I always get so much helpful information from Trip Advisor's forums when planning a trip, so I try to write up a report and post it here in case it will help someone else with their planning. I'll review the restaurants at their listings. My husband and I are Americans living in Lagos, Nigeria. When he learned that he'd be going to a convention in Amsterdam, I didn't hesitate to agree to go along with him and we planned to extend his trip to the weekends before and after his business commitment so he could have some time to do some sightseeing as well. I only had just over a week to research this trip and Trip Advisor was a life-saver. My husband's business colleague wanted to stay at the Crowne Plaza near Centraal Station. The rate we got for the days we would pay for the room (before and after the company-paid nights) were acceptable, so we decided to stay there the whole time rather than changing hotels. We were glad we did -- we liked the location and it was a very comfortable hotel. Our flight arrived very early on Saturday morning. We took the train to Centraal Station and it was a short walk to the hotel. We relaxed in the hotel lobby for almost an hour till our room was ready. After getting our bags into our room, we walked to the Anne Frank house, getting there around 9:45. We had a 1/2 hour wait in line. I bought a Museumkaart and we bought my husband a regular entrance ticket. I decided on this discount card because I was going to have time to visit a lot of museums and the iAmsterdam card would just work for a few days and the Holland pass wouldn't allow enough visits to prime sights. This ended up being a very good choice for me. We both really enjoyed the Anne Frank house. I had been there 33 years ago, but it had changed a bit. ;o) In the gift shop we bought (for a half euro) a walking tour guide to the Resistance Museum. We made it a leisurely walk, stopping for a sandwich and taking our time walking through the flower market and places along the way. The guidebook was interesting and the weather was perfect. The resistance museum was very interesting and gave us good insight into life here during WW II. Amsterdam residents made so many sacrifices and had so many hardships during the occupation, but I am so grateful that they made the sacrifices so that Amsterdam wasn't bombed like Rotterdam was. The architecture of this city is so splendid and every day I delighted in it. For security reasons, in Lagos we can't go out walking and so it was a real treat for me to walk freely and to enjoy perfect weather and a beautiful historic city. After the resistance museum, my husband was tired and took a tram back to the hotel. I walked up to St. Nicolas church where they were having a choral evensong service at 5 PM. It was a beautiful service with a good choir and a wonderful way to relax and enjoy this beautiful church. After going back to meet up with my husband, we went out walking to find dinner and were so tired after our overnight flight the night before we just got a sandwich and went back to the hotel for an early night.
Sunday morning we took the Sandeman's walking tour of the city. We should have just gone down to the Dam to meet at 11:15 instead meeting at Centraal Station at 11, as we all just walked down to the Dam to divide into groups. Our guide was a young Dutch university student. She had some entertaining things to say and did a good job overall. She didn't seem to have a great depth of knowledge beyond what she had prepared. A couple of us asked architecture questions and she had no answers. And after she gave some historical background on the city, I was trying to place the big tulip mania and ensuing crash and asked her when that happened and she had no idea what I was talking about (and she was a history major!). I had heard this account in several places quite recently as a cautionary economic tale about the dangers of market bubbles, so I didn't think it was that obscure an event (in a museum later I learned that the crash was in 1637.) But overall we enjoyed this tour and we were glad we took it. I hadn't learned of Begijnhof in my preliminary research and wouldn't have found it on my own and we really enjoyed seeing this beautiful hidden courtyard. I went back later to go in to the chapel here, which was lovely. After the 3 1/2 hour walking tour, we were ready to sit for some sightseeing, so we got discount tickets from an agency and took a canal cruise.
On Monday morning my husband went off to his convention at RAI. We bought an anonymous chipkaart for him. He was just going to be going there and back each day, so it wouldn't be worth buying a transit pass. He found that the metro was faster to RAI than the #4 tram. I enjoyed walking, so that's how I got to the Rijksmuseum. The highlights exhibit has great stuff, but wasn't enough for me. As a museum and art lover I really hope I can come back in two years when the full museum is open. I talked to a staff person at the museum and she said she had been in a portion of the museum that had been restored and she said that it is very beautiful. She thinks the building will outshine the art inside it. The exterior of the building is so amazing and so enormous -- I know I will want to spend days in it when it is all open (all I remember from visiting it many years ago, aside from the art I saw, is that it was quite dark inside). I then went to the Van Gogh museum and was glad I had a museumkaart so I could bypass the long line. The Picasso exhibit is very good, as well as the main collection. It was very crowded, though. I then visited the canal mansions, Museum Geelvinck and the Museum Van Loon. I enjoyed seeing these beautiful homes and was really interested that the first occupant of the Van Loon house in the 17th century was Ferdinand Bol, Rembrandt's student. Then I walked back across to other side of canal to the Foam Photography museum. I was glad my museumkaart got me in here free, because if I had had to pay I wouldn't have been happy. There wasn't much on view there, with installation and renovations going on. After my husband returned that night, we walked around a bit trying to decide on a restaurant. We decided on an Indian place, Rangoori, a short walk from the hotel. I was glad I hadn't read trip advisor reviews first, because I might have decided against it, as it had some bad reviews, but we had a wonderful meal there.
