Two summers ago my friend Sylvie and I let a complete stranger book us a hotel room and take us out to dinner. We made it through the night and have kept in touch with Charles ever since. When he let me know that he was coming to Europe for business and would have some free time in Amsterdam, I asked for a day off and started planning.
Charles had never been to Amsterdam in the Netherlands before, so I wanted to take him on a personal walking tour, instead of spending half a day at a museum. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against museums (and there are more than 1,000 in Amsterdam!) and I’d still love to visit the Van Gogh one day, but as we didn't have that much time I preferred roaming the streets to sniff up the ambiance.
We met at the Central Station and took the Damrak to the Dam Square. It was January 8 and there were still Christmas stalls on the Damrak selling gloves, hats, sugary treats and other comfort food. I quickly reminded myself that it wasn’t even noon yet and ignored the tempting smells as best as I could.
At the Dam Square we took the obligatory photo of the Royal Palace, but agreed that the building could use a serious cleaning.
The Anne Frank House
Following the Paleisstraat, the Raadhuisstraat, the Westermarkt and the Prinsengracht we got to the Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht 263-267), one of the things to do in Amsterdam. I know, I know, I said I didn’t want to do museums, but I hadn’t been to the Anne Frank House yet and this stop was a must for the both of us.
Photography wasn’t allowed and if it had been it would’ve been impossible to get some good shots as it was pretty crowded.
There wasn’t really a queue to get in, but once inside the museum we really had to wait in line to move from one exhibition item and room to the other. What surprised me the most about the Anne Frank House was how big it was. Seeing it from the street you would never guess how many rooms there are in the house. It’s quite the maze and when visiting you have to follow a fixed route.
The exhibition tells the story of the Jewish Anne Frank and her family, who hid from the Nazis during World War II until they were betrayed, arrested and deported. (You can learn more about Anne Frank’s story on the Anne Frank House website.)
Besides explanatory text and photographs there are also items on display that used to belong to the Frank family, as well as letters, film footage and interviews with people who had known Anne and have survived the War.
The tour ends with an interactive part. Visitors are shown various television clips related to freedom of speech and racism. The clips are all taken from real documentaries or news features. Each clip ends with a question and you, as a visitor, need to answer that question with “yes” or “no” by pushing a red or green button.
To give you an example, one of the questions that was asked was whether it’s okay for concert halls to cancel the performance of an artist because that artist has homophobic lyrics. Another question was if protest marches by extreme right groups should be forbidden, keeping in mind that these marches often lead to violence.
I will not discuss these questions here, but it was interesting to see how Charles and I often had a different opinion. In general you could say that he was much more for total freedom of speech, while I was more careful in saying that something should be allowed or allowed to be forbidden.
Was this an example of an American versus a European way of looking at things? Were our reactions different because I grew up in a society where the horrors of World War II are still very present, while Charles looked at it from a greater distance? We haven’t figured it out yet, but we definitely knew what to talk about over lunch.
Lunch at Roem
On a lighter note, our lunch was great. We went to this small place just a bit further down the Prinsengracht and across the water from the Anne Frank House, called Roem (Prinsengracht 126). On the menu were all kinds of sandwiches/bagels/toasts and some yummy drinks like smoothies and hot chocolate as well.
I felt adventurous and ordered a sandwich with a kind of cheese I’d never had before. I think I blocked out the name because it was clearly a wrong choice. The cheese tasted so strong and was paired with some kind of vinaigrette which made its taste come out even more.
I hate it when a meal goes bad, so when Charles proposed I’d just get something else, I did. In fact, the guy running the place told me he’d make me something I’d definitely like… and he did. I got a salmon club sandwich: small triangle sandwiches with cucumber, salmon, guacamole and onion. Delicious. This was, without exaggerating, the best sandwich I’d ever had. (Sorry, no photo here – I dug right in!)
The Nine Streets
All powered up again we continued our tour through the Nine Streets. The Nine Streets are – you guessed it – nine small streets in between the Prinsengracht and the Singel. You can find some beautiful houses here as well as quirky boutiques. No chain stores here.
