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Three Reasons to Stay on A Houseboat in Amsterdam

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View from houseboat #2.

Amsterdam is famous for its winding canals, picturesque city bridges and cool, relaxed city life. That is unless you’re traveling on the left side of the bicycle lane, and in that case you’re on your own!

Having the opportunity to visit a classic city like Amsterdam may seem like a dream come true What better way to stay than right in the heart of on the city’s most famous landmark: the canals! I’m lucky enough to have stayed for three weeks this summer on one of Amsterdam’s famous houseboats, equipped with beautiful views of the water of course!

View from houseboat #2.
View from houseboat #2.
View from houseboat #1.
View from houseboat #1.

Today, there are around 2500 houseboats docked along the streets of Amsterdam. They typically provide the same amenities as a regular apartment- living room, bathroom, bedroom, kitchen and dining room.

Read on for my top reasons to stay on a houseboat in Amsterdam!

1. A truly unique experience…

There aren’t many places in the world that is built on water like Amsterdam, let alone offers travelers to option to stay right on the water itself. There are three types of houseboats. The first two are typically older, and may still have the potential to sail, while the last is completely docked.

  • Houseship, which is an old cargoship that has been refurbished, dating back to the early 1900s
Houseship
Houseship. Taken by Nola Tularosa via flickr.
  • Housevessel, has the hull of the old sheep with the deck and steering house completely removed to build structure that is only meant to be lived on.
Housevessel. By © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15177792
Housevessel. By © Jorge Royan, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Ark, a houseboat designed solely for living. They are typically built on concrete hulls and can even be multiple stories!
Ark. By User SeanMack on en.wikipedia - This is an image I took myself using an Olympus C8080W digital camera., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1056442
Ark. By User SeanMack on en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0,

2. Steeped in history

Water and Amsterdam have long been intertwined, far before the concept of the houseboat was born. Historically, sailors and merchants would transport goods with the boat and live with the family below deck. Once the ship owner retired, they would dock the ship and then continue to live on it. Although, this wouldn’t have been much of a luxury experience at the time.

After World War II, the city was suffering from a housing shortage and decided to turn old vessels into homes. It was considered very cheap at the time and most people would still be able to travel with the boat where they liked.

During the 60s and 70s the more modern version of the houseboat was born- the ark. This allowed for more colorful and creative designs as well as increased the comfort level of living on a boat.

3. You’re in the heart of the action!

Many of Amsterdam’s houseboats are located right in the city center. What’s a better way to get a feel for the hustle and bustle of city life without actually having to be on the streets than lounging on the top deck of your houseboat sipping on an Amstel beer? Not much my friends, not much.

Canals of Amsterdam

Luckily, there are many options to rent houseboats online to prepare for your trip. Airbnb is a great place to start. The houseboats can sometimes be more expensive than the traditional apartment. But it is definitely worth it to get the experience at least for a few nights!

A Moving Remembrance at the Anne Frank House

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Original copy of the Diary of Anne Frank from 1947. By Gonzalort1 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

A visit to the Anne Frank House Museum in Amsterdam is an incredibly moving, insightful experience that continues to serve as a reminder the importance of human rights, tolerance and acceptance for others, regardless of differences.

Entrance to the Anne Frank House. Taken by Saadick Dhansay via Flickr.
Entrance to the Anne Frank House. Taken by Saadick Dhansay via Flickr.

The Anne Frank House museum itself is located at Prinsengracht 263-267, right around the corner from the West Church in Amsterdam. The rear section, referred to as Achterhuis (Secret Annex), is where the young Jewish Anne Frank, her family and four others remained in hiding from Nazi persecution between June 14, 1942 and August 1, 1944.

Front doors of the original entrance of Anne Frank's house. Taken by liddybits via Flickr.
Front doors of the original entrance of Anne Frank’s house. Taken by liddybits via Flickr.

Anne, Her Family and the Others in Hiding at the Anne Frank House

Anne Frank was born in the German town of Frankfurt am Main on June 12, 1929. Her early years were happy and carefree, but as Hitler began to rise to power, spreading his messages of anti-Semitism throughout, Anne’s parents began to fear persecution and thus decided to move to the Netherlands.