On Tuesday I first went to the New Church, where they were having an exhibit of Islamic Art. I found it quite moving to see all the Qurans and holy Islamic writing in the setting of the Gothic church's choir and altar area while listening to Islamic calls to prayer. This exemplified to me the tolerance that the Dutch are known for. I also was interested to learn that the man who collected all this beautiful Islamic art is Jewish. Next I would like to visit a mosque to see an exhibit of illuminated manuscript Bibles with Gregorian chant playing in the background -- then I'll know the world has made some progress on acceptance of diversity! I spent much more time here than I thought I would and I was too late to go to the free midday music performance I had planned to attend, but I didn't want to shortchange this exhibit. It was excellent. Then I went to visit the Royal Palace. The exterior is all covered with scaffolding, but the interior was great. I hadn't expected much from this, but maybe the reviews I read were from before the renovations. They had a free audio guide and also gave out a nice booklet on the renovations they had completed. The government spent a pretty penny on the renovations, I'm sure! I then walked to the Old Church, which was also undergoing some renovations, but still worth a visit. Rembrandt and Saskia were married here, and her grave is also here. Close by is the museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder, which I learned means "Our Lord in the Attic." This is also undergoing restoration (I think the Van Gogh museum is the only one in town that wasn't having some current work done), but open for visitors in the meantime. The audio tour was only .50E, so I got this and it was useful. I really enjoyed this museum despite the hidden church in the attic being in a very stripped down condition. It was interesting to see the work in progress.
I had planned to walk everywhere on this trip, but my husband was given a 4-day transit pass that he didn't need, so I started taking some trams on Wednesday. The free guide to museums pamphlet that the tourist iAmsterdam centers have is very useful to know museum hours and which tram goes to the museums -- and the map is very easy to read, so I found this map most useful on this trip. I took a tram to go to the Tropenmuseum, a culture museum. I didn't expect to spend much time there, but it was a really fantastic museum with lots of great collections and displays. The special exhibit on the color RED was really inventive. I spent over 2 hours there and could have easily spent all day. I enjoyed seeing the African collection, and there was fabulous stuff from Papua New Guinea. Again, I had intended to get to the free mid-day concert at the Concertgebaouw, but was too late (I expected an hour concert, but this student concert was just 1/2 hour -- so you need to be prompt to attend these concerts!). I then went to the Stedilijk Museum, with modern and contemporary art. It's being renovated, but they still have a great space with collection highlights. I really liked seeing the massive Matisse flanked by Yves Klein signature blue work on one side and gold leaf work on the other. And in the next gallery, lots of Piet Mondrian (no surprise that they'd have lots of great ones) displayed next to Malevitch --this was a really brilliant installation. And it was great to see so many Malevitch paintings -- someone was very foresighted to purchase these for the collection in 1958. In this space there were many rooms with just one work, but that's very effective with large installation works and modern works needing space. I then took the tram and stopped in the State Archives. This building has a really great exterior and the interior is good too, but not as good as the exterior. My Museumkaart didn't get me in free to the photo exhibition in there, so I passed on it. Then I went to the Willet-Holthuysen Museum, another canal house museum. They also had the collection of the Backer family installed here too. They had lots of interesting art and the house was more completely furnished than other canal mansion museums. The Tassen Museum (purse museum) wasn't free with MuseumKaart, so I gave it a pass. I walked to the Rembrandt House Museum. Got there at 4, one hour before closing and I didn't have time to give it justice so I ended up going back again the next day. They have someone there giving demonstrations of etching and printing techniques. I spent some time on both visits talking with the guy doing this and he ended up giving me the print that he had made in the demonstration -- a great souvenir of my visits there! I really enjoyed the gallery displays making a comparison of Rembrandt's prints with those of the same subject by Lucas van Leyden. There is also a really good exhibit by a contemporary Dutch graphic artist, Anneke Kuyper. The Hermitage was open late on Wednesday, so I went there and did a quick look at the Russian Orthodox exhibit. Again, I didn't have time to do this justice and had planned to go back, even that evening as they were having a musical performance, but I didn't make it back here. We really enjoyed Thai Bird for dinner.
