A sunny spring day in Amsterdam is as good as it gets. Sunlight sparkles on the canals, cafes set up outdoor tables, flower stalls bloom with color. I could spend weeks strolling this picturesque city in the Netherlands, dodging bicyclists and admiring the architecture, but with only a few days to explore, John and I hit the highlights.
A one hour boat cruise is a great introduction to the tree shaded canals (165 of them) lined with narrow, 17th century brick buildings. Or you can rent a bicycle and join the crowds on well marked bike lanes. Virtually everybody rides: teenagers, nattily-dressed businessmen and women with briefcases, moms and dads carting kids to school. The other nifty way to get around is by tram. For 1.60 euros you can ride almost anywhere in the heart of the city.
Mostly we walked. Narrow streets and quaint bridges led us to the floating flower market on the Singel Canal. The series of shops shows a staggering array of flowers, plants, seeds and bulbs, especially tulips.
The famous Rijksmuseum is under renovation, to be completed in 2013, but we saw the stars of its Masterpiece Collection: the Rembrandts and Vermeers, intricate silver pieces, fine Delftware, and some remarkable dollhouses.
The Van Gogh Museum looks like a concrete bunker, but inside it’s light and open, with some 200 of the artist’s works displayed in the context of his life and times.
At the Anne Frank House, the mood is somber as visitors troop through the annex where young Anne and seven other Jews were hidden during World War II. Discovered and captured by the Nazis, the girl died in a concentration camp, but her published diary became the basis for a foundation dedicated to tolerance. The tour is profoundly moving, a must for Amsterdam visitors.
When you tire of museums, you can drop in on a “brown cafe.” In these dark, cozy pubs you can order beer and, perhaps, marijuana (it’s legal, and regulated, here). For coffee and a crepe we stopped at David and Goliath, a cafe next to the Amsterdam Historical Museum. Its sheltered courtyard is a restful spot off a busy shopping street. For real meals we liked Pianeta Terra for creative Italian food; a good lunch (thick club sandwich and paprika soup) at Restaurant Patou; and Maxie’s, near our hotel. Amsterdam is also noted for its great Indonesian restaurants.
The Hotel Fita, in a quiet museum district neighborhood, is small, clean and comfortable. The cost was reasonable: 135 euros per night, which included a full breakfast of eggs, toast, fruit, pastries, coffee and tea.
Prices are steep in Amsterdam, with the exchange rate not favoring the dollar, but you can save in several ways. Picnic in beautiful Vondenpark, buy an “I Am Amsterdam” card (good for 24, 48, or 72 hours) for free admission to 26 museums and other attractions. Listen to street organs and free carillon concerts, visit the churches. And walking costs only shoe leather.