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:
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;
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.