Posted by: vlibrizzi | September 16, 2009

A Weekend Trip to Amsterdam

DSC_0071About a month ago while we were sitting at home in the U.S. thinking about the towns we wanted to visit this fall, we both realized that Amsterdam was the place at the top of our lists. So, thinking that we were, for once, ahead of the game, we bought train tickets from Paris to Amsterdam for September 11 while we were still in the U.S.

But, although we bought our train tickets well in advance, the same cannot be said for our hotel search.

For that, we waited until close to the last minute. 

Usually, we are able to find decent hotels at the last minute, but because of a huge International Broadcaster’s convention in Amsterdam this past weekend, almost all the hotels in the city were completely booked. 

All except one…

…a dingy place on the edge of the red light district, above a pool hall/bar, with one shared bathroom per floor. 

Yes, that’s where we stayed. In a room with bunk beds, a half-broken chair, a sink, and a view of the outskirts of the red light district.

Suffice it to say, we didn’t spend much time at all in our hotel room.

DSC_0006As soon as we dropped off our bags on Friday night, we stopped for a quick dinner at an Indonesian restaurant (a cuisine very popular in the Netherlands since Indonesia used to be one of their colonies), and then we hiked across town to go to the Van Gogh museum which is, surprisingly, open until 10 p.m. every Friday night. For C., this museum was the highlight of our trip, and I really liked it too.

Since it was a huge museum filled with Van Gogh’s art, you could really get to see how his style changed over the brief time he was painting, and you could begin to see his mental illness affecting his art too. 

While we were making our way through the museum, a classical music concert was taking place on the ground floor. It was such a treat to be able to admire Van Gogh’s art while listening to beautiful music. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take photos in any of the art museums in Amsterdam 😦 but I did snap the one above before getting scolded by a security guard. 

DSC_0009After a fitful night of sleep, C. and I woke up on Saturday morning with our walking shoes on, ready to begin our “World War II Day,” as we called it. 

First, we had breakfast/brunch at a wonderful bakery (photo to the left). We each had a sandwich and split a slice of their cinnamon apple pie. Yum! 




DSC_0016Then, we took the tram over to the Dutch Resistance Museum. For me, this museum was the highlight of our trip. The place was chronologically organized from the beginning of the German occupation of the Netherlands to the end of the war. The rooms were filled with first-hand accounts and other primary source information that focused on Jewish Dutch citizens who faced increasing discrimination and later exile by the Germans, Dutch citizens who tried to help Jewish Dutch people escape from having to go to concentration camps, and later on, Dutch people who led the resistance against their German occupiers.  But one interesting thing was that the museum didn’t focus only on the heroes — there were plenty of stories of people who declined to resist because they felt resigned to German power, or who wouldn’t take people in because they were struggling enough themselves.  It really gave you a sense of the everyday choices of living under occupation.  You can see C. looking at one of the exhibits at the museum in the photo to the left.




We stopped for a coffee after visiting the museum. Honestly, I had more coffee this weekend than I’ve had in a very long time. I’m not sure if it was because I really liked Dutch coffee (which I do!), or because I needed something to keep me awake after our nights of trying to sleep in our hotel room. 🙂





As we sat at the cafe, we watched all the people riding their bikes through the city. Suprisingly, there aren’t many cars in Amsterdam. Most locals get around by tram or by bike. It wasn’t abnormal at all to see whole families on bikes pedaling through the city together while we were there. Parents even have interesting contraptions for keeping their kids on their bikes, with seats in front and behind the parents as you can see in the photo in the left.  This mother even had a newborn in a child seat strapped to her handlebars!



DSC_0036Later that afternoon, C. and I made our way to the Jordaan neighborhood to see the Anne Frank house (photo to the left). Quotations on the walls and videos of people who knew and helped Anne and her family, led us through the rooms of the annex where she and her family lived for two years in order to escape being sent to concentration camps. The place was very moving, and disturbing, but an experience I’ll definitely remember for a long time. 

As it grew dark, C. and I bundled up and walked around the cozy Jordaan neighborhood. We stumbled upon this Afghani restaurant called Mantoe which was filled with people, so we asked for a table and dug in. The food was wonderful. We shared spiced rice with raisins, slow-cooked lamb, and mantoe, which were meat-filled dumplings. It made us long for our favorite Afghani restaurant back home in Boston, the Helmand. 

After dinner, we made our way over to a bar nearer to our hotel, and spent the night drinking Dutch beer with the locals. 



DSC_0050The next morning we went to the Rijks museum which houses art by the Dutch masters. Unfortunately, the musuem is undergoing renovations so only part of it is open, but all of the major pieces of art are still on display. We loved the Vermeer and Rembrandt rooms, and were completely awed by Rembrandt’s Night Watch. 





DSC_0037We had a few hours left before our train back to Paris, so we walked around the city, admiring the canals (did you know that there are more canals in Amsterdam than in Venice? Surprising, huh?), peeking into some of the houseboats that line the canals (you can see some in the photo to the left), and then stopped in a cafe for a coffee and to read some English-language newspapers (for the first time in a few weeks.)

We had a great 48 hours in Amsterdam, and we left the city eager to go back. It is really such a lovely, livable city. Once you get away from the gritty, tourist-y central part of town, the city is filled with cute neighborhoods and really rich cultural experiences. I could definitely imagine living there someday….just not anywhere near the red light district.

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