Thursday, April 2, 2009

Day trip up to Amsterdam with my folks (Mar 3)

Since Shannon had a meeting with his client, Nike, in Hilversum, we decided to ride along and take the train from there to Amsterdam which ended up only being a 20 minute commute. First, we had to find the train station in Hilversum after Shannon dropped us off on the road leading to the center of the town; luckily it wasn't too difficult (he didn't want to be late for his meeting which he probably would have been if we sat in traffic trying to get to the train station, so walking seemed logical).

We didn't choose the best day to tour Amsterdam, but we managed to fight through the drizzly weather. Since it was raining when we arrived, we started off the day by taking a canal boat tour which lasted around 1 hour. After circling around Central Station, our boat began heading towards the smaller canals that weave between the city. We saw lots of Amsterdam's cool architecture, witnessed the 7 bridges, NEMO (science center in a huge ship) and it even went by the Anne Frank's Hiding Place (museum). I'm sure there were other sights we went by, but I probably missed them or wasn't paying attention to the tour guide since I was too busy gawking out the window. I would recommend going on a canal boat tour if the weather isn't so great or if you have travelers who'd prefer to ride vs. walk around the city. I believe it cost around 8 euro per person.

After the canal tour we found a small cafe in Dam Square where we had some coffees and hot chocolate. Then we went in search of the Flower Market and the Begijnhof since I really enjoy both of these places. My mom was mesmerized by the breathtaking flowers. You can find all sorts of tulips, narcissus and other bulbs and flowers. They also have touristy items as well, like wooden clogs, which my mom picked up for my niece Emma. Next we stopped off quickly at the Begijnhof for a photo as it's a really quiet, yet beautiful, old courtyard with typical Amsterdam architecture where only women are allowed to practice their faith; however, they are not considered nuns. We also just enjoyed walking by the canals and taking in the unique architecture Amsterdam boasts while trying to stay out of the bike paths since there are numerous cyclists in this city along with the rest of the country.

It wouldn't be right to visit Amsterdam and not show my folks the Red Light District; thus, we strolled through this famous area, so my parents could see that it really exists. Yet, I find it rather sad, especially since it's located around a church! The neighborhood, one of Amsterdam's oldest, has housed prostitutes since 1200. Prostitution is entirely legal here and the prostitutes are generally entrepreneurs, renting space and running their own business. There are numerous alleys full of windows with red lights and a few along the canals. Popular prostitutes net around 500 euro a day (yes, there are some pretty ones), but we saw several that we thought weren't worth anything! Anyway, my parents thought it was quite interesting, but also sad that people actually do this for a living.

Later my mom and I did some shopping while my dad checked out the Bull Dog Coffee Shop and The Smallest Pub as he could handle only so much of us women and our desire for walking, sightseeing and shopping around the city. He didn't have the greatest experience in the Bull Dog Cafe, but really enjoyed The Smallest Pub where he met some nice Great Britain guys (English gentlemen) that kept him company. In the meantime, my mom found a nice Amsterdam shirt for my dad, a funny shot glass for one of my brothers, stroopwaffles (traditional Dutch sweet), postcards and few other odds and ends.

Finally, we met up with Shannon for dinner at a place in the Jordaan District which is considered Amsterdam's most characteristic neighborhood filled with fantastic restaurants. We chose a place from The Rick Steves' guide called the Cafe Restaurant de Reiger which is famous for its delightful bistro ambience and having some of the best cooking in the Jordaan area. We all agreed it was quite delicious, especially the seafood and steaks.

Central Station in Amsterdam (train station)

Royal Palace in Dam Square
My parents in the Begijnhof
Daily Flower Market (located on the Singel canal between the Koningsplein and the Muntplein)
My mom thought all the flowers looked amazing and wished she could bring some back home!
One of the larger canals in Amsterdam; it was a bit foggy the day we were there.
One of Amsterdam's famous 'Coffee Shops' (aka smoke shop)
My dad enjoyed hanging out at 'The Smallest Pub' with some Great Britain guys he befriended while mom and I did some shopping.
Even though this was probably for kids, we thought we needed to sit in the enormous Clog (wooden shoes that Holland is famous for)
Another beautiful canal with 7 bridges in the background which are hard to detect in this photo

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