Young Anne Frank at School in 1940. By Unknown photographer; Collectie Anne Frank Stichting Amsterdam (Website Anne Frank Stichting, Amsterdam) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Young Anne Frank at School in 1940. By Unknown photographer; Collectie Anne Frank Stichting Amsterdam (Website Anne Frank Stichting, Amsterdam) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Her father, Otto Frank, set up his business in Amsterdam and for some years they enjoyed a happy life there. Threat of war continued to increase, however, and the family sought to immigrate to safer locations such as England or the U.S.A., though this never materialized. When the German troops invaded the Netherlands on May 10, 1940 it was clear that Anne and her family were not going to be safe for long. Anti-Jewish regulations soon were put into place such as restricting where and when Jews could go certain places.

The family then decided to go into hiding the back area of Otto’s warehouse, along with the help of some of his employees, Johannes Kleiman and Victor Kugler and later Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, Miep’s husband Jan Gies and warehouse boss Johannes Voskuijl, Bep’s father. They are joined by another family, the Van Pels, and later another friend of Otto’s, Fritz Pfeffer. In total there were eight people that lived in hiding in the Secret Annex.

When visiting the actual location of the Secret Annex, you can only begin to imagine what life would have been like for eight people to live in such as small space, even though this was relatively large for people in hiding at the time. They had to stay very quiet, in fear of being discovered by the workers downstairs. Furthermore, they were completely dependent on the helpers, who would bring food, clothing, books and other necessities.

The entrance to the hiding place was behind a moveable bookshelf, which is still in the museum today.

Moveable bookshelf which concealed the entrance to the Secret Annex. Taken by Emma Line via Flickr.
Moveable bookshelf which concealed the entrance to the Secret Annex. Taken by Emma Line via Flickr.

Before going into hiding, Anne’s parents gave her a diary for her birthday. This would serve as her salvation during the time in hiding. She writes:

“The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings, otherwise I’d absolutely suffocate.”

The Diary Lives On

On August 4, 1944, the authorities are given an anonymous tip about the Secret Annex and they arrest all eight of the people in hiding, including two helpers Johannes Kleiman and Victor Kugler. Despite extensive investigations, it is still not clear who betrayed the families. After the families has been taken away, the two other helpers who were not arrested, Miep Gies and Bep Voskuijl, go up to the Secret Annex and save Anne’s diary.

Anne’s father Otto is the only one to survive the war. Upon returing to the Netherlands, he learns that his family has all died, he stays with Miep and Jan Gies and remains with them for another seven years. Miep gives Otto Anne’s diary, and when reading it he is completely moved by her words.

She expresses a desire for the writing to be published as a novel, and Otto wishes to fulfill this for his daughter. He contacts some historians, including Jan Romein, who writes a short article about Anne’s diary in the Dutch newspaper “Het Parool”, April 3, 1946.

“To me, however, this apparently inconsequential diary by a child… stammered out in a child’s voice, embodies all the hideousness of fascism, more so than all the evidence at Nuremberg put together.”

A few publishers are interested and on June 25, 1947 it is published in an edition of 3,000 copies. Today, Anne’s story has become world famous, published in countless languages all over the world.

Original copy of the Diary of Anne Frank from 1947. By Gonzalort1 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.
Original copy of the Diary of Anne Frank from 1947. By Gonzalort1 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

The Anne Frank House Museum

In 1960, the Anne Frank House officially became a museum, and Otto Frank is heavily involved until his death in 1980. The Anne Frank House is the third most visited museum in the Netherlands, which is remarkable considering actually how small it is.

When I visited it was during the off-season for tourism so the wait was not extensive, but during the more popular months you can expect to wait for hours. This shouldn’t be a discouragement, however. It was one of the most interesting and moving museums that I have ever been to. It is so important that we continue to be reminded to the ramifications and suffering that can come from intolerance for others.

[Anne Frank]

The up-and-coming Amsterdam NDSM Neighborhood

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Like many European cities on the water, Amsterdam used to be a center of the shipbuilding industry.

