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  • Candace Ahlfinger

Two Days in Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Our Viking Basel to Amsterdam Rhine River cruise was over before we knew it as we landed in Amsterdam ready to start our next adventure. Since we added days on our own both before and after our trip, we got a taxi to our upscale hotel in Amsterdam, the Hotel Estherea. This beautiful hotel, right on the Singel Canal, provided a warm welcome for our stay here. (In fact, we stayed another night at the end of our trip after a jaunt to Ghent, Belgium.)

Part of the Hotel Estherea's Welcoming Common Rooms

This hotel was one of the few we have ever stayed in that I would have loved to curl up with my book and a cup of tea in one of the comfortable lobby chairs. (Alas, no time for the busy traveler!) The hotel was in a great location, within walking distance to most sights, but also near a tram stop. The staff helped us make dinner reservations and held our luggage while we went to Ghent.

Statue of Anne Frank

We had a long list of “to-do” items in Amsterdam, several of which required a great deal of advanced planning. We had gotten up at 2:00 am six weeks before our arrival date to get tickets to the Anne Frank house. While we were up, we also purchased tickets to the Van Gogh Museum—what else is there to do at that time of morning?!?! Because we had made these plans, we were off to a quick start. The Anne Frank Museum is a sobering look into the life of a 13-year-old girl who hid from the Nazis in the Secret Annex for 761 days (over 2 years!) before being turned in and taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she died. (The only family member who survived was her father.) I highly recommend reading or rereading Anne Frank’s Diary before you go.

Self Portrait of Van Gogh

After Anne Frank and a quick lunch, we headed to the Van Gogh Museum, which houses the largest collection of Van Gogh’s works in the world. Through the exhibitions we gathered a greater knowledge of his life and the artists who influenced his style. Interestingly, his brother died within a year of Van Gogh’s death. Both had mental illness, but I wonder how much of their illness was fueled by their Syphilis.

Tulips, Tulips, and More Tulips

After this museum, we took our time to wander back to our hotel via Vondelpark. We were fortunate to have perfect weather and everyone, both tourists and residents, was out enjoying the sun. One caution: Be careful of bicycles. It is hard to exaggerate how many bikes there are and how difficult it is to miss being hit by them. We loved walking through the tulip market, seeing millions of bulbs, and watching all the people. Dinner was at the Seafood Bar located very near to our hotel. Make certain to make restaurant reservations—they were packed, especially because of the time of year, the weekend, and beautiful weather.

Beware of Bicycles

Everyone asks about the Red Light District. Definitely walk through if you haven’t been before. The window displays are good examples of the open-mindedness of the Dutch people. Their drug policies also demonstrate the willingness of the country to address issues in an open way. After dinner is a good time to visit.

Rijksmuseum Lobby

The next morning, we had tickets for the Rijksmuseum, a not-to-be-missed stop in Amsterdam. Rembrandt’s The Night Watch is perhaps the best-known work in the museum, but there are many intriguing exhibits and the museum building itself is noteworthy. (We ate a quick lunch in the museum’s café which was very good.) A scheduling note: The Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum are very close to each other. We enjoyed visiting them on different days to break up art museum experiences, but to minimize the travel time between the two, you can get tickets for the same day. Buy tickets for the Rijksmuseum online before your visit to ensure that you have the time you wish.

Oude Kerk

After the Rijksmuseum, we wandered around and happened upon the Oude Kerk, the oldest building in Amsterdam which is one of the city’s newest museums. The former church is under renovation, but still has some pieces of art displayed. The Oude Kerk may be most famous for the burial site of Rembrandt’s wife. (The church, built around 1306, is located in the Red Light District.)

Hidden Church in Our Lord in the Attic Museum

Our next stop was the Our Lord in the Attic Museum (Ons' Lieve Heer Op Solder).  I had learned about the museum from the Atlas Obscura website and was so glad I had. The church is hidden in a 17th century canal house. At that time period, Protestantism had become very powerful and had taken over the Catholic churches such as the Oude Kerk. However, the open-mindedness of the Dutch people allowed Catholicism to be practiced—as long as it wasn’t in public. (The Dutch practiced the principle of freedom of conscience.) Jan Hartman, a Catholic merchant, had the attic church built and dedicated in 1663.  Visitors wander through the house seeing how people lived at that time before entering the church which, surprisingly to me, spans three stories. The church houses a beautiful altar and an amazing organ--difficult to believe that all of this religious ornateness is hidden within the walls of an unassuming canal house. (Don’t miss the audio guide which is outstanding.)

Sights during our Canal Cruise

Our next stop was for a canal cruise with an excellent guide on the Luxury Canal Cruise open boat. (On an open boat you are able to take more unobstructed pictures, but you do run a risk of getting wet if it is raining.) The cruises leave from many different places and are almost hourly. We chose to take the cruise that started in daylight but lasted through sunset. The timing was amazing because we were able to see the city’s sights during the day and then watch the lights flicker on to reflect in the water. We ate at a great Dutch restaurant, Restaurant ‘t Zwaantje, a fun way to end the evening.

Wandering Bike-lined Streets in Amsterdam

The next day, we caught the train to Antwerp and Ghent, but to give all the Amsterdam info in one place, I’ll let you know that we were able to spend one more night in Amsterdam on our return after a train ride that was much longer than planned due to train traffic issues. (Remember: Flexibility is a requirement of travel!) We spent one more night at the Hotel Estherea where we were warmly greeted as return guests. We ate at our very first Indonesian restaurant, Indrapura, which, thanks to the guidance of our server, was a superb introduction to Indonesian food. Then, all too soon, it was time to head to the airport for home. There’s always more to see and never enough time, but what a great trip.

Follow our Viking River Cruise from Basel to Amsterdam by clicking here.

To see our info for our stay in Basel, Switzerland, click here.

Our Zurich experience is at this link.

For information about our time in Grindelwald and Bern, click here.

For info on our visit to Zermatt, Switzerland, click here.

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Amsterdam Canal

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