You can find all my Europe Trip posts here.
Picking up where I left off…
We exited the begijnhof into the Spui:
and walked from there to P.C.J. Hajenius, a tobacco shop. I don’t smoke, nor do I have any interest in smoking, but Rick Steves assured us that one does not have to smoke to appreciate P.C.J. Hajenius, and he was right. The store’s interior is reminiscent of those from the 1910s, and being inside felt like stepping back in time. It was worth the detour to see!
A little down the road was the Munttoren, or mint tower:
and just beyond that was my favorite part of our Amsterdam walking tour: the bloemenmarkt, or flower market.
The bloemenmarkt is made up of stalls floating in the Singel canal. At these stalls, you can buy all sorts of flower-related things: bulbs, garden decorations, etc. I really enjoyed wandering through the different stalls and seeing everything they had to offer. I bought a couple tulip bulbs for my mom and grandma, though who knows if they’ll ever grow into anything. If they don’t, I only spent about a euro each on them, so it won’t be the end of the world. We also popped into a souvenir shop on the other side of the road from the bloemenmarkt where someone was making fresh stroopwafels, so we got one of those as well, obviously 🙂
We walked through the koningsplein to get to Leidsestraat and Leidseplein, and from there returned to our hotel to relax for a moment until it was time for our final activity of Day 10: the Anne Frank House.
(Taken from loading onto the canal tour boat the next day. The Anne Frank House is the one on the center right, without the shutters.)
I don’t remember ever reading The Diary of Anne Frank (so I assume I haven’t – it seems like a book you wouldn’t forget you’ve read), but going to the Anne Frank House seemed like one of those things you’re Supposed to Do when in Amsterdam, so we got tickets as soon as they became available two months before we planned to visit (which was actually a little trickier than you might expect, given that we visited on April 29, and two months before April 29 is February 29! In case you ever plan to visit on April 29 on a non-leap year, April 29 tickets are on sale on February 28.).
We added a 30-minute pre-tour talk onto our visit as well, which was 100 percent worth it, particularly if you haven’t read the book. The “30 minute” talk lasted close to an hour and covered both the people who lived and worked in the building (before, during, and after World War II) as well as world events happening at that time. As I continually realized during this trip, my knowledge of European history aside from the most basic, basic facts is embarrassingly nonexistent (particularly for someone who fancies herself a history buff), so even though I was aware of why Hitler rose to power and the consequences of that, I didn’t realize, for example, that the Frank family moved to the Netherlands from Germany because the Netherlands was neutral in World War I. Since I haven’t read The Diary of Anne Frank (yet – it’s definitely on my To Read list now), I also didn’t know anything about the other people who lived in the house–honestly, I’m not sure I even knew there were other people living in the house–so I learned a ton during the talk and am really glad we decided to add that on.
After the talk, we began our tour of the house. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, wanted the house left empty after it was turned into a museum, so there’s no furniture in any of the rooms. That doesn’t make the experience any less powerful, however. An audio tour guided us through all the spaces other than the areas where the family actually lived while in hiding. For that, you only had plaques on the walls to read.
I don’t think I can accurately put into words how powerful it was to visit the Anne Frank House, particularly the annex in the back where she and the other families lived for two years. World War II in general felt much more real and recent in Europe than it’s ever felt to me before, but being in the actual rooms where the Frank family lived, seeing the actual pictures Anne hung on the wall of her room and the actual lines Otto and Edith drew on the walls to track the growth of Margot and Anne really drove home the point that these aren’t made-up characters in a fictional book: they were all very real people with very real lives who experienced very real trauma and death. It was quite moving, and I think visiting should be a high priority for anyone spending time in Amsterdam.
We got dinner at Georgio’s Cafe, and then went to bed to rest up for our last day of the trip.
The last day of the trip was a bit more low-key than the others (not that that would take much, ha) and mostly involved eating, which is not the worst way to spend your last day of vacation in my opinion. We had breakfast at the hotel, and then left to go get cookies (at 10 a.m. 😛 ) from Van Stapele Koekmakerij. I have a friend who went to Amsterdam a few years ago, and when she posted about it on Facebook, someone recommended–nay, insisted–that she go to Van Stapele Koekmakerij while there. I made a note of it at the time and figured with such glowing reviews that I should go as well, and boy, was it worth it! It was one of the richest, most delicious cookies I’ve ever had.
