I haven’t written about Amsterdam before this even though I have shared all my favourite places I have travelled.
Amsterdam it’s not you; it’s me.
It hadn’t occurred to me that I had been harbouring all this emotion. Each time I have thought about Amsterdam, planning another trip there, or writing about my experiences I have stopped. I could not get enthusiastic about a return trip.
Now I realise why.
Writing this means I have to remember. Remembering means going back to a time that is deeply painful. It has nothing to do with Amsterdam; it was just the place where everything unfolded.
I have visited Amsterdam three times. Once as a small child visiting the family of our close friends, on one of our three-month trips to Holland (my parents are Dutch).
The second time was that awful, awful day with my own family. The reason for all the residual emotions.
And a third time with my kids. Where we could finally fall in love with, and enjoy this beautiful city.
One of the worst days of my life
Unfortunately, Amsterdam was the scene of an incredibly emotional and personal episode. A culmination of a marriage imploding and extreme emotions and responses.
Not a good day.
The glimmer of light in that entire day was my first visit to the Van Gogh Museum. I saw Vincent van Gogh’s, Almond Blossom. A painting that had an enormous impact on me. I have never forgotten how in awe I was standing in front of it.
The colours, the texture.
I could have stood rooted to that spot for hours except for my teenage daughter reminding me that we had to keep moving. At the time I was unaware of van Gogh’s other Almond Blossom paintings and that he felt the almond blossom “represented hope and awakening”.
I bought a keyring of the Almond Blossom. I still use it, tattered around the edges, colours faded. It is a reminder to me that you can find something positive, special even on the darkest days. And it serves as a reminder of how strong I am and how far I have come.
It’s a strange feeling to write and remember the emotion of that day like it was yesterday. Of the journey that I had no idea I was about to embark on, the heartbreak, the learning and the roller coaster I was about to ride. But I did get through it, and I am now in possession of the knowledge that whatever life throws at me I will cope. And get through it a better person.
Apologies I am not telling the story in detail, but it’s personal.
I don’t want to open the wounds too far. And I don’t want my kids to read personal details of a horrible day, laid bare for the world to read.
Travel was making me strong
But one thing that became clear to me on that trip was that travel was making me strong and independent. It was showing me the person I could be and how competent I was.
Travel showed me my strengths and more importantly, what I deserved. Travel became and still is an integral part of my life.
My business Travel Charm was born from that journey with the desire to help other women going through hard times. To share how travel can help them. To grow, become independent, to provide a change of scenery and possibly perspective.
But that wasn’t the end of my story with Amsterdam. And I am so glad that the opportunity arose to rediscover this city.
It became a place of healing.
Returning to Amsterdam
18 months, one divorce and too many changes to mention, later we returned. My kids and I stayed for four days, taking our time, exploring, talking and creating sweet and funny memories that blanketed the dark ones.
We filled our mornings by getting a good coffee (or juice for my son) from the little café on the corner near our hotel and choosing a pastry for breakfast before heading out for the day, rugged up against the cold. It was January and freezing, but a mild winter compared to the years that came before and after.
We were staying in Holland with family for three weeks. For whatever reason, I had not planned anything except our stay in Dubai on the way home. I have no idea why. It is so unlike me to be so unprepared.
I had only been focussed on being with my family in Holland again. But three weeks is way too long to stay with anyone, and I realised my error.
So, to break up our stay, I decided to head up to Amsterdam with the kids for four days and give everyone a break. My uncle was worried about the hotel I chose because it was close to the Red Light District. I was happy with it. My cousin said we would be fine.
We caught the train up from the south of Holland, a pleasant trip. Arriving in Amsterdam, we blindly headed out to find our hotel. I don’t know what happened, but we got hopelessly lost.
My partner, Dan is constantly amused that someone in travel can get lost as much as me. He calls me directionally challenged!
The kids and me in Amsterdam.
Ladies and Windows
Anyway, we wandered up and down streets with our bags until I finally asked for directions. Following those instructions, we started down a laneway. I was focused on getting to the main road at the end, excited that we were getting close to our hotel.
