The little wonders of Amsterdam & Holland

Last November, I had a wonderful opportunity with work to travel to Holland to write up a feature for an industry magazine that I worked on. This was my first time in Holland and having woken up at an ungodly hour to travel over the north sea to Europe, I was thrilled to finally arrive in a very sunny, very flat but very pretty Holland. Being a somewhat obnoxious photo-taker, I was quick to whip out the iPhone and start snapping anything and everything whilst taking the long drive (which shouldn't have been such a long drive but that's another story), to Woerden, south of Amsterdam which is where I was travelling for work. The countryside on the drive was not dissimilar to England, and we came upon village after village of pretty, one of a kind houses, very eclectic, full of flowers, plant pots, and noticeably pristine. Of course, to put the Dutch stamp onto it, there were little lanes of water by the side of rows of houses, small wooden boats anchored by the little decks at the end of the garden. Some clusters of houses had little lakes behind them; and to make me super jealous, people were out on boats, albeit in November when it was a little crisp outdoors, but nonetheless, the water is a place to let your mind and spirit calm. The water drainage system in Holland is so exceptional that even with heavy rainful, they never suffer with flooding, which was by far the most baffling concept for me to get my head around. I cannot remember the names of the villages, but if you hire a car from Amsterdam Schipol airport, it is probably less than an hour until you're out in the rural setting! It is the perfect place to go off on a little adventure, explore the charming villages, churches and architecture. Such a European gem.






By the waterfront where the canal boats set off from
We stayed at the hotel Westcord City Centre hotel. I would give it overall a top 4 stars for cleanliness, modern and stylish decor, friendly staff and a delicious breakfast! The only problem I encountered was, as I was travelling as a single, the room was very small, but also super intimate and had a lovely side street view which made up for it nicely. West Cord City Centre Hotel and it is in a prime location, really close to all the travel systems...of course the biggest thing ot remmeber in Amsterdam is, do your best to avoid being run over! Cars, trams, buses, bikes, I would say there were more than three occasions that myself and my colleagues had some near misses, then laughed them off and felt the burning desire to tweet about it! I didn't have chance in the two days to see even half of the sights, but the ones that I have mentioned are ones that are well worth it and some are free too (bonus!).

View from my hotel room overlooking the street 
I mustn't get too overly anxious when reminiscing about the first night when we were taken round the red light district, but I will stress this, you will probably wander round there, feeling a little like you're in the twilight zone; then feeling like you're in a maze. It was such a baffling place that my mind had totally lost the ability to focus on taking photos, noticing the pretty buildings and it is as if you get this radar, and all you notice is ladies sat in these little windows, lit up either pink or green, most of them in bikinis sat on their phones waiting for the next customer of the night and they weren't bothered if their customer was male...or female (slightly more disturbing for me!). All in all, the girls seemed very friendly, but it was excpetionally provacative, and you could buy any type of drug you wanted from the guys huddled around on bridges, or sat chilling by the canals getting high. It is definitely an intriguing place to visit. If I'm ever in Amsterdam again, I will probably avoid next time, and take an extra long canal tour because the canal tours by night are very pretty, and very romantic! We were taken out for dinner on the first night, to the famous and amazing, Bierfabriek Bierfabriek which is a ultra trendy, rustic and exciting restaurant and bar south of the Red Light District. On first walking in, I noticed the peanut shells tossed on the floor, creating a carpet almost, of nut shells, long wooden benches and merry people drinking their homemade beer. I have a weakness for peanuts and a nice glass of beer but when working, I stuck to the non-alcholic drinks. There was a large group of us, and we all ordered the chicken which was a succulent large chicken with salad and fries. Very homely and just what the doctor ordered! There was also this little guy (below) hanging over our table! Didn't catch his name! A buzzing atmosphere and very efficient staff.

Inside Bierfabriek

One of the many canals
Ambience
The second day, I was free to roam the streets before our flight later that night. Two days just is not enough, but here are some of the places I went to and really enjoyed. We strolled round Vondelpark which is a little park which is within walking distance of the Van Gogh museum. We were a little cold and a little hungry, and by some stroke of luck, we stumbled upon the restaurant, which is situated within an exceptional looking building. I believe the name of the restaurant is Vondelpark3 Kitchen and Bar. It is also home to music concerts and other events. Well worth a look. The stylish, and sleek restaurant was well priced, with the most incredible food. It had a modern vibe, and was certainly a place you could just nip into for a coffee, as the staff were hospitable and the place was so vibrant, not just with the plethora of people it attracts, but the white decor, intricate detailing with flowers, ornaments, to me it had an upmarket shabby chic vibe. I opted for a beautiful vegetable soup, the perfect remedy for my impending cold and exhaustion. 

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The next place I had been told I had to visit, was Anne Frank's house. Anybody who loves their culture and history will know it is a place seeped in history, and so many incredible stories that were born in that house. The queue wasn't overly long thankfully but I think that was just luck. Entrance fee was 9Euro. Admittedly, I found the cafe in the museum more interesting than the actual house. Somehow, for me, it seemed to lack authenticity, and a distinct lack of tradition. Fire extinguishers were visible, no furniture in the rooms, modern blinds up to hide the windows which just made it incredibly dark and difficult to navigate. It was also very crowded which I think created my inability to project myself back in time to that era, but I had such a keen interest in Anne Frank's story and I felt that it had become far too museum like as opposed to, keeping it in it's purest form. Still worth a visit as the television screens and wall placks provide detailed information and everything you would need to know but again a lot of tourist hotspots can be a little bit untraditional.

Stadhouderskade - not too far from Vondelpark

I would recommend getting a bike for the day so you can get round a little quicker and much more conveniently. I believe there are an estimated 800,000 bikes in Amsterdam! It is excpetionally easy to get lost in the city because a lot of the streets are practically identical, and the canals are everywhere! 

Although I do usually like to create itineraries when I travel, I also like to just wander and see what I find. Sometimes, ambling through the streets is the only way to get a sense of being, and to really be able to soak up where you are and the true ambience and being away from the tourist crowd can also be a big plus! The final port of call was a little restaraurant/cafe on the edge of Rozengracht, a short walk from Anne Frank's house. We were desperate for a drink and a bite to eat. This cafe, De Oude Wester was a pancake cafe - a lot of them savoury ones, and it seemed a good drinking hole for both locals and passers by. I opted for a savoury pancake with spinach and goats cheese I believe. Very tasty and very traditional. I did notice the restaurant become suddenly inundated with cats, they decided to go up on the tables, and under tables around the guests, which could have been questionable for hygeine but it seemed to be the norm, and there are a lot of cafes in Amsterdam that are very animal friendly! 

The day and trip was coming to end, and we jumped in a taxi to the airport. At rush hour. Headache. Check! It was also an exhorbitant price, but it was an all expenses trip so I didn't have to worry, although when I travel personally, I usually do book transfers, if the hotel provides it, as it usually more comfortable in price, and with a lot less strain and worry! All in all, my two-day trip was wonderful, but the thought of having to go back to work the next day and write up my story, was not so wonderful! Holland, thank you for treating me well, and I am quite positive that we will meet again at some point. 



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