While water still remains an important economical aspect, the massive space of the deserted shipyard in Amsterdam North (NDSM) was in total decay- up until the 1990s when it started to become a haven for artists, squatters and skaters. Today, it is undertaking a total redevelopment and becoming one of the most unique and trendy spaces in the entire city.

Just a short ride away from Amsterdam Central Station, is the former shipping wharf area known as the Amsterdam NDSM. You take the (free!) GVB ferry service from the back of the central station. The ride takes about 15 minutes total and gives the opportunity to see the changes happening in Amsterdam’s waterways.

In 1937, the NSM (later known as NDSM), was the largest shipbuilding company worldwide. It later merged with the Dutch shipbuilding company NDM and NDSM (Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij) was born. The industry thrived, building cargo ships, bulk carriers and war ships for the Dutch navy until low demand finally caused NDSM to stop building ships in 1978. It continued to repair ships until finally the doors closed around 1984. This not only meant the golden age of Dutch shipbuilding was over, but there was also the question of what to do with all of the area that was required during its prime. As you can imagine, building ships takes up a lot of space!

During the 1990s, various people, specifically “city nomads” such as craftsmen, artists and aspiring artists settled and named themselves “foundation Kinetisch Noord”. The city council liked the idea, and now provides subsidiaries to the group to further develop the large boathouse and surrounding area, which would otherwise be left for decay.

View into the repurposed NDSM boat house.
View into the repurposed NDSM boat house.

Upon visiting NDSM today, you can see that it has now developed into a space that serves many purposes. Firstly, it provides a workspace for creative and start up companies, even those with very low budgets. It also is a platform for regeneration and repurpose, as seen with the various restaurants, bars and even the three room hotel that is made from the old shipping crane, where you can also bungee jump from!

The Faralda Hotel in an old shipping crane!
The Faralda Hotel in an old shipping crane!

Furthermore, with the building of many office spaces, it appears to be developing into a modern economic hub. Lastly, it has become a popular space of residence, even for students who can live in small shipping containers for about €225 per month!

The Pllek cafe and restaurant NDSM, Amsterdam.
The Pllek cafe and restaurant NDSM, Amsterdam.

We stopped at the Pllek (which means “spot” or “place” in Dutch) for a coffee and a few drinks. It is a really cool bar/restaurant that has been build from the old shipping containers combined with large glass windows, which gives great views of the entire IJ waterfront area. There was a large rocky sand beach, where you could sit on big bean bags, hammocks or lay your own towel down and soak up the sun. It has a really relaxed atmosphere and it also serves as the location for many events. On Friday nights there is music, Saturday night it becomes a club with a DJ and there is live music on Sunday. There is even yoga class there on Saturday and Sunday afternoons too!

On your next visit to Amsterdam be sure to check out this super cool, creative and innovative neighborhood!

[What’s Up With Amsterdam], [Amsterdam Tips]

Rules to Cycle Amsterdam Like a Local

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Want to live like a local during your next visit to Amsterdam?

Ditch the taxi and tour bus, and instead rent yourself a bike to see the city in a way that not only saves money, adds a little exercise to your daily routine, but also gives the perfect opportunity to step into the shoes (or rather, the pedals) of a real Amsterdamian (yep, that’s a real word!).

You can see why everyone in Amsterdam bikes- the city is relatively flat, there are bike lanes everywhere and it is small enough you can bike in a short amount of time. To a visitor riding with the masses whizzing by may seem like a dangerous death wish! Once you get accustomed to the rules of the road, however, it can be a great way to get around. Here are the top 4 rules to cycle Amsterdam like a local:

  • Rule #1: Think of the bike lane like a highway

You wouldn’t stop in the middle of the highway to look at the cute little café or the ornate building you just passed, so don’t do it on the bike path. The majority of riders are not on a sightseeing tour; they have a place to go, which means they won’t be happy if there is something (or someone) blocking the path. If you see something you want to take a closer look at, simply pull over if possible. Just make sure you signal your turn by pointing you finger in the intended direction, so that the others behind you know they may have to slow a bit.

Sharing the bike lane with a mini car!
Sharing the bike lane with a mini car!

