Sometimes flying standby is amazing – we flew to Amsterdam in first class!!! And sometimes it is the pits – we watched our airplane leave us because there were no more seats left and we ended up buying a ticket to make sure we could fly back the next day!
But, even with our “lemonade” day (When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!) we had a fabulous time! We began our stay by buying at the airport information desk the “Holland Pass” that gave us “free” (how can it be free when we paid a fair amount to get the pass) entrance to several places and discounts for others. We also asked about buses to Haarlem where we had reservations to see Corrie Ten Boom’s house (The Hiding Place). Nicely, the bus/train system in Amsterdam is pretty easy to work and we were soon on our way to Haarlem.
No problem getting there – but the luggage lockers are inside the train station (must have a ticket to enter) and we had come by bus. It took some doing before the information desk understood us enough to help us figure out how to drop off our bags – it’s not much fun walking around a city toting your suitcases, no matter how small they are!
Visiting the Hiding Place was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time! It’s not a large place and they limit tours to 20 people/hour so fortunately, we had signed up in advance. It was a good tour – and interesting to be able to go through the bookcase like the people hiding had done. Good thing I wasn’t timed! And I can’t imagine how hard it was to stay still in that very small space!
After finishing our tour there and buying some bread and cheese for lunch, we bought a 3-day train ticket and headed into Amsterdam (our BnB was in Haarlem so we’d be traveling each day to Amsterdam and it was easier to get the 3-day pass).
Our first stop was the Moco, where Banksy’s art is displayed. Never heard of Banksy? Me neither! But Banksy is an anonymous England-based street artist, vandal, political activist, and film director. In other words, he does graffiti and is mentioned in one of the Oceans movies. We also went to a diamond cutting place – but I didn’t buy anything! With that, we walked back to the train station, taking in the sights – and stores – as we went, and caught the train back to Haarlem. After checking in at our BnB, we went and got pizza at a nearby place – so yummy! And then we crashed!
Early the next morning we made our way back to Amsterdam – we were getting to be pros at this train travel stuff – to meet up with our tour group! Since we weren’t driving and thought taking the trains might take a while, we elected to buy a tour with Tours and Tickets – so worth it! As first on the bus we got the front seats of the double decker bus and set off for Keukenhof – the garden of gardens filled with tulips and crocuses and daffodils and more! So very pretty and informative and we were there on opening day, first thing in the morning. We had 3 hours to wander and learned all about tulips from the tulipmania that hit almost 400 years ago during the Dutch Golden Age when tulips were so prized that people were buying and selling them at huge prices, sometimes for 10x the yearly wages of a worker. This inflated market collapsed in February of 1637- when the bulb prices dropped dramatically, the trading of the bulbs ground to a halt. One possibility for its collapse was that the people of Haarlem didn’t go to trade one morning because the bubonic plague had just broken out. We also learned that the tulip originally came from Turkey and the most prized ones, with the different striped colors, occurred when the bulbs got a virus. The last most unusual fact we learned was it takes 25 years for a tulip to go from seed to bulb to be sold – tulips can also multiply from the bulb which is much quicker but then they are more susceptible to viruses.
After having our picnic lunch on the grounds of Keukenhof, it was time to get back on the bus and travel to Zaanse Schans, a totally touristy area, with lots of windmills! The windmills actually had been in different areas and brought to this area to preserve them and allow others to see them. We got to go in the one that was making peanut oil – we saw the peanuts being ground and then heated and then put in large bags and pressed.
The next stop on the tour was Volendam – what a cute village. Unfortunately, as part of a big bus tour, we didn’t get as much time as we would have liked to explore but instead followed our guide to our destination – the cheese factory, where we not only saw how cheese was made, we also got to try a bunch and buy some! How Gouda! (sorry!) Have you ever tried a stroopwaffel? It’s a very small, thin waffle, sliced in half, and then glued back together with a sweet caramel filling (you can see one in the picture above resting on the tea cup). After eating cheese, we were directed to the stroopwaffel shop to see them made. When they needed a volunteer, they chose Kate, so she got to help make the stroopwaffel. They are so yummy and you can buy them at Costco or, if you fly a morning flight with United, they will serve you one – warm it up on top of your coffee!
Our day wasn’t over yet as we still had a ferry ride to the town of Marken where we got to see wooden shoes being made. They say the Dutch still wear them on farms and such because they provide good insulation from water and are safer than steel toed boots (in case your horse steps on your foot). And, if you need arch support, just cut a little more out in the heel! I was tempted to buy a pair – but they aren’t cheap, and I didn’t have enough room in my suitcase – I guess I could have packed my tennis shoes and worn those on the plane!
Day three of our trip saw us checking out all the sights in Amsterdam – the A’dam lookout tower (not so great on a foggy morning but they have this swing high up on the tower – yes of course we did it!), a canal boat ride, a bus tour, a houseboat museum (ok – it used to be a houseboat, it’s 100 years old and now you can walk through it), and of course the streets of Amsterdam. Doesn’t seem like much when I type it up, but we felt like we stayed busy! We also went to a photo studio and got our pictures taken as Rembrandt subjects – that was fun!
The next day was an emotionally hard day – we got up early, went to the airport, checked in and waited, waited, waited. And waited some more – only to be told there was no room on the plane for us. Yes, I got teary eyed – okay, I cried! I was scheduled to speak at a lunch the next day, but it wasn’t going to happen for me! I had told Kate she could go home without me – but bless that sweet girl’s heart, she stayed with her Momma!
So, it was time to make lemonade ‘cause we sure got handed a bunch of lemons at that point! We booked a room at an airport hotel, dropped off our luggage there and headed back into Amsterdam for our bonus lemonade day! We went to the Dutch Resistance Museum, Rembrandt’s House, a market, and more streets and canals. Both the Dutch Resistance Museum and Rembrandt’s House were remarkable, and we learned so much! I certainly never knew that Rembrandt had a huge room filled with statues, taxidermy animals, shells and corals, antlers and more.
Really, we had a great day and then slept in a wonderful hotel that overlooked the runways (Citizen M – and I do highly recommend the hotel for a short stay close to the airport!). The next morning, we slept in, walked a 100-yards to the airport, picked up chocolate croissants for breakfast and, since Kate had wisely bought me a ticket for this day’s flight, we got on our flight and returned home! We had a great visit to Amsterdam – but I’m not sure I want to go to again!)