Amsterdam, Netherlands

Just to make sure that everyone understands where Amsterdam is located, note that the Netherlands are also known by a number of names, ie; Holland, Dutch, the Low Country, etc.

Getting around Amsterdam: There are a number of methods that one can utilize to get around the city, ie; walking, tram cars, buses, canal boat taxi or canal boat "hop on/hop off" boats. We combined walking with the tram car system because it allowed us to fully explore the city at our leisure (we could sit or explore any time we felt like it) and nothing in Amsterdam is very far from either a tram car or a canal boat!

Before you look at the pictures and read about this portion of the trip, lets first talk about some interesting Amsterdam facts:

 Amsterdam Quick Facts 
  • Amsterdam is the capital city and most populous municipality of the Netherlands. Its status as the capital is mandated by the Constitution of the Netherlands, although it is not the seat of the government, which is The Hague.
  • Amsterdam has a population of 851,373 within the city proper, 1,351,587 in the urban area and 2,410,960 in the metropolitan area.
  • Amsterdam is much younger than other Dutch cities such as Nijmegen, Rotterdam, and Utrecht. In October 2008, historical geographer Chris de Bont suggested that the land around Amsterdam was being reclaimed as early as the late 10th century.
  • Amsterdam was granted city rights in either 1300 or 1306. From the 14th century on, Amsterdam flourished, largely from trade with the Hanseatic League.
  • The 17th century is considered Amsterdam's Golden Age, during which it became the wealthiest city in the western world.
  • In the early years of the 21st century, the Amsterdam city centre has attracted large numbers of tourists: between 2012 and 2015, the annual number of visitors rose from 10 million to 17 million.
  • The Amsterdam Stock Exchange is the oldest stock exchange in the world and is located in the city center.
  • Amsterdam is one of the world's most multicultural cities, with at least 177 nationalities represented.

If you have never been to Amsterdam & either you are planning a trip there, or you just want to know more about it, here are some good sources of information;

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We took the train from Schipol Airport to the Amsterdam Central Train Station. This is quite easy to do, as the train station at the airport is actually underneath the main airport terminal.

Once at the Train Station, one has multiple options for transportation; other trains to other destinations, trams and buses are found in front of the station, etc.

Don't take a taxi from Schipol Airport into Amsterdam, the airport is immediately above a train station where you can catch an express train to the Main Amsterdam Train Station.

You will see us describe in this Blog Post that we found Amsterdam to be very walkable, and the map above provides you with one of the routes that we followed to visit the locations talked about on this page. This route is only 7.2 kilometers (approximately 4.3 miles) in length, all on city sidewalks, through some beautiful parks and crossing some of the city canals.

The Prinsengracht is the fourth and longest of the main canals in Amsterdam, and we walked north along it from the Anne Frank House to Winkel 43 and then south alongside it when we walked to the Van Gogh Museum at the Museumplein. This is the kind of walk that really provides you with the full flavor of Amsterdam; bicyclists, shoppers, tourists, pedestrians, canals, canal boats, and on the day we were there - some beautiful weather.

We used VRBO to rent an apartment at Rembrandt Square in Amsterdam, which required us to exit the train station, and catch a #9 tram south. This image is of a statue dedicated to Rembrandt in the square, and although you cannot quite see it, the local Starbucks is right behind the statue.

Although not visible in this picture, our VRBO rental was just to the right of those buildings on the right side of this picture, and 1/2 block away from Rembrandt Square on Thorbeckeplein.

Image #1 is Prinsengracht canal in front of the Anne Frank House Museum. We had thought that we might be able to take the tour here, but the lines to get in were already going around the block, so we decided to continue to hike about the city.

Image #2 is the Anne Frank Museum; During World War II, Anne Frank hid from Nazi persecution with her family and four other people in hidden rooms at the rear of the 17th-century canal house, known as the Secret Annex (Dutch: Achterhuis). Anne Frank did not survive the war but in 1947, her wartime diary was published. In 1957, the Anne Frank Foundation was established to protect the property from developers who wanted to demolish the block.

Amsterdam has more than one hundred kilometers of grachten (canals), about 90 islands and 1,500 bridges. The three main canals (Herengracht, Prinsengracht and Keizersgracht), were dug in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age, form concentric belts around the city, known as the Grachtengordel.

We took a canal boat tour around the city, so we could see Amsterdam from a "canal perspective". Of the many interesting sites the boat took us by, perhaps image #2 of the "Sea Palace Chinese Restaurant" a floating building in the harbor, was the least expected!

Even though Amsterdam is a very walkable city, the water taxis can be utilized as an "on again/off again" system to get about the city easily. Most of the more interesting city sites & buildings are generally close to a canal, so you can plan your day around how you want to get to each location.

