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Sunday, 30 April 2017

Kings Day 2017: 5 days in Amsterdam





There is something about Amsterdam which I have always found appealing. I am writing this less than 24 hours after returning from there, yet I am pining to go back. The first time I visited Amsterdam was in 2013 with my lovely mum after my boyfriend at the time bailed on me - lols - so good old Heather had to step in and accompany me instead. We were both completely taken by the city and felt so sorry to be going home that I knew I had to return some day. Last September I went with my current boyfriend - no last minute bailing with this one! - and just last week we decided to return for his birthday. I'm not even ashamed to say that we were planning our next trip before we even left the country.

Luck didn't seem to be on our side when it came to this trip to Amsterdam. Both Sam and I were pretty ill, with me getting the worst of it on his birthday, and the weather was far from ideal to wear any of the optimistic weather outfits we had brought with us. I ended up having to stay in an airport hotel BOTH ends of the journey because of the weird flight hours and pay €20 for a two minute journey from the airport to said hotel because the free shuttle was not running and even though we arrived in Amsterdam at 8:30am, we couldn't freshen up or nap before our day because check in wasn't open until 2pm. Did this spoil our trip? 100% no; we still had an amazing time despite all of this, which I don't think would've happened in a lot of places.


HOTEL

We chose to stay in the Golden Tulip Amsterdam West, which is where we stayed the first time we went. The hotel is really nice, clean and quite modern considering how it looks on the outside - like a 70's concrete carpark - and the staff are really friendly. It wouldn't be to everyones tastes, but for us it suited quite well.
PROS: Due to the location it was quiet at night time; easy to access; close to the local train station (Sloterdijk) and only about 10 minutes away from the airport itself. The rooms are clean, the beds are comfortable and the shower reallllly nice. The coffee/tea amenities are replaced every day and they clean the beds and replace all the towels every day if you so wish - you just press the button which says 'clean' as you leave and it should be done before you get back; the breakfast is fab if included in your stay.
CONS: The location was two trams away from Dam square as the routes meant we had to change over to get where we wanted; the trams stop running at around half past midnight so if you want to stay out later you need to get a taxi; the double beds are actually two singles pushed together with single sheets and duvets which was a bit weird but not the end of the world; the mirrors are HORRENDOUS and make you look like you've gained around 10lbs just from walking through the door; the breakfast was €17 if you hadn't got it included in the price which is very steep for what it is.
Sam and I both like staying in the outer city and having to get the tram/metro to places as it means we get to explore parts we wouldn't normally, and the tram really isn't that difficult to get the hang of once you've done it a few times. As the hotel is apart from the city centre, it attracts a lot of older people, professionals and families so you do feel quite safe around there and everyone is quite respectful when it comes to noise, but the rooms are soundproofed anyway! I would happily stay there again as it is convenient for the airport runs both ways and as we bought a 4 day travel pass for the tram, we were able to use it to get whichever ones we wanted and see other areas.


TRANSPORT

To me, the transport in Amsterdam seems amazing BUT I am comparing it to British transport which is beyond shite. The train cost us €5 each way from the airport to Sloterdijk and back again and the journey took around 10 minutes so its not crazy cheap (a €5 journey will get you all the way to Milan from Bergamo which is 45 minutes worth of travel!) but not ridiculously expensive either. We used the trams a lot as I previously mentioned and paid €22 each for a 4 day travel pass, which seems a bit expensive but was worth it as we didn't have to constantly wonder if it would even work or buy new ones every day and risk picking up the expired ones by mistake. You need to remember to validate your tickets before use for both the train and tram, and when you leave the tram you need to sign out otherwise when you get to the next one, it won't be valid anymore - it happened to me the first time we visited and the woman on the tram was nice about it and let me off, but then you're left with a useless ticket so it is definitely worth remembering.


FOOD


Amsterdam has an immense amount of variety when it comes to food; there is something to suit every taste and a lot of it won't break the bank. Usually before visiting somewhere new, I will look up the best places to eat, but I didn't do this with Amsterdam because I knew that a lot of the time would be spent exploring the city and just getting lost in all the different areas AND I like discovering new places for myself. Having said that, the first on this list was a place recommended to us the last time we visited, but we couldn't bloody find it, so when we stumbled across it this time around we knew we would have to go back. 

LOMBARDOS



Hailed the best burger in Amsterdam - I don't know who by, but its on their postcards! - Lombardo's is situated near the iamAmsterdam sign and the Van Gogh museum. It is a very small place with limited seating, so we were beyond lucky to get two seats and a table to eat at. I am not a huge meat eater and opted for the goats cheese and roasted veg sandwich on sourdough which was lovely, but Sam had some pulled-pork cheese burger type thing which put my glorified toastie to shame. The prices aren't the cheapest, especially because the burgers don't come with fries or anything like that, but it is definitely worth it and Sam said it was up there with one of the best burgers he has ever had so take from that what you will considering he would eat them for breakfast, lunch and tea if he could.


