Our Netherland getaway was very memorable for me and my sister. As an award- winning travel journalist and photographer, part of my rewards from the publishing company I work for was a 5 day trip for two to the Netherlands. I manage to have both our visas processed, travel insurance, and pre booked packaged tours arranged two months before our trip in January 2013. After packing our recorders, cameras and trolleys, two sassy, savvy and bodacious sisters braved the 9 hour Finn Air flight from Chicago to Amsterdam.
We started our adventure with a 3 day tour of the capital city of the Netherlands, Amsterdam. It began with a tour of its canals which is a must for first time visitors. The one hour Amsterdam Canal Cruises was a good way to see all the neighborhoods quickly before exploring it on our own. We were lucky enough to meet Captain Han, he did not only show all the sights from the canals; he also kept us highly entertained en route. From the comforts of a glass topped boat we cruised past 17TH Century warehouses, churches, and narrow houses. We were given free earphones to listen to all the other information about the city. It was a very pleasant tour and it was warm on the boat.
Part of the canal tour was a visit to the House of Bols Cocktail and the Genever Experience, which offered a fascinating insight into the world of cocktails and the secrets of creating a perfect drink. For a reasonable price, we took a tour of the museum to learn about the history of Genever. We enjoyed watching the bar tender mix our drinks at the impressive Mirror Bar. We got two complimentary cocktails and two complimentary shots of our choice at the end (all were delicious!). The “sniffing room” was fun, even though I had a headache afterwards. It was a great experience for us cocktail lovers! At night we watched the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra perform for free at the Concertgebouw. The hall was acoustically great! The musicians had a nice meet and greet prior to their performance. It was an awesome concert with free drinks during the intermission.
After tasting a variety of spirits, we proceed to the National Museum (Rijksmuseum).Everything we wanted to know about Amsterdam was there. The Amsterdam DNA Exhibition provided an alternative view of the city’s history. The arts were wonderful, the artifacts equally interesting, and the architecture across the city was particularly engaging. It hosts an impressive collection of paintings from the middle ages to the 20th Century. Upon entrance, I was welcomed to a large room full of historical exhibits. Upstairs was an art gallery with mainly Rembrandt’s works – I really enjoyed his art and learned quite a lot about the artist. Some analysis of his art provided a glimpse of a genius man. On this floor, the works of the other masters (Vermeer, Jan Steen) did not appeal to me as much but it was still worth looking. To cap the night off, we took a 15 minute tram from Amsterdam Central to get to Leiden Square (Leidseplein). Surrounded by lively bars and restaurants, everything was within walking distance. The square has lots of fun things, coffee shops and music venues. There were also pushy pot and coke dealers. We settled for a good expensive beer and appetizers at the Dan Murphy’s club.
Day two was a visit to the Anne Frank House (Anne Frankhuis). It was a moving and well thought out attraction. I have read her book and seeing the actual house where she lived secretly for two years writing her secret diary provoke my thoughts on wider range of issues about the holocaust. Steep stairs led to the rooms where they hide, it was respectfully preserved. We were given an introductory tour to know about the rest of the Frank Family. I find it unbelievable to think how a family had to live like that only to survive. From here we head next to the Special Walking Tours. We met our Dutch guide named Mark and he was very funny! He provided snippets of his own to make the 3 hour walking tour lively. We felt perfectly safe as he led us thru the Red Light District, I saw girls wearing different kinds of sexy outfits, sitting behind a display and waiting for a random guy to get interested in what they have to offer. It was amusing to watch the reaction of the guys meandering through the area. I find it not daunting or scary in any way, but it was worth a visit. At the end of our walking tour Mark gave us interesting tips about the history of the Netherlands, Dutch cheese samples and sweets.
Day three was a tour of the Van Gogh Museum which features the largest collection of his paintings and drawing. Being able to see his works up close was wonderful! Some of his works can be viewed at the Hermitage Museum. Then we head to the surrounding neighborhood called The Jordaan. It is a big area full of the little nice things about Amsterdam. Nice cafés, 17th century houses, little specialty shops, small art galleries, antique shops and an organic market to complete our dining and shopping experience. From here we checked out the Rembrandtplein, one of the city’s busy main squares with lots of street entertainers. It was a great place to sit in the afternoon and drink a Heineken while watching the world go by. I took photos of my lovely sis at the statue; we danced at the lively beat of the musicians performing in front of it. Lots of cafés, wonderful large trees and crowded patio restaurants made this center very touristy. Then we head to the Tuschinski Theater to watch Les Miserables. It is the most beautiful cinema in the Netherlands, loved its art deco architecture and the tapestries at the old foyer.
Day four was a visit to the must see attraction in Amsterdam called the Heineken Experience. It was an excellent tour; the 10 euro entry fee includes 3 Heineken beers and a souvenir bottle opener. It tells the history of the Heineken family, the beer making process and lots of interactive activities such as being brewed like a beer. It was a refreshing experience.
On our last day, we boarded a one hour train ride to get to the southern part of the Netherlands, Hague. We visit the Louwman Automuseum Den Haag; it’s a stunning building that provides a visual timeline of transportation. Amazing cars, porcelain collections, toys, posters plus a very fun coffee shop at the end provide a worthwhile visit to this museum. Then we proceed to the Escher in Het Paleis (Escher in the Palace), it is dedicated to Holland’s most famous graphic artist M.C. Escher. Most of his artwork deals with optical illusions. We enjoyed the interactive collection on the top floor. We admired more art works of Rembrandt and other classic painters at the Mauritshuis Museum. I took a wide angle photo of the Masdag Panorama, it’s an enormous cylinder shaped painting of the old fishing village of the Scheveningen in 1881. Then we enjoyed a pleasant walk around the courtyard of the Peace Palace and took advantage of the half hour tour inside. I learned informative things like how the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court for Arbitration works. The Palace also featured a number of statues, busts, and portraits of prominent peace campaigners from around the world and of all eras.
Netherlands is a diverse country rich in history and attractions. We plan to go back there with our kids. It is a perfect compact country to explore and a good time for us! As they say in Dutch, “Weer terug komen!” (Be back again!). Surely, we will.