Synonymous with windmills, clogs and – of course – fields of tulips, The Netherlands attracts tourists by the canal-ful each year. Its capital, Amsterdam, buzzes from dawn ‘til dusk: besides the famous Red Light District, it’s also home to a wealth of museums – ranging from the historic Rijksmuseum to the moving Anne Frank Huis – and an array of (rather intimidating) cycling routes.
Towards the end of April, I spent a weekend in Amsterdam with my family celebrating my Grandma’s 80th birthday; having visited Amsterdam before – a little over three years ago – I decided to just go with the flow and see where I ended up. From the plane, the Netherlands looked like a colourful patchwork of tulip fields. Upon arrival at Schiphol, this romanticised view of the Netherlands was temporarily thrown out of the window as I became utterly bewildered by the enormity of the airport – and the apparent lack of exit signs! Once at the hotel, I found the others whereupon I learnt we were all having tea together in the hotel restaurant (oops, I’d already made the most of the free sandwich on the flight). That said, I was hardly going to pass up the opportunity to sample a scoop (or three) of ice cream!
Waking up to intermittent blue skies, we had a celebratory birthday breakfast (read: a glorious fruit-fest of fresh berries, pineapple, melon and kiwi in my case) before cracking on with the sightseeing at the slightly-too-leisurely hour of 11 ‘o’ clock. Wandering down Keizersgracht, we made our way towards the Bloemenmarkt, aka the iconic floating flower market.
Whilst the first few stalls were primarily filled with bulbs (which, enticing as they may be to budding gardeners, weren’t quite what I had in mind), the flower scene picked up as we made our way along, featuring delicate peonies, eye-catching gerberas and – my personal favourite – googly-eyed cacti. If it weren’t for the fact customs would almost certainly have confiscated it, I would have brought one back to accompany my other cactus!
After a quick refuel at Ter Marsch & Co (delicious hot chocolate, very slow service), we split up – with Uncle David, Sam, Amelia, Vicki & I heading south towards the Museumplein (and admiring a family of ducklings en route). It turned out that the KLM in-flight magazine was a little misleading, as the ‘art for free’ in fact only applied to Dutch holders of a ‘museum card’ (or so the staff at the Van Gogh museum said) . . . so we made our way towards Vondelpark instead! Crossing the streams of eager cyclists to reach the sanctuary of the pedestrianised paths was a challenge – it’s probably safer to be a cyclist than a pedestrian in Amsterdam – but once across we enjoyed a wander around in the sun before heading towards Leidseplein in search of a late lunch.
While the others headed back to the hotel, Vicki and I went on a hunt for a suitably chocolate-y dessert: enter, Urban Cacao. Whilst ‘Mudcake Plak’ initially recalls childhood memories of making mud pies and consequently may not sound like the most enticing of desserts, its all-out chocolatiness made this a dream dessert: a layer of milk or dark chocolate covers a delicious chocolate sponge, sandwiched together with a layer of chocolate mousse-y buttercream.
Vicki then decided to return to the hotel (she was somewhat underprepared for the rather chilly weather) whilst I opted to explore the Jordaan district. Wandering along Prinsengracht, I passed several smaller, more picturesque, canals: tree-lined and bordered by bicycles, just the way canals should be.
I also saw the Amsterdam Tulip Museum; whilst I enjoyed browsing the shop, I didn’t feel the need to watch tulip videos in the museum, especially as the entry price seemed a little steep.
The Jordaan area is filled with quirky independent cafés and boutiques, and was my favourite area of the city – perhaps in part due to the fact I didn’t feel under constant attack from cyclists or, worse, motorcyclists! (Yes, motorcyclists seem to deem themselves ‘cyclists’ and consequently use the cycle lanes too at times…) It was lively without feeling crowded (the same could categorically not be said for Dam Square, which was heaving in the lead-up to King’s Day) and its laid-back atmosphere made it ideal for an afternoon wander.
I even came across a fully-functional street organ on Westerstraat, before heading back to the hotel for a rest before another unanticipated late night (faute des amuses-bouches).