Travel Notes: Amsterdam

In May and June of 2011, I spent 5 weeks traveling around Europe. This post is one of a series chronicling the different places I visited on that trip.

Looking back at my photos from Amsterdam, they all seem a bit depressing – grey and dreary and rainy. I won’t lie: we battled the elements our entire time in the city, and it did get old. However, despite the rain, we still found plenty to love in the city of canals.

We took the train from Berlin; it was a long seven hour ride, so we didn’t arrive until the late afternoon. After checking in at our hotel, we decided to head to the Heineken Experience, which was just down the road from where we were staying.

The Heineken Experience bills itself as more than just a “museum” of Heineken – it’s an interactive tour. I thought it was pretty fun and a nice change of pace from our typical sightseeing.

There were also several displays of their ingredients – there are four, water, barley, hops, and yeast – and they allowed you to smell and taste them if you wanted. I heard barley was quite bitter, so I didn’t taste it, but I thought it looked oddly pretty:

The most unique aspect of the tour is the “Brew U” experience. You go into a room and stand on a platform. The idea is that you are the beer. You go through a simulation of the brewing and bottling process. The platform jiggles and shakes at different parts, and sometimes water is sprayed on you. Kind of odd, but definitely an uncommon experience!

The tour ends with – what else? – a beer tasting. With your tickets, you get 2 tokens allowing you 2 beers. I’m not a big beer drinker so this part wasn’t all that exciting, but it was still fun. Randomly, we met a really nice couple from Brazil while we were drinking our beers and chatted with them for awhile. One of my favorite things about traveling is the opportunity to connect unexpectedly with people from all around the world. You never know who you might meet!

The next day, we started out at the Rijksmuseum. I really loved this museum because it was small and relatively quiet, but had a fantastic collection, including several Rembrandts and Vermeers.

Near the museum was the famous “I Amsterdam” sign. It was neat to see, but so crowded with tourists. And it’s pretty hard to get the awesome pictures you were envisioning when there are people everywhere.

Next we headed aboard a boat for a canal tour. Our tour took us through the main canals of the city and then out onto the open water for a bit. Even in the overcast weather, the canals of Amsterdam are lovely. Looking through my pictures, I felt a bit disappointed that none of them looked as pretty as I remembered it being (although that’s usually the case with photographs, and especially travel photographs, isn’t it?)

After our tour, we headed to a little cafe for lunch. We decided to sit outside, which was a good idea for awhile, but it kept getting colder and colder (seriously, what was up with the weather this trip?!?). We had to end our meal with hot chocolates just to warm up! Honestly, the most satisfying part of the hot chocolates was just holding them and getting our hands warm!

After lunch, we headed to the Anne Frank museum. This was the highlight of Amsterdam for me, and perhaps even the entire trip! The museum was fascinating – and so sad. I couldn’t believe just how tiny the space they were living in was. And, the stairs leading up to it were terrifyingly steep. I cannot imagine how frustrating it would have been to remain confined in a place like that.

As we walked around the house, I think what struck me most were the photographs of the Frank family. I kept looking at them, these simple everyday snapshots, and thinking “wow, they look just like a normal family.” And I guess that’s the point really, and what makes it so horrifying – that this happened to so many ordinary, every day families. It gives you a lot think about, you know?

The next day we woke up to – big surprise – grey skies and ran. We decided to start at the Van Gogh Museum so we could escape the rain for awhile. The museum was super crowded, but it was definitely worth it to see such an extensive collection of Van Gogh’s works. The thing I enjoyed most about the museum was that it’s organized chronologically, so as you walk around, you can actually see the evolution of Van Gogh’s work. That’s pretty awesome.

Next, we decided to follow one of Rick Steves’s walking tours. We took the tram to Dam Square to start. One problem: while on the tram, it started pouring. We got off at the square, and it was still pouring. I half-heartedly took a few pictures, but the conditions were awful.

So, our big walking tour turned out not to be so awesome. While we technically followed the book’s walking tour, we didn’t really stop at any of the places because we mostly wanted to get out of the damn rain. Plus, at a certain point, I had to put the book away because it was becoming soaked through with rain! This pretty much sums up how we felt:

And with that, we ended our adventures in Amsterdam on a somewhat depressing note. However, the rain did not dampen (yeah, yeah, pun intended) my enthusiasm for the city. I though Amsterdam was perfectly charming and would love to go back! Hopefully in a sunnier season, though.

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