Sunday, 12 February 2017

Exploring: Amsterdam

This year, we've decided to up the ante and try to visit as many places as we can - whether it's in Ireland or further afield. When friends of ours were visiting us recently, we started talking about places we'd like to visit this year, and Amsterdam popped into the conversation. Rusty and Emma had never been, and although myself and Shane had visited before, it was about three years ago  and we will excited about returning there, to see if it would differ from our first time there.

The guys were flying in late from Sweden on the Thursday night, and we were flying in early on the Friday morning so it gave us a good two and a half days to discover and rediscover as much as we could about Amsterdam. 
The biggest difference this time round was that I was going back 11 and a half stone lighter, so I wondered if my experience would differ from this.

We flew into Schiphol Airport, where we purchased two train tickets and made our way into the heart of Amsterdam. Train tickets were E5.20 each for a one way ticket, and if you weren't paying by card, you needed to have the coins needed for your purchase as it didn't accept notes. The train took about 15 minutes to make it's way to Central Station, something we made note of as we knew we'd need to catch it on the way back too.

Where We Stayed:
We stayed in Swisshotel, a hotel found right beside Dam Square. When I say right beside, that's exactly what I mean - we were 20 steps from the square. This meant that we had a very quick walk from the Central Terminal (Train Station) and we were able to start our mini break very quickly, without lugging bags halfway across the city or catching trams from the get go. 
We had a really lovely experience here. Although the rooms were basic, they were well cleaned, and had beds that you could sink into. We also had the lovely surprise of coming back to the hotel for a quick rest up on the first evening, and discovered that had left flowers on our bed to celebrate our upcoming anniversary.

Where we ate:
Pan E Olio, a small Italian restaurant was the first place we ate in, as when we rang the guys to meet up with them, they had stumbled across this little place just a few meters from where they were staying and they ventured in. When we turned up, they had just finished their meal, but as they talked about how nice it was, I decided to pick up a small salami and cheese toastie to ward off the hunger pans for a little while.

We stumbled along an industrial looking burger joint on our first evening, and as we just wanted a no frills meal it seemed like the perfect place to try out. Burger Fabriek worked out really reasonably, at about E12 per meal, and came accompanied with some of the nicest chips I've had in a long time.
We were so delighted with such a find, especially in a city where there's so many burger places, but in actual fact it turned out this was a chain restaurant, similair to Gourmet Burger in Ireland, and we actually saw about six more Burger Fabriek over the rest of the weekend. At least we can spot a good restaurant when we see one!

Although there was shops selling waffles where ever you turned, we think we found one of the nicest (and possibly the funniest) early on. If you're any sort of a pastry / cake fan like I am, Amsterdam will definitely have you on the search for your next sweet treat fix. There were a number of Sweetella's around the place, and having called to a few of them over the weekend, they all have a few things in common - bucket loads of nutella, freshly baked goodies and hilarious staff!

{You can tell by the look on my face we hadn't expected it to be this big!!}

Saturday brunch turned out to be my favourite meal of the whole trip! We visited a place called Ted's, a restaurant which serves all day brunch. We sat at the communal table, where they had a stack of board games for you to play while you waited for your food. The place was packed with locals when we walked in (always a good sign) and remained packed until we left. Bonus points for the gorgeous decor ideas too!

We decided to treat ourselves on the Saturday night with a fancier meal than we would have had on the Friday. We walked around to find somewhere nice, and decided on L'Opera Grand Cafe, which resembled a hotel out of the 1930's. It was a gorgeous setting, and allowed us to take a moment to really soak in the weekend. The place was fabulous, the company top notch - but unfortunately, the food was only so-so! You can't have it all, I suppose!

On Sunday morning, we walked to Greenwoods, a restaurant that had come highly recommended to us. It must have been good, because when we got to the door there was a queue of people standing there waiting to be seated and served, and as we waiting in line, another six or seven people also rocked up. We debated waiting for a table, but as we had to be in the airport by mid afternoon, we decided to use our time wisely and scope out some other breakfast spot!

Because of this, we found Vinnie's!
Rustic decor, healthy organic meals - this was the instagrammers dream! It's even inspired me to try out some granola recipes which hopefully I'll have up on here soon!

And of course, there was the multiple bakeries around the place for food on the go!

