Netherlands Stories and Tips

First Full Morning in Amsterdam

Selling tulip bulbs on the Floating Market Photo, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Didn't sleep all that well though the bed was comfy. I think i had too much caffeine late in the day yesterday. We had an early start. Breakfast isn't included in the hotel rate so we went into a pub type place a few doors down and had a hot breakfast. I had eggs over cheese and ham on toast and it was nice. The weather is good, sunny with clouds and it's mild though sometimes the breeze is cool. The streets look a bit cleaner but there's still litter in corners and bus shelters. First order of business was to get our train tickets to Arnhem for tomorrow and to get either a transport pass or "Strippenkaart" tickets.

The Netherlands transport has a special kind of train pass that costs about 40 euros and covers two people all day (after 9:00) and you travel in first class. That's a pretty sweet deal but we discovered, when we bought the tickets, that those tickets must be paid for in cash! We also got our one way tickets for Brussels for Wednesday. The clerk worked it out that it was cheaper to get another one of those first class for two people tickets and then two second class singles from the Belgian border. That meant another cash payment so we paid cash for the whole whack. Good thing i had it but now we need an ATM!

Outside the station, there's a white building just across the tram tracks and this is where you would go for tourist info. You can get your transport passes/strip tickets and also the museum card passes or the iamsterdam passes. But the queues were long and crowded and in the end, we just paid the driver for tickets to go to Waterlooplein where there's an outdoor flea market. We spent a pleasant hour or so browsing the stalls. You can get lots of different things here, from clothes to souvenirs to household items. This is an area that was historically the Jewish quarter and the market was set up for the Jewish merchants originally. You could spend all day in this neighbourhood. The Jewish historic museum is only across a canal, Rembrandthuis is around the corner and not too far away are the Hermitage Amsterdam, the Dutch Resistance museum and Artis, a park with a zoo. In fact, we did try to do to the Rembrandthuis which is one of the residences the artist lived in for awhile. It has some of his work, sketches and things. He's one of Graham's favourite artists and we'd hoped to check it out but unfortunately it was closed, getting ready for a new exhibit. Bummer!

We went into a cafe across the street for a break and decided what to do next. Well we had to find a bank machine and we had to get tram tickets. These were obtained in a supermarket at the end of the street by the canal. No, actually, that's the Amstel River. We got a good view of the "Skinny" bridge from the other side as well. This is a little bridge that was supposedly built so that two sisters could visit each other across a canal. It's been enlarged and widened but is still a small bridge.

We walked along one of the quieter canals for a bit. Or so we thought. I didn't realize, judging from pictures, that either side of the canals are actually streets where cars go down though you do see cars in photos of canal side views. The street is only wide enough for one car and are one way i think. Plus of course, the endless stream of bicycles are always there are they're even more hazardous because you don't hear them coming. They don't ring their bell until they're almost on top of you. Having cars and bikes kind of takes away from the tranquility of the canals, I think.

We found ourselves in Rembrandtplein (or Rembrandt Square) which is ringed with restaurants, bars and cafes. Perfect time to stop for another brew. I think the place would be hopping at night and it was fairly busy in mid day as well. We chose a cafe and rather than sit right outside, we sat in a front section that was still open to the outside. One side of the table was a long padded bench seat where i sat and discovered a curled up black and white cat sharing the other end! I don't know if he belonged to the restaurant or had wandered in for a rest! Coffee/tea and cake later, we were ready to go again. En route to the Singel canal where the floating flower market is, i stopped in to an electronics store since I'd blown up my battery charger the night before in the hotel. There's a tall tower near the market too, which used to be part of the city defences, i believe. There's now a tourist info office in it.

The Floating Flower market is touted as a glorious explosion of colour and scent, a "floral paradise" of many many varieties of flowers and tulips (in season) which are my favourite flower. That's why i went to Amsterdam in May, hoping to see them. We did see them, but all the tulips we saw in the market were wooden or silk. Apparently we had missed the prime season by a couple of weeks. Rats! There were tulip bulbs to be purchased in quantities, and that was something i did expect to see in addition to fresh blooming flowers, and other fresh flowers too but quite a few of stalls along the canal seemed to carry souvenirs rather than flowers....so in my opinion, it's a bit of a tourist trap really, and a bit of a disappointment. Maybe we were just there at the wrong time because a coworker thought there were far more flowers than what i remember seeing. Still, i know if we'd got there at the right time, we would have seen more tulips in the flower shops that are among the houseboat/stalls and we did see some lovely roses and some nice flowers. It seemed to me that at least half or more sold souvenirs and crafts, more than i expected. I expected most of the stalls to be flower shop type stalls selling either flowers or seeds and bulbs and gardening items. It wasn't like that, not when we were there at least. I certainly wouldn't say that i was overwhelmed by flowers but i was overwhelmed by souvenir kiosks. I do realize that tulips aren't going to be prominent in the market most of the year, they have their prime season like any other flower and we missed that but i did think there would be more flowers and displays than there were. They were there, don't get me wrong, just not in the quantities i thought, judging from all the descriptions in various guidebooks and websites. Maybe i just wasn't paying attention? I don't know.

Enough of that, we sat on a park bench for a few minutes to rest our feet and then continued on.

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