Cities which grew around its canals have a deep rooted history. Amsterdam, Dam in the river Amstel in Netherlands and Bruges in Belgium are no exceptions.
The best way to explore any city is by walking or cycling. And in Amsterdam, you can do both. The free-walking tour of Amsterdam by Sandemans runs daily at various timings and starts from National Monument in Dam Square. This 3-hour guided walking tour gives a flavour of the city. I really admired Statue of Greek God, Atlas, carrying the world, which is placed on the rooftop of the Royal Palace near Dam Square, also hyped as World’s Eighth Wonder.
One can also ask these guides from Sandemans for various suggestions about the city at the end of the walking tour. Food being most important, our guide suggested that we try traditional Dutch Stamppot at Café Sonneveld in Jordaan, Amsterdam. While Stamppot was out of stock, we tried grilled fish and it was amazing. Few steps from Café Sonneveld is Monte Pelmo, a tiny ice-cream parlour which is a must-try. This was the only place after Anne Frank’s house, where I saw a long queue of people waiting for their turn.
To skip the long queue outside Anne Frank’s house which generally takes 3 hours to get in, I did an online reservation for a 30-minute introductory programme at the venue after which one can visit the house with an audio guide. Online reservations can be done two weeks prior to the date of visit but this is highly recommended as you can walk-in at the scheduled time without any wait time.
Anne Frank was hiding in a room which was connected to her father’s company, Opekta. In 1942, she started writing the diary. Her brother was the one who survived the Holocaust as he was in London and her father was the only survivor in hiding place. She was hiding there for 2 years with her family which meant she never stepped out of that small room or made any noise during working hours. To the extent that the family did not use flush or tap water during the day as the sound of water would make the workers in Opekta aware about this hiding place. Anne Frank’s diary is written in Dutch instead of German which is her mother tongue as she did her schooling in Netherlands when she was 13 years old. After reading excerpts from her diary, I realised that she was far more matured than her age.
One of my favourite quotes from her diary is, ‘I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death’. I love to read her quotes – https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/3720.Anne_Frank – her strong words penetrate in one’s soul.
Anne Frank’s house is a must-visit and do not miss the markings on walls which were done by her mother to measure height of Anne and her sister as they grew over those year. Her house will surely take you back in history.
While the tulips were not in bloom, it was a good idea to visit Tulip’s museum which is across Anne Frank’s house. The scented tulip sheets were mind blowing. People also buy tulip bulbs from the museum’s shop for their gardens. Tulips take a year to grow but are in bloom for few days only.
Homestay with my Dutch host, Nanda Engel, in IJburg was the best part of this trip. Everyday started with Dutch breakfast and I loved eating colourful fruit hagel sprinkled on bread and butter. Thank you so much, Nanda. 🙂
It is very easy to move around in Amsterdam as the city is very well connected with trams. The daily or weekly tram pass is most convenient and economical. Rijksmuseum, which hosts Dutch art and history, is one of the most beautiful and spacious museum I have seen. The paintings there are so intricate. The famous painting of ‘The Milkmaid’ by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer is as real as a painting can be. The famous landmark I AMsterdam is right outside Rijksmuseum where all tourists flock.
When it comes to shopping, one cannot miss Waterlooplein, the oldest flea market in Amsterdam and also in Netherlands. The colourful stalls and food trucks are sure to make one wander all-day. While Bagels are not traditionally Dutch, I highly recommend dropping by Bagel & Beans in Waterlooplein. They have exceptionally tasty Bagels and I really loved their Tuna with melted cheddar cheese and hummus with rocket leaves.
The weather changes quite unexpectedly in Amsterdam. The bright blue skies can turn into dark clouds pouring rains. In a span of 4 days, the weather changed from breezy cold mornings to long sunny days to rainy hours.
While Amsterdam is very lively and has its own beauty, the canal tours in Bruges, Belgium are more appealing than canals in Amsterdam. Bruges is a small magical place and quite different from Amsterdam. There are day trips from Amsterdam to Bruges and one can hop on to those or book a Viator tour in advance. The journey from Amsterdam to Bruges is quite picturesque and there are many beautiful small houses with gardens.
Bruges is a very small city and it is all about Beguines in Beguinage, Belfort tower complex, Market and Burg Square. Beer is cheaper than water in Bruges and their local dish Rabbit in Beer is quite famous. I loved their traditional fish soup, Waterzooi of North Sea Fish and Rouille, at Brasserie de Carré in Market Square, which has pieces of various fishes and shrimps, also a favorite of Flemish King Charles.
While the city life is quite colourful and lively, the real beauty lies in the countryside of Netherlands, Zaanse Schans, which has a collection of well-preserved windmills. A trip to Netherlands is incomplete without visit to Cheese factory in Volendam, The Wooden shoe (clogs) factory in Marken and my favourite Marken Express cruise which sails in ‘Zuider’ sea (Zuiderzee).