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Weekend in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a very rich place to describe, I am not sure where should I begin. Whether from Red Light district, Jewish district, plenty of museums, monuments, pubs, coffee-shops? As for relatively small city, there is plenty to see. Within 2 days you can either rush from one place to another, focus on several points of interest or keep it simple, grab a cup of coffee, walk, get to know the city without hurry.  We chose the second option, not to rush over, with reason. Here is the list of places you can see during you weekend visit in Amsterdam. 

Van Gogh Museum 

We started our weekend in Amsterdam adventure from the Van Gogh museum. It is not far from the central station, it is only 10 minutes by tram, which is around 7 stops. A modern building was quite hidden, but can be found after a while. What’s certainly an advantage in Amsterdam is that everyone speaks English. There are 3 floors in the building, exhibition seems to be ordered chronologically, therefore you can contrast artist’s works from its beginning to the end. I was nicely taken aback to hear that museum is open till 10 o’clock on Fridays, and was even more surprised to hear live music inside. Van Gogh museum is adjusted toward young people, which I was really fond of. It is good to check out the schedule before visiting museum, there are free guided tours organized in English or Dutch. This tour takes about an hour, it can be educational and fascinating. You can hear things no guide will ever write about.

about the artist

I found it interesting that Van Gogh started painting only 10 years before his death. Following his brother advice, Van Gogh decided to become an artist in 1880. His first works were dark and gloomy, filled with black, grey and brown colours. It is a fact that Van Gogh didn’t have good enough equipment to paint, so maybe that is the reason his paintings were so dim. He painted several portraits, just to grow into a master in painting faces. One young woman seems to be his favourite model, because we can admire her portraits more than once.  Van Gogh travelled a lot, he went to Antwerp, Paris, Arles and more. He enrolled for the academic training, but couldn’t bear it. Van Gogh was individualist, maverick and what’s more importantly self-taught person. After visiting France, Van Gogh’s paintings took colours, they were vivid, full of life and energy. The metamorphosis in artist painting is visible with naked eye, from Potato Eaters in 1885 to Sunflowers in 1888. The time frame even not big, shows how quickly Van Gogh achieved success he always wanted. It’s a pity he committed a suicide in 1890…. 

Hard Rock Cafe 

It was Friday 10 o’clock pm, thermometer showed -7 Celsius degrees, which is awfully cold for Amsterdam.  What is the best place to go on a weekend in Amsterdam? The answer is simple and it is: try one of many pubs, restaurants or coffee-shops around the city centre. “Pubbing” with so many places spotted around would be effortless to implement. During summer season I would choose a different option for spending quality time in Amsterdam, for instance Vondel park. We decided to go to the famous Hard Rock cafe. We were lucky to have free table without reservation. Inside I got the impression that bar was overcrowded with tourists, I though then “Yes, it is unquestionably popular place for people like us, but where the hell are the city dwellers? where is this magic place? will I ever find it?”  The truth is that we didn’t look for it after all, we were pretty exhausted. After one pint of beer we headed back to our B&B accommodation.  

Free guided tours – NewEuropeTours 

The next day, full of strength and vigour we arrived at Dam Square. Free guided tours are good alternative for those with limited budget, I chose this type of entertainment because I thought it would be a fine way to learn something about the city. I was right, the tour was not only entertaining, but it was also the best source of information about some city facts. Actually, I didn’t expect elder guy from California to be a guide around Amsterdam, but I guess this city will never stop surprising me. Although Angel, that was his name, was in the town only for four years now, he completed his task perfectly. I was brim-full with facts and details regarding city rises, I knew how old is the oldest working prostitute on Red Light District and how many bridges there are in the city. We tasted original Dutch cheese and heard some funny stories connected with using marihuana. The tour took around 3 hours, with a 10-minute coffee break. I do really recommend it, especially if you want to gather some information about the place you’re visiting.  I’m sure you can just squeeze it in our busy schedule on your weekend in Amsterdam.

