| April 24, 2016 |
This month’s journey to Tanzania, Africa, was the longest travel itinerary I’ve endured, requiring multiple stops from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport:
Fort Lauderdale(FLL)Atlanta(ATL) Amsterdam(AMS) Kilimanjaro(JRO)
Through the process of booking flights and coordinating with the rest of the Mission Trip group (students from Northwestern University in Chicago, and other Physical Therapists), I decided to leave a day earlier than the group to get a taste of Amsterdam. My itinerary only allowed a 24-hour period from 10:30am on Sunday to a 10:15am flight on Monday. Hence, the challenge: Experiencing the essence of Amsterdam in a mere 24-hour period…
When I initially thought of Amsterdam, I pictured the stereotypical attractions: Red Light District, hash, and coffee shops/cafés. As I began researching, however, I was overwhelmed with the plethora of museums:
Anne Frank House
Stidelijk Museum Rembrandt House Museum Heineken Experience Sex Museum
FOAM Houseboat Museum Amsterdam History Museum
…And more! There’s actually 75 total.
After visiting every museum’s website, I elected to cross all the museums off my itinerary. Why? I knew if I spent more than 2 hours in each museum, my entire day would be void of other exploration. I wanted to see the city bare-bones, as close to being a local as possible. Standing in a museum did not seem appealing…
What we did
(1) Stay at the Flying Pig Hostel. There are two locations, both Downtown (near Central Station and the Red Light District) and Uptown (near Vondelpark). Based on a review by Nomadic Matt, I chose the Uptown location based on the smaller size, and tight-knit staff. The receptionists were beyond informational and welcoming. They even marked some locations to visit, knowing we had a 24-hour time constraint (see above). The night of our arrival, the Flying Pig also had a party starting at 8PM to say good-bye to an employee – how convenient!
En route to the hostel later in the evening, we caught the sunset at Vondelpark:
(2) Visit the iAmsterdam sign. Our first stop was a short walking distance away from the Flying Pig Uptown hostel. We walked along bicyclists on the street and through a tunnel near Rijksmuseum…
…And discovered the famous sign in a sea of tourists. To our dismay, the sign was flooded with people and there was absolutely no chance of having a solo photo. I don’t know why I imagined people taking turns? Hm. Regardless, I would advise visiting in the early morning or later evening for a better photo opportunity.
(3) Wander around Museumplein/Rijksmuseum. In the square surrounding the iAmsterdam sign was an immaculate presentation of tulips, greenery, and fountains. We truly enjoyed relaxing in this area, especially with the gorgeous weather. It was a sunny, warm day – a rarity as previous days were rainy and chilly!
(4) Visit a café and coffee shop. Yes, there’s a difference. A café serves food and coffee. A coffee shop offers legal hemp products and smoke rooms/areas, some of which are open until ~1am (on Sundays, too!). There are none in particular, and there’s certainly enough to choose from. For hemp products, maybe you can find your way to Boerejongens (recommended by Flying Pig, but we can’t vouch for its quality/service/products.)
(5) Red Light District. The area is completely safe and entertaining all times of the day. In daylight, there are no blaring red lights, but some windows still reveal prostitutes. Careful! No photos are permitted. There are tons of erotic shops and paraphernalia that’s entertaining to see, to say the least. I wouldn’t recommend allotting too much time to this area.
(6) Rent a bicycle – an absolute MUST! All of Amsterdam’s bike paths combine to ~500km with 1,281 bridges and 165 canals in Amsterdam to ride along (that’s more canals than Venice!). In the evening, we rode past locals eating dinner on their doorsteps and people smoking on canal edges. We also covered the greatest distance: from our hostel area to Central Station to the Red Light District, we went many miles! We rented from Black Bikes, which has 13 locations in Amsterdam (you can rent and return at different locations, which is super convenient). What we paid:
9,00 per handbrake* bike
12,00 each for insurance
(*other option is pedal brake, which is cheaper, but they were sold out)
Your bicycle should come equipped with a lock, and be sure to use it! Over 10,000 bicycles are stolen per year in Amsterdam. Also, there’s tons of bike garages – this one had multiple levels! How insane!
(7) Wander the city. There are so many side streets, canals, bridges, and beautiful buildings to see! We ended up riding past the Houseboat Museum, Tulip Museum, and Sex Museum unintentionally. Sometimes not having a firm itinerary or plan allows for more natural discovery and connection. It was perfect to simply marvel at the architecture and get lost meandering through locals and tourists by walking and biking.
What we didn’t do: Purposefully & Mistakingly
(1) Spend 2 hours with the following scenery (oops!).
Unfortunately, my travel buddies and I failed to realize my friend’s checked bags would be checked all the way to our next day’s connection flight to Kilimanjaro Airport. We attempted receiving the baggage from the basement where it was stored after >1 hour of waiting, but our patience reached an end as the process was taking awfully long. My friend decided to leave her checked bags behind, and we prayed it would appear at JRO upon arrival on Monday… (It did!)
(2) Skip Anne Frank House (purposefully). Despite my sincere love for World War II history, and reviews on TripAdvisor stating it’s a “must see,” I got a sense the Anne Frank House would not be satisfactory. Firstly, it’s recommended to book online because of the long queue (you can book up to 2 months in advanced; if not, you should arrive close to the 09:00am opening time). Being that flights can be unpredictable, and I wanted to go with the flow, I knew I couldn’t commit to a reservation time. Also, I pictured walking through the crammed house with other tourists, which undoubtedly would depersonalize the entire experience. What do you think – did I miss something by not going?
(3) Skip Van Gogh Museum (purposefully). I also have a sincere love for Van Gogh and the entire Impressionistic period. Yet, I knew my two travel buddies did not share the same interest, and I wouldn’t want to be pressed for time while admiring art. (I have an extensive history of having to be dragged out of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.)
(4) Visit on a Sunday (unavoidably, oops!). Sadly, the Waterlooplein Flea Market is closed on Sunday, so we couldn’t experience the open-air market. Also, there’s not a whole lot of night life to experience. The streets were deserted after 11pm, and we had a hard time finding late night snacks. Also, we were not prepared to visit any “fancy” clubs because all our bags were filled with clothing for Africa. We ended up at Club Smokey after wandering the Red Light District at night.
(5) Poorly plan meals (oops!). When spending <24 hours in a location, I should’ve thought about my need for food. Rather than prioritizing a place to eat after checking into the Flying Pig, we wandered to the iAmsterdam sign, then immediately to a bike rental shop. Foodhallen (indoor food market) was too far away when our stomachs began growling and began searching for food at an awkward time (3:30pm). Apparently, most restaurants in Amsterdam serve lunch until ~3pm, then don’t begin serving dinner until 6pm. We resorted to small snacks after crossing the HET IJ by ferry from Central Station, rather than the intended meal at PLLEK.
Overall, I’m contempt with our day in Amsterdam. Although I know like we barely scratched the surface of places to discover in the city, I certainly got the feel of the city. The relaxed vibe of the city contrasted with seemingly naive cobblestone streets and dollhouse buildings is enchanting. It’s also incredibly easy to get around via bicycle, ferry, foot, and Uber! If you’re crunched for time, just get lost in the city and explore. I found it refreshing to explore stress-free, and allow the day to unfold organically. Though we made a few mistakes along the way, it didn’t overshadow the city’s charm. So, what are you waiting for? Time to get lost in Amsterdam, and explore its free-spirited culture.