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Amsterdam and The Netherlands, March 7-19

I just read the thread about what makes a good trip report, and am feeling a bit intimidated about finally doing one – there’s no way I can be as funny as Mike Beebe! But I’ve gotten so much good advice and enjoyment from other posters that I will just pull up my socks and do it. I may even go back to our England trip last June and write that one up, since we did go to some less-touristed spots.

The main purpose of our Netherlands trip was to visit our daughter and son-in-law, who moved to Amsterdam last year and are living in a great apartment in Centrum, just off Dam Square. We did some sightseeing, but also spent time hanging out with them. Since I’ll be going back in June, I got an anonymous OV chipkaart, whereas my husband used the TripKey. It sure was handy just tapping in and out of our trams and trains! I put 50€ to start and added another 50€ halfway through our stay; it still has about 30€ for me to start off the next trip. We never found a good tram map or app but managed to make it work for us. I really appreciated the updated electronic signage at stops and on the trams and trains, but I never did figure out where all the stops around Dam Square are… My husband has knee and back problems, so visiting some of the sights was challenging – the Rembrandt House Museum, for example. Rick warns about steep stairs in some of his descriptions, but I guess he figures by the time you get to the Rembrandt House you are used to it! Fortunately, there was a nice guard who pointed out folding seats available in many rooms, if you need a break. The other museums we visited – Resistance Museum, Amsterdam Museum, Mauritshuis and Historical Museum in Den Haag, Catharijneconvent Museum in Utrecht – generally had seats in many rooms, as well as elevators.

When planning a trip, I usually rough out the places we want to go, buy plane tickets, make a list of interesting sights with open days/hours, then find lodging. This time I failed to notice that the American Pilgrim Museum in Leiden is closed Monday through Wednesday, which were the days we had available for our day trip to Leiden. We did the Boerhaave Museum instead, but I hope to get back to Leiden some day and see what I missed. The open-air museums at Enkhuizen and near Arnhem were not really open, either; I’m hoping to get to at least one of those in June. I also had several botanical gardens on my list, but early/mid-March was just too early for most flowers. Next year, I’ll try to do an April trip.

[to be continued]

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Lodging:

We started and ended the trip with nights in Amsterdam; we stayed at Best Western Dam Square, which is about 100 feet from our daughter’s apartment. It worked out well for us; good access to the tram network for places too far to walk, and lots of places to eat nearby. The hotel has an elevator, which was important for my husband. Our first stay, 4 nights, was on the top floor and was very quiet; our second room was on the 1st floor [or 2d floor, if you’re speaking American], and there was a little street noise at night. Beds were comfortable; closets small but adequate. They had a pleasant breakfast room with the usual assortment of cereals, yogurts, breads/rolls, cheeses, meats, and eggs. Staff were very helpful and friendly.

Our other hotel was the Mary K in Utrecht; we were on the ground floor in the Greenhouse, which opens onto a small terrace and garden. It was a bit too cold and wet to take advantage of that during our stay, but would be lovely in summer. It was less than a mile from the train station; we took a taxi rather than drag our suitcases, but it’s also close to the Neude bus stop which we used to get to our sightseeing. The room and bathroom were spacious, and the bed was very comfortable. We had ordered the Mary K big breakfast, and it was huge! Juice, coffee, eggs, a basket of large white and brown rolls and croissants, homemade jam, and delicious yogurt and granola. If I go again I’ll ask if breakfast comes in a smaller size… Our other three nights were in Zoetermeer, outside of Den Haag, at friends of friends; the only problem there was no good place nearby for dinner.

Restaurants:

We had a lot of good food while we were there! Here are the places I’d go back to on a future trip:
In Amsterdam, near our hotel on Dam Square, we ate once at a new burger place called Ellis – I had the portabella burger with grilled vegetables and goat cheese, and my companions all had some form of hamburger. It’s a chain, just expanded into central Amsterdam. We ate 3 times at De Pilserij, two doors down from our hotel in the other direction from Ellis Burger. The second and third times, they recognized us and offered free appetizers or dessert – a nice surprise. The menu has a good range including soups, fish, meat, and pasta; my favorite entrée was the pasta with mushrooms, and I also really enjoyed my smoked eel on toast with crème fraiche and pickles. It sounds odd but was very tasty. Dined one night at Hulscher’s in De Port Van Cleeve hotel; we were trying for the bar which had been recommended, but when they heard we wanted to eat they sent us to the restaurant. I had a nice root-vegetable soup and the duck breast appetizer. Outside of the Dam area, we had outstanding meals at Lunchcafe Studio 2, on Singel near the Flower market. My scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, and mushrooms were so good I ordered it again on our second visit. The big splurge was Kitchen + Bar Van Rijn, at Rembrandtplein.

