The plan is to spend three nights in Amsterdam though not three whole days. We arrive later on a Sunday afternoon and leave mid afternoon on Wednesday. On Tuesday we are heading to Arnhem for a day trip involving an Open Air folk museum so that leaves Sunday night, Monday and Wednesday morning to see a little bit of Amsterdam. We did have a list of possible museums and attractions to see, with one or two in particular being a "must see" but the rest were open for negotiation as time and energy allowed.
We flew from Manchester UK to Amsterdam via Heathrow's Terminal 5 which is absolutely enormous. It is probably no larger than the other terminals but it feels bigger because it's more open with huge windows all around. Ate in the Weatherspoon's pub in T5, not impressed. I had a tuna melt which was barely melted and the tuna wasn't even warm at all. We arrived in Amsterdam under sunny skies. The airport is not too difficult to navigate but the baggage area seemed like a madhouse. It seems too small for the numbers of stations and people that are using it and there's a great bottleneck at the exit. Once you're out into Schipol, it's wide open spaces. We found the ticket machines and tried to get train tickets into the city centre but it didn't like my credit card. Off to the desks. The clerk there didn't seem to be too swift, telling me that the card was probably expired (no it isn't) or that the card might not be set up to be used in Europe (never had a problem in the past). We used cash at the desk and found our way to the correct platform. I thought about it afterwards. My bank sent me a new card last fall with the chip embedded. New PIN number. I think I put in the old PIN!
Anyway, it is only 15 or 20 minutes into the huge Centraal Station. From there, we just followed the crowds out the door and i had my notes and maps with me. Our hotel, the Tulip Inn Amsterdam Centre, is only a few blocks away and very walkable. We only had carry on luggage so we weren't too encumbered. We found the hotel without any problem and checked in to our mini-room. Smallest. Room. Ever (see hotel review for photos!) Still, it was nice looking and the bed was comfy even if the toilet was wedged into a narrow corner and the walls of the bathroom were glass (frosted in discreet strips in the middle).
We had the evening and decided to take a canal boat cruise to introduce ourselves to the city. We hurried back to the Station. In front of the station in the canal is where most of the tour boat offices are. The major one, Holland International, was the one we went for but they're all pretty similar in price and routes. We got there about 8 minutes before the departure so we didn't get seats as good as we'd have liked. The boats contain tabled booths down both sides, which they also use for dinner cruises, i should think. Each booth/table sits four or 6 very small people. The roof is glass and the side windows open. We didn't get window seats but our booth-mates did open the window so many photos taken on that side of the boat are reflection free.
The cruise lasted an hour, with narrative and was really nice under sunny skies. You can see the elegant canal houses that line the water, but there are also modern buildings too, some built to match or similar in style. You go under the stone bridges and down a few quieter canals but mainly you are in the large canals that circle the old city. It was a nice way to see the city from a different perspective.
Once we had disembarked, it was time to start looking around for somewhere to eat. Between the street our hotel was on, and the "main drag" Damrak that leads from the station to Dam Square, are a few smaller streets, some pedestrian only. We thought there would be places in there. Damrak itself does have eateries but they were fast food, or quite tacky. We found that the general feeling of Damrak as it was, with tatty souvenir shops, arcades, theme pubs and restaurants. We also noticed a *lot* of rubbish and litter all over the place, on ground and in the water of the canals!!! It was very off putting. By the end of the evening there were street cleaners out and we didn't notice it as much the rest of the time we were there but it didn't make a very good first impression. I suppose Amsterdam is a weekend destination for parties, stag and stagette parties and it's too bad that people don't respect the city enough not to find appropriate places to put their trash. Maybe the city is partly to blame for not supplying public garbage cans, I don't know.
We did finally find a dark little bar/restaurant just a block up from the station and in off Damrak on a side street. It had a menu that had some things that appealed to both of us so we ate there and enjoyed it. The price wasn't too expensive though not cheap either but the food was good.
After we ate, it was still light out so we walked up Damrak to see Dam Square where the Palace and National Monument are. There are some other large buildings there and the Nieuw Kerk (New Church) which isn't that new but is newer than the Old Church which is down in the Red Light District. It was closed of course, at this time of night as was the Palace. One of the buildings has Madame Tussaud's in it and there's a "Grand Hotel" along the back of the square which is large and open otherwise. It was chock full the next night as the Netherlands commemorate those that died in wars. The Royal Family attend and lay wreaths on the memorial and there's a service. We didn't brave the crowds for that and watched on tv instead.
Getting tired now, we walked behind Dam square and passed a huge shopping "mall" which is just behind. Also closed this time of night. We wandered back to our hotel, not that far away, stopping to get some snacks for the hotel room and spend the rest of the evening trying to decipher some of the Dutch television shows!