Friday, July 20, 2012

Amsterdam to Paint

Over the next few months, with the spotlight of the world shining brightly on London and the Games of the XXX Olympiad, we will soon be inundated by all things UK. However, this month I'm going to break from time-honored societal norms by suggesting we take a quick leap over the North Sea, get our 'hipster on' and visit Amsterdam.

Stuff some clothes into an old backpack, who cares whether you look like an untidy mess. Amsterdam is too casual, or rather, too unorthodox to be concerned with meager appearances. Where else can you find top 500 companies nestled amidst more than 300 beatnik coffee shops... After all, this is the site of John and Yoko's infamous bed-in for peace as well as home to some of Europe's oldest standing buildings and edifices. And beer, needless to say... the Netherlands is one of the largest exporters of "bier" in the world.

Amsterdam is delightful to visit any time of the year, however summer reigns supreme. In July and August tourist flock to the never-ending procession of summertime celebrations, festivals and music concerts staged on top of scenic canal bridges. Amsterdam is an attractive old world city that is truly in touch with its evocative, idiosyncratic and tolerant heritage. This city is a canvass and it's your vacation to paint, any way you see fit..

Three Don'ts and a Do

Upon arrival at the world-class Schiphol International Airport, don't take an airport shuttle into Amsterdam Central. Full airport shuttles drop each visitor off at separate hotel’s strewn about the city, so you truly won’t really know whether you are going to be the first or last to arrive at your hotel, wasting valuable hours in the process.

And don't even consider renting an automobile in the Dutch Netherlands. If you decide to venture out and view the countryside, there will be plenty of other options... including trains, buses and tour groups. Inside Amsterdam Central, all the major sites are within walking distance.

Also, don't convert your US Dollars into Euros at the Amsterdam airport… The exchange rate is unreasonable as well as preposterous. Consider using a more established and respected financial institution inside the city's reputable business district.

However do take the train. They are much timelier, more efficient as well as conveniently located directly beneath the well-organized airport. The short commuter trek only lasts fifteen minutes to the city's hotel district, and costs a paltry €3.60 for a one way trip.

Hotel Aspen

The Hotel Aspen is one of those all encompassing boutique inns... affordable, clean and centrally-located. The first thing when you will notice when arriving at Hotel Aspen, is the glowing neon XXX on the front street sign. However, no, you haven't landed in the Red Light District... XXX is emblematic of Amsterdam's official flag. After being buzzed into the hotel, the very next thing you will notice is the imposing vertical flight of stairs you have to ascend to get to the hotel's check in...

Many hotels in old world Europe aren't even outfitted with so much as an elevator lift. When confirming your reservations, check with the hotel to ensure they can accommodate any limitations or special assistance capabilities you may require.

The charming rooms are small, minimalistic and a few even come outfitted with gargoyle perched on the ledge. Several rooms actually share a bathroom, but this really isn't as much as an obstacle as you might anticipate. Hotel Aspen is a small, quaint environment and you will be hard pressed to even make sight of other guests, as most of your time will be spent outdoors exploring Amsterdam.

Oh, the Sights You will See

Unquestionably, one of Amsterdam’s most well- known and famous icons is, and will always remain to be, Anne Frank. It goes without saying that no trip to the Netherlands would be complete without visiting the rooms of the Secret Annex, which have meticulously been maintained.

In Amsterdam, if touring the Anne Frank House is the first thing on your ‘to do’ list, you will definitely want to arrive earlier in the day. More than likely, there will be a time-consuming line to get into the museum.

Before you arrive, grab a hearty breakfast. For a delectable and affordable meal, be certain to try a traditional Dutch pancake. The ‘Pannekoeken,’ are more akin to French crepes than the buttermilk pancakes we are accustomed to here in the United States. If you are in an adventuresome frame of mind, top yours with apple and Grand Marnier.

Only a block away from the Anne Frank house is The Pancake Bakery, proclaiming itself as, ‘a world-known pancake restaurant loved by all.’ Accompany your morning delicacy with a European cappuccino. Together they will put a spring in your step, and tide you over for the wait to get in the Anne Frank experience.

Hop On, Hop Off… Canal Cruise

To save a little wear and tear on the feet try a Canal Bus. The boat cruise is an enjoyable and peaceful way of getting to all of Amsterdam’s top historical or notable sights. You’ll pass many noteworthy attractions and be dropped off at all major museums. A two day pass runs only €33.00, with the option of getting on and off at your leisure.

Van Gogh Museum –

The world’s largest collection of Vincent van Gogh paintings are housed and stored in this famous ‘Seventy’s style’ museum. Currently ‘Beauty in abundance’ is on exhibition displaying works of the masters, including Bonnard, Gauguin, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

Rijksmuseum –

Often compared to the Musee du Louvre in Paris, this giant Rijksmuseum is the considered to be Amsterdam’s finest museum. Unfortunately due to long lasting hold-ups in renovation, displays are limited. So I encourage you to do your homework on this museum. The iconic ‘I amsterdam’ letters in front of the Rijksmuseum, are a photo opportunity waiting to happen.


For designer brands, great shopping and fine dining nothing tops the fashion and museum district. Also, there is extensive browsing to be found in vibrant Dam Square. What's more, be sure to stop and sample the street markets or take in a local art show. Who knows you may just discover the next Vincent van Gogh or stumble onto a beautiful and valuable piece of artwork.

The Waterlooplein Market located right in the middle of the city center is less traditional and more avant garde in its offerings. Nonetheless it is an enjoyable and laid-back shopping experience.

Europe is go, go, go…

Traveling in Europe tends to be all about go, go, go… More than likely you will find yourself frantically scurrying from one famous landmark to another famous landmark. Considering you have limited time, and a full schedule of ‘must sees,’ it is only natural to want to experience all Amsterdam has to offer… Nevertheless, when in Europe be sure to take a break from that hectic pace, and doing the ‘tourist thing.’

Often hanging back, sipping a nice red wine and eating from the bread of idleness at an open-air bistro will quiet your spirit. Just taking in the sights and sounds of Amsterdam will be sure to soothe any frayed nerves. Simply disengage, after all it’s just another Amsterdam vacation.

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