LITTLE SAIGON



This place was a bit of a god's send for us, because we were absolutely starving and everywhere seemed to be stupidly expensive or just looked a bit rubbish in the area we were in. So, we decided to head on down to China Town and see what we could find. We were initially on the look out for this restaurant I visited with my mum in 2013 but I wasn't sure which one it was, so we took our chances in Little Saigon. Honestly, I am quite a Chinese food snob after working at an amazing takeaway for 3 years of my life and I rarely like other Chinese restaurants/takeaways but this was amazing. 
We both shared our meals because we couldn't decide what to have; we ordered a special fried rice, prawn spring rolls and a beef satay. The meals were around €10 each, and for two people with two drinks and the spring rolls too it only came to €30 which isn't bad considering where we were. 
The restaurant was quite small and seemed to fill up just as we got in, with people waiting outside to be able to sit down and eat too, so I guess it has a bit of a reputation as a decent place to eat. The Pho dishes looked amazing too and some people behind us ordered some summer rolls which we were praying were the spring rolls we ordered (they weren't)!

BAGELS & BEANS



This isn't exactly a restaurant, but more of a brunch cafe. I suggested this place to go for Sam's birthday breakfast, not realising that it is in fact a vegetarian/vegan place, but we were both quite surprised at how nice it was! We shared a goats cheese and 'bacon' bagel and a mushroom, truffle mayonnaise and parmesan bagel which were both really nice and interesting takes on the standard cream cheese and avocado options we have in the UK. I am not entirely sure if the meat was actual meat or a vegan version because it says 'animal friendly' on the menu but it literally tasted exactly like bacon... but I was too embarrassed to ask because it seemed like a stupid question considering the place seems to be geared towards veganism/vegetarianism. Price wise, it is a bit pricey for what it is - around €6/7 for a bagel - but there are cheaper options. I had a really nice chai latte too and the place itself just had a really nice vibe to it; there were a lot of people sat doing work and the music was relatively chilled out. Our calm was broken when a super vegan hemp mom came in with her annoying children BUT other than that it was great!



MUSEUMS

There is absolutely no lack of museums in Amsterdam, with everything to suit different tastes. From the Sex Museum to the Van Gogh Museum to the Hemp and Marijuana Museum and the iconic Anne Frank Huis, you are literally spoilt for choice and seeing as most people only go there for a weekend, you need to pick wisely. The first time I visited here I got to go to Anne Frank's house which was before you had to pre-book tickets before 3pm, but unfortunately haven't been able to return on both occasions I have gone with Sam as the tickets sell out months in advance and the queue after 3pm to buy tickets on the door is insanely long. That being said, we still managed to see some good ones on both of our visits there.

CHEESE MUSEUM



Located just 2 minutes away from Anne Frank Huis so in the perfect location for when you spot the mile long queue and decide to change plans, The Cheese Museum is basically a cheese shop with a huge amount of free tasters and a small museum underneath it. The staff encourage you to try everything which is good because I always feel like a bit of a dick going into cheese shops without any intention to buy anything but just to try every cheese going. The museum costs around €3 to go in I believe and is really small and not too informative if I'm honest, but you are more than welcome to just go for the cheese testers if you can't be arsed looking at pictures of cows. All the cheese is packed ready to fly so no worries about any hold ups in Dutch security; my favourite was the lavender pesto cheese which is dyed blue with blueberry extract and the smoked ham goats cheese, whilst Sam's was the cumin gouda. Sitting here typing this I am seriously regretting not buying any, but they make perfect presents if you're from a cheese-loving family like I am!

VAN GOGH MUSEUM




So the two pictures other than the sunflowers are not actually by Van Gogh but part of a Parisian print exhibition within the museum. The museum is really strict on you taking photos so 100 boyfriend points to Sam for slyly getting the only one I actually have of any work by Van Gogh - normally I do try and sneak them myself but I was told off in the print exhibition so didn't want to risk being sentenced to death by the hawk-eyed gallery attendants in the main part of the museum. 
Both Sam and I really enjoyed this museum; we both like Van Gogh's art work and it was really interesting to see the 'stolen works' which were only found quite recently in Naples. It cost €17 which isn't the cheapest but it was definitely worth it. We bought our tickets online on the day as there were still some left and after seeing the queues for it when walking through there a couple of days before, we didn't want to end up losing half a day queueing in the rain. It took us about an hour to do the whole museum but this was because Sam doesn't like to read the information and it was so busy that we couldn't really spend time properly looking at the art, but I am very glad we visited it! 

SEX MUSEUM/MUSEUM OF PROSTITUTION/EROTICA MUSEUM



I'm putting these three museums all in one because although they are technically all different, they fall under the same sort of category. I visited the first two last September and the latter this April, and found that the first two were a lot better in terms of more interesting things to see and they felt like there had been a lot more work put into making them worth visiting. The Erotica museum was still just as interesting/mind opening/questionable as the others but I definitely feel like there is a reason why the other two are always a lot busier than that one! 
The Red Light District area of Amsterdam is a strange atmosphere for all of us as I'm guessing the majority of people going haven't experienced an alleyway full of girls in red-lit windows on a day to day basis (if you have, fair play) and these museums are just a bit of fun. The Museum of Prostitution was actually really interesting as it told you about the lengths they go to to try and keep it all legal and safe for the people working there as well as the punters, but also showed a video of the sort of experiences they have i.e creepy men who won't leave their windows alone. You get to stand in a replica window too, which is the only place you are actually allowed to take photos of in the Red Light District; there have been some tales of people grabbing your camera/phone off you if you do take photos - not sure how true this is but I've seen people try and film/photograph the sex workers and the area and they all just shut their curtains anyway so unless you like pictures of red curtains, you're not going to get very far! 