On our right was a plain brick wall. I wasn’t really paying attention to the building on our left but vaguely wondered about all the windows. Anyway, my son was trying to be in charge and leading the way, with me following close behind and my daughter, then 16 bringing up the rear.
I gave a small cheer when we got to the road and confirmed it was where we needed to be. Our hotel was directly across the street. My son was taking all the credit, of course, and my daughter casually asked me did I see the windows and why some had red lights and some purple.
????? Windows? Lights? What the??!!
She clearly knew what the windows (and ladies) were (except for the meaning of the lights) but was just keen to know if I had seen them. My son was FULL of questions. You could say it was an interesting introduction to Amsterdam and a funny conversation that ensued in our hotel room not long after.
Interesting things to see
It turned out it was a great place to stay. And interesting! Go one way out the door of our hotel, and we had an easy walk to a lot of places of interest. Go the other way and things got very interesting and evoked too many questions about products in windows I didn’t really feel like answering. The truth was, I had no idea about most of them myself!!
It must have been interesting watching the three of us looking at the window displays, my son wondering “What is that?”, me thinking “How the hell does that work/go/do?” and my daughter thoroughly embarrassed by both of us.
She loved the fact that at 16, in Holland, she could legally have wine with dinner. Although she wasn’t too fussed on the limoncello we received at the Italian restaurant. Oh well, that meant two for Mum!
Coffee Shops and Cafes
I loved that on the second day my son was telling us how you could identify the coffee shops from the cafes (you know mum, the one with the smoke coming out of them) by the small green & white sticker in the window. Observant boy!
You could say that Amsterdam was quite an education for them. And me!
Weekend or Weekday?
We left on Sunday morning when all was still quiet in the city. It had been a big night; we heard partying to ALL hours. And the streets reflected that.
That is one thing I would recommend when visiting Amsterdam. If you are not there to party then visit during the week, or stay in another area. We noticed on Friday afternoon, group after group, mostly men, coming into the city. We had been comfortably wandering around feeling at ease for a couple of days, and it was only at this time that I started to feel uncomfortable. My daughter was getting ogled, propositioned and even touched. It wasn’t nice and not something I would like to experience again.
Needless to say, I didn’t tell my uncle about half our experiences, he would have been horrified!
I kept it simple staying close at night and enjoying restaurants near the hotel. We enjoyed nibbles in the room before heading out. One of the days we indulged in a big lunch and had a light picnic-style dinner in the room.
We did do other things other than seeing ladies in windows and find the coffee shops with the green and white stickers!
The kids loved NEMO, and I had a great time too. I usually get bored quickly, but this place kept my attention.
NEMO is a Science Museum packed with hands-on exhibitions and interesting displays.
Open Tuesday to Sunday – 10 am to 5.30 pm. Between 12 February to 9 September 2018, and during school holidays, NEMO is also open on Mondays.
Tickets are €16.50 each. All children under 3 are free.
Of course, a trip to Amsterdam would not be complete without a visit to Dam Square. Always full of people and activity, it is the place to sit, and people watch, be amused by a busker or two or use it as the start of your day exploring the city.
At Dam Square, you will find the Royal Palace and the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) as well as (not my cup of tea when I travel by the way) Madame Tussauds.
On a side note, what is it with Madame Tussauds everywhere you travel? I don’t get it! What is the attraction? But then I hang my head in shame that we went to the Dungeon, but I blame the kids. Yep, those kids …
The Amsterdam Dungeon
I may as well get this over and done with.
The Amsterdam Dungeon was popular. Our cousins had told us we should go, that the kids would love it. And they did. Truth is, so did I.
It was an excellent way to keep a 12-year-old boy happy amid all the sightseeing that he was growing tired of.
Van Gogh Museum
The kids indulged me with another visit to the Van Gogh Museum. Even though there was some complaining, I was happy to visit again. Next time I want to be free to take as long as I want.
I love van Gogh and could happily revisit time and time again. Next time I am making room in the luggage for posters and every other Almond Blossom souvenier I can find. Oh wait, I plan on downsizing to carry on luggage only and packing lightly. I might have to rethink that one. Does anyone know how much it costs to mail a poster from Holland to Australia?
