Sunday, 7 January 2018

PHOTO DIARY: Amsterdam, Netherlands, October 2017

Amsterdam was amazing and most definitely lived up the hype. I'd been once before, when I was 17, but we didn't get much sightseeing done so I was excited to get back to the capital of the Netherlands and find out what makes it tick. Steve and I had four days in the city and we squeezed in as much as possible. Museums, cafes, food, beer, you name it. I left feeling like we had achieved a lot in a short space of time, but also that there was still so much to see.


After a long, but thoroughly enjoyable journey on the Dutch Flyer, we arrived in Amsterdam bright and early on a Saturday morning. We dumped our bags at Generator Hostel and made our way into the city centre to begin a full four days of sightseeing. At the central train station we picked up our I Amasterdam Cards. The cards are available for 24 (€57), 48 (€67), 72 (€77), or 96 (€87) hours and allow you to enter the majority of city attractions, for free, as well as giving you free access to public transport and a free ticket for a canal tour.

Our first stop was Begijnhof, an extremely picturesque 14th century enclosed courtyard where you can find Het Houten Huis, the oldest house in Amsterdam. Followed by the Amsterdam Museum where the Amsterdam DNA exhibition tells you about how the city came to be. Did you know the city is built on millions of wooden stilts to stop the buildings sinking into the marshy ground?

We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Gartine, a charming cafe situated in a quiet alleyway in the city centre, before making our way over to the chaotic Dam Square. I don't like this part of the city, it's busy, loud, and full of tourists traps. Nevertheless there are still a few important sights to visit. The Royal Palace, which doesn't look like much from the outside thanks to being surrounded by a fairground, is stunning inside with all its marble and gold opulence. Nearby you'll find the National Monument, which remembers those that died during WWII; De Bijenkorf, the Dutch equivalent of Selfridges; and De Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th century church that is now used as an exhibition hall.

A walk through the red light district is most definitely an experience for your senses and whilst it's still heaving with tourists there are a few gems to be sought out. Oude Kerk, the oldest church in Amsterdam, is a haven from the hustle and bustle, whilst tiny Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder (Our Lord in the Attic), is an incredible museum showcasing one of the few remaining house churches left in the city. As you climb upwards through the narrow canal house, the top three floors open up into a secret Catholic church.

The rest of the day was spent bar hopping. Amsterdam has a fantastic craft beer scene so Steve and I did our very best to visit as many hot spots as possible. Brouwerij de Prael is a lovely microbrewery where you can order a tasting tray of house brewed beers; In de Olofspoort is the place to go to try jenever (Dutch gin); In 't Aepjen is a traditional brown cafe with plenty of local beers on tap; In de Wildeman is a lovely bar with a huge selection of international craft beers and probably my favourite drinking hole in the city; and Café Belgique is a tiny bar with a fun atmosphere and great selection of drinks.

We ventured to the east side of the city for a late dinner at Wilde Zwijnen. The menu is a modern spin on Dutch classics and rather meat heavy. The atmosphere was buzzing and a firm favourite amongst locals. Drinks at nearby Bar Bukowski finished the night.


We started the day with breakfast at CT Coconuts and Coffee, this huge all-day cafe sure does look great but unfortunately the food doesn't impress. My avocado on toast was dreadful and once finished we popped into nearby Scandinavian Embassy for cinnamon buns to go. A Scandinavian themed cafe in Amsterdam? Of course I was going to visit.

It was a busy day of sightseeing but we wanted to get maximum use of our I Amsterdam Cards. We visited two 17th century canal houses, Museum Van Loon and Museum Willet-Holthuysen, that have been restored to their original splendour. Both offer a glimpse into the lives of Amsterdam's aristocracy and are fascinating places to relive a little history.

We stopped at canal side restaurant Buffet van Odette for a gorgeous lunch of open sandwiches. The menu is packed with seasonal ingredients and is an incredibly picturesque spot to rest your legs. This part of Amsterdam is so charming, the colourful narrow houses snake around the canals, there's a lot less foot traffic compared to the city centre, and a tranquillity washes through the streets making you forget you're in the middle of a capital city.

We visited photographic galleries, FOAM and Huis Marseille, the later being my favourite thanks to a wonderful Jamie Hawkesworth exhibition. We finished up the day at the enormous Hermitage Museum for its Dutch Masters exhibition, and nearby Rembrandt House Museum where the famous Dutch painter lived and worked.

As we snaked around the canals back towards to city centre we stopped at Hotel Droog for their excellent lifestyle shop, and Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam's famous floating flower market. A caffeine stop at Bocca Coffee gave us the energy we needed for another evening of beer drinking. De Biertuin Prinsengracht and 'cause BEER loves FOOD are great pubs serving a range of local and international craft beers, whilst Hoppe specialises in Dutch beer.

Dinner took us to the west side of the city to Mossel & Gin, a restaurant specialising in, you've guessed it, mussels and gin. Tasty seafood, big gin cocktails, and a buzzing atmosphere, this was a great foodie option. We finished the evening at nearby Brouwerij Troost Westergas, a local brewery, before heading back to the hostel.


Sunday started at Bakers and Roasters, a New Zealand meets Brazilian all-day breakfast spot. Honestly, the breakfast was pretty uninspiring and while the portions were huge, I left wishing we'd gone to somewhere a little more interesting.

We spent a good chunk of the day in the Museumplein part of the city, visiting the Van Gogh Museum*, Stedilijk Museum, and Rijksmuseum*.

The Rijksmuseum is one of Europe's most prestigious museums and an absolute must visit for visitors in Amsterdam. You'll notice that the Dutch are very proud, and rightly so, of their home grown artists, and the Gallery of Honour on the second floor is where the Dutch golden age paintings are proud of place. Rembrandt's Night Watch, and Vermeer's Little Street are just a couple of my highlights.