Maritime Museum: Displays how shipping has shaped Dutch culture. There are over 500 years worth of Dutch maritime history in various interactive exhibitions. You can even visit a real VOC ship or make a trip on the famous icebreaker the Christiaan Brunings.

Grand Hotel Amrâth Amsterdam: 5 star hotel directly across the harbor from the Sea Palace Restaurant at Prins Hendrikkade 108, 1011 AK Amsterdam, Netherlands.

See how far that house is tilting? This is due to the high water table near the canals.

The water table is a constant engineering challenge in Amsterdam, impacting not only building construction, but also impacting the metro subway construction. For example, to minimize impacts on surface buildings, many of the Amsterdam metro lines are built directly underneath canals.

 Quick History Lesson 

The water table under Amsterdam is high. If you were to dig a hole anywhere in Amsterdam, it will fill up with water pretty quickly. The soil itself is simply too soft to support a building, let alone transportation infrastructure. Even the first small, wooden houses built along the Amstel kept sinking into the boggy ground.

In Amsterdam, you need to dig down 400 meters to hit rock. On the way down, there are alternating layers of clay, peat and sand. As any engineer will tell you, clay and peat cannot support the weight of a building.

The Amsterdam solution? Wooden piles (beams of timber driven into the earth). The foundations of most buildings in Amsterdam are supported on piles 12 meters deep that are anchored in the first layer of sand. The piles of larger buildings are even deeper, reaching to the second layer of sand at 20 meters or to the third at 50 meters deep. Altogether, there are more than a million piles under Amsterdam.

This image is the property of Kamanasish Debnath via Wikimedia

The large church in the right center of this picture, is the Westerkerk Church. The Anne Frank House is just a few doors away from the church, and in fact, Anne described the chiming of the carillon as comforting. A memorial statue of Anne Frank is located outside the church at Westermarkt.

The second building from the right is Rembrandt's original house, he would create various works of art here and he also taught art classes here. He taught classes because his art works were not yet as famous as they are today.

The Rembrandt House is maintained as it would have appeared when he was still living there. In fact, he lived in this house for nearly 20 years, between 1639 and 1656. Rembrandt went bankrupt in 1656 and all of his possesions and the house, were sold to satisfy his debts. You have to keep in mind that he was not as famous then as he is today, and so his income was barely sufficient to make ends meet.

Rembrandt spent the last years of his life in the Jordaan district, on the Rozengracht canal. He was buried in the Westerkerk church.

Van Gogh Museum: you can see how large the crowd was, we were glad that we had already obtained entry passes online!

The Museum website has a great set of images & video showing a lot of the Van Gogh art. And by the way, this is the world's largest collection of Van Gogh works!

 Quick Facts 

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is one of the most popular museums in the world, attracting visitors from every corner of the globe. Naturally, this is in large part due to it housing the largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh – more than 200 paintings, 500 drawings and 700 of his letters. Having originally opened on Museumplein in 1973, the Van Gogh Museum has been expanded and modernised over the years, ensuring it's a truly cutting-edge exhibition and visitor space.

We rode a water taxi to the Hermitage Museum, mostly because the museum is adjacent to the Amstel River (and a number of canals intersect the river) and also because we wanted to experience a water taxi ride.

 Quick Facts 

The Hermitage Amsterdam is a branch museum of the Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg, Russia, located on the banks of the Amstel river in Amsterdam. The museum is located in the former Amstelhof, a classical style building from 1681. The dependency displayed small exhibitions in the adjacent Neerlandia Building from 24 February 2004 until the main museum opened on 19 June 2009.

Replica of an East Indiaman of the Dutch East India Company/United East Indies Company. This ship (named "Amsterdam") is in the Amsterdam Harbor area. We were on a canal boat tour when we passed by this ship.

 Quick Facts 

The Amsterdam was an 18th-century cargo ship of the Dutch East India Company. The ship started its maiden voyage from Texel to Batavia on 8 January 1749, but was wrecked in a storm on the English Channel on 26 January 1749. The shipwreck was discovered in 1969 in the bay of Bulverhythe, United Kingdom, and is sometimes visible during low tides. The wreck site is protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act since 1974. Some of the findings from the site are in The Shipwreck Museum in Hastings.

This is the Museumplein area, where the Van Gogh Museum is located. A beautiful park setting with frisbee players, fountains, people having a picnic, etc.

 Quick Facts 

The Museumplein is a public space in the Museumkwartier neighbourhood of the Amsterdam-Zuid borough in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Located at the Museumplein are three major museums – the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Stedelijk Museum – and the concert hall Concertgebouw.