Big fan of the name of this boat, spotted on our walk to get cookies 😀
We wandered through the Nine Little Streets shopping district again before settling on Toos & Roos for lunch, and then walked over to the Anne Frank House again to board our canal cruise through Flagship Amsterdam. There are plenty of canal cruise companies in Amsterdam, and this was the only one I tried, so I can’t really compare it to others. It felt very casual: a Chicago River architecture tour this was not. Sometimes our guides would point out highlights along the canals, but other times we’d just float on in relative quiet. The guides were all very friendly, and just based on how other boats looked, I’d imagine we had a more intimate tour than you might get with a bigger company (but I don’t really know, since I haven’t been on any other tours). Regardless, I really enjoyed the cruise (and the blankets on the boat, as I, in a fit of optimism, left my fleece back in the U.S. and only brought a light sweatshirt and rain jacket with me to Europe. That was a bad call.). One thing I especially liked is that we all went around the boat before we launched saying where we were from, and every group was from a different place! There was people from England, from Wales, from Germany, and from Switzerland on our boat (plus us, from the U.S.). I thought that was really cool 🙂
One thing I was VERY curious about was the hooks I noticed at the top of seemingly every building in Amsterdam. I spent most of Monday wondering what they were about and hoping we’d find out on our canal tour, and we did! Many of the buildings along the canals were once warehouses. In Amsterdam, buildings were taxed based on their width, so many are as narrow as they can be. They build up rather than out, and consequently, staircases in buildings in Amsterdam are extremely narrow and steep (why would you waste what little width you have on a wide staircase?), as I noticed immediately in our hotel, and in the Anne Frank House as well. In both instances, the staircases were just this side of basically being a ladder. Those steep staircases are not conducive to moving anything other than humans (though I would argue they’re barely conducive to doing that), so instead of using stairs to move goods in and out of warehouses, people would rig a pulley up with the hooks in those pictures and use that pulley to hoist the goods up to a window, where they would be pulled in. While these buildings are mostly residences now, according to our canal guides, people still use these hooks and pulleys for moving in and out of houses–there’s no chance you’re going to get a piano up any of those stairs, for instance. This is also why most of the buildings are intentionally built to lean forward: to prevent goods being hoisted from hitting and breaking your windows/house. I thought that was super interesting!
After our hour-long canal tour ended, we walked to the Rijksmuseum, which, as I learned on our boat tour, was no longer home to the famous I amsterdam sign you’ve undoubtedly seen in pictures from anyone who’s visited Amsterdam since it was installed in 2004. It was removed in December of last year, which was a huge bummer to learn, because how was I supposed to post an I amsterdam picture on Facebook if the sign wasn’t there anymore?!?!?! WHY EVEN BOTHER GOING?! (I’m kidding, obviously. I was slightly disappointed, but it was far from being the biggest disappointment of the trip (that was not buying cheese in Gouda), and I got over it pretty quickly.)
Though the Rijksmuseum no longer hosts an I amsterdam sign, it does still house oodles of artwork from Dutch masters. I’ll be honest with you guys: I know even less about art than I know about European history, and that makes the experience of visiting an art museum something that is mostly wasted on me. I don’t “get it” and therefore don’t appreciate it as much as I’m suspect I’m supposed to. Like, I could not comprehend why everyone is so into Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, when there were plenty of other Vermeer paintings right next to The Milkmaid that looked just as good to me as The Milkmaid did. I’m sure there’s a reason why The Milkmaid is so important, but I don’t know it or understand it, so instead of appreciating The Milkmaid, I was mostly just annoyed at how hard it was to see this painting I was supposed to be very interested in seeing because…the museum told me I was supposed to be interested in seeing it?
Anyway, the point of all that is to say that I’m neither educated nor interested in art in general enough to fully appreciate something like the Rijksmuseum. If I were to go back to Amsterdam, I’d rather go to the Van Gogh Museum, because I actually am interested in Van Gogh and his paintings. If you’re more cultured than I am, you’ll probably enjoy the Rijksmuseum a lot more than I did. We did go to the special exhibit, All the Rembrandts, featuring a ton of Rembrandt’s work. That was cool to see.
We got dinner at Heinekenhoek after the Rijksmuseum, where I had my first and only Heineken of the trip. We had seen bitterballen on menus all over the country, so we decided to try those at dinner that night, and I will say that’s the one Dutch food I definitely don’t need to have again. I’d seen them translated on menus as meatballs, and that’s accurate, in the sense that it was meat in a spherical shape, but they were NOT at ALL like the meatballs I’m used to. The best way I can describe them is “deep fried warm meat pudding,” and if you think that sounds unappetizing, you are correct! You can find a recipe here for a better description of what they’re like from a person who enjoys them, but they were 100 percent not my cup of tea. (That being said, I’ll happily eat pickled herring, another Dutch food that skeeves some people (i.e.: my travel buddy) out. Everyone has their own tastes!)
And that’s that! Eleven days of European travel. While it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime trip, I very much hope it wasn’t. I’ve been back in the U.S. for almost a full month now, and I still wish every day that I could be back in Europe. I only saw a very small slice of the continent, but I absolutely fell in love and sincerely hope that I’ll have the chance to go back some day.
- Nine Little Streets shopping district
- Amsterdam Centraal
- Beurs van Berlage
- Dam Square
- Royal Palace
- Nieuwe Kerk
- De Papegaai
- Amsterdam Museum
- Amsterdam Gallery
- English Reformed Church
- P.C.J. Hajenius
- Anne Frank House
- Canal tour (Flagship Amsterdam)