Houseboats, originally placed as temporary residences to combat a housing crisis, now permanently line many of the canals in Amsterdam. For visitors like us it has created an opportunity to live as the Dutch and stay on one of these beautiful boats. Keep in mind it’s not cheap, but it was on our “bucket list,” so we made it happen.
We arrived late in the afternoon to our home for the next few days. Our host accidentally overbooked her houseboat and ended up upgrading the efficiency studio we had booked to give us her own large apartment with outdoor space and even a shared rooftop. We easily settled in to the space and stretched out after our cramped bus ride from Bruges.Later we ventured out within our neighborhood to grab a few things from the supermarket. We were determined to enjoy our floating deck and then needed to plan out the next few days in Amsterdam. (This has become a regular thing on our travel days).
More than a month before we arrived I booked tickets to the Anne Frank House and Museum. (After missing our chance to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower, I learned to look ahead to see what things need to be booked in advance. The Anne Frank House and Museum was one). Our tour was scheduled for 1:30pm, so we had a little time in the morning to explore. It was just before 11am as we headed out. A few blocks down the canal we were following, we were both absolutely caught off guard by large middle-aged and overweight women in skimpy lingerie leaning up on a street-level window. At I was like WTF? Then there were several more of these windows leading Whitney and I to retreat to another street. Apparently there was a sort of an “off-broadway” red-light district near our houseboat. (The red-lights and coffee shops really are only a small part of this city, so don’t get caught up in the hype).
Anyway, we carried on into the city, passing over many of the gorgeous canals and bridges as well as old buildings and homes leaning over the streets and canals. Interestingly, the halls and stairwells are very narrow in each home. Therefore, the builders put a hook on the front of every building to lift furniture from the sidewalk and through the windows of the homes. According to a local tour guide (usually reliable), the buildings lean slightly over the sidewalk to prevent damage to the fascade or windows on the lower floors.
We eventually made it to the Anne Frank House about an hour before our tour. This gave us enough time to wander in through the nearby Jordaan neighborhood to find a little lunch that we enjoyed while sitting on the canal edge. On schedule, we entered the museum. I believe the Anne Frank Diary is part of the curriculum in schools everywhere and being able to see this “home” much as it appeared in the 1940s really brought the message home. (BTW, nearly everything in the Exhibit was translated in English).
After touring the museum we had tickets for a Blue Boat Canal Tour. We arrived at the dock and made our way to the front of the queue sort of accidentally because everyone was sitting on the benches and not on the edge of the dock, but no one seemed to mind. It has been refreshing how kind and patient everyone is in this city. We soon board and instead of sitting at one of the many tables inside, we decide to find a place on the back deck of the boat. It was a perfect afternoon on the canal, so why not? We didn’t end up listening to the audio tour during the cruise as it was only available at the tables inside, but instead we simply enjoyed the breeze within the waterways as if we were on a private cruise.
That evening we created another romantic evening on our floating deck with the radio playing in the background and numerous boats cruising by. We sure took advantage of our stay here.
The next morning, we booked a bike tour with Mike’s Bikes (thanks for the recommendation Prue). We walked all the way across town to begin the tour…probably unnecessary to walk this far, but that’s our thing. We easily found the place, took a little time to stretch out (Whitney insisted), then joined the group. This company limits each group to 10 people to keep things under control in this biking city. Our guide then proceeded to give us about a 20 minute run down on managing a bike in Amsterdam. I feel like almost 90% of the residents here use bikes to commute, so the bike lanes get quite crowded. Then, the way the intersections are organized really gives the inexperienced biker a lot of room for error. Soon enough however, we set off on the tour. Our guide led us through the main parts of the city stopping every so often to share the history and add his tidbits of entertaining Canadian humor to every story. This was our first bike tour ever and it really set the standards high. We completed the 3 hour tour at our guide’s favorite waterside bar Hannekes Boom which was a dock for many of the visitors and the prices were very reasonable.
After our bike tour we passed through Waterloopleinmarkt to see the variety of things for sale. As usual, the markets are always an interesting and enjoyable experience in each city we visit.
Later that evening, we wanted to go to Cuevel Café, a restaurant recommended by a fellow traveler Andrea of bestworldyet.com. This too is a waterside restaurant tucked away at the end of one of the canals in Amsterdam Nord. We walked the entire way again (Definitely not recommended unless you are losing it like us…renting a bike is probably best). Eventually we see the sign through the construction that surrounds the street leading to it. We jump over a fence and a concrete barrier to shorten the hike ever so slightly until we finally enter the place. It’s a first come first serve place, filled with backpackers, hippies and now us…I guess we would be backpackers. We find an empty space pull up a couple chairs and scroll the menu. There was a number of drinks, and only a handful of dinner items which change with the season. I blankly ordered the “special,” described as the option that is based on the ingredients available, which turned out to be some beets, potatoes, mushrooms and some sauce. It was good, but not my favorite dish. Whitney ordered an Asian noodle salad and it was delicious. For a fun and unique outdoor restaurant experience while in Amsterdam, definitely try to make this a stop.
After dinner, we had the long walk home but wanted to pass through the infamous red-light district on our way. Entering that neighborhood, the crowds grew with party-goers spilling out of hundreds of bars lining the narrow streets. We soon we were passing by the red lights. I’ll simply say it was something to see, but made me feel sorry for the souls that are living their lives in these windows.
For our last full day we took a daytrip to see the windmills of Zaanse Schans. This area was built as an architectural project by Jaan Schipper. In the 1960s he developed a plan to relocate or rebuild multiple windmills and buildings that were to be destroyed by growing industries in the area. This created a historical park that allows visitors like us to try to understand how life was here many years ago. If you make the trip out here, our number one thing to do, besides see the windmills, is visit the cheese shop and taste as many types as possible. We couldn’t find one we didn’t like. Also, stop by the wooden clog shop and check it out.
We got back into Amsterdam in the mid afternoon and made plans to see our friend Andrea of bestworldyet.com. We ventured over to Amsterdam’s Westerpark, which was a quieter park than the more well-known Vogelpark. She invited us to meet her at De Bakkerswinkel, a cool café usually enjoyed by the locals. We each got a drink and shared many of our travel experiences especially the courage and excitement of taking off for an indefinite time to see the world. It was an absolute pleasure to meet up with someone from home and especially one of the people that inspired us to take this exact trip around the world. Thanks Andrea. With a few extra tips, we wandered home to rest before our next adventure.
Overall, we found Amsterdam to be a gorgeous city possessing the character it takes to create a desired destination for travelers around the world. Yes there are red-lights and coffee-shops, but this small part only becomes an attraction and doesn’t really characterize this beautiful city.
For now, we are heading off to Berlin to dig deeper into European History and especially World War II.