Also, as you will most likely be riding the slowest, make sure to stay to the right and be conscious of other vehicles (bikes, scooters, even mini cars) that will pass on your left. The golden rule is just to stay out of the way, and you’ll be totally fine.

  • Rule #2: Lock the bike carefully

Bike theft is a major concern in the city, with thousands of bikes going missing each year. Most rental shops will recommend and provide two locks, one for the back wheel and the other, a longer chain, to lock the bike to something.

You have a much lower chance of having the bike stolen if you lock it to a proper fixed secure spot, such as the bike parking spots provided. When locking the bike, make sure you loop some of the chain through the main body as well as the front.

Also pay attention to where you lock the bike. There have been instances where the authorities remove bicycles that are not locked to the designated areas. You can also pay extra for theft/damage insurance for a few euros per day to relieve some theft stress.

  • Rule #3: Try to blend in

Many popular tourist bike rental shops have bikes that are brightly colored and stick out among the used, run-down bikes that many of the locals ride. This could be a good idea initially, because riders may be more cautious around and it may be easier to spot your group in bigger crowds.

Locals biking in Amsterdam. Taken from PROschermpeter42 via Flickr.
Locals biking in Amsterdam. Taken from PROschermpeter42 via Flickr.

However, you may have a more pleasant experience, including not being shouted at by angry locals you almost get run over by, if you have a bike that blends in. You can find plenty of more “low-key” rental shops throughout the city that could offer black bikes or even a collection of different bikes for your group. The quality may not be as good as the big chains, but you’ll fit in perfectly with the locals, like these girls here.

  • Rule #4: Practice caution first

There is no reason to genuinely feel intimidated or scared about riding bikes in Amsterdam, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep a cautious eye out at all times. Think of it as being a defensive driver.

Also, in a city that offers many opportunities to alter your state of mind, always make sure you ride the bikes sober and expect that at night other riders may be intoxicated. Getting in accident or in trouble with the law would really put a damper on your visit, and we wouldn’t want that!

Featured image taken from Julio Greff via Flickr.

Thai Phutakun: Authentic and Delicious Thai food in the Heart of Amsterdam

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Green curry with coconut milk and vegetables (left) and tofu with cashews in a sweet sauce from Thai Phutakun.

Ever had the craving for some great Thai food? Well, if you’re anywhere near Amsterdam, you’re in luck!

Located in the heart of the city Thai Phutakun is the number one Thai restaurant in Amsterdam, according to Tripadvisor, and number 42 of 2,749 of all the restaurants in the whole of Amsterdam. Believe me, they know what they’re talking about.

Just a short backstory… one of my least favorite parts of visiting a new city is eating at the super touristy restaurants in the city center. The food appears to be delicious, the staff is seemingly so welcoming with their various discounts, but at the end I always end up feeling overcharged and dissatisfied. Throughout my travels, I’ve become so aware of the fact that many of the restaurants located in the city center (or typical tourist areas) don’t have regular diners, instead just travelers that will only eat there once. Therefore, the quality of food and experience doesn’t have to be good enough to make anyone ever come back, and usually, it isn’t.

There are the rare exceptions, however, and following a recommendation from a friend, we went to Thai Phukatun for dinner. And it was so good I just had to write an article about it.

Thai Phutakun, Amsterdam
Thai Phutakun, Amsterdam

Located in the Canal ring of Amsterdam, the restaurant is a short walk or (even shorter) bike ride from many of the main attractions including the Rembrant House Museum.

Co-Owner Erixx behind the kitchen counter. (Nice enough to pose for a photo for me).

Husband and wife owners Erixx and Nong started Thai Phukatun seven years ago. At first, the business was slow to build up, Nong had previously owned a separate restaurant with her sister, but then they decided to divide it in two. In the past two years, however, it has totally taken off on Tripadvisor, winning the Certificate of Excellence in 2014 and 2015.

Today, Erixx works mostly in the front of the house, waiting tables, hosting guests, etc. During our first visit there (yes, we’ve already gone twice in less than two weeks), we were really impressed by how professional and great the service was. Wife, Nong splits her time between the cooking up the delicious cuisine, kitchen management and being the “architect of the menu”, according to Erixx

Then, of course, I can’t forget about the food! My family is vegetarian, and I sometimes try to eat that way as well, so we decided on a variety of vegetarian dishes during our visit. I like my food super spicy, and my sister not spicy at all, which was absolutely taken into account and seasoned perfectly to our preferences.

