Playing Tourist – Our First Visitor!

My friend, Brenda, was my first friend in Barcelona.  We were introduced before we even moved by our husbands, who worked together.  She was already in Barcelona for about a year before we got there and prior to our move, was my go to person for questions like “Do I bring my baking sheets?”  and “Is there a GAP or should I just buy clothes for my kids for the next 2 years here and bring it all with me?”.  I know, kind of ridiculous questions in hindsight, right?  

Not only was she the person who explained the ropes to me about life in Barcelona so I would have some idea of what to expect, she was the first person to give me the grand tour upon our arrival.  She knew every single detail about every single place we went.  It was like having a personal professional tour guide.  And it was awesome.  I had insight into our new city that I never would have expected at that stage and I still remember the tour fondly 🙂

So I was super excited when she booked her flight to come visit me here in the Netherlands.  Only thing is…. I really don’t know that much about Amsterdam yet!!!!  I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to be in the city.  It was different in Spain because we actually lived IN the city, not in the suburbs like we do here.  However, I still planned a fun three days with us which included exploring some places that I hadn’t yet had a chance to see.  It was a fun visit filled with lots of great conversation, great weather and beautiful sights.

Day 1 – Naarden

Since the kids only have school until noon on Wednesdays, we didn’t have a lot of time to ourselves to do much exploring.  I picked Brenda up at the airport right after dropping the kids off at school.  We had coffee in the Vesting and I showed her around town a little bit before heading to pick up the kids.

After a lunch of bagels in Almere, we headed back to home to pick up our bicycles.  The kids had swimming class and what better way to get there on a beautiful afternoon than by bike?  Not to mention, it meant that we would need to bike through the Vesting which is my favorite place on earth these days.  With it’s breathtaking beauty, tranquil surroundings, bike paths, walking paths and a lot of history, it’s a great place to just relax with an ice cream cone on a sunny afternoon.

So after swimming we did just that – we biked back to the Vesting, grabbed ice cream cones and sat in the sun for a few minutes before taking off on a little walk above the bunkers.  Then we did a little bike ride around the moats of the Vesting in hopes of seeing the baby goats at the petting zoo (alas it was closed).  Heading home, we got to see all the baby sheep – there are tons of them now.  Every time I run or bike by them, it puts a huge smile on my face.

We finished out day 1 at a local Italian restaurant in the Vesting, sin niños!

Day 2 – Amsterdam

I want to first give a huge shout out to Josh for helping me out on our Amsterdam day.  With the kids finishing school at 3:15 and a 40 min drive (without traffic) from Amsterdam, we would have only had about 4 1/2 hours in the city.  Since Brenda has never been to Amsterdam, I knew there was no way this was enough.  So Josh kindly offered leave work early to pick up the kids so she and I wouldn’t need to rush back.  It made a huge difference in our day and so thank you for doing that for us!

We were in the city by 10AM and dropped off keys and parking ticket to Josh so he wouldn’t need to take the train back to get the kids.  We had a vague idea of where we wanted to go, but decided that since Amsterdam has a really great tourist information building, we’d stop there for a map before hitting the ground running.  Armed with a map and a vague plan for the day, we decided upon attempting the Anne Frank Museum, brunch at Sara’s Pancakes, the Palace, the Rijksmuseum and then later on a canal tour before having dinner and heading back home.  In the end, we did even more than this and the day turned out even better than expected!

We walked towards the Anne Frank Museum with the faint hope that perhaps we might be able to get in.  I had checked online for tickets last week and they were sold out for the entire month of April, so I didn’t have much hope.  And as the line was probably about 1/4 mile long, our hopes were dashed, but no worries, there were pancakes in our future!

Flowers near the Anne Frank House

Flowers near the Anne Frank House

We go to Sara’s Pancake House fairly often – it’s not every time we are in the city, but just about.  And Sara always remembers us.  Yesterday was no different.  But that’s not why I mention it.  It’s because there is a tv above the kitchen that has pictures scrolling of previous customers and I happened to look up and said “Oh my god, I think that’s Aidan!” and in fact, there was a picture of Aidan on the tv from 2011, our first trip to visit what would unknowingly become our future home!

Aidan's picture - kind of hard to see, above the kitchen.

