Avalon River Cruise Blog
Avalon Affinity - Romantic Rhine 7 Night River Cruise
Tampa Bay's Cloud Based Travel Agency
Written by John Rice, General Manager
|Avalon River Cruise - Amsterdam Netherlands
Saturday, October 24-to Tuesday October 27, 2009
The river boat arrived in Amsterdam (The Venice of the North) while we slept. When we awoke, we were docked on an island on the back side of the port of Amsterdam. The river cruise included one night on the Avalon Affinity in Amsterdam Harbor. When I looked out the window, I could see the Moevenpick Hotel which I priced for Amsterdam, but did not select; so I knew my whereabouts from the boat window. We had moved very fast on this tour with an early morning call each morning and my wife said why dont we skip the canal cruise this morning and sleep in? I agreed immediately and we skipped breakfast in favor of a 9:30 start out into the rain. The rain had let up by the time we left the boat so we walked the fifteen minutes to the train station.
The tourist office was right next to the station so we went across to get a three day I-Amsterdam card. Many European cities have these programs now where you buy a card that gives you admission to the major museums in some cities like Amsterdam, also gives you public transportation on the trams and some of the cities busses. This 3 day card is about $60 euro per person, but gives us access to the Rijksmuseum, The Van Gogh Museum plus we used ours to go to the Oude Kerk Church, Dehortus Botanical Garden (very nice) and the Tulip Museum (a tourist trap in the basement of a gift shop). This is an advantage of these cards, that you will go see places you may not have seen if you just paid the admission to the same museums.
You almost always break even on these cards and usually get some free admissions and see things you might not have seen without them. The Dehortus Botanical Garden was very interesting, especially the butterfly green house with butterflies, pupae waiting to be butterflies and beautiful flowering plants for them to land on. We also went to see inside the Oude Kerk (well worth seeing as Amsterdams oldest church) which had a choir performance going on the day we toured the church so we had musical accompaniment while we toured. This group of young adults was doing choir style, but we noticed the songs were Eric Clapton, Gladys Knight and other modern songs done in choir style.
This church is right on the edge of the red light district. The first day when we left the tourist office, we made a silly tourist mistake and did not get our bearings before leaving the tourist office. It was busy and we had the rain gear on so our plan was to walk and find a coffee shop to get a cup of coffee and get our bearings. Most of the coffee shops we passed were not really coffee shops but rather marijuana shops so we kept walking until we were standing next to this Oude Kerk church looking at our Amsterdam map. Not realizing we were in the red light district, Gina looked up and said "oh" my at one point in time and pointed over my shoulder to the windows with the working girls standing there motioning to us to come over. They must have had a laugh at the lost tourists lost in the rain.
Amsterdam is a city of bicycles. Here we have a triple decker!
We headed across town to the area near the Anne Frank House figuring it would be more touristy with services. We were right, just down the street was a great cafe called the Dialogue Lunchcafe with a great capucino and wonderful baked goods which we really needed by 11AM on a rainy morning. They even had 2 computers with free internet (as long as you make a purchase) so we could even get email out of the way. This makes a good transition to our general impression of Amsterdam which is a city that overloads the senses no matter how liberal your view of the world. When we were there, there was a carnival in the middle of Dam Square with a ten story ferris wheel which only added to the feeling that it was a city of contrasts. The entire city is a juxtaposition of good and bad, of wild and conservative of crazy and family and it is all located right next to each other in adjacent blocks. It is not as easy as most cities to get your way around, because the canals are laid out in a series of semi-circles so most trips involve crossing over one, two or three canals and then heading down the street. The city took us two days to find our way around before we got comfortable with directions and tram routes. After a while you get the hang of the fact that you cross two canals and go down three blocks when looking for something and the tram system is pretty easy to use.
By the afternnon of our first day, we agree that a tourist is more likely in Amsterdam to get run over by a bicycle than an automobile. When we first got to the train station, we saw literally thousands of bikes parked in a rack and wondered how everybody found their own. Over the next few days, we realized bikes are so much a part of the personality of Amsterdam that everybody had some kind of original marking, decoration or paint scheme for the bike that made it their own. In most spots, you have to be careful walking around Amsterdam because there is a street, a sidewalk and a large bike path. We kept straying from the sidewalk to the bike path as they were together when we were looking for landmarks or pulling out maps and then we would hear bells that are a required item on the bike by City law so people can warn you as they zoom by. They were such a big part of Amsterdam that we have put together a slide show of bikes mixed with fiberglass elephants that were also all over town. While we were there Amsterdam had one of those charity exhibitions going where people brightly theme paint and auction an certain animal after it has been displayed across town. The bikes and elephants slideshow will open in a pop up window. The full Amsterdam slide show is below.