Zoetermeer – we ate one dinner at a business hotel, the Bastion, near where we were staying … not great. Fortunately we didn’t have to return.

Den Haag – lunch at the Mauritshuis museum; my onion soup was spiced with mace, cloves, and bay so a bit unexpected; husband had bread with hummus and grilled vegetables, which was very tasty. Pleasant early dinner at Eetcafe Cloos, on our way back to the train station.

Leiden – dinner at Sisaket, close to the train station; good Thai food and lots of it! I wanted fried bananas for dessert but just couldn’t fit any in…

Utrecht – De Zwarte Vosch was close to our hotel on Oudegracht; they serve tapas and pinchos, and I can’t remember all the things we ate. But they were good! Lunch at Graaf Floris, near the Dom was also pleasant, and the fireplace was a nice touch on the cool and damp afternoon.

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Thanks for taking the time to write your first installment. I'm anxiously waiting for more tidbits as we leave for the Netherlands--Zandvoort--in two weeks!

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Activities

We did That Dam Tour Guide tour with Rob in Amsterdam on our second day; he was informative and lively and had some great suggestions for further reading and eating. The monthly flea market at IJ Hallen took place on our first weekend, so daughter and I took the ferry there and spent an hour or so wandering through the hundreds of stalls, becoming increasingly dazed… We did find a nice jewelry display and picked up a couple of things for a very reasonable price that we will use for historical costuming. The ferry was fun but I wouldn’t want to be taking it back and forth every day as a tourist. We also visited a number of other places, but those are well-covered in the RS guide and other tourist guides - I found the new Fodor's very helpful too.

In Leiden, we spent an hour or so at the Hortus Botanicus; it was a lovely sunny day and a peaceful retreat, but few flowers were out in mid-March. I’ll have to go back. We also took a canal tour with Bootjes en Broodjes, who use electric boats that were very quiet; a great way to see the city. We found the Boerhaave Museum a bit disappointing; there was less English than I expected, and the English guide on a tablet that you can borrow from the front desk was not well keyed to the large number of items in each room. The Museum also has a lot of up and down, so my husband retreated to the café while I wandered.

In Utrecht, we spent a morning at a wonderful exhibit of medieval illuminated manuscripts at the Catharijneconvent Museum; it was especially interesting to see all the secular examples, since most of the illuminations I have seen were for sacred texts. In the afternoon, we wandered around looking at cathedrals and also stumbled across a great bookstore with a large English-language section; I didn’t buy anything but was very tempted by Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word. Just what I need – more places to travel and buy books!

I really enjoyed the trip and look forward to visiting again. There is still so much I want to see in Amsterdam and beyond. Thanks to everyone for the help you provided to make our trip great!

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4000 posts

We love, love, love Amsterdam. We had our second trip a few summers ago and stayed 9 days. Still didn't see everything on our list. We did day trips to Delft, Haarlem, Edam, and Brugges. Will try and get to Utrecht, De Haag, etc on our next trip. Thanks for the report, will take notes for the future.

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1393 posts

Enjoyed the report. Look forward to hearing about your June trip.

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1056 posts

Kathleen, thanks for your trip report. I must admit that I share your reluctance to write a report for fear it won’t be as lively, humorous and entertaining as those by the esteemed Mike Beebe. Your report was great and it was good to hear about a few things I have missed in Amsterdam. I’ll be going to Vienna, Hallstatt, Salzburg and Nürnberg this winter to visit my niece, see the Christmas markets and do a bit of reminiscing. My husband and I were married in and lived in Nürnberg for several years and I am curious to see how the city has changed since the 70’s. Let’s see if I can, in your words, “pull up my socks” and manage to do a trip report.

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6374 posts

Thanks, Kathleen. Don't worry about not living up to Mike's standard; who can?

We're headed to the Netherlands in a couple of weeks, so I appreciate all your comments. Do you know if the American Pilgrim Museum is open on Sundays? We're going to be in Leiden from a Sunday afternoon through the following Thursday morning. Flying out that Thursday, so it doesn't count as a sightseeing day.

