it’s good to know about the coffee shops. I tend to avoid Starbucks anywhere but home but it sounds like they might be a good safe bet to take!

  5. […] 1. Because I can tell you all about the fab places I’ve visited, complete with stories about how I once mowed down a pedestrian in Stanley Park, only just preserved my modesty in a Parisian public toilet, and tried to check into the wrong hotel in Amsterdam […]

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