【Travel】Amsterdam, Netherlands

AMSTERDAM: 29 Nov – 3 Dec 2014

Our Itinerary:

Singapore > Paris Air France, direct flight
Paris > London Eurostar, railway
London > Amsterdam EasyJet, budget air
Amsterdam > Singapore KLM, direct flight

The 3rd and last leg of our trip! I’ve always wanted to come to Amsterdam. This was also the city that had transpired our first trip to Europe. Besides the architecture and canals, I really wanted to be there to see the Anne Frank House for myself.

We flew in from London via easyJet to Amsterdam. Despite the piercing cold at zero degrees celsius and less than favourable grey skies, Amsterdam was beautiful. (I could imagine how this little city would be even more breathtaking in Summer).

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We got into Schiphol Airport around 2pm. The one-hour flight from London’s Luton Airport was so short that the lady next to me who was working intently on her laptop, had a pleasant surprise when the captain announced that we were landing shortly.

The train out of the airport was easy as well. We bought the 3 day travel pass, hopped on the train to Amsterdam Station Zuid, before changing to the metro to get to our BnB not far from Wan der Madeweg Amsterdam Station.

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By the time we got back out to Amsterdam Central, it was already getting dark. And this was the first sign that greeted us outside the station.

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Apparently, just a few days before we arrived, two British tourists died in their hotel room from snorting heroin that was sold as cocaine by street dealers. It wasn’t a very welcoming sign, but it did make us feel safer to know that the authorities were taking a serious stand against these drug dealers.

ANNE FRANK HOUSE

After a quick dinner, we got on tram no. 13 to the Anne Frank House at Prinsengracht 263.

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Thankfully, we had bought 7:30pm entrance tickets to the Anne Frank Museum online in advance, so we managed to avoid having to queue in the freezing cold. You can print out your own tickets at home and there is a separate entrance on the left for you to skip the queue.

Photography is not allowed inside, but then photos would not have been able to fully convey the emotions of the space and what had taken place there.

It was surreal, all the time I felt a little uptight from the moment I saw the wooden bookcase, climbed up the steps into the Annex, cautious not to bump my head like the inhabitants of the Annex often did, looked at the pencil markings on the wall that marked the growing heights of Anne and Margot, and stepped into the kitchen where they spent most of their day quietly and had their meals.

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We took this photo of the museum when we passed by again the next morning. From the photo, you can see how the Anne Frank Foundation must have bought over the next two buildings on the right to create the museum. The actual house where the Frank family hid in, is the one with the black doors.

FEBO

You really can’t go to Amsterdam without experiencing FEBO.

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FEBO is what you would call an automat, a fast food place where food is sold through vending machines. The food (we tried the krokets and burgers), honestly, isn’t great, but the snacks are a good option when you are desperately hungry at night and you don’t want to break an arm and leg to eat something in a restaurant.

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But it was really fun, something we have never seen anywhere else. We loved the experience of dropping coins into a machine, pulling open the slots to retrieve our food, and observe the staff topping up the food from behind the machine.

BLOEMENMARKT (FLOATING FLOWER MARKET)

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We took the tram to the floating flower market at Singel Canal the next morning. You can pretty much get around Amsterdam on the metro and trams and won’t get lost because all the trams will somehow lead you back to Amsterdam Central. The sky was a little grey that day, but the market was still a pretty sight to behold.

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There was a colourful selection of tulips, geraniums, even flower and vegetable bulbs that you can buy home if you have green fingers. My fingers were no where near green, so I stuck to admiring the flowers with my eyes.

As much as I love flowers, we were even more pleasantly surprised to find that parallel to the flower stalls on floating barrages, were many cheese shops! Most of all, you get to sample the assortment of cheeses, which we did shop after shop… cheese with cumin, pesto cheese, goat cheese, Gouda aged at 4 months, 6 months.. we were spoilt for choice. And being from Singapore where good cheese can be rather expensive, we simply couldn’t resist packing a few blocks of cheese back home.

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CONCERTO (RECORD STORE & CAFE)

Concerto is a record store and cafe that is located on Utrechtsestraat 60, and it occupies an impressive 5 shop fronts! As music lovers, we were extremely excited by our surprise find on our way to Rembrandtplein. Having had our own cafe and music space which we had to close two years ago, we found ourselves drawn into this store.

