We always vowed to come back. An unexpected and forced layover in 2010 gave us a tantalising taste of the city, so when the opportunity presented itself to return, we grabbed it with both hands. This time, it was for a couple of days prior to embarking on a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest.
Our Air BnB was south of the main city centre, in Rivierenbuurt, a short tram ride away. That gave us great access to the city via the wonderful tram system without the expense of a city hotel. It enabled us to explore areas where we had not been before, such as Rembrandt Square, where these days his statue is complemented by bronze casts of the characters from Rembrandt’s famous painting – “The Night Watch” . The area is popular with locals and tourist alike, for its hotels cafes and entertainment venues.
With a day at our leisure before boarding the river ship, we decided to visit the famous Rijksmuseum, with its equally famous paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh. With the help of an audio guide, we explored the thousands of artistic and historical objects which tell the story of 800 years of Dutch history, from the year 1200 right up to the present.
Apart from the many paintings, I was delighted to see a large collection of Delft Blue pottery ranging from tea sets to vases and some exceptional pieces in between, which made me determined to buy another piece for my collection before leaving Amsterdam.
Among the historical artifacts, the unique collection of doll’s houses provide a detailed view of everyday life in the 17th century. I was sure our grand daughters would have been fascinated to see them.
We had also wanted to see the Anne Frank House, but discovered too late that tickets need to be purchased online several months before. Some are released online on the day, but even these were sold out minutes into the day.
So we tried plan B, not far from the museum sector, to visit the Albert Cuypmarkt, the largest and most popular outdoor market in the Netherlands. First started in 1905, it is open six days a week, from 9:30am till 5:00pm.
All sorts of goods are sold here, but we were more interested in sampling the local food delicacies, such as Stroopwafels, Poffertjes and herring. Poffertjes with strawberries, drizzled with chocolate and topped with cream! Yum!
Despite the inclement weather, Hubby was still keen to play a round of golf before the cruise began. I had booked this for him online, through Air BnB experiences months before, so rain was not going to stop him. A golfer picked him up from our accommodation, hosted him on the course and brought him back later that evening. Meanwhile, I continued to ramble the streets of the city looking for interesting sights.
The Henry Willig Cheese shops are scattered around the city. I was fascinated by the cheese rounds in the windows and the brightly coloured little rounds inside the store, each colour representing a different flavour or style of cheese. Needless to say, I also enjoyed many samples!
Another fascinating window that caught my eye was that of the marijuana shop, selling cookies, potions and the weed itself. Needless to say, I did not partake of samples there! Code for a place where you can legally smoke marijuana is ‘Coffee Shop’. It pays not to confuse the two.
The next day, after boarding the cruise ship, we joined a bike tour with other passengers to the north of Amsterdam, which meant catching the free ferry across the river IJ. Cycling in the Netherlands is very popular and there are bike paths everywhere. Cyclists even have right of way over pedestrians. And of course, the land is so flat it is very easy to cycle for kilometres, with the only rises being the bridges over small canals.
The scenery changed from the now-hip wooden cottages to canals with the occasional windmill or lock, to cute villages like Zunderdorp or Ransdorp with its striking church tower, to vast fields containing black and white Friesian dairy cows. It was a pleasant change from the hustle and bustle of the city area.
After a rest for a coffee with the locals in a quaint village we made our way back to the ferry, and a welcome lunch aboard the river ship, the Emerald Dawn. Next morning our river adventure would begin!