Dam Square 

Royal Palace stands on Dam Square, it was built and opened as city hall in 1655. It first became the Royal Palace, house of king Luis Napoleon around 1806. On its roof, right in the centre, on copula there is a ship with two men and a dog. It is a symbol of Amsterdam, as they were the first on Amsteel River, who decided to settle down at the river and set up a city. The legend says that two young men wished to build a city where they can live together with their dog. Today we can say that by dint of dog, which fall asleep under a tree, Amsterdam appeared in thirteenth century.   

Dam Square is one of the biggest squares in Amsterdam, besides Royal Palace you can also find there a 22 meters height monument, in remembrance of Second World War. The monument is called the National Monument, it seems like Holland do not set store by naming things, they name them as they are: Royal Palace, National Monument, Den Waag, for example a street where vegetables were sold was name…. a Vegetable Street. It makes life easier, isn’t it? Even their surnames were connected with what they did or where there were from. Popular seconds name in the Netherlands are for example: Miller, Smith, Schumacher (shoe maker) and many others.  

Madame Tussauds 

But going back to Dam Square, which was also originally named after its primary function, dam on Amsteel river, other attractions like Madame Tussauds is located here. Everyone knows Madame Tussauds, it is interesting that she created her first sculpture in 1777, she was taught by Philippe Curtius, a physician skilled in wax modelling. Her mother was a house keeper at his home. When doctor Philippe died, Marie Taussauds inherited everything, she started her first wax museum in London in 1835 at Baker Street. Nowadays, Madame Tussauds is a brand known all over the word with its branches in main European and American cities. Amsterdam will take you not only at Hollywood stage, but also to Royals, you can meet one to one with queen Beatrix or know better famous Dutch movie stars. A new arrival is Robert Pattison famous from Twilight collection and Barack Obama, a new president of the United States. In my opinion this wax museum might be an entertaining option, especially for families with children to spend some time in Amsterdam. 

Magna Plaza 

The most famous shopping house is as well located next to the Dam Square, on 4 floors you can buy almost everything starting from daily use thing to sparkling diamonds ring.  

Oude Kerk, The Old Church 

From Dam Square it is not far away to Oude Kerk, old church. You just need to pass a few narrow alleys in Red Light District and you will come just in front of the church. Old Church was a first roman catholic church built in Amsterdam; it is dated back to the beginning of XIV century. Citizens of Amsterdam first dried the water-soaking area at the main river, so that they could start the foundations. Interesting is that church was rebuilt few times from its primary structure, and I don’t mean the renovation. It was much smaller at the establishment than it is now.  

Nieuwe Kerk, The New Church 

New church, in Dutch Nieuwe Kerk is an alternative to the old one, the construction started in 15th century, after the population of Amsterdam grew so much that Oude Kerk couldn’t fit people attending the ceremony of mass. Nieuwe Kerk is also situated on Dam Square, next to Royal Palace. The church was entirely damaged in the city fires in 1421, 1452 and 1645. It was rebuilt in Gothic style. A fact is that church is no longer used for its prime function, today it is a place of exhibition. Once we were there an exhibition about Judaism was showed. Fire is one of the disasters besides flood, dwellers of Amsterdam are terrified by. Nowadays only two wooden houses left in the city, other were demolished and build back from bricks.  

Red Light District 

Red Light District is a place where you can find groups of men gathering in front of restaurants and conspiring where to make the best deal. I don’t need to explain what’s the main reason people coming to this part of the city, but similar like originally, ladies were here to entertain bored and exhausted sailors who stopped by for a night. Poor or reach, handsome or disgusting, married or single everyone here could feel heaven. In my opinion today it is a perfect spot for bachelor’s parties, however exclude the poor part. This is not a cheap merriment.  Even though prostitution is the oldest known occupation in the world, it was finally legalized in Amsterdam in 2000, now ladies pay taxes as every other citizen of the city. Quite startling is that half of working ladies are over 50 years old, the oldest prostitute in Amsterdam is 84, you’re forced to make a reservation for her private session, awaiting time is 2 weeks!! I imagined Red Light District in completely different way, prostitutes waiting for customers behind windows, naked body, sex all over the place, but what I saw was few elder women sitting bored on chairs, not even interested in those watching them.  Just a reminder…Beware of your photo camera, it is strictly forbidden to take photos, when a lady sees you taking her a photo, she will come out and smashed your camera into pieces or throw it to the nearby canal.  

