For this year’s family holiday we decided to go to Amsterdam. It was my idea, actually, as I’d once visited there with my mum and sister when I was a child.
For this we went ultra-modern – chauffeured car to/from the airport in the UK, UBER to get around in the city and AirBnB as somewhere to stay. Our AirBnB, in this case, was a 3 bedroom house in the south of the city, in a quite suburb. As with our trip to Germany last year, a lot of the holiday would be just living the life of a local – padding out the shops and eating at ‘home’.
The journey started (just) on Monday morning…
The alarm went off at 2am. I’d gone to bed just 4 hours previous and had slept badly in the meantime. We were being picked up at 3am to be driven to Birmingham airport and we needed to get ready (and, for some us, shower so that we’d at least be partially awake).
The roads were quiet and we were there in plenty of time. Check in was quick, as was security and we soon found the Giraffe restaurant for some much needed coffee and breakfast.
The plane was in the air (we were using KLM) was just 44 minutes and the owner of out AirBnB, keen to leave himself for his own family holiday, picked up and drove us personally to his house. A quick overview and they left us to the house, 2 cats and a tortoise. The 2 girls loved the animals.
We made a visit to the supermarket for provisions and dined on pizza that night (not very Dutch but it was quick and easy).
Each day started (first at 7pm when our youngest got up and my wife and I took it in turns to get up with her. But besides that…) at 9am with a round of showers and then grabbing an Uber into the city. Uber turned out to be no more expensive than, say, the local tram or bus service, a lot less hassle and door-to-door service.
Today, we decided just to have a ‘mooch’ about the city centre. However, this is the one day we started things off AFTER lunch – bread, meat and cheese. Once in the city we found ourselves slap-bang (no pun intended) in the middle of the Red Light District (complete with semi-clothed ladies in the windows).
We walked along to the main centre and to the royal palace, which we decided to tour around. It looks great and a free audio guide is included in the entry price but, I have to say, when you’ve seen a few of the rooms you’ve really seen them all. It’s only really the history of some rooms which makes them relevant.
Hours later we left and found ourselves presented with rain. A lot of rain. I had an umbrella, my wife and Lucie had hooded jackets and Laura, well, she hadn’t come with anything as her boyfriend had insisted that there was going to be a heatwave (the one that ONLY affected Southern Europe). We decided to stop for a snack but soon found that all the ‘cafes’ in Amsterdam were take-aways and didn’t have seating. We eventually, after some time of getting thoroughly wet, found somewhere that did have seating. A quick drink (but not snack – most of us were too wet and miserable to have an appetite. Except Lucie) and we were off again. But where too? The weather was lousy and Laura was truly soaked by now. By now it was later than we’d realised and with no food in us decided the best bet was to get a meal before heading back home.
Thanks to the guide book we had (but not thanks to my guidance which was pretty terrible) we found a nice restaurant named Tomas. Here I was introduced to traditional Dutch croquettes. The food was good and we nearly dried off before we caught an Uber back to the AirBnb.
Just as most mornings were much the same, so were the evenings. There wasn’t much to do so, once Lucie was in bed, we chilled for a bit – reading and drinking tea mainly – and then it was competitive card playing until we all headed to bed.
Today we visited the aptly named Artis Royal Zoo. The ‘Artis’ in this case is from the Latin for art (and the reason why ‘Artis’ is in the Latin inscription around the MGM lion – “Ars Gratis Artis”, meaning “art for art’s sake”).
It was large and the animals had an amazing amount of space (compared to UK zoos that I’ve visited).
We spent all afternoon there, with a stop at their restaurant for lunch. They make organic burgers and they’re amazingly good.
The Zoo has a planetarium, which runs 30 minute shows at set times of the day. However, it is narrated totally in Dutch – if you don’t speak the language, as pretty as the images are, you’ll be confused as to what is going on.
Today we planned to go to Anne Frank’s House.
Knowing it was likely to be busy I’d checked the previous night on their website to see if I could get any tickets but none were available for even the rest of the time that we were in Amsterdam. So we decided to chance it and get tickets there – we’d heard that queues could be an hour long wait, which was bearable.
First lunch, which we got at the Café de Oude Wester, just across the way from the house. It was good food at a reasonable price.
However, upon getting over to Anne Frank’s House, we realised there was a problem. My wife enquired further. It seems, and it does say this on their website if you look close enough, that only pre-purchased ticket holders are allowed in before 3:30pm. It was now 1:30pm. Not wishing to hang around for, potentially, 3 hours (2 hours until they let non-ticket holders in and then possible an hour queue with that) I decided to change our plans.
We had been intending to go on a canal cruise at a later point in the holiday so, right next to pick-up locations for these, I decided we should do it today. A local office sold tickets and, you could get discounts too, if you bought ticket for elsewhere at the same time. We intend to go the Rijksmuseum tomorrow, so we got those tickets, which also meant we wouldn’t have to queue.
The canal cruise was an hour long and was a very good way to explore the waterways, and see many of the hidden sites of Amsterdam.
When that was over we walked away from the area but found the tail of a long queue – walking along it to see what it was for, it was the queue for Anne Frank’s House. There was no way it was an hour wait.
