Amsterdam Day One (17/12)
After a year of planning and weeks of hectic work schedules and social commitments in the lead up, the day had finally arrived! Our Euro trip was happening and we were packed and ready to go. Jess and I boarded our first flight and so began the #BarrellEuroTrip.
The flight from Perth to Jakarta was a shocker, it seemed that we were flying in someones tiny, little toy aeroplane. Not a lot of leg room or breathing space on this flight, but at least it was the shorter leg of the journey.
After 4 hours we arrived in Jakarta to find that the airline had changed the gate of our connecting flight & hadn’t felt the need to mention this to anyone. After heading to more than one wrong gate, we eventually managed to track down the correct area. Our passport and boarding passes were checked for the 5th time (FYI Jakarta they have computers now, just a bit more advanced than your paper and pencil system) and then we were finally on route to Amsterdam. Having never been on a plane for more than 7 hours the second leg was a challenge, however the excitement of what was to come made it bearable.
Amazing! Landing in an airport with signs to ensure you knew where to go (Jakarta take note) and a train station easily accessed within the airport (Perth take note). We were in and out of Amsterdam Airport within 30 minutes – catching a train to Amsterdam Central located approximately 300-400m form our hotel the Frisco Inn.
Emerging from the hot train station, it was actually quite refreshing to be slapped in the face with cold air.
This is my kind of place and I think a perfect way to start our adventures in Amsterdam. We entered the reception of the hotel… which also happened to be the bar and was greeted by the owner, who offered to take our bags and lend us an umbrella so we could head straight out to explore. We had a few hours to fill before our room would be ready so went off in search of breakfast (as it was the brunching hour.)
While the weather was cold, windy and drizzling; Amsterdam still looked amazing and we were excited to get out and about. The gloomy weather actually seems to enhance the character and feel of the city, the old buildings and canals appear to suit overcast weather – though we would love to see it in Spring to compare!
Brunch was found at a little cafe that specialised in English Breakfasts. We were happy to step off the streets into a warm cafe and enjoy non-plane food while planning the day ahead.
We finished up our meals and headed out to browse the shops when H&M caught Jess’s eye. Given our gloves were securely packed in our suitcases, Jess bought a pair of gloves and a scarf. Not wanting to miss out I also bought some gloves, a scarf and a glorious Christmas sweater (which will be unveiled on Christmas Day in Zermatt, Switzerland- Watch this space!!)
One of the musts for Amsterdam was to make sure we went on a night time wine and cheese canal cruise so we found a ticketing place near the docks and booked a candle light cruise through the canals for later tonight. The canal cruise ended with a walking tour of the ‘Red Light District’ so we felt this would be a good first night activity to get our bearings within the city.
It was now approaching 1:30pm and our room would be ready, so we decided to head back to the hotel and recharge our batteries, with a nap, shower, change of clothes and literally charge our batteries (phones and cameras.)
This was going to be our first test, night time Amsterdam weather. So we rugged up in Under Armour cold gear, big jackets, scarves and headed to the canal docks. Jess thought I was channeling 1D with my jacket, beanie and scarf combo… I was ok with it. not goin’ to argue with that.
The tour began with bottles of red and white wine set out on the table along with a tasting plate of cheeses, meats and assorted nuts. The tour guide was relaxed (somewhat indifferent about his role) but hilarious at the same time. He commentated the entire tour, pointing out sights/buildings lining the edges of the canals and some of the installation artworks that were created by local artists for the festival of lights.
Red Light District
After an hour touring the canals we docked near the famous ‘Red Light District’ and went on a 25 minute walking tour with our guide. Photos weren’t allowed in this portion of the tour as the pimps no doubt would have been displeased. I did manage to take a few landscape shots within the restricted area, but was careful not to get any ‘women’ or ‘windows’ within the frame. On that note, when visiting Amsterdam’s Red Light District be sure to stick to the ‘Red Lights’ as ‘Blue Lights’ might get more than you bargained for…
Amsterdam Day Two (18/12)
I began the morning ridiculously early (6:00am) and decided to use the time (whilst Jess slept) to research breakfast options for after our Anne Frank visit. I came across a pancake house that i knew we just had to try. Once up & dressed we ventured out into the dark Amsterdam morning, it was surprisingly not that cold (11 degrees) but looked like we still should have been wrapped up in bed as the sun was just appearing despite it being close to 9:00am.