Green curry with coconut milk and vegetables (left) and tofu with cashews in a sweet sauce from Thai Phutakun.
Green curry with coconut milk and vegetables (left) and tofu with cashews in a sweet sauce from Thai Phutakun.

Something very distinct for me as well was the freshness of the food. Not only was it just normal freshness you would expect, but also it tasted as if it just left the farm, with the perfect crunch and texture. According to owner Erixx:

“All ingredients are fresh. Because we are very small, we have to do shopping two to three times per week depending on how busy it is. So, everything is fresh, always.”

“All the ingredients are originally Thai, and what we are doing is authentic Thai meals.”

Overall, this was one of my favorite restaurants I have ever been to, especially considering the location, service, friendliness and of course, the food. Even if you think you don’t like Thai food, believe me, you’ll like Phutakun!

Hanging out at Rembrandt’s House

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The 17th century Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn is generally considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers of his time, and perhaps the most important in Dutch history.

Upon a visit to Amsterdam, we had the unique opportunity of visiting the Rembrandt House Museum, the historic house and art museum where Rembrandt lived and worked between 1639 and 1656.

Throughout his lifetime, Rembrandt produced approximately 300 paintings, 300 etchings and 2,000 drawings, many of which are available for public viewing at various prestigious museums worldwide. He considered himself mostly a history and portrait painter, but as well, sought to be a master of all styles. Some of his most famous works include Nightwatch and The Jewish Bride, which are both on display at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Rembrandt was born to a modest family in the town of Leiden, The Dutch Republic (today the Netherlands) on July 15, 1606. From a young age, Rembrandt showed great talent as a portrait painter. Though he attended Latin school, he showed far more interest in painting and became an apprentice to already successful painters both in Leiden and then Amsterdam. Because he was so quick to master the skills, he opened his own studio with his friend and colleague Jan Lievens (Dutch painter) and began teaching students, even though he was just 22 at the time.

Shortly after moving to Amsterdam, Rembrandt married the cousin of a successful art dealer, Saskia van Uylenburgh. Together, in 1635, they moved to a newly built home in the upscale Jewish quarter that was in the midst of becoming an upcoming neighborhood (today the Rembrandt House Museum).

Outside of the Rembrant House Museum, Amsterdam.
Outside of the Rembrant House Museum, Amsterdam.

Often, Rembrandt asked his Jewish neighbors to model for his Old Testament scenes. Though Rembrandt was a very well respected and successful artist at the time, he spent great deals of income on other artist’s work or unsuccessful investments. He lost the home due to financial difficulties, and sold most of his items, including his printing press he used to make his world-famous etchings.

Today, Rembrandt’s House has been reconstructed to give visitors the impression of what the 17th century house looked liked during Rembrandt’s residency there. It includes furniture that are mostly not original, as Rembrandt had to sell most of his belongings because of his debts, but comparable to those he may have had.

There is also a great deal of art throughout the house, some by Rembrandt, but mostly be other artists, illustrating Rembrandt’s use of the house for art dealing. Also, his printmaking studio has been set up with a printing press, giving visitors an insight view of how Rembrandt created some of his most famous works.

Printmaking tutorial inside Rembrant House Museum.
Printmaking tutorial inside Rembrant House Museum.

As the museum is not just about the art, but also the house itself, it was a very interactive experience. They offered free audio guides, which told you a great deal about each room you visited, starting from the kitchen on the lowest floor all the way to the small pupil studio on the top floor. In Rembrandt’s main studio, for example, there is a paint making tutorial, which shows the visitors how he made the paint himself. Also, they offer free art classes daily in the pupils studio, where visitors can learn to channel their inner master.

Paint making tutorial at the Rembrandt House Museum.
Paint making tutorial at the Rembrandt House Museum.

Overall, it was a great experience, and I would highly recommend visiting, even if museums aren’t your favorite activity. It costs 12,50 euro for adults and 10,00 euro for students to enter. The Museum is also very centrally located and offers a great insight into one of the most famous masters of all time.