However, their website had another surprise…
The museum closes it doors 30 minutes before closing time. Please note that the queue for the Anne Frank House closes earlier. Depending on how busy it is, this can be as much as two hours before closing time.
So, you could queue for hours only to be turned away hours before it’s even due to close. Hmm. With all the possible waiting and conditions applied to that, we decided not to plan on re-visiting. Lesson learnt – next time book in advance. Way in advance.
If you intend to visit the Anne Frank House, please book tickets online as much in advance as you can, otherwise you may be out of luck.
Today was the Rijksmuseum – a very well known museum displaying artwork from a number of popular artists, including Van Gogh and Rembrandt.
But first, we had lunch – a picnic at the nearby park – before heading it with the ticket we’d purchased the day before. A lot of the building is new and modern and it is quite vast. We paused mid-way through the afternoon at their cafe for drinks and cake.
Getting around wasn’t that obvious – particularly getting between the two, separate halves on the building. We did get a bit lost. But, no, we didn’t get around everything – it is really quite vast. However, I guess depending on big a fan you are of paintings, it does get a bit ‘samey’ after a while so I was happy to depart at the end of the afternoon, when we did (albeit we left when the museum closed).
However, even when the museum itself is closed the cafe and large gift shop remain open for another hour, so we headed to the latter. The museum even sells its own range of Playmobil!
After, we had a meal at a nearby cafe named ‘Lunchcafe De Spiegel‘. I can recommend the ‘Spiegalburger’, which includes bacon, cheese and egg on the burger. Oh, and you get a LOT of chips each too, so don’t go too OTT!
Rijksmuseum is massive so make use of their free maps. If taking kids, unless they’re massive ‘classic artworks’ fans, boredom will set in quickly, so take breaks and probably limit your time there, concentrating on the specific exhibits that you’d like to see.
After a day of look at rather-stuffy paintings, it was now time to have some fun! Today we were going to the Nemo science museum.
Aimed squarely as children, this teaches science through lots of experiments and generally fun things that you can try and do yourself. From creating massive bubbles to standing in halls of mirrors, there’s lots to do.
Based on a number of floors, the top includes a restaurant, which is where we had lunch. It was very reasonably priced.
By 3:30pm, Laura was getting itchy feet so she and I left to go and find a nearby comic shop that we’d had our eye on. Lambiek is regarded as the best in Amsterdam and has a wide selection across 2 floors – Dutch on the main floor and English downstairs. Dragging Laura away was difficult.
We met up with everyone else around 5pm, with the museum closing at 5:30. A visit to their gift shop was, of course, essential. As we left, the rain came down. A lot. Thanks goodness for Uber and a pick-up from the door.
The museum is very-much intended for children. It’s vast and children really want to play on the items, rather than particularly learn. For adults that aren’t particularly science-literate the knowledge part of this would be great. However, if you know your science and your child is just running off playing, the museum can get boring after a while. In this case trying to get your child more engaged with the learning may help to occupy yourself whilst there.
As our last full day in Amsterdam we decided to re-visit the city centre, mainly for the purposes of souvenir shopping. We had originally planned to re-visit the park but early rain ruled that out.
However, the day got off to an interesting start due to a ‘spat’ with an Uber driver. I booked the driver, who was about 5 minutes away, and after about a minute I got a phone call. I had no idea who it was and they were making no sense on the phone, speaking Dutch (I assume with hindsight). As I wasn’t expecting a call from the driver, this was an unexpected ‘cold call’ and, explaining I simply didn’t understand, I hung up. They rang back but, this time, my wife answered and she was able (I think being fluent in German helps understand the Dutch language) to ascertain he was the driver and managed to get him to talk in (broken) English. Basically, he didn’t want to pick us up because ‘we were too far away’. Okay, I can re-book but I know if I cancel the pick-up I get charged, so we asked him to cancel it from his end (I know they can do this). He refused and, when we asked what we were supposed to do, he hung up on us.
I cancelled the ride and filed a complaint with Uber who quickly responded, apologised for what happened and promised to remind the driver of their expected professionalism.
Anyway, we headed back to the city centre, where we picked up our souveniers and grabbed an easy lunch at Lokaal ‘T Loosje (lovely food, nice location). It was an intentionally easy, relaxed day as we wound down for the end of our week.
Busy, busy, busy. Showering, packing and tidying. The owner’s sister was coming at midday to pick up the keys, so we needed to be ready for then. I was also nervous about the security at Schiphol, as there had been issues in the past and even the day before I saw someone on Twitter struggle to get through in time for their flight, even though they were there 3 hours in advance.
Anyway, I found a great page on the Schiphol site which informs you, not only about your flights (and in more details than even the airline’s site) but also the current time to get through their security.
We left at 12 and was at the airport by about 12:45. Our gate opened about 4:07pm, so we had a lot of time. Security ended up being light but just bear in mind that Schiphol is huge and there’s only the one terminal, so getting around inside can take a while. Once we were passed security, we had a couple of hours to kill, so went to grab lunch… McDonalds (of course!).
The flight home was painless but oddly takes quite a bit longer than the flight out. At the airport we were met by our drive from A52 Cars, where we had a relaxed drive back home.
Amsterdam was great but it’s always nice to get home again.