For many tourists, what happens in Amsterdam, stays in Amsterdam. If the city’s image has become sex and drugs, without the rock and roll, I’m here to dispel the myth of that branding. Amsterdam for us was history, architecture, art and food - all the soul-filling stuff you’re seeking while on vacation.
In August we joined a million other tourists in the capital of Holland making the lives of the bicycling locals miserable. We stood on street corners, consulting the GPS on our phones or taking selfies in front of the canals, preventing the poor Dutch from going about their daily errands. It’s my dream that one day I, too, will be annoyed by all the tourists converging on Cleveland.
In the brief three days we spent in Amsterdam and it’s neighboring village of Giethoorn, we managed to squeeze in many great experiences. Fortunately, we brought sturdy walking shoes.
We had reserved an apartment through Airbnb months in advance in a quiet neighborhood west of downtown. The weather was warm and dry so we parked our rental car and made our way around mostly on foot, using Uber occasionally at the end of the day.
Amsterdam was made, however, for bikes. They are literally everywhere. Racks and racks of them are parked outside residential areas. The bike lanes must be crossed carefully, just like our roads, or the pedestrian will be sorry. Bikes are without doubt the primary mode of transportation and the smooth, flat bike lanes throughout the city facilitate a very healthy, environmentally friendly way of life.
We utilized the pathways through the Vondelpark to make our way to the Rijksmuseum one Sunday morning. The park was filled with picnickers and strollers, joggers and, more bikes. The park ends at the entrance to the city center, which is accessed through the tunnel through the Rijksmuseum.
You can easily spend all day at the Rijksmuseum, visiting the Dutch masters like Rembrandt’s Nightwatch and a collection of Vermeers, but we enjoyed the main attractions by uploading the museum’s free app and selecting a highlights tour. The app is particularly good at guiding you through the museum’s intricate layout to the next featured exhibit. The museum has a truly amazing set of model ships and an antique dollhouse which shouldn’t be missed.
We met friends at the top of the Doubletree Hotel in the Skylounge for lunch after taking in the art. The Skylounge has rooftop dining with a spectacular view of the city. They also serve traditional bitterballen - deep-fried balls of batter-coated veal. As a public service, I recommend caution to avoid scorching the roof of your mouth. On the advice of our local friends, we took the canal tour the next day and then visited Giethoorn on our way to the next destination.
The canal tour was by far the best way to view the city’s harbor. The science museum, by architect Renzo Piano, dominated the harbor. We passed underneath the nose of a life-size replica of a Dutch ship from the era when the Dutch ruled the seas. Returning to the canals from the harbor, we had a terrific view of the mansions of the wealthy lining the eastern canals. The recorded tour commentary was rather inane but the sights were worth every minute.
One advantage to having the rental car, as opposed to traveling by plane, train or bus, was being able to make side trips. Giethoorn is about an hour and a half northeast of Amsterdam, a little out of our way but decidedly worth the road trip.
We had two options for touring the picturesque town of Giethoorn, nicknamed the “Dutch Venice” because all of the “streets” are canals. We could climb aboard a charter boat with other tourists, or rent our own. Thanks to TripAdvisor, we learned where to rent a small skiff with an electric outboard motor. Then the adventure began. Apparently the rental places are unconcerned about the boating skills of those they rent their boats to. Although those skills were clearly lacking in many tourists navigating the route of the tour, there was really no way to be injured or damage the equipment in this giant game of bumper boats. We had a delightful time on the water and the thatched-roofed farmhouses were so quaint, they almost seemed like a Hollywood set.
We left Holland for Berlin later that afternoon but we took some awesome memories with us.
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