Woes and Joy in Amsterdam

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Grey skies, intermittent drizzle, blustery winds, temperatures in the 40’s and a hotel in the suburbs! Not exactly the welcome we had hoped for in Amsterdam! We were there for a two-night extension before our Viking Rhine River cruise. When we booked the extension, our accommodations were to be at the Movenpick Hotel in City Center or “similar”. I’m sorry Viking, but the Pestana Riverside Hotel is not “similar” to being in City Center! It was a lovely hotel, but we did not come to Amsterdam to see the suburbs! Enough of the negatives – here’s what we DID see:

The capital of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is a city of canals, bridges and quaint houses in quirky colors topped with unique gables. It has an ethnically diverse and tolerant culture, and more bicycles than inhabitants. A stroll through the streets of this picturesque city would be a pleasant experience if not for the constant need of caution from the bicyclists who WILL run you over if you get in their way!

On our first full day in Amsterdam, the weather had improved and we took the two-hour walking tour included with our extension. A Viking guide led us through the city’s main park, a quiet oasis popular with dog-walkers and nature lovers.  Near the park is Albert Cuypmarket which has been in existence for over 100 years. With approximately 260 different stalls, it is said to be the largest outdoor market in Europe. Without a doubt, the canals and nearly 1,500 bridges are what give Amsterdam its charm. We got great photos of the waterways as we walked to Museum Square. As the name suggests, this area is surrounded by Amsterdam’s most famous museums – Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk. This is where our walking tour ended, and while it was lovely I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for the Viking guests who got to stay in the heart of the city. (Oops, the negativity snuck back in!)

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We had booked an afternoon tour to the historic town of Haarlem, so we met our new tour guide and a bus driver at Museum Square. The half-hour drive outside the city gave us a welcome break from walking. First order of business in Haarlem? Lunch at the unique restaurant Jopenkerk, a former church which is now a brewery. Three different Jopen beers were served with plentiful and delicious food! Haarlem is a city of remarkable culture as is evident by the cathedral, the monuments and the “hofjes”. Hofjes (or almshouses) have been provided since the 14th century to house single elderly women who have nowhere else to live. We toured the Frans Hals Museum to admire the world’s largest collection of Frans Hals paintings and other works by Haarlem’s Old Masters. Along with the beautiful art were many impressive floral displays.

On the morning of the second day, we still had not seen the historic center of Amsterdam, so we left our luggage for Viking to transfer to the ship and set out on foot to find the Amsterdam we came to see! After a 45-minute walk we found Dam Square, home to the Royal Palace and other impressive highlights of this centuries-old, yet vibrant city. We took a relaxing cruise on the magnificent canals to enjoy the city from a different perspective. No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a stroll through the famous Red-Light District, but we did it during the day! We marveled at the view from the bridge in front of Central Station where the City’s eclectic architecture is on full display. Central Station itself is an impressive Neo-Renaissance building which opened to the public in 1889.

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Our ship, the Viking Lofn, was easy to find from Central Station and even though I’ve been  critical of Viking to this point, let me just say that from the moment we stepped on the boat until we disembarked seven days later, they did everything right! Next post: Beauty on the Rhine – Day One!

Note: Those of you who read this post via e-mail may wish to go to the blog for proper formatting of photos.

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