Amsterdam The Easy Way

Amsterdam canal
Typical Amsterdam canal view

How I discovered how to navigate the beautiful city of Amsterdam with a simple tap of my phone and save money to boot…

The very first delight of this highly successful weekend visiting the lowlands cultural hub that is Amsterdam was the ease of getting there. Eurostar Standard Premium made the whole process plain sailing. From check in / customs / immigration it took me just over 16 minutes before I was though and ready to board. And this was on a bank holiday weekend, so King’s Cross St. Pancras was very busy at 10am. An extremely comfortable seat, lunch with wine served within half an hour of departure set the tone of efficiency that was to follow for the next few days.

Amsterdam museum
Frabrique des Lumières Museum

In just over four hours I was 363 miles further into Europe and walking along the platform of Amsterdam Central Station. My next means of travel was the innovative I Am(sterdam) City Card. You can buy a physical version of this or as I did just download it as an App. It comes in 24, 48, 72, 96 and 120 hour options and starts from only €60. This represents extremely good value as it covers free entrance (or heavily discounted) to over 70 museums and attractions as well as free canal cruises, free bicycle rental and free public transport. So, I jumped on the No. 18 bus for the 20 minute trip to my hotel, the MET Hotel Amsterdam, a groovy hotel falling somewhere between boutique and bijou in concept. Just 56 rooms, a low light cool bar used by locals as well as guests and a respectable restaurant complete the scene.

I headed into to the centre of Amsterdam with my trusty I amsterdam City Card and due to an error on my part I find myself an hour early for a visit to the Verzets Resistance Museum, fortunately a plan B was close at hand. The ARTIS Amsterdam Royal Zoo. So, I nipped in there (saving myself €26 in the process) and was quite startled at how green and pretty everything was. It’s a long time since I visited a zoo and they have changed that’s for sure. Conservation and preservation are the watch words here. And a thrilling selection of animals to look at. The Red Panda lounging in an open area on a tree caught my eye at once. The lions had ‘heated rocks’ to simulate the African plains and the Ibex had quite steep foothills to climb at their leisure. It appears that the inhabitants of the zoo are as chilled as the locals who inhabit the city.

Dutch Windmills in Zaanse Schans
Windmills in Zaanse Schans

Verzets Resistance Museum was worth the wait (I had not realised they opened an hour later at the weekends). It’s a stylishly curated series of spaces which reveal a 100 personal stories of difficult challenges facing the Dutch during occupation. It’s really detailed in an engaging way; things are captioned in Dutch and English so all very accessible. The moving stories are sometimes heart breaking and chilling in equal measure. I was moved to see an oriented map of the city with small black crosses placed in various densities across the map. It was the German map of the Jewish population, preparation for the systematic removal of them to the concentration camps. Photographs of children separated from their parents are agonising to take in. A moving tribute to the brave and fallen of the war years, well worth a visit.

Making the most of my covered travel I chose to head out to windmill country, Zaanse Schans, a region known as the larder of the Netherlands, providing much of its food, it’s just north of Amsterdam and only a short journey on the train. The river Zaan was the lifeblood to this area and it’s why it became a hub of production. There are working windmills including one that invented cutting wood at a vastly increased output which had previously been by hand, this revolutionary technology was invented in 1700s. Along with the pleasant scenery there’s a museum with a biscuit factory built into it. If you’re not hungry there are plenty of good paintings in the gallery to feast on. Food is always a pleasure in Amsterdam, I ate at various restaurants (which are listed at the foot of this article), all were good and offered that pan cultural experience we’ve all become used to.

Van Vermeer and Van Gogh
Frabrique des Lumières Museum

A big highlight of my trip was to a visit to Frabrique des Lumières which was showing Vermeer and Van Gogh with a little Mondrian thrown in for good measure. If you are unfamiliar with these presentations think giant empty factory space with no windows and every famous piece of art created by the above screened on to the walls, ceiling, and floors of the building in a phantasmagorical way, melting into each other. There is sound too and it’s not just the paintings themselves but very cleverly it incorporates elements of the paintings too. So, for example individual people or the Girl with the Pearl Earring would be isolated and float across the wall and mix through to another famous painting. This goes on for an hour and it is so mesmerising and immersive, time just flies by. The whole experience works on nearly all the senses except taste and smell. It’s disorientating and bewitching. A must. The show changes every year and is included in the I amsterdam City Card.

After all that excitement what was there left to do but drift down a canal or two on a wonderful boat. The sun was out, the city was alive and vibrant, and I found myself planning my next trip, I’ll be using the city card again, it makes life so easy in this easiest of cities.

I travelled to Holland with Eurostar, stayed at the Met Hotel in Amsterdam and enjoyed meals at Kaap West and D’Swarte Walvis.

Author Bio:

Neil Hennessy-Vass is a widely published globetrotting food and travel writer and photographer and one of our regular writers and contributing editor.

Photographs by Neil Hennessy-Vass

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