Amsterdam has a multitude of restaurants and some pretty good take away food too. We ate Turkish pizza like bread one morning as we were heading to the tram stop. We wished we had bought two rather than splitting one. We visited a Vietnamese restaurant, an Italian restaurant called Koevoet Resstaurant Italiaanse Keuken, a good fish restaurant called Lucius, an Argentinean steak house and a few other stops but we skipped the traditional Dutch foods like herring. We did have a Dutch lunch one day near the Museum/Opera at Small Talk with tiny north sea shrimp in a salad and onion soup made with gouda rather than Swiss cheese on the top but other than that most of what we ate in Amsterdam would be considered ethnic foods because of the multicultural nature of the city being a seaport for hundreds of years. One of our best meals was the Tapas Bar called Pompa offering excellent authentic Tapas with a good Spanish house wine on a rainy day. This was in the same area with the Museum's and Opera House behind the Small Talk by a block.
We did enjoy the neighborhood, Keizergracht, that our hotel was in. When planning this trip, after checking out the choices and areas of the City, we immediately decided we would have to increase our Amsterdam budget for hotel. We wanted something traditional Amsterdam and once we threw the budget out the window, we took the canal view room. We stayed at the The Toren which was in the same neighborhood as Anne Franks house. This was a delightful neighborhood with a quiet ambiance and the hotel had a very nice Dutch charm. We had a canal view room on the ground floor in the annex and The room had coffee service in the room and a very nice view of the canal with big heavy windows that slid up and down on heavy tracks with counterweights. On the way home from our days, we would stop at The Albert Heign Foodplaza near Damn Square for a happy hour bottle of Cru Bourgois while we are in the neighborhood of France and we can afford to drink good wine. At night they would light the canal up and we sat each evening at sunset to watch the people and bicycles passing by with a glass of French wine. The Toren is in a residential neighborhood, near one of the main tram lines so it had an interesting stream of Amsterdamers pass by our first floor window. They have a main building and an annex with a total of 38 rooms. The hotel had a very good breakfast buffet too.
The concierge staff was excellent and all the restaurant choices they made for us were excellent and they did our reservations for us each day. As I have said before, my wife looks very Italian to other Europeans and one night the owner overrode the concierge and sent us to a very authentic Tuscan restaurant run by some friends of his, rather than the more traditional Italian being suggested by the office staff. When we got there the choices were a Dutch menu or an Italian menu. Thank goodness we could get by in the Italian menu and the food was delicious! The fish choice the suggested was the best in Amsterdam. Since we are near the North Sea and are sent to another excellent restaurant for Dover Sole and mussels. We are informed that the Dover Sole market price is $48 Eu per person so we choose another kind of sole that is half that price. With the exchange rate at 1.5 eu to 1 US$, we spend carefully as we travel.
We have walked much of the City and connected to further distances by tram on our I-Amsterdam cards. Each day we would tram to the museum district to knock out one of the big museums. We walked through the flower market and found some pretty good Dutch cheese to take home. We chose a baby old willig reserve edam at Kaaskelder which had a shop at the flower market. After that, we stopped at La Mancha a pretty good Argentenean steak house that had a special for 12e to get out of the rain and enjoy a good steak.
Ok, every trip to Amsterdam needs at least a walk through the red light district and tonight is the night on a Tuesday. We have pretty liberal attitudes toward life as we have traveled the world, but seeing the working girls actively working the tiny windows by the street is a shock to almost any system. Prostitution is legal in Netherlands and all the workers have registration cards and are tested for health concerns. The district has almost every persuasion including live sex shows and sex toy shops. Our walk lasts approximately 15 minutes from one end to the other and we both decide we are out of there pretty quickly. That said, the red light district in Amsterdam is clearly defined on all maps which means that type of activity is limited to that area rather than spreading to other parts of the city. This liberal attitude also gave rise to a large gay community and this destination could be termed Gay Friendly also. On the weekend, we were at restaurants near the red light district and would suggest those with less open attitudes wait as we did for a midweek walk if you just want to gawk. The weekend seemed to have large packs of young males that looked like they had come for bachelor parties and seemed much rowdier, even on the streets leading up to the red light district. When we ate Vietnamese on Saturday night, we observed the traffic as the Asian neighborhood is near to the red light district.
We are only at the Toren two nights for a total stay of three in Amsterdam. This has been shorter than most of our 2 week + European vacations, but we have been in four countries with four different languages. As we head to the airport, we think we might have enjoyed one more night in Amsterdam to check out the surrounding countryside we have seen quite a bit for a very short trip. We are using the same driver that the Avalon cruise director used to send us from the boat. He takes everybody to hotels for the post cruise stay and sets up his week to pick us all up for the airport. He is very prompt at 6AM and has already picked up two other guests from our boat. It is about a 25 minute ride to the airport for the return ride home. Somehow the daytime flight home seems easier than the overnight flight to Europe, even though it is exactly the same amount of time and we are home to Tampa about 7PM in the evening with no flight delays. Delta was a good carrier that had no delays or problems along the way.