Amsterdam: day 4.

Let's get back to this trip, shall we? Our last day in Amsterdam was busy. We didn't have any specific plans for the day, but there were still a ton of things we hadn't done that we could get into for free with our citypass. First we went to the Nemo Science museum. It was basically your typical science museum, but it was way cool! There were a few um...European sections that we didn't wander into, and that was pretty strange, but besides that, it was one of the better science museums I've been to! 

After the science museum, we went to the Holocaust Museum. The Holocaust Museum was still in production (they just started building it last year) but it was still really powerful. The building we were in used to be a holding place for children that were taken from their parents and going to be sent to concentration camps. The museum had items from these children, along with their stories. We learned though, that the people who worked in that building started passing children over the wall in the courtyard to the people on the other side (I don't remember exactly what was on the other side) to give them a safe place to rest or play for a bit. Eventually, the people on the other side started taking the children and delivering them to safe places. I admire them so much for their bravery and willingness to risk their lives.

Side note: if you want to read two really great, recent books about The Holocaust, I highly recommend The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Both are about the Holocaust in France, but learning about the Holocaust in Amsterdam reminded me how much I loved both books.

We walked through the Jewish Quarter and made our way to the Botanical Garden. We looked at the plants and flowers, and went into the little butterfly house. The sun had come out while we were there, so we mostly spent a lot of time sitting on benches and being warm for a change haha. After the garden, we went to tour the Van Loon house, an old canal house that belonged to Willem van Loon, co-founder of the Dutch East India Company. I doubt that all canal houses were as grand as this one, but it was fun to see how the wealthy lived. But mostly there were a lot of secrets doors that we could see in the walls, but we weren't allowed through them, and I really want to know what secrets the house has!!

That evening, we quickly made our way through the Amsterdam city museum. Luckily, there were videos, and our audioguides played in English, because all the plaques and infographics were in Dutch. So because of that, and the fact that we had to cruise through the museum so quickly, I honestly don't remember much about the history of Amsterdam. The things I remember the most are the things I learned at the windmill! Sorry! After the museum, we wandered a little ways into Vondelpark, which is essentially the Central Park of Amsterdam. It was hard to walk in the park, and anywhere in Amsterdam really, because of all the bikes. I think it's awesome that so many people bike through the city, and it's nice that the town is small enough that anywhere you need to go is just a short bike ride away, but the bikes definitely have the right of way there. Rather than dodging bikes, we found a bench  and sat down to people watch and enjoy the views of Vondelpark.

We left the park to find dinner, and ended up at an Italian Place (the Very Italian Place, to be exact) close to our hotel. I don't know if I have mentioned this before, but for pretty much every single meal in Amsterdam, we had to allow at least an hour to eat. This meal took probably close to two hours, because they didn't take our order for a really long time! I know that, in Europe, they like to really take their time and enjoy their meals, but as tourists, it was hard because we had places to go and things to see! Probably my least favorite part of the trip, which sounds petty, but who has time to relax on vacation??


Amsterdam: day 3.

Day three in Amsterdam was a very informative one! We let ourselves sleep in a little, then had breakfast at this cute little cafe. Our plan after that was to go to the Van Gogh Museum, but we had to wait in line for over an hour before. We waited, and it was probably worth it just to say we've seen some of his more famous pieces. After the museum, we took the train out to Sloten, a little town that sits on the very edge of Amsterdam. There, we got to tour a working windmill! This was probably my favorite part of Amsterdam, because we learned basically why Amsterdam is the way that it is.

Quick story: when our plane landed in Amsterdam, Brandon looked at his phone, and it said we were sitting below sea level. We were really confused, but we figured the phone probably was too. 

Back at the windmill, we learned that Amsterdam really does sit below sea level! In fact, many parts of it, including the airport, used to be lakes. They built windmills to pump the water out of the lake so they could use the land. The canals were built to gradually transfer water from the city back out to the sea. From where we stood on the windmill, we could see that the canal itself below us (not its water level) was lower than the canal across the bridge. So each of the canals pump water out and up and up and up until it makes its way back to the sea. Pretty cool, huh? The lady at the windmill mentioned multiple times that the windmills are there to "keep their feet dry." If you ever find yourself in the Netherlands, I highly recommend touring a working windmill!

We stopped for a snack on our way back to the city, and I had a Dutch croquette! It was basically just a deep fried roll of chicken in breadcrumbs, but it was really good. That afternoon, we went to the Tulip Museum, and learned that tulips aren't actually native to Amsterdam. They originated in Turkey, and were later brought to Holland. It was a full day of learning! After the tulip museum, we took a canal cruise! It was neat to see Amsterdam from a different perspective, but I far prefer to look at Amsterdam alongside the canals, not in them. But we did learn that a lot of people have houseboats, and that they live in the canals, which I thought was interesting. We also saw a giant parking garage for bikes. It was three levels, and just full of bikes. So full that we couldn't even tell what the structure was until we were right next to it; it was just a giant glimmering...thing haha.