Before we ventured too far, i made an executive decision to stop at Starbucks and get Jess a coffee, for those not in the know she doesn’t function too well without caffeine. After our coffee detour we walked to Dam Square and by this point the sun was making a more significant appearance and Jess insisted on having a photo in front of the giant christmas tree. It was great walking the streets and taking in Amsterdam at this quiet point in the day, it seems most shops don’t open until 10am so there are a lot less people and bikes on the streets.
Anne Frank House
Around 9:30am we arrived at Anne Franks house. From the outside the building is very nondescript and certainly doesn’t appear to be anything special (you can see how a family was able to hide from the Nazi’s so successfully for years!)
Photos inside Anne Frank’s house are prohibited; however, this is probably a good thing as it makes you really take in the surroundings and appreciate the living conditions of this family hidden away from sight. The tour is littered with historical documents and original pages from Anne’s diaries, there are also testimonials from celebrities and public figures paying tribute to Anne Frank & her honest account of the war and its affect on the individuals and lives of those who lived through it.
Something both Jess and I hadn’t realised is that when Anne was eventually captured by the Nazi’s she was taken to the German concentration camp at Auschwitz, where she eventually died. The brief video that we saw at Anne Frank’s house showing the conditions of this camp, made both Jess and I very aware that our visit to Poland is going to be educational but also an emotional and difficult experience.
A quick search on Google and Trip Advisor lead me to – Pancakes! Amsterdam. With hundreds of glowing reviews about the food and service the choice was pretty easy, it being so close to Anne Frank’s House also made it a win win situation.
The little cafe looks like a mum and pop organisation, with chairs set up on an elevated mezzanine that over looks the open kitchen and streets outside. One look at the menu and we both knew what we wanted, Jess had the lemon and sugar pancakes while I had the American Style with bacon and maple syrup. The photos above probably don’t to it justice, the pancakes were probably the best we have both ever eaten.
Jess then decided the finish off with a hot chocolate and is still carrying on about how good that was as well. Once done we left the coziness of indoors and braved the cold once more.
After brunch we wandered the streets for a little while, noting the ‘serenity’ (how’s the serenity? so much serenity) we stumbled across a large shopping mall in Dam square and decided to check it out. Jess instantly made a bee line for the christmas department, looking at their trees and decorations.
Van Gogh Exhibition
Across from the shopping mall was the Van Gogh exhibition. Jess had been looking forward to seeing this for a while so we purchased our tickets and started working our way through viewing the 200 works in the gallery space. The range of paintings displayed was really good, spanning his early career through to the works he made just before he died and a good commentary that explained his thoughts and approaches at the time; however, Jess was disappointed that many of the pieces were prints and not the actual paintings. There was definitely something ‘lost’ and the flat prints were lacking a thick painterly quality (definitely not the same as when we saw a Van Gogh painting at the Gallery of Western Australia for the MOMA series)
Reliable sources had informed us (Ross) that good times were to be had at the Grasshopper pub so before heading back to the hotel we decided that a few afternoon drinks were in order. The pub was decked out in christmas decorations and over looks the main docking area for the canal cruises. It made for a relaxing and warm place to sit back and watch the activity on the streets & canals outside.
Dinner tonight wasn’t panned, we decided to walk the streets until something appealed so we could take in more of the city. We walked for a second time on the fringe of the ‘Red Light District’ and then back up towards Dam Sqaure. Nearing Dam Square we eventually settled on an Italian restuarnt (yep we chose Italian food whilst in Amsterdam) mainly because the wind was screaming through the streets and by this point we needed a warm escape. The resturant was cosy and made for good people watching as we ate.
After dinner we walked back towards the Red Light District in search of the famed (infamous?!) Greenhouse Cafe. This particular cafe has been visited by many celebrities (Snoop Dog, Rhianna, 50 Cent, Chris Brown, Miley Cyrus to name just a few) We walked through the door to a cloud of smoke.
Interestingly tobacco and alcohol are both prohibited in this venue; however the place was absolutely packed! Apparently this particular cafe is a very popular after work hang out, even on a Thursday night. We found a seat at the bar and settled in for 15-20 minutes…. before walking back to the hotel to call it a night, we have to be up early to catch the train to Paris tomorrow morning!
Final thoughts (19/12)
Amsterdam was an amazing experience and definitely the best place to start our trip. With a city full of character, nice people and what seems like a pretty relaxed atmosphere, we want to come back again one day and stay a little longer.
Now off to Paris.