Aidan’s picture – kind of hard to see, above the kitchen.

After filling our bellies with delicious pancakes, we headed off to Dam Square, the historical center of Amsterdam, where we went to the Royal Palace.  What we didn’t realize was that this had not always been a palace but had first been the location of City Hall.  It was used as City Hall from 1655 until 1808 when King Louis Napoleon (brother of Napoleon Bonaparte) decided to make it his residence.  However, King Louis Napoleon was not on the throne long as his son, Napoleon Louis Bonaparte (King Louis II) took over in 1810.  Shortly thereafter, as in 10 days later, the Netherlands was annexed by France and it became the home of the French Governor.  A few years later, in 1813, Price William VI returned to the Netherlands and retook the throne.  Quite the history over just a few short years!

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It was from the Palace that we worked our way over to the Rijksmuseum – home to many famous Rembrandt paintings amongst a plethora of others!  As we worked our way there, we actually managed to find the Flower Market – something that Brenda had wanted to see and we just coincidentally ran into.  Similar to La Boqueria in Barcelona, the Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt) is a tourist trap.  But it’s still a must see tourist trap.  It actually dates back to 1862 and is the only floating flower market in the world – of course, you wouldn’t know you were floating when you are on it and it’s well anchored to the side of the canal.

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We finally managed our way to the Rijksmuseum.  It’s an impressive building from any angle and had been closed for 10 years for renovations, only reopening in 2013.  While the museum itself has been around since 1800, the current location was established in 1885 and has over 8000 objects on display (out of their collection of over 1 million pieces) that range from the year 1200 to 2000.  We didn’t actually take any pictures inside the museum – we actually weren’t sure if you could as we didn’t see anyone with cameras initially.  We did take a few outside thought Regardless, I will admit, I’m not a lover of museums – I appreciate art and the talent it takes to create it, but wandering around a museum is not really my cup of tea.  However, with the right company it’s worth it and Brenda was a great person to wander with – she is an encyclopedia of history and art and it was a pleasure learning more about what it was that we were seeing rather than just reading the plaque next to each artwork.

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Brenda with one of the I am Amsterdam signs and the Rijksmuseum in the background.

Brenda with one of the I am Amsterdam signs and the Rijksmuseum in the background.

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Grabbing a quick snack before making our way back towards Centraal Station where we would do our canal tour, we took the scenic route back.  First was Leidesplein and some cute shops… but then we decided to make a little detour.  It was unexpected but something both of us were curious about.  The Red Light District.  Yup, we checked it out.  It was daylight so not as “active” as I’m sure it is in the night time.  But regardless, it was an interesting sight and I don’t know if words can describe quite how I felt about it all.  A little dirty.  A little curious.  A little sad.  That these women feel that the best way or best option to make their way in this world is by selling their bodies to strangers is sad to witness.  Standing in their windows and tapping the glass to get the attention of passerbys, hoping someone will take them up on their “offer” is sadly disturbing.  I know it takes all kinds to make the world go round and I know that it is legal here, but it saddens me that this is a tourist spot as well – women selling themselves.  Though apparently it’s not all women.  We noticed some blue lights and were curious about those since it appeared that all were women.  We did a little research and let’s just say the blue lights stand for something else and should you decide to venture into the Red Light District, you could get a bit of a surprise if you happen upon a blue light.  We’ll leave it at that.

On to brighter things was our canal tour.  I had hoped to do a more private tour but the one that I wanted wasn’t available until later in the month, so we did the typical tourist one – you know, the one that announces every location in about 5 different languages, not even offering you headphones so you can listen to it in just one.  It did help me work on both my Dutch and Spanish though 😉

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We picked up our little Iamsterdam sign at the Rijksmuseum only we then forgot to use it!  So we made up for it during the canal trip!

We picked up our little Iamsterdam sign at the Rijksmuseum only we then forgot to use it! So we made up for it during the canal trip!

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Ending with a great dinner, our one day in Amsterdam was so much fun and educational.  I’m so glad I had Brenda with me to start getting to know my new city.  But the fun isn’t over yet… we also hit Keukenhof to see the tulips, but that one deserves a post all it’s own!

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Knuffels en kussen,

Julie

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