[The Rembrandt House], [Rijksmuseum], [Wikipedia]

Featured image from Nenyaki via Flickr.

Amsterdam Coffeeshop Etiquette

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Yes, it’s legal. Yes you can just walk into a store and buy some marijuana. But did you know that there is actually some etiquette involved at the coffee shops in Amsterdam?

Coffeeshop in Amsterdam. Taken by mac_filko via Flickr.
Coffeeshop in Amsterdam. Taken by mac_filko via Flickr.

Going to a coffee shop in Amsterdam, or Holland in general can go a few ways:

  1. You may feel a little intimidated. They are typically pretty dark and while the employees are friendly, it’s not the kind of welcome you would expect at the local Friendly’s (for my American readers, no pun intended).
  2. Or, you may feel like a kid in a candy shop, able to legally buy it for the first time, woohoo!

Either way, after talking to some locals as well as a few employees at said coffee shops, I learned that there is actually some special rules involved with the purchasing of said goods, at least if you don’t want to appear as a total… noob.

Don’t Freeload

It’s perfectly acceptable to bring in weed from another shop and smoke inside, however, it is considered impolite if you don’t purchase a drink or some other snack from the shop you’re in. Actually, the coffee shops typically have really great coffee and sometimes even organic or fresh squeezed juices. If you’re going with someone who wants to smoke, but you don’t want to yourself, also feel free to order a drink and just enjoy the atmosphere. Some shops even have a cool outdoor space to hang out.

No Alcohol

In 2007 the Dutch government made a rule that you can either serve cannabis or alcohol, but not both. For this reason you won’t find any alcoholic beverages on the coffee shop menu and, like most places in general, it is considered super rude to try to sneak in alcohol.

Ask Questions

You may feel intimidated to ask the seller questions and just pick something because of its silly name. Knowing literally next to nothing about this kind of stuff, I would feel really silly too! But actually, the people behind the counter are used to this kind of thing. They are really helpful and generally are very easily able to help you find what you’re looking for. Once in a while you may meet a big ol’ grump, but as long as you’re polite and not too overexcited wanting more information could never hurt!

There’s a Difference Between Coffeshop, Coffehuis and Café

The term “coffeeshop” refers to the location where cannabis is sold. Coffeehuis is where you can buy a delicious cup of coffee and perhaps a baked good. A café could be a restaurant, where maybe you could also buy a baked good, a meal and a drink, but definitely no marijuana. You can distinguish the difference by the green and white sign on the outside.

Coffeeshop sign, Amsterdam. Taken by Doc Searls via Flickr.
Coffeeshop sign, Amsterdam. Taken by Doc Searls via Flickr.

Don’t Buy Everything at One Place

Prices are generally higher at the more famous coffee shops or the ones in the city center. Branch out a bit to the more residential neighborhoods to the places that cater to a returning customer rather than a million tourists. Depending on what you’re looking for, different places have different specialties. Check out this map to determine your options!

Featured image from Radio Saigón via Flickr.

Biking through Waterland from Amsterdam

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An entire visit to Amsterdam could easily be filled with visits to the many world-famous museums, experiencing the vibrant local nightlife or even just relaxing in the many parks throughout the city. What lies beyond the city borders may surprise you…

Filled with seemingly endless green pastures, magnificent water views, little brick houses and old-world charm, a visit to Waterland is a must-do for anyone visiting Amsterdam. The best part? The region easily accessible from the city, and especially fun by bike!

Located right beside the central station, we chose to rent our bikes with Starbikes. It cost 7 euro per day (9 euro with insurance) for a sturdy bike that suited our trip perfectly. They also provided us with a map of various bike paths depending on what we wanted to see such as the “windmill route” or “water route” and gave us recommendations for their favorite journeys.

The first step is to take the ferry from the central station. It leaves from the same location I noted in the previous article about Amsterdam NDSM, but in this case, we went towards the direction Ijplein, which took about 5 minutes. Upon arrival in Amstedam Noord, it was a little difficult to find the exact bike path we were looking for. We rode along the eastern coast as much as possible, until we finally found route “55”. All of the routes have specific numbers such as “45” and you get from place to place by following the various routes like on a highway.

