Sunday 29th of April by CarpediemEire
Birthdays are for some a reason to party. For me I love to escape these celebrations and spend them bettering myself in my opinion. By travelling. So on this, my 39th I wanted to scratch one off the bucket list, to go in search of those expansive, linear tulip fields in Holland. We took a four-day trip to Amsterdam, splitting the trip between the city and the surrounding countryside.
The trip fell on the back of a long weekend in work and I was only getting over a tummy bug so the early start was worse as I was sleep deprived for a few days. The flight left Dublin at 650, and it was a relatively short trip, landing not long after 9 local time. We travelled light so the only issue getting through Schiphol was the excessively long passport line.
The weather forecast before the trip suggested rain so in my head I had christened the city Dampsterdam, expecting the worst. As it turned out it never really arrived.
I had previously contacted our hotel about transit from the airport and I balked at the suggested €50 Taxi ride, and the also inflated shuttle bus. So we caught the train to Centraal Station. The train stop was easily found, in the lower ground floor of the airport main terminal. Costing €5.30 per person single, or two the train left from platform 1. We took a step back to admire Amsterdam Centraal station, it has a beautiful neo-gothic style. From Amsterdam Centraal it was 3 metro stops on line 33 to our hotel in Plantage, followed by a 500 metre walk. If you plan on using the metro, tram or bus more than twice in a day, buy the 24 hour ticket. It’s good value at €7.50.
Our hotel had a grand entrance opening out onto the Oosterpark, Amsterdam locals favoured city park. The Hotel Arena, a 4 star converted property has the semblance of a church to the exterior. It has a varied history. Built in the 19th Century it started life as an orphanage for Catholic girls, before becoming a home for disabled and incurably ill women. Serving as a mental institute it later took in the poor and elderly. Bankruptcy led to a change of tact, and after a full scale renovation it emerged as a hotel. I love a hotel with a bit of history.
The reception area and bar were impeccably decorated and we noticed a nice gas replica open fire. Perfect for a drink later. A large stilted stairs is centred in reception and the high walls are lined with full length white curtains. The welcome was friendly, professional and knowledgable. Our room not being ready at 10am, we were offered a locker with personal pin code. I always worry about luggage rooms, they are hardly secure. Insider knowledge there.
Eager to see some of the city we took metro line 33 to the Museumplein stop. We alighted opposite the Concertgebouw, a fine columned building from 1886 and considered one of the worlds finest. In this area there are enough museums to spend several days viewing. I was content to merely take a few photos and we walked across museum square. I was tempted by the Van Gogh Museum, but (shame) I’m not a big fan of his brand of art. Also here are the Stedelijk Museum and Moco Museums of modern art and the intriquing Diamond Museum.
After a bit of self-indulgence at the I Amsterdam sign, which was overcrowded and had people clambering all over it, we joined a line to buy tickets to the Rijksmuseum. That took a while. The Rijksmuseum is a purpose-built museum which courted controversy on its completion in 1885. Designed by Philip Cuypers it was supposed to be solely Renaissance in style but he incorporated gothic elements. Much to the rage of the people of the time, as it wasn’t considered Dutch enough. It’s a magnificent building both inside and out, with a tunnel allowing access to the large clear roof lit atrium.
Before proceeding further we stopped at the cafe which was of a high standard by museum standards. We both had the same; two pulled pork sandwiches, with saurkraut on ciabatta and cappuccinos to wake us up. It was a little expensive at €32.
Energy levels weren’t high enough to see the whole museum so we stopped by a few temporary exhibits before heading to the main show. There are some 8000 artefacts on show at any time, of an extimated 1 million which the meseum holds. We enjoyed the exhibit of model ships, which have some excellent craftmanship, and a vast collection of armour and arnaments. Each floor of the museum represents a different century or era, with level 2 dedicated to the 17th. This is the Dutch golden age, when riches flowed from its foreign colonies, and all of the Dutch artistic masters are represented.
Taking the stairs here lands you in the gorgeous Great Hall, and then we visited the Gallery of Honour. The building is as much a work of art as the pieces within. Vermeer’s Milk Maid and Rembrandt’s Jewish Bride are in the alcoves here and this leads into the The Night Watch Gallery, the museums masterpiece. It’s beautiful but the swarms of people here detract from it a little. Much like the Mona Lisa its fame takes something away from it. Be sure to check out the library it’s small but impeccably presented. Other highlights for us on this floor were some of the Delft ornaments and the huge William Rex model ship.
A walk to the city
After a quick fire visit of level 1, which showcased period furnishings. we left the museum to take a walk in towards the centre. We caught our first glimpses of what Amsterdam is famous for; bikes, canals and houses. We bypassed the Heineken Experience (I used to love the stuff, but a visit to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin prompted me to switch) as I don’t enjoy the beer anymore.
Our destination was the Rembrandtplein, and en route I wanted to see the Munttoren, a tower and the Tuschinski Theatre. The theatre constructed in 1921 is a mix of styles, very original on the outside, and with Art Nouveau and Art Deco interiors. Would be excellent to watch a movie in, and appreciate the spectacular design. The colourful floating Bloemenmarkt runs along the canal; it’s not for those who don’t like crowds. If you are in search of bulbs or seeds, or a gift flower related it’s the spot for you.
I had to complete my Rembrandt day by seeking out the Rembrandt monument in the middle of the Rembrandtplein square. His statue is surrounded by the night watch men, as a tribute to his masterpiece.
Chilling Out and Dining Out
We took tram 9 back to our hotel and got our room key. We had booked a standard room, prices aren’t generally low in Amsterdam and this week it was Kings Day (celebrating the birth of the king) so higher still. I had selected a hotel a little outside the centre, as I had hired a car and finding parking (and driving) in the centre are notoriously difficult. It’s a city built for cyclists and boats. Our room was unusually laid out with a sitting room on the bottom floor and a spiral staircase leading to the bed on the landing above. That was a bit hairy coming down in the morning before my coffee. The room was comfortable, with a nice king size bed.
After getting settled in we weren’t feeling too active so we went to the hotel bar for a snack. The bar is called Park and has a very stylish look. We decided to share a local charcuterie platter and some samosas. While it was our first introduction to Dutch Bitterballen (yummy local meatballs) and the cheese was nice some of the meats bordered on terrible. The ox sausage as I think it was resembled eating a fork of fat. The plate was left mostly full. It didn’t do any wonders for my stomach either so we returned to the room for a power nap.
Awaking an hour later, food was on our mind again (it’s all we seemed to do this day) so we got dressed to head out for dinner. Asking the helpful reception staff for a few tips on what’s local, we got a few good pointers. A Spanish tapas restaurant sounded safe after our earlier questionable culinary experience. We walked through the Oosterpark, and were left uneasy at a large group of people drinking and making distasteful remarks at passing girls. We found an alternative route home later around the park.
The Spanish restaurant was called Pata Negra and was located on Reinwardstraat. It has a typical feel of a tapas bar, with Spanish staff. We really pigged out here, sharing some calamari, croquettes, asparagus, patatas bravas with chorizo. We aren’t the most original in tapas bars, we always get the same thing. If it aint’t broken… We washed it all down with some Albarinos and a beer called Alhambra (never heard of it but was good).
The walk home around the park was welcome after that feast. The hotel was beautiful at night, a small pond stretches out in front of it, and small coloured water spouts light it all up magically. We retired to bed early, its always a long day when you get up at 4am.