It has been more than a decade since we flew to India via Europe! The new long-haul flights although convenient, are tedious – seriously, 14 hours on a plane, tedious is putting it mildly! – but the days of exhaustedly stumbling through an airport to get to the next flight are a thing of the past! But these changeovers do have a benefit – most European airlines will let you break the journey for a few days – making it easy to fit in a mini-European vacation along with an India visit.
And so there we were, flying to India on KLM flight, and then after what has to be my shortest visit to Pune – a mere 12 days – we were Amsterdam bound!! It was bittersweet to be in Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris – the last time we were here, 9 years ago, we were on our way to Chennai after wrapping up 3 glorious years in Grenoble!! We celebrated with macarons from La Maison du Chocolat – and I managed to surprise Manasi (and myself!) by dredging up enough of my French to converse with the airport staff as we went through security!!
Onwards to Amsterdam!! So rather than a blow-by-blow account of our stay, I’m going for something different – more travelogue-y, if you will, a checklist to plan a stopover in Amsterdam. Considering that I’m so not a ‘list’ person, it would certainly be ironic if I did a list – anyway, not quite a list, but definitely more organized than my usual rambling posts – here’s 3 days in Amsterdam!
Public transport – Like most European cities, the public transport in Amsterdam in simply awesome!! Right at Schiphol airport, we bought a 3 day pass at the ‘I Amsterdam’ store – at 33 euros a piece, this pass is an absolute bargain – unlimited travel on trams, buses, Metro and the Intercity trains. The map includes bus routes and tram routes, and is handy guide when exploring the city. Tourist attractions are also marked on the map, making it easy to plan the day.
‘I Amsterdam’ sign – This iconic sign is a must for a photo-op!! Most photos I had seen were taken with the Rijksmuseum as the backdrop – but there’s a similar sign right outside Schiphol, and this one’s far less crowded than the one at the museum. This was literally the first picture we took in Amsterdam, as soon as we stepped out of the airport!
Windmills – A trip to Holland would be incomplete without windmills!! A short train ride away from Amsterdam is Zaanse Schans – a recreation of a traditional Dutch village, complete with wooden houses, and of course, windmills!! One of the windmills has free entrance, and it was such a windy day, the spice mills were hard at work!! There’s not much in the way of food here, and the one gift shop has pretty much the standard souvenirs.
Anne Frank House – This was high on Manasi’s must-see list – when we got there, the ticket office was closed due to renovations, and the only way to get in was through an online booking. Much to my surprise, online tickets were completely sold out – right through February. Apparently, booking 3 months in advance is the only way to see where Anne Frank spent her last days. I was as disappointed as Manasi, and we had to be content with taking a picture with Anne’s statue, and the outside of her house.
Canals – Amsterdam’s canals and charming little bridges are iconic. Lined with boutiques, souvenir shops, coffee shops and gorgeous views – strolling along the cobbled lanes along the canals is the best way to spend an afternoon here!! Even in the dead of winter, with grey clouds and a steady drizzle, the canals were spectacular – I can only imagine how beautiful it must be in spring!!
Dam Square – The site of the original dam on the River Amstel, Dam Square is now home to a monument. One end of the square is the Royal Palace and the New Church. Another great place to wander aimlessly – so many little streets, very touristy, with all the souvenir shops and restaurants. A paper cone of the Dutch fries is the perfect street food!!
Museums – The Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum are the 2 main museums in Amsterdam. As always, I’m the one who really wants to go into museums – but even for me, the lines outside the Van Gogh museum were too much. The Rijksmuseum was a lot easier to get into – I think most people are more interested in posing with the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign outside the museum rather than going in!! Rembrandt’s ‘Night Watch’, Vermeer’s ‘The Milkmaid’ and the huge ‘Waterloo’ are some of the best pieces in the museum. And as consolation for missing the Van Gogh museum, Van Gogh’s famous self portrait is also housed in the Rijksmuseum.
Winkels 43 – All the tourist guides I read raved about the apple pie at Winkel’s – ‘Best Apple Pie’ ever, the verdict unanimous. So how could we miss this? It took a bit of looking for, the little coffee shop is tucked away in the maze like canal streets – and when we got there, like everywhere else, a winding queue to get in. I wasn’t leaving without tasting the world’s best apple pie though, and thankfully the wait wasn’t too long. It was good pie – the difference, I think is that the pie crust is more like an apple cake rather than the traditional pie crusts – but best in the world?? – not so sure about that!! And I have to mention this – while all the other pictures in the post were taken with my iPhone, this delectable shot of Winkel 43’s apple pie was taken by Ajey with his Samsung, using the food photography option!
New Year’s Eve – There were a couple of places to go watch the fireworks – we headed to Leidseplein, hoping to get dinner at Hard Rock Cafe. The crowds were crazy – it seemed like all of Amsterdam was on the streets, ready to party!! People were setting off fireworks right in the streets – not just sparklers, but even rockets!! And at midnight, the sky was ablaze – and it went on for ever!! Tram, bus and train service was halted for a couple of hours – and we ended up taking a taxi back to the hotel!! What an incredible experience!!
Of course, Amsterdam is infamous for certain things that we obviously skipped – ours was most definitely the PG version!! We had to watch out for certain areas of the town – I hear that the Red Light District is quite the tourist attraction here – definitely not where I want to take my 13-year-old!! The souvenir shops were equally treacherous to navigate. There really aren’t any separate sections for all the cannabis-related and X-rated merchandise – browsing through harmless magnets and snow globes – and bam!, there’s an extremely disturbing set of salt and pepper shakers that I would want nowhere near my dining table!!
We really enjoyed Amsterdam – and the stopover was perfect for us to adjust to both the time difference and the winter temperatures, to help ease the transition into the frigid weather we’re experiencing here in Peoria!! Frigid or not, it’s back to the grind here in Peoria!! Hope everyone had a wonderful break and Happy New Year!!
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