Once we found our route, we decided to drive along the coastline on an elevated bike route. This wasn’t listed as a designated route, but following advice from our bike rental place that this was the most beautiful, we decided to try it. It was SO windy, and was quite the workout, with the wind pushing against me the whole time. Nevertheless, the scenery was stunning, with blue water to the horizon on your right and endless green pastures with grazing black and white cows, horses and sheep on your left.

Water views along the bike paths in Waterland.
Water views along the bike paths in Waterland.

After visiting the small villages, we decided to take the inland route home. Firstly, it was definitely less windy than the water route, and absolutely as picturesque. Winding through the fields and the charming farmhouses felt like looking through a looking glass to the past. You were close enough to the animals to smell (and not to fear, they did!) but it only added to the feeling of being with nature.

Cows relaxing by a stream along the bike path in Waterland.
Cows relaxing by a stream along the bike path in Waterland.

Overall, it took about an hour and half to bike from the city center to the most northern village of Edam. It was a bit more strenuous than I had originally expected though the route was relatively flat, mostly due to the wind. At the end, it was one of my favorite experiences that I had during my trip to Amsterdam and wouldn’t hesitate to take this day trip again.

Go to the Van Gogh Museum!

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Van Gogh Museum

Vincent Willem van Gogh is one of the most famous painters worldwide, producing works such as Starry Night, Sunflowers, Bedroom in Arles, Portrait of Dr. Gachet and Sorrow. Born and raised in Holland, he represents an integral part of the culture, whose work greatly influenced 20th century art. Today, you can visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam to get a better look at the fascinating artist.

Van Gogh’s early life
Van Gogh was born in 1853 to an upper middle class, devoutly religious family. His father was a preacher and from a young age he aspired to be a pastor. During his childhood years he would practice drawing, but never began to develop his painting talents until later in his twenties.

In 1879, Van Gogh went to work as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium, where he became interested in sketching the working class people of the local community. One of his most famous works, The Potato Eaters is a perfect example of the use of somber, dark palettes that Van Gogh used during his early years.

He also worked for some time for a firm of art dealers, and became acquainted with the lifestyle. His brother, Theo, who turned out to be his closest confidant throughout his life, had also moved to Paris and was working as successful art dealer.

The Potato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
The Potato Eaters by Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Finding his calling as an artist
Until Van Gogh found his real calling as an artist in his late twenties, he lacked the motivation to complete his studies and moved from place to place, just working enough to get by, sketching occasionally. Once he began to focus on art, however, Van Gogh was determined to perfect his craft, studying with various teachers and practicing daily.

In 1886, Van Gogh moved to Paris to live with his brother and became inspired by the French Impressionists. He would later move to the south of France, becoming greatly influenced by the strong sunlight and painting brighter, more vibrant works in color. This inspired one of his greatest works, Sunflowers.

Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Suffering and Recovery
Although Van Gogh was a highly productive painter, he suffered many years of anxiety and episodes of mental illness. In 1889, he checked himself into a mental hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where he spent time recovering and continued painting on good days.

This process continued for some time, and finally in 1890 Van Gogh left the hospital and moved north to a small artist community in Auvers-sur-Oise, close enough to Paris so he could still visit his brother. There, Van Gogh befriended the doctor Paul Gachet, who kept an eye on him and encouraged him to put all his energy into painting, which he did, producing nearly approximately one painting per day.

Even though Van Gogh appeared to be improving in the peaceful atmosphere, he couldn’t overcome entirely his mental illnesses and stressors regarding the future. On July 27, 1890 Van Gogh shot himself with a pistol and died two days later.

The Van Gogh Museum
His legacy is clearly evident at the Van Gogh Museum, which displays some of his 850 paintings and 1,300 works on paper that he completed in a very short period of time.

The museum is also gives a great structure to learning about van Gogh. The ground floor exhibits “eye to eye with Van Gogh”, which emphasized his need to constantly improve his skills, especially through painting self-portraits. The first floor focuses on his early life between 1883 and 1889, where he found his vocation. The exhibit begins with his early, darker paintings, illustrates his inspiration through Japanese art and then shows his work from the south of France, considered the peak of his ability.

