Hello friends! If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you may have seen a few photos from our recent trip to Amsterdam, which was for me, the highlight of spring break and one of my “Worlds Best Cities”.
We had planned to dive the Red Sea in Egypt back when winters grip was draining all the life from me. Imagining hot weather and sunny beaches gave me something to look forward to as we pressed on through those long dark winter days Jan.-Feb. that really haunt me. And then when (in comparison to last year) we started having a really lovely spring with flowers blooming by March I began to dream about cramming in a visit to the Netherlands to see the tulip fields (which has long been on my life-list). So with little encouragement from a friend who raved about Amsterdam being one of her families favorite destinations, I frantically searched for a home exchange who would be willing to drive about 9 hours to swap for a less than a week. I was not terribly hopeful since my experience with many Europeans is that they plan holidays a year in advance and they like to stay somewhere for 2 weeks at a time.
Thankfully we found Willemiek and Bram who must be like-minded last minute vacation planners and fellow creative spirits. I was delighted to meet their family when they arrived a few hours before our scheduled departure to exchange keys and tips. Willemiek works as a renown Documentary Film Maker in Amsterdam (check out this trailer) and Bram is the Theater Creative Director. They were both friendly and excellent English speakers, whom with out HomeExchange experiences, we would never have the opportunity to meet.
Our children were of similar ages which is really helpful because the toys on both ends of the exchange were age, interest and gender appropriate when we needed the kids to play for a while when planning the next adventure or searching for the next good eats. The tips on public transportation helped us to have a smooth and stress free experience. I should also add that Amsterdam is well organized, signs are easy to identify and understand, and the people are sooo nice and friendly, which makes asking for directions a great excuse to chat with the locals. Their flat was a perfect spot to discover the city as well as some really quaint and easily accessible small fishing villages to the north of the city. One of the other perks to home exchanges is that it forces you to give your home a thourough scrub down before you leave. Yes that means that for days you are packing and cleaning, but doesn’t everyone prefer to arrive home to a clean and organized home?!
Here are a few things that the big cities around the world can learn from Amsterdam:
- Amsterdam is the perfect mix of old and new. They implement modern transportation (kids loved the trams) and efficiency (and some architecture) seamlessly with quaint historical architecture and landmarks.
- I was impressed with how well they accommodate mass tourism- better than any city I have ever seen. The main train station is easy to find and a hub for purchasing tickets to anywhere (the airport and the Keukenhof for example) but also to anything (like canal boat rides and prepaid museum passes).
- I found that pricing to attractions was very standardized- there were some ways to save but I did not find different pricing at the train station than was offered down the street or across town. Getting ripped off was not a big concern- how refreshing!
- In large public squares we spotted mobile phone charging station that allow all kinds of phones to plug in and charge up for free.
- We planned to visited the Van Gough early in the trip but arrived at the ticket office (a short distance from the museum ) and were advised that the lines for general admission were long (like as in hours and hours of standing and waiting for people to come out ~reminiscent of a JCrew sample sale). The sales agent informed us that the timed advance tickets for the day and the following day were sold out. The idea of trying to wait in line with young children to enter a museum and stay for maybe an hours worth of attention-span was just not going to happen for us. We re-organized our itinerary and purchased an advanced TIMED tickets (please do this if you want to visit the art museums in the area) for later in the week. (Milan-could you take some notes? I know you have really popular museums (we waited in the really long lines) but maybe the Nederlanders can teach you how to more efficiently move people around, after all if they aren’t waiting in line, they are out spending money somewhere else in your city- I can testify to that!)
- I admit I am partial to English, and thank heavens I learned it growing up because I have discovered that learning a new language just aint easy from this old brain. Amsterdam is incredibly English friendly. In highly touristic areas (like the train station and canal boat trips) the employees do not even speak Dutch at all, everyone is spoken to in English. It seemed to me that all signage was in Dutch and English. It also seemed that everyone, was speaking english- boat captains, bus drivers, ticket operators, waitresses, random friendly person in restraint, grocery store cashier, etc. It seemed that there were 100 English book stores near the flower market where we took and hour to stroll around the shops. For foreign travelers – English signage, brochures and speakers are ideal. Its not about being less nationalistic or patriotic, its about giving the guest and easy and enjoyable experience- this allows them to happily empty their bank accounts in your country.
- For the Keukenhof I was really impressed how well organized they direct 1000’s of tourist a day. The gardens are only open for a few months every year and are a famous destination world wide. The traffic to this rural village out side the city is reduced by well planned and thought out public transportation routes that offer comfortable and easy travel from Amsterdam city center. In addition to the inexpensive public travel incentive they still do a great job of managing traffic and parking for those (like us) who prefer to drive ourselves. I saw lots of management parking cars and constantly filling spaces that had been earlier vacated. We were there during their busiest weekend of the year and we did not wait in long lines of traffic, nor did we have to take trams from satellite parking lots. We did not wait in long lines for tickets and concessions. A visit to the Keukenhof is worth the trip to Amsterdam all by itself.
I have so many photos from our trip that this will be Amsterdam week all week long. If you are dreaming about a European destination but maybe you weren’t considering Amsterdam- rethink your itinerary. Maybe all you know about Amsterdam is the red-light district and the legal drug scene? After reading this weeks post I hope you will realize how much this small country has to offer! I expected to accidentally run across “seedy” areas (like when you are strolling through the french quarter in New Orleans) but I never even accidentally happened upon the red-light district. Everything we encountered was charming, clean, delicious and friendly! (Yes I will probably go-on-and-on like this all week).