Author: Christian Dew
Date of Trip: February 2013
Amsterdam. Just saying the name of the city is such excitement. I have traveled to Amsterdam in both the late fall and in the deep winter seasons. I can honestly say that each time, the city was always bursting with excitement and it seems to wrap its arms around you the moment you exit Central Station.
My first trip to Amsterdam, I traveled alone and it was my first journey outside of the United States. I felt so liberated with not a care in the world. It was fun, exciting and never a boring moment for I was learning the entire time I was there. My first flight over seas was on American Airlines. It was a nice flight, comfortable and I was surprised how still I could be for almost thirteen hours but then again, the excitement to get to Amsterdam was more than I could stand. Once I arrived at Schiphol Airport, I quickly learned my way around. The airport is very easily marked in both Dutch and English. Outside, I waited for the hotel shuttle to pick me up. I stayed at the newly built Ramada Apollo Amsterdam Centre. I would give this hotel a five star rating easily. The staff was friendly, helpful and it was very clean. The restaurant on the 17th Floor was superb in their dining choices and from there, you can relax with a drink and view the city. It was beautiful and breathtaking. The average pricing for dinner was around 35 euros for one person but if you wanted to splurge for a great dinner, atmosphere and amazing service then it was well worth the spending.
The Ramada Apollo was about ten minutes from the airport and about a ten minute tram ride to Central Station. The tram stops just near the hotel so it is a very short, quick walk and it arrives in short intervals so your waiting time is really less than ten minutes. Staying not so close to the centre was a wise choice the first time I went because it gave me a good feel of how the tram system worked and it was not as costly as most hotels closer to the city centre. For a weeks stay, I paid around 900 euros which was very reasonable for the immaculate condition of the hotel. You had free wifi, cable tv, room service daily that cleaned your room and the room views overlooked Rembrandt Park. Sleeping was perfect for the beds were super comfortable, the kind you just melt into and there was on outside noise. It was quiet and relaxing.
One of my favorite things I did was purchase the Iamsterdam City Card. You can go to their website at www.iamsterdam.com and see all the card has to offer. I will share with you a bit about the highlights of the card. You can purchase the card for 24, 48 or 72 hours. I purchased the 72 hours which gave me a great head start to exploring the city on my own. Free entrances to attractions, discounts on food, unlimited use of public transportation. This card is a must have for any traveler in Amsterdam. It more than paid for itself the first day I was there. They are easily located across from Central Station in a building with blue letters that read “GVB Tickets & Info”. You cant miss it so make sure you get your card.
My favorite discovery was a small café called Lunchcafé Studio 2 located the corner of Singel and St.Jorisstraat at the Flower Market. They offer breakfast and lunch. It is very reasonably priced and a good lunch or breakfast can cost you around 5 to 7 euros. You can also use the restroom for free as long as you are a customer. The atmosphere is simple, laid back and friendly. True Dutch style café with a little bit of America added into it.
I was seeking some good, American food so I found the Hard Rock Café which is located across from Vondel Park. Their address is Hard Rock Cafe Amsterdam, Max Euweplein 57-61, 1017 MA Amsterdam. My waiter was American and I managed to make a few friends there so my time at the Rock was joyous and pleasurable to meet some Dutch natives who were intrigued about America. Just like any other Hard Rock Café, the pricing was fairly reasonable for dining out. I paid around 15 euros for my dinner there.
If you are looking for some fun attractions, I will share with you the ones I enjoyed the most. I took a trip to the Amsterdam Dungeon which is close to Dam Square. The cost of entry is around 17.50 euros if you purchase online. If you like free beer, yes I said free beer then you must visit the Heineken Experience and that is located at Stadhouderskade 78, 1072 AE, Amsterdam. I had a free entrance with my Iamsterdam city card so that was very helpful. The tour is self guided or you can go with a group. I liked just browsing through on my own. You get to learn how to pour beer like the Dutch, taste the quality of the beer and enjoy some interactive fun toward the end. I also visted the Science Museum NEMO. It is mostly for kids but who isn’t a kid at heart and it was another addition to my purchase of the Iamsterdam city card. It was a great way to spend the afternoon and I learned how the Dutch have the most purest and best quality of water in all of Europe.
Naturally, my trip come to an end and I was already thinking of what my next visit would be like and when would I arrive. That time quickly come in February of 2013. This time I did some careful planning and it was much fun because not only had I made friends along my journey the first time, I was somewhat familiar with the city already.
The winter visit, I stayed at the Grand Hotel Amrath located right in the city centre and about a seven minute walk from Central Station. It was the perfect location. The Grand Hotel Amrath is a 5 star luxury hotel with such an amazing rich, history of an old shipping house. It overlooks the canals, the river IJ. I cant begin to say enough about this hotel. Free mini bar that is stocked daily, nespresso in every room, very large bathtubs and spacious bathrooms, robes, slippers, daily room cleaning and let me tell you about the luxury of the spa services. It was the most relaxing of my trip this time. I spent time in the heated pool, the Jacuzzi, Turkish steam bath, sauna and then back to the room to absorb it all. It was marvelous, relaxing and this hotel has it all from excellent customer service to immaculate rooms. I did not eat in the restaurant but I did order room service twice and it was superb. The cost of the hotel was a little more than my last visit but when there is snow on the ground outside and its freezing cold, the relaxation of the spa services make up for it.
I was able to spend time with my local friends I had made. I was invited into the typical Dutch apartment and have dinner with some very nice people and formed even more friendships. It was a wonderful experience and one that I cant wait to get back to. I was taken around the city by a friend of mine who is a photographer and often writes articles for a local magazine in Amsterdam. My time with my friend Sam was very interesting for he showed me the non tourist side of the city and explained to me how they live, how they work and how they tolerate each other.
You must not leave out the canal cruise. I was able to take a free one with my Iamsterdam city card. There a few you can choose from. I do not think one is better than the other. They all tour the canals and each canal is beautiful in its own way.
I did discover another great place on Singel to eat lunch and dinner. The Singel 404 café is a cozy little place to visit with friends and the wide variety of sandwiches and beer is excellent. Reasonably priced as well. If you go during the busy lunch hour, it may be hard to find a place to sit but it is well worth the wait.
If you are looking for a great steak dinner, I recommend you try the La Gouch located a short distance from the Grand Hotel Amrath. It is around 15 euros to eat dinner and the service is very relaxed. It was like being back home in the states having a steak dinner somewhere in the south.
Of course we all know the Dutch and their love of the bicycle. I was soon on my first bicycle in the city and I had not been on a bicycle in years…many years. Sam took me to his friend who own’s Mikes Bike Tours. It is by far the best way to see the city and get around. You can find them at Kerkstraat 134 H, 1017 GP Amsterdam. The rentals are very reasonable and they will treat you like family. It was one of the best experiences I had while I was there.
Upon my trip ending, I find that each time I fall more in love with the city of Amsterdam. There is always something to do, always someone willing to help you and English is widely spoken there. I hope to live there some day and if not for long term, for a short while just to have a longer experience. It is very true that the Dutch are very tolerant but they are really very friendly as well. Taking a trip to anywhere you want to go is possible and its the experience that makes it so joyous. I did not spend a lot of money. I did as much as I could without spending too much and I contribute that to the purchase of the Iamsterdam card. It is truly the best way to see the city. I hope you enjoy your next visit (or your first) to the most beautiful city in the world, Amsterdam. Embrace her and she will embrace you back.