THINGS TO DO



As well as museums, there are a multitude of things you can get up to in Amsterdam. One of my favourites is just to walk around the little streets, or sit by a canal and people watch (because I am nosy). I find that when it comes to city breaks, a lot of us forget that a holiday is supposed to leave us feeling refreshed and be a break from constant DOING - yes, it is hardly going to be a two week sunbathing kind of relaxation and yes, you should try and see as much as possible but I am totally against the idea that you have to be constantly doing stuff to actually 'see' or experience a new city. 

VISIT A COFFEESHOP


Stoned resident cat in Coffeeshop de Kroon

One of the biggest appeals of Amsterdam for tourists are the coffeeshops, which are basically establishments where you can buy and smoke weed. I'm not 100% sure of the legality of weed in Amsterdam as I've heard/read a lot of different things, but it is perfectly legal to smoke it inside those shops and the more popular ones especially are used to tourists going in and happy to help you.
Obviously this is one of those things that some people will be really up for and others will want to avoid like the plague, and in no way does it mean that you won't enjoy Amsterdam if you don't go into one - when I went with my mum I don't even remember noticing them that much other than the obvious smell and I still had a really good time. 

SHOPPING


For the shopaholics amongst us - myself included - Amsterdam is amazing! There is a huge shopping district near the Royal Palace with high street brands, LOADS of trainer shops and makeup departments, as well as the De Bijenkorf in Dam Square which is basically a huge Harvey Nichols/Harrods full of designer labels. Near the iamAmsterdam sign on Museumplein is the more expensive shopping district where you can find all the designer labels' shops rather than as concessions in the department store, and there are loads of vintage/retro places dotted around the place too. I found that the staff in the designer shops were so friendly compared to other big cities (cough MILAN cough) and you don't feel intimidated going in them because you're just one of many tourists having a look anyway. I definitely would've bought more if I was made of money and it is SO worth buying that checked-in luggage allowance to allow the odd treat or too whilst you're there.

FLOWER MARKET




The flower/bulb market is worth having a look around if you're passing by as it is free and really pretty. I'm not a huge gardening fan myself but it sells loads of different seeds, bulbs and plants as well as souvenirs and general holiday tat like all the others. It was pretty busy when I went, but it was nice to walk through as the flowers are hanging from above and the smell is so fresh!


KINGS DAY 2017



Before choosing when to go to Amsterdam, Sam and I had no idea that it would be Kings Day so we were really lucky to get to experience that! Kings Day is basically a huge celebration across the canals and all throughout the city to celebrate the King's birthday - there is live music, drinking, games, food; just imagine a music festival, but within a city and with less mud. The city was absolutely manic with people celebrating and the standard colour to wear is orange - we had some orange flowers, but some people went all out in full orange suits and Kings' robes and crowns. Naturally, everywhere was pretty packed and I saw a fair few sights from people taking full advantage of the party atmosphere, but it was such a good experience to have included in our holiday. Also, the next day pretty much everywhere was completely spotless which is absolutely not what you would get in England and it was as if it hadn't even happened, other than the few stragglers on the 10am tram into the city still wearing their orange suits from the night before.



WHAT I WISH I HAD DONE

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, both Sam and I were pretty unwell for the first few days which meant that we didn't get to do as much as we wanted. We both felt like crap and didn't want it to ruin the holiday, so took it easy until Kings Day. Also, we went there for 4 nights/5 days which seems like a long time to spend in a city but we could've easily spent another week there doing everything we wanted to do, so these are things we can save for the next time we decide to go!

HIRING BIKES - Loads of places let tourists hire bikes out for an hour, but the weather when we went wasn't amazing until the last day, so unfortunately we had to sit this one out.
VISIT KEUKENHOF - A botanical garden outside of the city, this one requires a full day out and again the weather just wasn't good enough for us to enjoy it, especially with our illnesses.
ANNE FRANK HUIS - I have actually visited this before with my mum but Sam hasn't, but we forgot to prebook tickets so when it came to it, the line was too big to consider wasting an entire afternoon/evening just to go inside. 
CANAL TOUR - Another thing I have done before but Sam hasn't, this was just because we genuinely forgot. 

So this has been a bit of a long one, but I wanted to really go into detail about what we did and what was great/wasn't so great. Writing this is giving me huge pangs of nostalgia for something which literally only happened yesterday, but I am not joking when I say that looking for Masters courses in Amsterdam is a sly possibility. 
If you're considering Amsterdam or even anywhere across the globe at all, Booking.com have sent me a £15 cash back reward for anyone who books using this link and stays at the accommodation they book, so if anyone is lucky enough to be jetting off soon that will give you a little bit of ice cream money to take with you!


















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Lauren Gibbins
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