A Tale of Two Cities: Madrid and Amsterdam, Part 4 of 4

Anne Frank Huis

Anne Frank Huis

Amsterdam: Part 2 of 2

Museums

My home of Portland, Oregon has weed, naked women, streetcars, bikes, beer and two big rivers. What we don’t have are the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. For me, these were the only must-see items on my itinerary. My hostel sold me tickets to both museums for a 1 € discount a piece and I didn’t have to queue up for tickets. Buy online if your hotel or hostel doesn’t sell tickets because lines can be very long indeed.

The Van Gogh Museum is 15 € and the Rijksmuseum is 18,50 €. Both museums can be enjoyed in their entirety in a leisurely two to three hours. Visiting when they first open is best. Be prepared for throngs of tourists.

The Van Gogh Museum was my favorite. The paintings are presented in a way that makes sense and the story of his life and art is emotionally resonant.

The Rijksmusuem has a lot of important pieces, including some of the most famous Rembrandts. It’s a big, bombastic, lovely place, not too overwhelming…but almost.

Couldn't resist this cute picture in the Rijksmuseum

Couldn’t resist this cute picture in the Rijksmuseum

Three smaller museums or collections I visited were the Amsterdam Tulip Museum (Prinsengracht 112, entry 5 €), the Tassen Museum (Museum of Purses and Bags, entry 9,50 €) and the Katten Kabinet (Cat Chamber, Herengracht 497, entry 7 €).

Of these, the Tassen Museum was the most impressive. I suggest to include this on your itinerary and make it lunch. Bags and purses are actually fascinating historical objects. Most museums have a little café, but this place has a truly stunning one and they have beautiful gardens outside the windows as well.

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You’ll learn everything you ever wanted to about tulips at the small Amsterdam Tulip Museum in their exhibit, “The Story of the Tulip.” The gift shop is excellent.

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The Katten Kabinet is of course, a must-see for cat lovers, but even though I am crazy for kitties, this place was just okay. There weren’t lots of original paintings, it’s a collection of prints and a few sculptures. The house is pretty of course, but there’s not much to this place for an entry fee of 7 €. Skip if you’re not a feline fanatic.

Dining Out

As I mentioned earlier, I think getting a place with breakfast included is a good strategy. Even finding good restaurants open for lunch is hard. Save your money for a splurge on a nice dinner.

It was close to my hostel, it was recommended my guidebook and I did enjoy stylish Pompa (Willemsparkweg 6). They had great house wine and Mediterranean food at reasonable prices for the quality.

However, my favorite meal was a raw vegan lunch at Alchemist Garden. For 25 €, I had herbal coffee, soup, quiche and lasagna. All were incredibly fresh and bursting with flavor. A welcome antidote to the standard lunch of fries.

Also good was a local noodle chain, Wagamama (Amstelstraat 8, and also at Leidesplein), which actually had some vegan options and great service. I found Ethiopian restaurant, Axum (Utrechtswarsstraat 85-87), after failing to find Golden Temple. I always love a good meal eaten with injera and finished with Ethiopian coffee.

All in all, expect to pay about 20 – 25 € for a good meal and try to go with recommendations. The city is rife with restaurants that are just tourist traps and costing as much as quality eateries.

Drinking Out

Many bars in the city center are either overrun by raucous youngsters out to get as wasted as possible or just soulless places for tourists to deposit their money. I mainly stuck to quieter cafes and bars on the outskirts of downtown.

I enjoyed Eetcafe Sonneveld near the Anne Frank Huis and the Wijnbar (wine bar) Boelen & Boelen (Eerste V.D. Helststraat 50) in De Pijp.

The few Dutch beers I sampled were great, although I tended to stick with my favorite, red wine. Gin, “jenever,” is a local specialty and there are many distilleries that offer tastings and bars that specialize in gin cocktails.

Since I didn’t like being out too late on my own, I often had a cheap beer and snack at the bar in my hostel. During happy hour, a draft beer was 1,50 €. Hard to argue with that!

Gardens, Parks and the Zoo

The Artis Zoo is a pleasant greenspace southeast of the city center. Parks and greenery are sparse in downtown, so this makes the zoo even more welcome. It costs 19,95 € to enter and make sure to pick up the daily sheet with the animal feeding schedule. The penguins relax in an open space and the red panda and muntjac deer are in the same exhibit. Too much cuteness in one place! Also, there are a couple nice little cafes in the park to get a coffee and snacks.

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The horticultural gardens, Hortus Botanicus, are near the zoo, but it was hard for me to fork over another 10 € so I walked the border of them. Overall, this area is lush and calming.

Also south of downtown proper is the Vondelpark, near the museum quarter, and the Sarphatipark in De Pijp. I was sad I only visited the neighborhood, De Pijp, on my last day there as it turned out to be my favorite part of town. I loved the chilled out vibe.

My final verdict: I liked Amsterdam. It was okay. I didn’t love it. However, I am definitely in the minority. Most people were out of their minds with enthusiasm for the city. I would say two to three days is sufficient if you’re planning a European tour.

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