Things to Do:
Although the weather was mostly cloudy and overcast while we were there, the blue skies shone through a few times over the weekend. If the weather was sunny, one of the nicest places I could recommend for views of the city while you get your bearings together and plan out your next move would be "The W Hotel". We used the lift to bring us up to the 6th floor of the hotel, where the gorgeous cocktail bar was serving lovely drinks, and the heated open pool on the rooftop lies invitingly. Although it was much too cold for us, we were assured that it was used a lot during the warmer months, and with the blue skies behind it, it did look rather inviting!

The cocktails weren't too bad either!

You also had a great view of the Royal Palace from the rooftop, with Atlas holding up the world on top of the building.

We walked to the Van Gogh Museum from Dam Square on the Friday afternoon. It took about a half hour to walk it, and although if you were in a rush there were trams that would bring you straight to it, by walking it we just got to see so much more of the city, the shops and the buildings.

On our way we passed by Riji Museum, the I AMSTERDAM letters (which had people all over them) and the Bloemenmarkt. We had visited the Riji Museum on our last visit, and had planned to visit the Bloemenmarkt on the Saturday, so the only attraction that I had hoped to get a closer look at were the I AMSTERDAM letters - however, we've since been told that if you want to get a good picture either of / on the letters you should plan on visiting very early in the morning as it gets busy so fast.

When we got to the Van Gogh Museum we were delighted to see that it stayed open until 10 at night, which gave us lots of time to explore it. Tickets were E17, and although my favourite piece of his "Almond Blossom" was not there at the time, there was so much still to see, including another beauty "Flowers from Normandy". Unfortunately, you're not allowed to take any pictures of the pieces while inside, but I think if you're any sort of fan of Van Gogh's work you'll really love this place.

On the Saturday morning, even though we had planned to get up early to explore, we had the tiniest of sleep ins in one of the comfiest beds I've ever slept in! Quite by accident, we ended up at the flea market at Waterlooplein. I had actually hoped to visit it anyway, but we stumbled along it as we walked around looking for brunch - a happy coincidence! It was a little bit of a tourist trap, with wooden tulips, prints of Van Gogh's work, key chains etc but there were some stalls with some really gorgeous pieces. You'd definitely need a bigger bag than our cabin luggage to get some of the bigger pieces home, but there was a few items that I found it quite hard to walk away from.

Following on from the flea market, we made our way to Bloemenmarkt - advertised as the world's only floating flower market. If you're looking for the obvious flower picture to take to show you had visited Amsterdam, this was the place to go to. Prices seemed reasonable, and if you were local I'm sure you'd be able to fill your house with the loveliest of blooms from here any day of the week!

We had planned on doing a canal ride at night, but because it started raining on the Saturday night they shut down the cruises early so unfortunately we did miss out on that. Instead, we walked through the canals, and got to experience Amsterdam at night. If you thought Amsterdam was beautiful enough during the day, it's just magical at night!

{One of my favourite pictures of the whole trip}

We did manage to catch a canal ride on the Sunday just before we left for the airport. I know it's a real tourist thing, but I just didn't want to come back to Amsterdam without going through the canals just once! Besides, it helped me plan for the next time!

To Do List:
I've already planned out some of the things that we didn't get to do this time for the next time we go back to Amsterdam. I found that taking the canal ride helped to point out a few places we had missed like "The Sea Palace", the Maritime Museum and ships on the opposite side of the river, the Museum of Bags and Purses (which looked incredible!), the A'Dam lookout which had swings on the top of the building that you sat on and must gave given an amazing view - although I'm going to have to build up the courage for that one, it was so high up! I also want to walk along the Gentleman's Canal and get the seven bridges shot that I almost got this time!
I'm definitely going to book a canal ride at night, we spotted a couple enjoying dinner on their private canal tour and it just looked so romantic.
I'd like to eat further out of the city, "The Breakfast Club" looked amazing, and I'd like to cross on the ferry and eat on the other side of the river rather than staying so central.
Hopefully, we'll get to go back soon again, and we won't have to leave it so long this between visits next time.

If you've been and have any other recommendations to add to my, what will hopefully become a growing, list I'd love for you to let me know!

Special thanks to Rusty and Shane for some of the pictures used in this post!
You can find more at and @shanetknight on instagram

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