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It was also freezing cold outside so the potential warmth of the cafe was very alluring. We picked a table right next to their insanely quirky stage, and sat down for some coffee and sandwiches. This respite from the cold, being surrounded by books and records, and a great cup of coffee was undoubtedly the best thing that happened to us that day.

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Like our own cafe and music space, Concerto also organises mini concerts for local musicians. As we always do when we end up at places similar to what we had created, we had a little chat with the cafe staff and learnt a bit about Concerto’s long history while sharing about our own experiences in Singapore.

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We always love chats like these, talking to local people. And that’s what we love most about travelling. It’s more than just checking-in at landmarks, more than just taking home postcards and getting more stamps in your passport but instead, experiencing the world and meeting people you would never encounter if you didn’t leave the comfort of your home.

If you are a music lover, we say, go visit Concerto if you are in Amsterdam. Whether you buy a record, or a cup of coffee, it will make a difference in supporting the local music community.

RED LIGHT DISTRICT

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We definitely aren’t the partying kind of people, but we wanted to see for ourselves what the infamous red light district of Amsterdam really looked like. Concerned that it might get a little seedy at night, and not wanting to be harassed, we opted to drop by for a visit in the early afternoon.

The district at De Wallen is of walking distance from Amsterdam Central, but since we had our travel pass, we caught the metro to Nieuwmarkt Station instead.

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Along the length of a canal, there were many buildings with see-through shop fronts that had been covered with heavy drapes and lighted red. A few curtains were drawn open, some with empty stools and some with ladies already getting about their business early (be warned though that you should not take any photos of the ladies). There was an exotic museum, sex toy shops and red neon signs everywhere. Otherwise, it was pretty quiet there at this time of the day.

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This area is the oldest part of Amsterdam where you can find cobblestone pathways and a 800-year old church, Oude Kerk, also Amsterdam’s oldest building, which sits just a short bridge away from the Red Light District.

Possibly to express the paradox of the proximity of these two ‘landmarks’, an unknown artist created a bronze breast plate that was etched into the floor right next to the church. This artist was also believed to have created many other unusual sculptures around Amsterdam which we were unfortunately not able to hunt down as our time in the city was too short.

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However, I do wish I had done some research on Oude Kerk before passing on the opportunity to see it’s interior, to see for myself its unique wooden roof and gravestone floor (quite unlike the other grand churches we have visited).

VAN GOGH MUSEUM

Having heard good reviews about this museum, we decided to put the Van Gogh Museum in our itinerary. It’s not a huge museum, with just 3 levels, but it is extremely comprehensive. We spent about 3 hours there. If you have never heard of Van Gogh, you will leave this museum understanding his whole life story and how it affected his artistic style.

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Photography is not allowed in this museum and we were so thankful for that, having had to maneuver through numerous cameras and selfie sticks while we were at the Lourve Museum and British Musuem (which can be rather frustrating when all you really want is to peacefully appreciate the art works).

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We thought that the museum was very well organised, and the information presented in an extremely coherent manner. In fact, one of the better museums we have ever been to. Especially memorable were Vincent’s self portraits, the Potato Eaters, the Sunflowers and also the letters written by Leo, Vincent’s brother. We paid for the tickets at 15 Euro each, and it was worth every buck.

IN SUMMARY, WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT AMSTERDAM

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It’s beautiful every corner you turn.

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It’s a bike friendly city, with special ramps that can help you push your bicycle up the stairs when you take the metro.

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They have fresh and delicious herring, served with pickles and onions. Simply can’t get enough of it, but the stands will take you a bit of effort to hunt down.

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There’s lots to eat out from the Supermarket. From fresh and thick juice concoctions, to awesome salads, hummus and of course, herring, we saved quite a bit of money (and hid out from the cold) by having all our breakfasts in the BNB.

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Pancakes! The best brunch you could ever have. The savoury salmon crepe was especially unforgettable. Located at Berenstraat 38, you must get there early as tables are extremely limited.

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And last but not least, Schiphol Airport. It had a piano for travellers to share their talent and an amazing, efficient self-check in system from the time you print your boarding pass, to checking in your own luggage (we even witnessed a guy checking in his PS4).

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