My favorite part of that day was touring the windmill, because we just learned so much about the history of Amsterdam. Even though it's kind of weird that they chose to build a city in a place full of water, the windmills and canals sure make it beautiful!


Amsterdam: day 2.

Day 2 in Amsterdam, and our first full day, was one that we all were really looking forward to! We let ourselves sleep in that morning, since we were still so jet-lagged from the night before, then headed back toward Central Station to find some breakfast. We ate at this cute little pancake place, and ordered Dutch pancakes, which are essentially just crepes, but a little thicker, and not quite as delicious (in my personal opinion). Mine was covered in chocolate though, so I was happy. We ordered Dutch pancakes, because of course we kind of had to, but I saw someone order American pancakes with chocolate on them, and I still dream about them. They just looked so fluffy and delicious, and I really wish we would have gone back for them haha.

But anyway, that's not what this post is about. After breakfast, we went and picked up our rental car! We got lucky and were upgraded to a car with gps, which was nice for me because I didn't have to navigate us the whole way to our destinations. Brandon drove us out through the countryside toward the tulip fields, but traffic was backed up seriously so bad, so we turned and went to the windmills first instead. I was really excited when I saw pictures of these windmills. In all the pictures I saw, there were like, three or four windmills, so you can imagine my surprise when we got there and saw all of them. It was so nice that day, so we spent quite a bit of time walking out to the windmills. There was a path that stretched pretty far, so we were able to see them up close, and get different views. It was perfect. I think they look so fake in the pictures!

After the windmills, we made our way back to the Keukenhof tulip gardens. We were there probably a week or two too soon, but most everything was in bloom inside the gardens, and it was beautiful! Just endless displays of different types of flowers (but mostly tulips), and so many colors!! Like the canals, I just kept wanting to take so many pictures! After we left the gardens, we stopped by the fields on our way out. I hadn't done my research properly, and was sad to find out that Keukenhof fields was not the place where we could rent bikes and ride them through the fields. But we stood there and took lots of pictures, so I was still pretty happy!

I have to put a quick plug in for Brandon here: he navigated the streets of Amsterdam like nobody's business. I mean, it helped that he had a big gps screen right in front of him, and that they drive on the same side of the road as we do here, but he still did a great job. And I'm grateful that he actually wanted to drive on this trip, because it helped us do and see a lot more things!

That night we found a cute little Italian restaurant for dinner, and it was probably the best Italian food I've ever had. Actually, tied for first with the Italian we had in Paris. But still, so good. Then we wandered through the fair that was situated right in the middle of Dam Square, and found some stroopwafels for dessert!


Amsterdam: day 1.

There's a chance I could fit a majority of our trip into one post, but to save you a little, I've decided to break it up. So here we go!

A few months ago, Brandon and I decided that we needed to go on a vacation. We had just been to Disneyland, but we wanted to go somewhere new over my spring break, and for some reason, Amsterdam stuck out in my head as the place to go. Fast forward a little while, and we were on our way!

The Thursday before we left, we got a text that our flight had been delayed, and then Friday morning, Brandon got an email that one of our hotels had closed, and would not be refunding us due their cancellation policy. Shout out to Citi Card for disputing the charge and refunding us anyway! I thought for sure that these were signs of how the whole trip was going to be, but besides those two things, it actually went off without a hitch. Anyway! After a l o n g plane ride, we got to Amsterdam at about 11:00 am. We dropped our luggage off at the hotel, then headed to the Jordaan (pronounced Yordaan) area to see the canals and find some lunch! You guys, I could not get enough of the canals. Every time we walked over one, I stopped to take a picture. I realized after about five pictures that they all basically looked the same. But I still don't care!! They are so pretty!!

After lunch, we headed back to our hotel to take a short nap. Brandon and I woke up before James and Candis, so we wandered through Oosterpark for a bit. Everything was so green, and the trees were already in bloom!  Once we met up with the other two, we made our way to the Anne Frank House. We hadn't purchased tickets in advance, so we had to wait in a huge line. They told us is would be an hour and a half wait, and the house closed in about two hours, so we were really hopeful that the line would move quickly and we would make it in. And we did! I'm so glad we were able to tour the house, because it really put into perspective just how little we actually know about life during the Holocaust. Sure, we can read about it, and we can visit museums and watch movies, but being in the small space where the families were confined, walking on the creaky floor that they had to silently move over...I can't even begin to imagine what their lives must have been like. The house didn't have any furniture in it, and the whole time I just kept thinking, how could they fit a bed in here? How could these parents sleep in the kitchen when there's barely any room for a table? It's so crazy. And humbling.

We finished there at ten, then walked around to find food. Fun fact about Amsterdam: every restaurant not in tourist central closes their kitchen down way early. I don't remember exactly what time, but it was before we go to each of them.  We wandered the streets near the Anne Frank House, in and out of restaurants, then did the same with restaurants by our hotel, only to be disappointed that most places were only serving drinks. So on our very first night in the mystical, magical land of Amsterdam, we had McDonalds for dinner. But Big Mac is the same in every language, so really, maybe it could have been worse.