On Thursday I went to take another look at the lovely hidden courtyard of Begijnhof. The big church was still not open, but I took a look at the chapel, which is really pretty.. Then I went to the Amsterdam Historical museum. It's a pretty good museum, but, again, in the middle of installation and things are a bit mixed up. Then I walked over to the Bible Museum. It shows a collection made by a guy who wanted to collect things related to the Bible and his big focus was a scale replica of the tabernacle. It's 1/12 scale model and it's interesting. They also have a huge collection of Bibles. Then I made a quick stop at the Allard Pierson museum. It's an archeological museum -- Greek, Roman, things from ancient cultures. Kind of interesting, but we had travelled to Athens and Egypt not too long ago and I've had my fill of archeological museums for a while, so I zipped through it. Then I went back to the Rembrandt House Museum to finish my visit there. In the afternoon, my husband was finished with his business, so we rented bikes from the Yellow Bike place down the street from our hotel. It's 11/euro a bike for 24 hours. It was 3 PM before we rented them. We went to the other side of Centraal station and took the Ijplein ferry. We followed these instructions that MMKoppes had listed on Trip Advisor (thank you MMK!):
"My favorite bike ride close to town is Broek in de Waterland. Amsterdam – Broek in Waterland-Amsterdam: 22 km, take free IJplein ferry behind Central Station to IJplein, bike along Meeuwenlaan to Nieuwendammerdijk, take a right onto Niewendammerdijk, stop for a coffee along the water at Cafe t’Sluisje, continue on and take a left on Beemsterstraat. This will take you out of Amsterdam into the fields to Broek in Waterland, just follow signs. Eat a pancake at restaurant de Witte Swaen."
We had a small problem because we never found Beemsterstraat. We asked for directions from a couple of people and found the country bike path to Broek in Waterland. The ride took us about an hour each way. It was a beautiful ride. We got to the church at Broek in Waterland about 5:30, so we didn't have time to stop and eat there, but got on our way back so we would make it before dark. On our return, we tried to find the directed route, but we got turned around. We asked for directions again (this was the only time on our trip when we encountered people who were not English speakers, but we managed to communicate despite this) and found our way back to the ferry. After returning to Centraal Station, we took another ferry to the NSDM wharf to go the IJ Kantine restaurant for dinner. We took our bikes with us, but didn't need them as the restaurant was right there as we got off the ferry. The ferries back run every 30 minutes on the hour and half past the hour.
On Friday we had the bikes till the afternoon, so in the morning we rode down to Vondel Park, trying to stay mostly on the smaller roads next to the canals along the way. Vondel Park is really lovely and we did just fine on our city bike ride. We were relieved to turn in the bikes after having no problems or difficulties riding in the country and city. We then took the train to Haarlem. The train is just 7.40 euro and it's only about a 15 minute ride, and the trains run frequently. We got into Haarlem and head up to St. Bavo, the big cathedral. It towers about the center of town. Entrance is 2.50 euro. There was a wedding about to start and it was thrilling to hear the Bridal March on the huge church organ, which had been played by Mozart! The church is beautiful and I was so glad we were able to visit it. We left the church and continued walking through town and went to the Franz Hals museum. It was easy to find. The entrance was discounted (4 euro) because some of the museum is undergoing renovation. They had a doll house on display that was just as incredible as the ones in the Rijksmuseum. And there had been no Breughel on display at the Rijksmuseum, but he was here. We loved the beautiful architecture in this city. We were amused to see, in the historic market square which looked just like the 17th century paintings, except for the long queue of people coming from the Apple store waiting for their iPads. We found a cheese shop with a great selection and stock up on cheese to bring back to Nigeria. We really like Haarlem and are glad we made it there.
Saturday was the only day of the trip with less than perfect weather. We woke up to a drizzle alternating with light rain in the morning and it was chillier. But it was our day for Keukenhof, so we went off to see the flowers anyway. We had purchased a combi ticket from the information booth at Centraal Station. We took the train to Schiphol and a bus from there to Lisse. It's all very efficient. It will be another month before the garden is at its peak, but there's still lots of beautiful flowers, especially in the pavilions. There were also some live classical music performances which we enjoyed. We were glad the rain didn't last too long and we had a lovely day admiring the flowers, despite the cold weather. After our return to Amsterdam, we made a trip to the Albert Heijn grocery store for items that are expensive or difficult to find in Lagos. We tend to bring back groceries in our luggage instead of the typical souvenirs most tourist purchase! We had some great steaks at Toro Dorado, a restaurant across the street from our hotel.
I'm so glad I could have this time to explore Amsterdam -- it's a wonderful city for a museum lover! With over a week, I still didn't have time to get to them all. Hopefully, we can return in two years to see the newly renovated Rijksmuseum!