Guest post by Shwetha Shrivatsa (Blogs at Stress to Soul)
Amsterdam is known for cannabis and erotica but we recently did a PG-13 version. We stopped in Amsterdam on our way to India earlier this summer and with kids aged 3.5 and 8, we steered clear of the coffeeshops and the red light district.
We loved every minute of our 4 full days in the city. We arrived on a Saturday night after a grueling day of travel from Chicago to Frankfurt followed by an 8 hour layover there. Needless to say, I didn’t need the melatonin candy, recommended by my yoga teacher, to fall asleep. Before catching up on our zzz’s we bought a 4 day pass, the IAmsterdam card, at the airport. This provides free entrance to the city’s top attractions, plus unlimited use of the GVB public transport system for 24, 48 or 72 hours.
We started Day 1 with a quick breakfast at our hotel, Albus. It is a boutique hotel right in the canal district, just before Herengracht, and was very comfortable especially with the kids. In most European countries, finding a room to accommodate 4 is difficult, but at the Albus we got a room with two queen beds separated by a turn in the middle of the room. The kids loved their own space and so did we.
A short 1km walk later we were at the Van Gogh museum. It is a fantastic museum and the kids had a good time too, coloring a picture of the sunflowers in the book store, while Kart and I took turns looking at the exhibits.
Van Gogh started his career as an artist at 27 years old and he died at 37 due to mental health issues. Very tragic and premature end to such a talented individual. Until I came to this museum all I knew were his top 5 works as a painter. I didn’t know that he was a super talented draftsman and a prolific writer. He and his brother Theo had grand plans for opening an art dealership but life got in the way. Going through a stage of transition and self discovery, I can relate to the challenges that anxiety and depression pose.
After all this art we decided to head to another tourist destination De Zaanse Schans, a neighborhood in the Dutch town of Zaandam, near Amsterdam. A ferry ride to the attraction was included in the IAmsterdam card and we highly recommend it. Historic windmills and distinctive green wooden houses were relocated here to recreate the look of an 18th/19th-century village. The Zaans Museum has regional costumes, model windmills and interactive exhibits on chocolate making, cheese factory, pewter foundry, clog factory, barns, mills etc. Their sales pitch is a day at the Zaans is both fun and educational. Since we got there towards the end of the day most of the workshops were winding down and the crowds were pretty thin. We got some fantastic photos and it was almost a private tour of what would have been a big tourist attraction. We took the bus back to central Amsterdam.
We ended our first day with a fantastic Indonesian meal at Puri Mas. Indonesia and Netherlands share a special relationship, embedded in their shared history of colonial interactions for centuries. It began during the spice trade as the Netherlands established the Dutch East Indies Company trading post in what is now Indonesia, before colonizing it as the Dutch East Indies until the mid 20th century. Indonesia was the largest former Dutch colony. As the colonization ended many Dutch returned bringing with them the culture and food of Indonesia. Rijsttafel, a “rice table”, is an Indonesian elaborate meal adapted by the Dutch. It consists of many (forty is not an unusual number) side dishes served in small portions, accompanied by rice prepared in several different ways.
Trips with the husband BK (before kids) have typically felt like an episode of the Amazing Race. While he has readjusted to the reality of travel with kids, I am still in denial/ inertia and plan way more than any of us can possibly handle.
On the second day we spent most of the morning walking around Dam Square, the central town square of Amsterdam and explored Oude Kerk, Nieuwe Kerk, Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder etc. and the took a canal cruise and all of this was included in the IAmsterdam card.
We ended the day at A’DAM LOOKOUT, an observation deck located on top of A’DAM tower that provides a panoramic view of Amsterdam. My “thrill seekers”, the husband and older child, took a ride on Over the Edge’ Europe’s highest swing on the sky deck. On the A’DAM website they describe this ride as “Daredevils and thrill seekers will swing 100 meters above the ground, back and forth over the edge of the tower with Amsterdam below their feet”! I was happy watching and filming them with my feet firmly on the ground using the toddler as an excuse for skipping the ride.
We started Day 3 at the Rijksmuseum, the art and history museum in Amsterdam. Their collection contains more than 2,000 paintings from the Dutch Golden Age including the famed “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt.
After a 3 hour immersion of Dutch art we decided to do a bus tour of Delft and The Hague. This was a 6 hour trip from Amsterdam central station and cost approximately 60 Euros per head. It included a visit to the pottery in Delft which was nice, a walking tour of Delft which was totally rushed, a sightseeing bus tour of the Hague which was super rushed and a checkbox and again a 1 hour rushed stop at Madurodam Miniature Town. Each of these stops warrants a couple of hours at least so my recommendation is to skip the bus tours and do these on your own at a more leisurely pace.
Our last full day in Amsterdam was a day trip to Haarlem. Haarlem is 15 minute train ride from Amsterdam in the northwest Netherlands. Once a major North Sea trading port surrounded by a defensive wall, it retains its medieval character with ancient buildings , cobblestone streets, winding waterways and gabled houses. Today it’s the center of a major flower-bulb-growing district, and famous for its outlying tulip fields, art museums and hofjes (almshouses built around leafy courtyards). Since it was past tulip season, we didn’t see any tulips. Grote Markt the central town square and Grote Kerk a 14th century cathedral, the famous windmill Molen (windmill) de Adriaan and Frans Hals museum were on our trip list. The windmill is in working condition so the tour is highly recommended.
We ended the trip with a visit to Westerkerk, a Dutch Protestant church in the heart of Amsterdam. This 17th century church is the largest of its kind in the city and its name means “Western Church” in English. It’s located right next to the Jordaan district and along the banks of the Prinsengracht. Westerkerk is one of the city’s most notable churches mainly because Rembrandt van Rijn was buried here in 1669.
4 full days, picturesque canals and windmills, lots of walking, lots of museums, train and tram rides, amazing dutch pancakes, yummy cheese and chocolates and a lifetime of memories and pictures. That sums up our trip to Amsterdam.