Jewish Quarter 

Attention-grabbing part of the tour was also Jewish Quarter, which was demolished during the Second World War, when hunger and anxiety were at highest point even in Amsterdam. Jewish from all parts of the city were transferred to one place, surrounded by brick walls gradually were not allowed to leave a district. When Nazi decided to displace Jewish to concentration camp, inhabitants of Amsterdam gather together and tried to help. Taking into consideration the strength and range of Germans, the attempt was regrettably not successful. For both sides it was good Amsterdam withdrew…Nowadays, one street in Jewish Quarter looks completely different, “Sint Antoniesbree straat”, was rebuilt in 60’s. The city government gave freedom to the students gift and imagination…just picture it out…. a street fully projected and decorated by hippies and children of the flowers, the rise of marihuana and unimpeded thinking. Do you see that? Vivid colours and unconventional structure? If you can’t imagine it, don’t bother, come to Amsterdam.  

Anne Frank 

Anne Frank house is also relevant to Jewish community in Amsterdam. Her story is sad and heart-breaking. During the Second World War, as a young girl Anne wrote a diary describing her family life.  Seeing that such a young child, her writings were very mature. She was fully aware of the surrounding situation and hostility of Nazi, she was frightened and scared, but she was most unhappy from the fact that she and other Jewish families were forced to hide and not allowed to come out to reality. No family would like their kids to spend such a childhood, but they didn’t have much of a choice. Either a hiding place, a labour camp or death… Anne Frank wished her diaries were published and translated into several languages. And the Secret Annex can be now viewed by tourist from all over the world.  

Waag 

The next on our itinerary was Waag. Originally name Den Waag was the weigh house, it was built in 1488. What we see today is a remnant after city gate decorating Nieuwmarkt (new market). Building is quite interesting with its few towers. At night it is nicely lit, there is a restaurant on the ground floor and the first floor is occupied by the Waag society, an ICT research foundation 

The narrowest house 

The narrowest house in Amsterdam is 1,58 meters wide, man leaving in that place is taller than the building is wide. According to Holland’s law occupier pays a rent on the basis of house width, so this lucky bastard has the lowest rent in the whole Amsterdam. But to be truth, I can’t imagine how a person can live there. If you want to take a look, it’s on Singel street.  

Gassan Diamonds 

I suppose it was only 15 minutes from New Market square to Gassan Diamonds, the factory of diamonds. On the way, there are few huge tourists’ maps, so if you know the precise address you won’t get lost searching for desire monument or museum. I think the city centre is very tourist-oriented, signs with directions on every corner and maps spotted around city helps a lot. Gassan Diamonds offers a free guided tour in English or Dutch, you can assign at their webpage and confirm the reservation time. Tour is not so long, it takes only 30 minutes, but within that time frame you will be fully educated how from a rough stone originates a stunning and spectacular brilliant. During the private session you can gaze at real brilliants, learn the prices and of course acquire sparking jewellery at a bargain price. Gassan Diamonds store is almost as big as some museums, so you can spend an hour just admiring beautiful gems and watches. Don’t miss the opportunity to buy cheaper…  

See you next time

This completes our journey to Amsterdam. Next time I would love to see more. If we had more time, I put Vondel park, the biggest green area in Amsterdam; an Amsterdam ZOO, with its interesting diversity of animals; a legendary flower markets and a Jordaan district with its narrow streets. Weekend in Amsterdam may not be enough for some.

Remember freedom and tolerance is what describes Amsterdam, so don’t hesitate to experience, discover and feel the unique atmosphere… 

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