From there we walked on to the Vondelpark. The Vondelpark is the largest park in Amsterdam and although it is pretty nice, there was one thing that for me really ruined the peaceful feel a park should have: a flashy (think neon), cheap looking bar right in the middle of it. No, I didn't feel inclined to take a picture of it. I think my camera would have refused as well.
I mean, I can take a small kiosk in greenish colors selling drinks with some tables and chairs outside, but a bar with neon lights and flashy colors?
Charles was with me on this one: it was so out of place.
When we left the Vondelpark it was getting dark already. Both having a train to catch (me back home, Charles to the airport) we decided to slowly head back, pass the Flower Market, and call it a day.
More things to do in and around Amsterdam
Charles and I only had limited time in the city, so if you're looking for more things to do in Amsterdam, have a look at this list.
Where to stay in Amsterdam
If you're looking for an apartment rather than a hotel, I recommend checking airbnb. Sign up through my link and get a discount on your first stay!
How to get there: my first time riding the Thalys
When traveling to Amsterdam from Belgium during the week, you usually don’t want to take the car. There are daily traffic jams around Antwerp and parking in Amsterdam is pretty expensive. I didn’t mind, though, as this meant my trip was a great opportunity to test out the Thalys. Ever since I’d so comfortably taken the Eurostar to London on my trip to Cambridge, I was curious to test that other European High-Speed Train.
There’s a direct connection with the Thalys from Brussels South to Amsterdam and while the regular train will take 2 hours and 44 minutes to get there, the Thalys will do it an hour less. Yes, the ticket price for a seat in the Thalys can be a lot higher than when you get a seat on a regular IC (InterCity) train, but if you look out for deals and book well in advance, you can get a one-way ticket for as low as €29.
So, what do you get for that money?
A big plus for a blogger like myself is that there’s WiFi on board of the Thalys. Be careful though, as WiFi is only free for people with certain types of tickets. If you don’t have one of those, you’ll have to purchase credits to be able to get online while riding the Thalys.
When you’re traveling in Comfort 1 (‘business class’) and your trip lasts over 50 minutes, you’ll get a free meal on board. That can be breakfast, lunch, a light snack or dinner, depending on the time of the day. People traveling in Comfort 2 can always bring their own snack or purchase something from the on-board bar.
3. Electric sockets
There are electric sockets that let you recharge your batteries (well, those of your equipment) both in Comfort 1 and Comfort 2. Always handy if you want to get some work done on the train or didn’t have the time to charge your phone or camera at home.
My experience with Thalys
I traveled from Brussels South to Amsterdam and back on the same day in the Comfort 1 Thalys class. As there weren’t many people taking the train at the time I was, I had two seats and two electric sockets to myself. I used one to power my tablet without a problem.
After having created an account, I could use the WiFi. I checked my email and social media several times during both rides, but the connection wasn’t flawless all the time.
On my way to Amsterdam I was offered a drink twice, as well as a pastry and later the choice between another pastry, a mini sandwich or fruit.
On the way back I got to choose between two dinner options and ended up having a small cheese soufflé, a piece of chocolate cake and two slices of cheese with a coke. The food wasn’t bad at all, but it kind of reminded me of airplane food. Not because of the taste, but because when you’re flying you also always get several small things instead of one large dish.
As I was traveling in Comfort 1 I also had access to the lounge before I left Amsterdam again. That consisted of a working area with electric sockets and one computer and more of a ‘relax’ area with couches and a television. There were also magazines and newspapers.
Booking your own trip to Amsterdam
Whether you're coming from across the ocean, somewhere in Europe or another part of the Netherlands, Amsterdam is pretty easy to get to. There are direct trains from Amsterdam Schiphol into the city center and lots of train connections with other European cities.
I received a complimentary return ticket Brussels South – Amsterdam from Thalys. However, this didn't change how comfortable I sat in my seat, nor the fact that I ate my chocolate cake dessert before finishing my cheese soufflé. The links to Booking.com and TripAdvisor are affiliate links. If you book a stay through them, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting the site!