You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.
The final stop of our Europe Trip was Amsterdam. I was a little nervous about how I’d feel about the city. I have a friend who went last year and didn’t like it at all, so I had low expectations.
Spoiler: to my great delight, I LOVED Amsterdam from the moment we got off the train.
We took a tram from Amsterdam Centraal to the Leidseplein area and walked the rest of the way to Hotel D’Amsterdam, where we stayed for our three nights in the city. It was definitely the most European of the hotels we stayed in during this trip, with the steepest, narrowest staircase I’ve ever climbed and a bathroom small enough that I could stand in the middle and touch both walls at the same time. Novotel Brainpark this was not! But it got the job done.
We went to Thrill Grill, a burger place a couple blocks away from the hotel, for dinner Sunday night. Our waiter asked where we were from, which made me wonder: do all English speakers sound the same to non-native English speakers? Personally, I have a really hard time distinguishing between any non-American English accents. British, South African, Australian: they all sound close enough to the same to me that I can’t tell the difference. I thought it was obvious that we were from the U.S. based on our English, but maybe if English isn’t your first language, all the accents sound the same? Anyway, we told him we were from the U.S., and he wanted to know if we liked their burgers better than the ones back home. We did (truly. We didn’t say that just to be nice.), and he was shocked! Perhaps he was unaware of the superiority of Dutch cheese to U.S. cheese, and how that instantly makes a cheeseburger 10 times better.
The next day (Day 10 of the trip) was our first full day in Amsterdam, and we kicked it off with a two-ish mile run to/in Vondelpark. It was really pretty and perfectly suited for running, though, this being the Netherlands, you had to be much more prepared for bike encounters than you need to be in the U.S. We refueled with breakfast at the hotel, cleaned up, and then walked through the Nine Little Streets shopping district en route to Amsterdam Centraal to undertake our last Rick Steves walking tour of the trip.
The walk started at Amsterdam Centraal and continued down the Damrak. The Damrak is one of the main ways into the city from the train station, so it’s filled with things that appeal to tourists: restaurants, souvenir shops, and the like. We hadn’t done much souvenir shopping up to that point on the trip, aside from Delft, so we stopped in several stores to see what we could find. At first, I was all, “Souvenirs are for chumps! Who needs chintzy Dutch tchotchkes?” and very soon after I was like, “*I* need all the chintzy Dutch tchotchkes!!!!” and ended up with a bunch of things that will likely collect dust on a shelf. But will also remind me of my trip! So, worth it!
Anyway, as we walked down the Damrak we passed the Beurs van Berlage, the former stock exchange building:
and ended up in Dam Square, probably the most prominent square in the city. The Royal Palace presides over the square. We decided to pay the entrance fee to see it, and holy cow, WORTH IT. It was stunning.
The Royal Palace has served multiple purposes since its construction in the mid-1600s, but today is an active palace, hosting state functions and other official events. When no one is using the palace for such activities, though, you can pay 10 Euro to see it.
A really great audio tour was included with the price of admission. I learned a lot about the building, its construction, and its history. The whole building was just so beautiful, and the artwork (the sculptures in particular) were out of control.
We spent way longer at the Royal Palace than we intended and were starving by the time we finished walking around, so we went across the square to de Bijenkorf Kitchen for lunch. de Bijenkorf is a fancy department store, and the top floor is a cafeteria-style restaurant (the Kitchen). The whole experience reminded me a lot of Seven on State at Macy’s on State Street, though based on the designer names I saw on the way up to the Kitchen, I think de Bijenkorf is more along the lines of Barneys than Macy’s in terms of fanciness.
After eating, we tried to follow Rick Steves’ sneaky way of seeing the Nieuwe Kerk without paying the entrance fee (enter through the gift shop and go up a flight of stairs), but clearly the gift shop had caught on that people were doing this, and the flight of stairs was blocked. The Nieuwe Kerk is primarily used as an exhibition space these days–it isn’t used as a church at all, and even if it were, it wouldn’t be all that interesting to see (in my opinion) from a pretty-interiors-of-churches standpoint because it’s been a Dutch Reformed church since the 1500s–and I wasn’t interested in seeing the art exhibit they had on while we were there. So we saw the gift shop and then continued on our walking tour.
The next part of the tour took us down Kalverstraat, a big shopping street. On that street, we saw De Papegaai (officially, The Church of Sts. Peter and Paul). It’s also known as the Hidden Church, because that’s exactly what it originally was: hidden. The ever-tolerant Dutch didn’t outlaw Roman Catholicism after the Reformation, but they didn’t want to see it. If Catholics wanted to worship in their normal style, they couldn’t do it publicly, hence why this church was hidden.
After stopping in De Papegaai, we continued walking down Kalverstraat to the Amsterdam Museum. The museum is housed in a building that started off as a monastery and became an orphanage that operated from 1580-1960 (!). We didn’t go into the museum, but you can access the courtyard outside the entrance for free. Here, they still display the cupboards children living in the orphanage used to store their things, which was really interesting to see.
You can also walk through the Amsterdam Gallery for free, so we did that.
Exiting out the other side of the gallery brought us to the begijnhof, a word you may recognize from my Brugge post. Since I didn’t explain what a begijnhof is then, I’ll do it now! Begijnhofs were dwelling places for religious lay (i.e.: non-clergy) women who lived a lifestyle similar to that of a nun, but weren’t actually nuns. All the houses face a center courtyard, like the hofjes in Leiden (though this was much bigger than the hofjes we saw there).
While the begijnhof itself was interesting, I was much more interested in the English Reformed Church inside it.
The church, originally built to serve as a chapel for the begjinhof, was taken away from the Beguines (the women who lived there) after the Reformation and given to English-speaking Protestants. Some of those English-speaking Protestants eventually moved to Leiden, and eventually became the Pilgrims. That alone was interesting to me, but things got even more interesting as we wandered around the sanctuary and found a plaque on the wall.
City of Chicago! That’s not something I expected to see in Amsterdam!
Apparently the Chicago Congregational Club gave this plaque to the church in the 1900s in honor of the Pilgrims (the Congregational church traced its lineage back to the Pilgrims, hence their interest). I thought that was so cool!
Since this post is already plenty long, I’ll leave it at this for today and wrap up Amsterdam later this week 🙂