Thanks to the Thalys train 20th anniversary sale I recently took an unexpected trip to Amsterdam.
Happy that I signed up for e-mail notifications from my favorite train ticket provider, Captain Train so that I knew about the one-day sale with 20€ train tickets from Paris to Amsterdam. Count me in!
As soon as I received the e-mail announcement I quickly jumped into action. Looking for open days on my calendar and affordable hotels in Amsterdam. After finding both, I booked my trip – 40€ round-trip – thankyouverymuch Thalys. I'm going to Amsterdam!
My first – and only previous trip to Amsterdam was 40 years ago, with my parents and my sister. It was our first stop on a 3-week trip to Europe. I remember little of that trip. We stayed in typical hotel with the ladder-like staircases and we visited the usual tourist sights. I do remember how my mother always told the story of how, at the Anne Frank House, they spelled “diary” as “dairy”. I always wondered why the rest of us didn't notice that?
About a week before my trip, while doing some research, I decided to look at my hotel room again This was when I realized that my room was not only tiny, it more than likely did not have window. Yikes! At least there was none shown in the photos. No way was I going to stay in a windowless closet - not even for just one night. How did I miss this?
Hotels in Amsterdam tend to be pricey, making it difficult for a solo traveler to have a budget trip to this popular destination. Add to that the fact that I’m booking late and at the beginning of the high season. I love a good challenge!
Luckily the travel Gods were with me, and I found a lovely twin room with huge windows in a small hotel for only 100€/night – plus it was in a better location. I booked it. And canceled the closet.
The train ride to Amsterdam was an uneventful 3 hours and 20 minutes. I was glad to have arrived early at Gare du Nord for my 8:19 departure. Though, I was disappointed with the food options near the departure tracks and ended up boarding the train without any breakfast.
After a quick tram ride to my hotel, I was checked in by 12:30. I’d call that a pretty productive morning.
The Hotel Prinsenhof looked exactly like the photos. The narrow ladder-like stairs were a bit daunting, especially with luggage. But from the first floor they had a handy-dandy pulley to help haul things up and down the stairs. I was relieved when they told me that my room was on the third floor – only 2 more flights to go.
Since I had skipped breakfast and was starving, I stopped in the café next door for lunch. A sandwich of old farmer’s cheese, pickles, lettuce and mustard on brown bread – and a beer – all for less than 10.00€. It was perfect.
With just over 24 hours in Amsterdam I didn’t have a lot of time. My plan was to wander, shop a little and hopefully take a canal cruise on my first day. On day two, plans were to visit the Van Gogh museum and the Anne Frank House. Luckily, I had gotten tickets to the Anne Frank House online, but decided to risk it and plan for an early arrival at the Van Gogh Museum - because I hate having too many scheduled events when I travel.
After lunch I headed towards the Kalverstraat to check out the big HEMA store there. HEMA is a Dutch department store that’s kind of like a Target – but not quite. I like shopping in their stores in Paris for household items and was looking forward to seeing the bigger version in Amsterdam.
It wasn’t the wow that I was hoping for, but it was still interesting. Especially the fact that they sold contact lenses in the drug store aisle – and they were cheap! Too bad I didn’t know my prescription.
Getting around Amsterdam was super-easy with the trams. Having researched in advance, I decided to buy a 48-hour unlimited pass for 12€, knowing that it would get me from the train station to my hotel and back, plus any other rides that I wanted – or needed to take. I wish that I'd had more time to joy ride on the trams.
My hopeful shoe shopping didn’t pan out, but I still enjoyed my random wandering through Amsterdam, which ended with me taking the first canal cruise that I could find. I had read that they were all pretty much the same and I was happy when I stumbled upon a cruise from Rederij P. Kooij that was leaving in 10 minutes. I was even happier when they came on board to sell refreshments. Hard to beat a cold beer and cruise.
The cruise was just right. I learned about the history of the canals, bridges and the surrounding houses. The price was right too - 10.50€. I had read some criticisms of the big cruises and how it was annoying to have to listen to the narrative in different languages - but I enjoyed this and found myself trying to translate in my head before they got to the English descriptions.
After the cruise it was dinner time. I decided to head back to the same café where I’d had lunch. I was able to snag an outside table only to find out that the kitchen was closed and the menu limited in the evening. I had to settle for some spicy meatballs, which ended up being quite good.
Now I was craving dessert, but the café didn’t have any. I went on a walk along the canal Prisengracht eventually finding dessert at a nearby café. Apple tart and a coffee for 4.50€. I like Amsterdam.
After a later than hoped for start to my day, I arrived at the Van Gogh Museum around 10:00. Thankfully, the ticket line was very short.
Ever since visiting Auvers sur Oise, France - where Van Gogh spent his final 70 days, I had been looking forward to seeing his paintings from this period in Amsterdam. Sadly, there are none in Auvers sur Oise.
My visits to Auvers sur Oise were surprisingly emotional and I truly felt like I was walking in Van Gogh's footsteps. You can read about my visits here. I felt these same feelings as I studied his paintings in Amsterdam.
Unfortunately, the museum didn't allow photographs, otherwise I'd be sharing what they believed to be his last, and unfinished painting.
It was disappointing that so many of the paintings were under glass. I understand that this was to protect them from fading - but I love studying the brush strokes, and this wasn't possible with the glass and the resulting glare.
When finished with the museum, I was right on schedule to have lunch at the Winkel Café, which is known for their apple tart. Last night's apple tart was just a warm-up.
A friend recommended Winkel, and it did not disappoint. Though I liked my sandwich from the day before better than the veal cheek crostini at Winkel, the apple tart lived up to its reputation. The price was right too - only 15.00€ for the crostini, a beer, apple tart and coffee. I could get used to this.
Next stop, the Anne Frank House. It's a short walk from the café and easy to spot due to the crowds gathered outside. It's been spiffed up since 1976 and now has a modern entrance, museum shop and facilities. The house itself remains the same.
The crowds were a little annoying. I tried my best to be patient. Not that I want to whiz through, but why do people enter a room and just stop in their tracks? Oblivious to the others around them.
Needless to say, visiting the rooms where Anne and her family lived in hiding was emotional. I still have difficulty believing how this happened only 70 years ago.
After the Anne Frank House, it was time to pick up my luggage and head back to Paris. I hadn't really planned my route back to the hotel. The tram wasn't very convenient so I decided to walk instead. Google maps said that it was about 25 minutes - all of them along the canal Prinsengracht. Seemed doable - and gave me the chance to see more of Amsterdam.
After maybe 10 or 15 minutes of walking I decided to check on my progress. Google maps said that I still had 20 minutes to go. Huh? That made no sense, but I kept walking.
Granted, I was walking slowly since I wasn't in a big hurry. But I was starting to get cranky because I was tired of dodging bicycles. To make matters worse, one of the bridges over a cross canal was closed and I had to take a detour. And Google maps said that I still had 20 minutes to go. You've got to be kidding.
As soon as I had put my camera away, because I had told myself that I done taking photos too, I saw this cute doorway. It made me feel better.
And then I saw this cute car. Though, all I could think of was how I would hate to have to park there because I'd probably end up in the canal. I had learned on my canal cruise that about one car a week ends up in a canal. I'm surprised that it doesn't happen more often.
After almost an hour, I made it back to the hotel, picked up my luggage and took the tram back to the train station. I was plenty early and had time to grab a sandwich and a drink from the HEMA store there.
I was kind of wishing that I had planned another night in Amsterdam. But then again, my feet were done - I had walked 13 miles. And I had accomplished what I wanted to. It was a nice return trip. I liked Amsterdam more than I expected to and am looking forward to visiting again.