The Van Gogh Museum is lovely and despite the masses of visitors it's one of Amsterdam's finest museums. Naturally, the museum houses the largest collection of Van Gogh in the world and you'll find favourites such as Bedroom in Arles, Yellow House, Sunflowers, and Almond Blossoms. As well as the permanent collection, changing exhibitions allow you to view certain themes and contemporaries. I really enjoyed the current exhibition; The Dutch in Paris.

The Stedelijk is Amsterdam's premier modern and contemporary art gallery. The permanent collections represents most significant movements in art and design during the 20th and 21st centuries and has a nice selection of De Stijl, Bauhaus, and post-impressionism to name a few eras. Unless you're travelling outside of Amsterdam it's probably the best place in the city to find works by Mondrian, Dutch artist and pioneer of abstract art.

We broke up the museums with lunch at Sama Sebo, the oldest Indonesian restaurant in Amsterdam, and a sweet treats at Corner Bakery. Sama Sebo is renowned for its rice table, an elaborate tasting museum of Indonesian classics, and something unique to the Netherlands. But as we were having lunch we opted for the nasi goreng which came with a selection of meat and vegetables.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the Jordaan part of the city. We stopped for coffee at a Lot Sixty One, and visited the shops in, and around De HallenThings I Like Things I Love has a great selection of home wear and clothing, Wildernis is an beautiful flower shopping full of succulents, cacti, and other photogenic goodies, and The Maker Store and The Gathershop sell all sorts of artisanal products from fashion, home wear, gifts, cosmetics, and everything in between. Inside De Hallen you will find the food market, Foodhallen. There is a huge selection of street food and micro restaurants and it was a shame we'd had a big lunch as I would have enjoyed sampling more options. However, the bitterballen we tried from De BallenBar were probably the best on the entire trip.

We spent ages checking out the boutiques in the nine streets area. There are so many charming, independent shop around here, a real shopping lovers dream. From fashion to interiors, and music to cosmetics, you can find almost everything in this part of the city. There are far too many shops for me to even begin listing but this part of the city is definitely worth devoting some time too.

Continuing our evening theme of beer hopping, tonight was no exception. De Bierkoning is an excellent craft beer bottle shop; BeerTemple has a great selection of international craft beers; Proeflokaal Arendsnest is a Dutch craft beer specialty bar; and Café 't Smalle is a lovely, traditional brown cafe.

We'd booked tickets for a late night opening of the Anne Frank Museum where an audio guide takes you around the museum part of the building before turning off as you enter the secret annex. The experience is haunting as we are all so familiar with the suffering and persecution this real family went through. But it's an important experience and something every visitor to Amsterdam should do at least once. You'll find an Anne Frank Statue next to the nearby Westerkerk, as well as the Homomonument, a memorial that commemorates all LGBTQ+ people who have been subjected to persecution because of their sexual orientation.

We finished the day with dinner at Bar Spek, a neighbourhood restaurant serving small plates of Italian inspired food. Honestly, the food wasn't as great as I was hoping it would be and felt a little lacklustre to options we get in London. You'll notice this theme running throughout and I think it boils down to two options. Steve and I were incredibly spoilt when it came to dinning on our recent trip to Denmark, the food was incredible, and the same can be said for the restaurants we usually visit in London. This has unfortunately led to our expectations being too high when it comes to eating abroad but I'm becoming more open minded, and hopefully less fussy, and can still appreciate when a restaurant is punching above its weight in the city it's located.


Our last day in Amsterdam also happened to be my birthday. We had one of those days where we tried to visit places we hadn't yet managed, as well as admit defeat that we couldn't possibly do everything we had planned. I wanted to visit Little Collins, an Australian breakfast place with a really interesting brunch menu, but it was closed so we headed back to nearby Scandinavian Embassy to enjoy a proper breakfast as we'd only sampled the cinnamon buns the previous day. The breakfast menu is pretty basic, but a good option if you aren't starving.

Steve is a huge football fan, and particularly loves Dennis Bergkamp *cough* Arsenal *cough*, so we visited the Amsterdam Arena for a stadium tour*. Despite not being that into football myself I found the experience really interesting, especially as we got to see the Ajax changing rooms and learn about the behind the scenes of a football stadium.

Back in the city we spent the rest of the afternoon in De Pijp, eating burgers at The Butcher (spoiler: they aren't great), wondering around the Albert Cuyp Market, and visiting a plethora of shops. Some of my favourites include Anna + Nina, and Things I Like Things I Love for fashion and home; All the Luck in the World, Hutspot, and COTTONCAKE for coffee, home, and fashion; The Girl Can't Help It for vintage 50s fashion; and Felice Home of Brands, Bricklane, and We Are Labels for fashion.

We headed back to the Jordaan to visit a few more shops and grab a slice of world-famous apple pie at Winkel 43, before heading into the city centre to grab a portion of the-best-fries-in-Amsterdam from Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx. We stumbled across a HAY house which was a nice surprise and stopped for a quick drink at Brouwerij 't IJ which is located underneath De Gooyer Windmill. We grabbed our bags, made our way to the train station, and had one last drink at Little Delirium before catching our train to Rotterdam.

We ended up staying in Amsterdam much longer than expected, even missing our dinner reservation in Rotterdam, but it was worth it to visit a few more bars and enjoy apple pie and fries. Amsterdam is an amazing city with so much to do that it's the sort of place you need to visit multiple times. We didn't even make it to the north side of the city, plus I still have a list of cafes, bars, and sights we didn't have the chance to visit. With direct London to Amsterdam trains being launched this winter, I know Amsterdam will become a location I frequently visit.

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