I started my two-week trip with 3 days and 3 nights in Amsterdam. Though I'd been there 3 times already, there were still many things I hadn't seen yet. At the airport I had to buy my train ticket to Centraal Station (about 4 euros) from a manned desk because the ticket machines only took chip and PIN credit cards. Signs in English specified this! I have a Capital One Visa chip and signature card without PIN capability, according to a rep I talked to at Capital One.
I bought a 48-hour transit pass which cost 12 euros and was a great deal. I took trams on both full days that I was in the city.
One of the sights I toured in Amsterdam was the Museum of Our Lord in the Attic (great name!). It's comprised of two 17th-century canal houses which share a wall. Families lived on the bottom stories - the kitchens and living/sleeping quarters remain, including the beds they used then. Called bed boxes, they are about half the length of modern beds and are nooks in walls. People at that time slept half-reclining on pillows, which seems very uncomfortable. The third through fifth stories in both houses contain a miniature Catholic church, with pews on the "ground" floor and an upper gallery. Catholics in 17th-century Amsterdam weren't allowed to practice their religion openly, so they created these hidden churches inside ordinary canal houses. There were many hidden churches but this one is the only one or one of very few remaining. I took the audio tour which was very interesting. It discusses details you might not notice otherwise, such as a decorative doorframe that looks like marble but is actually wood painted to resemble marble.
The highlight of my visit was a tour of the Six Collection, a private art collection in a grand canal house. The Six family's ancestor, Jan Six, had his portrait painted by Rembrandt. This picture is in the family home when it isn't on loan at museums. Every firstborn male in each generation is named Jan Six. The newest member, Jan Six XII, is three years old. The family doesn't use the first two floors of the house except for special events; they live on the top two floors. The collection is made up mostly of family portraits created through the centuries, and a lot of decorative objects. The rooms are beautiful, like a mini Versailles: decorative panels on the walls, sumptuous wallpaper, beautifully upholstered furniture. Behind the house is a lovely garden. The tour is free, but you have to go to the website and fill out a form to request a visit. You must print the e-mail and bring it with you to the house; they take the printout when you arrive. The family receives federal money to take care of the collection and as a result, they're required to open the collection to visitors.
Of course I went to the Rijksmuseum (I was there only once, in 2007) and spent 5 hours there. One of the benefits of traveling alone is that no one is at you saying they're hungry or tired or asking when can we leave.
Then I took the train to Hamburg from Centraal Station, to visit a friend there. I bought my ticket online on the Bahn website. It was very easy. I changed trains in Osnabrueck with a 15-minute "layover". When my train came up on the TV monitor at the correct track, the monitor announced Berlin Hbf and I freaked out for a second. Where was my train to Osnabrueck? But then all of the stops came up, and my change destination was there. Whew!
I hadn't been to Hamburg since July 2010, during the awful heat wave that struck Europe. This time it was rainy and cool, and my friend and I did a lot in 4 full days. He's a high-school teacher, and he also volunteers to teach German to refugees from countries like the Congo and Somalia. The evening that I arrived, we went on a harbor tour with a fellow teacher and the eight class members.