The second floor of the museum gives a close up to the personal life of Van Gogh, shown through the many letters he wrote to artist friends such as Émile Bernard and Paul Gauguin, and family, especially his brother Theo. Finally, the third floor displays the last year of his life, and his work produced during periods of mental illness. This floor also shows how his life and work have inspired artists even up until today.

A visit to the Van Gogh Museum is a must for anyone visiting Amsterdam. To avoid waiting lines as much as possible, reserve your ticket in advance with a selected time spot. You may still have to wait a few minutes, but it is nothing compared to if you just show up at the door.

Source: The Van Gogh Museum

Charming villages of Marken, Edam and Volendam

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A day spent exploring the charming farms and scenic natural views found throughout Waterland could be enough. Add to it some stops along the way at the three most famous villages of Marken, Edam and Volendam and you’ve got yourself a seemingly perfect day.

Located within about an hour and half from the city by bike, Marken, Edam and Volendam give the perfect insight into the historical Dutch countryside. Some parts seem to be even frozen in time, equipped with drawbridges and cheese making demonstrations.

The first stop along the way was Marken, a small former island off the coast that is currently home to about 1,800 residents. In earlier times, it was a harbor for whaling and herring fishing, though natural conditions made it virtually abandoned until 1957, when engineers built a causeway to connect the island to the rest of Waterland. Then, it began to be inhabited again, especially with a focus on tourism.

Visiting today, you can see that the village has maintained its unique charm. Formed with the local conditions, especially the temperamental tides, the homes were built in small clusters upon hills otherwise known as werven. You could easily spend a few hours wandering through the small neighborhoods, molded by the fairy-tale like cottages, narrow streets and small, lightly flowing streams.

Typical brands homes. Taken by Jose Maria Barrera via Flickr.
Typical brands homes. Taken by Jose Maria Barrera via Flickr.

One of the locals recommended we eat at the harbor area, which has many restaurants. In retrospect, I would have chosen to eat in a less touristy location, as the only options were relatively expensive (6 euros for a small roll with cheese).

About a 45 min bike ride up the coast we reached the town of Volendam. This was the original location of the harbor of the nearby village of Edam, but in 1357 the residents of Edam built their own harbor through a shorter canal. The old harbor in Volendam was then dammed and filled in for land use, giving it its name “filled dam”. It was even an artist retreat in the 20th century for artists such as Picasso and Renoir.

Promenade in Volendam. Taken by Juan Enrique Gilardi via Flickr.
Promenade in Volendam. Taken by Juan Enrique Gilardi via Flickr.

Visiting Volendam today, it was immediately welcoming. The promenade was lined with souvenir shops, cafes to enjoy local Dutch food and even a huge cheese shop with live demonstrations in cheese making.

After about 20 minutes, however, we realized that this was an absolute tourist trap. Of course not trusting our intuition, we stopped at a waffle shop to get a “traditional Dutch waffle”. Though delicious, it cost 7 euros! For one waffle. I’m not joking. Though Volendam was a really scenic stop, especially situated right on the water, it had a feeling of lacking substance.

Unfortunately, we had to get our bikes back to the shop in time and therefore were unable to visit Edam, which appears to be the real charm of the area and though touristy, gives the visitor a more authentic feel according to recommendations. Plus, Edam is famous for its cheese, typically wrapped in red or yellow wax.

Famous Edam cheese. Taken by Alkan Boudewijn de Beaumont Chaglar via Flickr.
Famous Edam cheese. Taken by Alkan Boudewijn de Beaumont Chaglar via Flickr.

On my next visit to Amsterdam I will definitely be making the effort to take a trip to Edam. I can just picture it now… winding through the cobblestone streets, stopping briefly to savor the delicious cheese or perhaps visit the Edam Museum, a 400 year old residence that gives a glimpse of what old canal homed used to look like.

[Wikipedia: brands], [Wikipedia: Volendam], [Edam Wikipedia], [Rick Steves]

Featured image from Dennis Jarvis via Flickr.

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