Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Amsterdam, Netherlands

What can be said about a city as beautiful and unique as Amsterdam? It's a city that has more canals running through the streets than Venice. It's a city at the center of the bicycle culture where more than half of its residents use bicycles to get around, and is designed in such a way that makes it easy. It's a city where the locals pride themselves on their liberal and tolerant attitude, as marijuana and prostitution are legal and the "beer flows like wine." It's a city where the people are some of the nicest and friendliest that we've come across in our travels.

A quiet, quaint street 

The best part about this trip was that we met our friends Charlie and Ayessa there. Team Toler moved to Naples the same day we did a year and a half ago, and lived here for a year before they were transferred to Lisbon. Amsterdam was the perfect place to reunite and have a fun weekend. Their good friend Mark was visiting them, and the five of us got along effortlessly. (From henceforth, the trio of Mark, Ayessa and Charlie will be referred to as MAC.)

We flew into Amsterdam earlier than the others so we decided to rent bikes and tour the town the way the locals do. Riding a bike was so easy there, with bike paths on every street, people using hand signals to let others know where they are going, and cars watching out and moving out of the way of the bikes. I think this was my favorite thing about Amsterdam. We found it to be very refreshing to see a healthy, economically and ecologically friendly way to commute to work, go out to dinner, or go to a friend's house.

In Dam Square

After we met up with MAC at a nearby pub we walked over to the Anne Frank House. The visit to the house had such an impact on us as this was the actual house that Anne Frank and her family hid in for two years during World War II. To actually walk through the rooms, up the steep staircases, behind secret doors as not to be discovered, have no access to outside light because of blackout curtains, and watch testimonials of her father and friends, was very powerful and well done by the museum. It really gives you an insight into what life was like for them during that time and even if you have no background knowledge on Anne Frank or have never read her diary you will come out of this experience well informed and very moved.
The entrance to the museum part of the house. The actual house is on left. 

We decided that a few drinks might snap us out of our somber mood so we changed courses immediately and headed towards Dam Square. Dam Square lies in the historical center of the city and has government buildings, a national monument, a wax museum, a church and a large department store. It is frequently the site of demonstrations, events, and a lot of pigeons!

We then walked towards the infamous Red Light District. Located in one of the city's oldest areas, this district leaves nothing to the imagination and everything that you have read about it is probably true. Scantily dressed women stand in the windows of the tall and thin buildings, with a glow of red light surrounding them radiating onto the streets. There are live sex shows and sex shops around every corner, with owners on the streets advertising the services. Surprisingly though, the district wasn't as seedy or sketchy as we thought it would be and was perfectly safe and fun to walk around in. After watching a matinee of something that I will not describe here and doing other activities, we found a bar in the district, had some local Heinekens, and enjoyed each other's company.

Red Light District. Taken from here

The following morning, we had breakfast at a quaint pancake house near the hotel. The Dutch pancake seems to be a combination of a crepe and a pancake. They were delicious!

Yum! A Dutch pancake with bananas!
After breakfast we walked to the Heineken Museum/Experience. The former brewery has four levels of interactive experiences where you can see, hear, feel, smell, and taste everything Heineken. We saw past equipment, vats, and other machinery with explanations of the brewing process. The experience was unique in the fact that there was a 4-D ride in a screening room, along with other rooms that allowed you to record and send music videos and e-cards, and buy customized bottles of beer. Three beers were also included in the ticket price which made for some good fun at the end.

Brewing up something special
The ingredients 

MAC enjoying their beer

Jon won 10% off with rock, paper, scissors!

The only thing we weren't able to get to that we had wanted to see while in Amsterdam was the Van Gogh Museum. Jon and I had set aside two hours to walk to the museum, tour it, then walk back before our flight. Unfortunately, we didn't find out that the museum is under renovation through April until we showed up there, and that Van Gogh's works are being held in a different museum across the city. While disappointing, it gives us another reason to come back to Amsterdam (as if we needed another reason). So we spent some extra time walking back to the hotel and took in the beauty of the different buildings on our route.


We had a fantastic time in Amsterdam and being there with our friends made it all the more memorable. Between the old historic monuments, open-air markets, local cuisine and drinks, the Red Light District, and so much more, we were able to experience everything that this city has to offer. We will definitely be visiting this city again in the future, possibly when Jon's out of the Navy ;).


  1. Amsterdam sounds like a very interesting city! (especially with the Red Light District!) There are a few things that I didn't know about Amsterdam that I just learned about when reading this blog! First, I had no idea that there were more canals in Amsterdam then in Venice! (Actually, I never knew that there were canals in Amsterdam!!) Second, I didn't know that this was a very bicycle friendly city. It was so nice to hear that motorists watch out and get out of the way for bicyclists! (Definitely not something that they do in the US!) Third, I didn't know that there was a Red Light District and that marijuana and prostitution is legal! (Definitely a tolerant attitude, which is not a bad thing!) A couple of things that I did know about Amsterdam was that the Van Gogh Museum and Anne Frank's house is there. (Too bad you guys didn't get to the Museum, but really glad that you got to Anne Frank's house). It looks like you had a lot of fun at the Heineken Museum! (The best part is having three beers included!!) Sounds like Amsterdam is a beautiful, and very fun city with very nice people, and it's great that you got to spend some time with your good friends!

  2. Fantastic pictures! I too did not make the Van Gogh Musuem after a trip to the Heineken museum on my first visit to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, it was not because of renovations haha. If you ever have a chance to go back, it is an amazing collection of his work. The Anne Frank house was incredible, as was the beauty and friendliness of the city. I am glad you had such a good time!