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Hi Kathleen
Loved your report. I've been twice with friends to amsterdam. 2016 was okay only because i had an issue with my meniscus (OUCH), never heard of it. went at my own pace, some days friends went wherever and other days they had the patience to stay near me. saw a lot. took the tram from out apartment on prinsengracht and anstel to rembrandt plaza. it was happening, street entertainment, bars, cafes, kids playing on the grass, had an empanada at argentine steak house, glass of wine outside cafe, several stalls selling things, marijuana in the air then tram back. next day to albert cuypmarket, i liked it, pedestrian only blocks and blocks of everything. canal cruise, private taxi tour of 6-7 hours to fishing villages, windmills, cheese/dairy farm. (if interested let me know). 2017 stayed on a houseboat in jordaan area. had 2 friends never been to europe, took them all over with seeing places we'd seen, nighttime canal cruise to see lights was great. BIKES BIKES everywhere, be careful not to get run over or run into one! gorgeous scenery, bridges, dutch houses, parks, nice and friendly people. It's a very busy city and it's expensive, things to know ahead of time. do research, buy tickets early to what you want to see, bring comfortable shoes, lots of steep stairs to climb with luggage. Just go have a great time and enjoy.
aloha

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33329 posts

Thanks for such a helpful report. You've mentioned a few places that I didn't know of to try out on my next visit.

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809 posts

Jane, unfortunately the American Pilgrim Museum is only open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, so no luck for you this visit. Have a great trip!

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6374 posts

Thanks, Kathleen; that's what I remembered, but I was hoping it had changed. Oh well, plenty to do and see without that one.

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1205 posts

Very nice trip report. Thank you for sharing. I have been wanting to go on the Holland/Beligum tour for a while now so I very much enjoy reading about Amsterdam. I was there in the mid 1990's so it is time to go back. Hopefully in the next year or two. I hope you write another trip report on your time in June. Love to hear more about the gardens and flowers as there was not much in March. But in June you should find the botanical gardens on your list to be filled with lovely flowers. Always my favorite to go to botanical gardens.

What is the anonymous OV chipkaart, and the TripKey? It sounds like it is fairly easy to get around Amsterdam.

Sounds like you covered a lot of places and had a great time.

Best,
Ann

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2349 posts

there is a brunch canal boat reallyniceplace.com if anyone interested. we did a private ride for lunch that was more expensive but just a fun day on the canals.
aloha

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Ann, i posted a question before my trip about Tripkey and the OV chipkaart and got several helpful replies explaining them, especially the last reply by Floris. Sorry I can’t figure out how to post the link from my iPhone, but if you search the Forum for Tripkey you will see my post, from late February.

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444 posts

Thanks for the report! We have 3 days in Amsterdam in May, I always appreciate people's restaurant/activity recommendations! :)

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Nicely done report....no need to be nervous, as there are great people on this site. I really like reading restaurant reviews, as my current project will involve a trip to Amsterdam at least once per month for the next year. I've gone three times so far, but have been too busy with work to seriously investigate restaurants. Since I typically am by myself, I tend to hit the smaller cafes (Cafe Wheels, Cafe Van Zuylen) for a quick meal and a beer. I'm taking notes!!!!

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985 posts

Kathleen, thanks for a well done trip report. I enjoy especially reading about places that people have visited and eaten in the Netherlands. We've spent a total of nine weeks in Amsterdam and the Netherlands over the last three years and have loved everything about it.

I too could not find a decent tram app. What I did was find a really nice tram route pic on google and copied the photo into a travel folder on my phone. It came in very handy when I didn't have wireless access to call up a route map/app in London, Paris, and Amsterdam.

We too loved Cafe Wheels in the Nine Streets. Such a quirky little bar with good burgers. Both our first and second trips to Amsterdam involved all walking and trains to other cities, but not tram use. We really got to know the city well by walking so much. Gosh, just thinking about the beauty of the flowers and buildings almost brings a tear to my eye. Our last trip we rode trams a lot and though it was a huge time saver it wasn't the same for me.

To me, Arnhem is only fun when they have all of the artisans working in their buildings.

Although not as exciting as Arnhem, Enkhuizen is very much worth the trip for a days outing when the open air part is open.

We loved the pilgrim museum. So much history imparted during our tour. We combined that day in Leiden with the floating Christmas market. There were still quite a few museums in Leiden that we missed so I would like to go back and spend several days staying in the city. Christmas is a fun time in Amsterdam/Netherlands with several Christmas markets. We really like the Westergasfabriek Funky Christmas market although the market at museumplein was good too. I'd try to make a trip over to visit at Christmas if I could.