We landed in Amsterdam at around 1pm on Wednesday. The commute to our Air BnB was a bit more stressful than usual (all of the signs and maps were written in Dutch) but we eventually found our way to our adorable house in the central neighborhood of Jordaan. Our room was within walking distance of most of Amsterdam’s major attractions, and our host owned a restaurant downstairs.
After settling in, our first priority was to locate food. We settled on a Dutch pancake restaurant that we could smell from a block away. The classic bacon and cheese Dutch pancakes were perfectly greasy, mushy and delicious. We spent a few hours walking around and exploring Jordaan before heading to an unlimited pizza and beer canal cruise; a perfect start to our visit.
We started our first full day in Amsterdam with a visit to the Rijksmuseum, a huge national museum dedicated to art and history in the Netherlands. After lunch in the city center, I visited Rookies, one of Amsterdam’s famous ‘coffee shops’ and spent a few more hours traversing the city’s canals and cobblestone streets by foot.
Later that afternoon we headed to the Anne Frank Huis, where we waited in a queue for an hour and a half (which is actually an unusually short wait time) to step through the building and the annex that Anne Frank and her family spent over two years hidden in. The sobering tour was accompanied by an audio guide of clips from Anne Frank’s diary, giving visitors the opportunity to hear Anne’s thoughts in the exact places where she had them. We walked through the building’s warehouse, offices, behind the bookcase door and into the secret annex, imagining what it might have felt like to be trapped there. The fear, isolation and horror that Anne wrote about was tangible with every creak of the floor that the Frank’s so carefully tread on while in hiding.
All too quickly, the last day of our European vacation crept up on us. We started the day with a visit to the Vincent Van Gogh museum to see the world’s largest collection of his art, as well as learn more about his tragic life and story. From the museum, we walked to Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s famous Central Park, for a picnic. Unfortunately, our slew of perfect weather ended, and rain forced us to take cover under a tree before retreating back to our house in Jordaan. We sampled chocolates from a bakery on our street before heading back towards the city center for a walk through the sex museum, which was filled with very unique artifacts and information about the history of sex and how it is portrayed in various cultures. After a pasta dinner outside the central station, we headed to Dam Square to meet our tour guide for a tour of Amsterdam’s famous red light district.
I was expecting the Red Light District to be a sleazy area with flickering red lights, run down buildings, and a few shameful men with their heads down. Instead, the red light district was full of people, who, in addition to the peep shows, prostitute windows, and smart shops (drug stores), were also heading to the many museums, brown cafes (bars), and coffee shops that are scattered throughout the lively area. The bikini-clad prostitutes stand in windows lined with red and blue neon lights, and they all look like barbie dolls. Our tour was made more interesting by the fact that our guide happened to be in a long-term relationship, and recently engaged to, a prostitute who works in the Red Light District. The story of how they met was not unlike the movie Pretty Woman. He was personal friends with many of the sex workers in the area and had firsthand knowledge of the industry and culture. He encouraged our group to be respectful of the women and their chosen profession and to tour the Red Light District with an open mind.