The Van Gogh Museum is open daily from 9 am – 5 pm. On Fridays, it is open until 9 pm.
Tickets are €18 each, and it is recommended you book online for priority access. Otherwise, you could be joining a very long queue.
Vincent van Gogh’s Almond Blossom – Image courtesy Van Gogh Museum
Albert Cuyp Market
My cousin recommended this. My daughter and I both love markets, especially vintage and flea markets. Maddy bought an old box brownie camera as a gift for her friend who loved photography. There were a lot of treasures to be found.
Albert Cuyp Market is enormous with food vans, fresh produce, clothes, vintage goods, souvenirs and more. The market has been operating since 1905 and has over 260 stalls.
Located in the De Pijp area on Albert Cuypstraat the market is open Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm.
The Flower Market
I love flowers. Love them! Whenever I can, I buy flowers for myself.
Therefore, finding the Flower Market was bittersweet. I was having a hard time being surrounded by so many beautiful blooms and conflicted about not being able to buy any of them.
This fragrant market has been operating since 1862 and is the world’s largest floating flower market.
It is located on the Singel canal between the Koningsplein and the Muntplein and opens from Monday to Saturday from 9 am – 5.30 pm and Sunday from 11.30 am to 5.30 pm.
It was suggested to me that we might like trying a Rijsttafel. And who am I to pass up the chance of trying something different.
Translated Rijsttafel, is rice table. An Indonesian influenced meal consisting of an array of Indonesian side dishes presented as a single meal and served with rice (obviously) prepared in different ways. Dishes can include satay, sambals, vegetables just to name a few. It was delicious and perfect for the kids and I. We all got to try different dishes and even my son, fussy as he is, ate. And enjoyed.
I highly recommend trying this if you are visiting Amsterdam. There are plenty of Indonesian Restaurants to chose from. We enjoyed it for lunch and then didn’t need dinner.
I have never been on a Hop on Hop off Bus. But I have been on a Hop on Hop off Canal Bus. And it was a great way to get around the city in the short time we had. We experienced this on that awful day we visited. It was also a good way to get around without having to overthink, which turned out to be a blessing just to sit and enjoy the passing sites.
On our last visit, we didn’t buy a pass. Not sure why. I think I just wanted to walk. And see where it took us.
It’s a nice way to see the city and canals and I would recommend it if you don’t have a lot of time.
Anne Frank House
I don’t know anyone that doesn’t know the story, or has at least heard of, Anne Frank. I remember watching the movie as a child, so when we had the chance to visit the house, I took it.
The Van Gogh Museum was not the only highlight of that horrible day because I found this to be an incredible experience too.
Much to my children’s horror, I cried a lot. I do that when I am in an emotionally charged place, reading the stories.
Or maybe it was just the day. I don’t know, but if you are in Amsterdam go here. Book in advance, plan your visit and GO!
Note: Work is currently being carried out until May 2018, on the Anne Frank House and all tickets must be purchased online.
Opening hours are as follows:
1 November to 1 April 2018: Monday – Friday 10 am to 10 pm, Saturday 9 am to 10 pm, Sunday 9 am to 7 pm.
1 April to 1 November: Daily from 9 am to 10 pm.
Tickets are: Adults: euro 9*, Children age 10-17: euro 4,50*, Children Under 9: free
*From 1 May: 10 and 5 euro. Online ticket: euro 0,50 surcharge
We wandered, we laughed, and we got lost. When we were tired we napped, a couple of nights we ate out, the other we didn’t. It was easy. No pressure, no schedule, no tears.
I had forgotten about our time spent in Amsterdam. Well not forgotten but I had not allowed myself to revisit my memories too closely. The most painful memories had been kept bottled up.
I am glad I finally pushed through and recounted my experiences.
I started on this blogging journey thinking I would create guides for travel, but what I really wanted to do is tell stories, my stories of travel and life. This was a hard one. So much of the change in my life over the last seven years is entwined in travel. Through my stories, I wanted to share with others the true gift that travel is. Finding yourself.
Thanks for reading and I hope on your trip to Amsterdam you create precious memories to treasure always.