Our next day's adventure was a tour bus trip to Volendam, a small village northeast of Amsterdam because we found that this tour also would take us to Zaanse Schans where the famous windmills could be seen.

We used a bus tour from Amsterdam City Tours. Their tour buses pickup the tour groups near the Amsterdam Central Train station, which made it simple for us to take a #9 Tram car there.

To view our entire set of images from Amsterdam, click here

Zaanse Schans Windmills

Just 20 kilometers from Amsterdam, the Zaanse Schans Windmills are an interesting day trip to something of a living museum area. Besides the windmills, there is a cheese factory, various shops and a pewter foundary.

Touristy? Yes of course it is, but if you want to visit some "real" windmills and learn how they function then you are going to have to visit this kind of place. Our point of view is always based upon "lets really learn" about an area, see as much as possible, and have all the fun we can generate on every day of our trips!

Have you ever wondered what a windmill's purpose is? Turns out that the windmill is the "engine" for a mill grinder inside the building that houses the windmill. During the tour, we were given an exhibition of how the windmill is used to grind various local crops.

The tour bus then took us to Volendam. It is a Dutch town on the Markermeer Lake, northeast of Amsterdam. It’s known for its colorful wooden houses and the old fishing boats in its harbor, which is lined with seafood vendors.

 Quick History Lesson 

Originally, Volendam was the location of the harbor of the nearby Edam, which was situated at the mouth of the IJ bay. In 1357, the inhabitants of Edam dug a shorter canal to the Zuiderzee with its own separate harbor. This removed the need for the original harbor, which was then dammed and used for land reclamation. Farmers and local fishermen settled there, forming the new community of Vollendam, which literally meant something like 'Filled dam'. In the early part of the 20th century it became something of an artists' retreat, with both Picasso and Renoir spending time here. The majority of the population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, which is deeply connected to the village culture. Historically, many missionaries and bishops grew up in Volendam. Today there is the chapel of Our Lady of the Water, which is located in a village park.

Next stop on the day trip was Marken, it is a peninsula in the IJsselmeer, in the Netherlands and a former island in the Zuiderzee, located in the municipality Waterland in the province North Holland. It is the namesake of the Markermeer, the body of water which surrounds it. This wooden shoe shop was an interesting stop in Marken, as they demonstrated how wooden shoes are made, the shop technician actually made a wooden shoe as we watched.

Image #2 displays that they had "try on shoes" for many sizes of feet, and if you liked how they fit, they would gladly sell you a pair!

Image is the property of Hullie via Wikipedia

Volendam Harbor: we took a walk down along the Zuideinde the street in front of where the big boats tie up. You can see what a very pretty little village this is, with a row of restaurants & pubs facing the Markemeer.

We had time to spare for lunch, so we ate at Restaurant Cafe de Dijk and had an enjoyable meal.

To view our entire set of images from the Zaanse Schans day Trip, click here

Before I complete this part of our blog, I have to point out that we had the good fortune to visit three really good restaurants while in Amsterdam. We had the most amazing apple pie at Cafe Winkel 43, located just about 1/2 mile down the canal from the Anne Frank House. We had read about the pie here, and decided that we would have apple pie & cappuccino for our lunch, before walking to the Van Gogh Museum.

The second restaurant was the Black and Blue, also a block from the Anne Frank House and we had not read about this one, but were lucky enough to be in the area and walked right past it. Turned around and came back after we got a whiff of the good smells coming from this restaurant.

And the third good restaurant we visited while in Amsterdam, was the Restaurant Portugalia. This restaurant is owned by a Portuguese family and the food and service were absolutely top notch. We had done some Yelp research to try and locate a restaurant like this, and were we happy that we did! The owner's mother is the chef, so the Portuguese dishes were authentic, the wine list was fantastic and even though they were out of Douro, they offered to have a new bottle brought to the restaurant. They are located very near to Rembrandt Square where we were staying, so getting here was very easy (Kerkstraat 35, 1017 GB Amsterdam).

As is the case with all good visits, our final day in Amsterdam came around far too quickly. We had decided that we would take a train from Amsterdam to Bruges, Belgium. We did this because European trains are very comfortable, they are very fast, and they are relatively inexpensive as compared to auto travel.

We arrived at the Amsterdam Central Train Station a few minutes early, and had to wait for the Thalys Train to arrive.

The Thalys TGV took us to Antwerp, where we changed to a "local area train" that took us to the Bruges Train Station. The train trip required 2 hours and 45 minutes, 253 kilometers in length.

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To view our entire set of images from Amsterdam, click here
 
 
 
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