Friday, October 31, 2014

The Best of Amsterdam

I fell in love with Amsterdam immediately.  In truth, it’s hard not to: from the endless canals, to the mounds of flowers covering each bridge and architecture that is literally straight from centuries ago.  The city is uniquely what I had hoped for, in the best possible way.  I’ve seen a million photos of the city, wandered the canals with my parents years ago as a kid and yet I saw it with fresh eyes this time around, taking it all in and admiring the city for the beauty it is. 

And while I could do without the “touristy” spots of the city like Dam Square, the I Amsterdam sign and the Flower Market, the rest of the city is truly a gem and one that is best explored on foot or on bike.  We walked everywhere and with flat streets and picturesque spots around every turn, it was the perfect way to explore.  We found lots of spots we loved, but for us, these were the very best of Amsterdam.

The 9 Streets + Jordaan
This gorgeous area of the city with few cars and cobblestoned streets is not to be missed.  Because it’s farther out of the “tourist center” it’s quiet, peaceful and untouched.  Filled with bikers, little restaurants and gorgeous architecture, the 9 Streets area and the Jordaan in general is perfect to just wander for hours, taking photos and sipping lattes at the occasional café.  The 15 minutes walk up from the main center of the tourist areas of Amsterdam to this area is more than worth it.

Oud Zuid
A quiet, wealthy residential area next to the De Pijp area of the city and bordering Vondel Park, the Oud Zuid is lovely.  The tree lined streets and gorgeous walk ups make this area feel similar to the West Village of New York City.  Spend an hour just wandering the streets here, stopping for dinner at a local café and then continue on into Vondel Park to explore.

De Pijp
This offbeat and up and coming area of Amsterdam is one that is often missed by tourists because it’s farther from the center of the city, but it’s also one with charming townhouses, tram lined roads and quirky restaurants along the way. 

River Boat Cruise
While the ultimate touristy thing to do in Amsterdam, it’s well worth the time and money.  There is no better way to see all of the city and to see if from a different vantage point than from the canals.  It’s great especially on cooler, rainy days to get inside and yet still be able to see a lot of the city.  We used the Explore Amsterdam company, but there are a few others that do different routes as well, so  check into all the options.

Vondel Park

A gorgeous city park, Vondel Park is vast and beautiful.  Rent a bike and cycle through or just wander on foot, you won’t be disappointed.  The park is especially beautiful in the Fall as the leaves are falling, but I’m sure it’s lovely all times of the year as well!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sir Albert Hotel {Amsterdam} : A Hotel Review

Hotel Review Guide

When I started looking into hotels for Amsterdam, I found a lot I loved, but that came with a pretty hefty price tag.  In the end we decided to stay a little out of the "city center" if you will, in the De Pijp area to spend a little less, but ended up loving our hotel and location.  The De Pijp area is a lovely area still close to everything and our hotel was a great one that I'd highly recommend if you're heading to Amsterdam anytime soon.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands


When we stayed: October 2014  |  Price Range: $100/night  |  Website: Sir Albert Hotel

What I Loved
Decor - The aesthetic of this hotel was one of the main reasons I booked it.  It looked amazing online and was even better in person.  The chic modern decor made this hotel.

Location - While on a map this hotel looked a bit "far out," it wasn't at all.  A quick 25 minute walk to the Nine Streets area of the Jordaan, 5 minutes to the Museum Quarter, a quick 15 minute tram ride to Centraal Station and set right in the middle of the De Pijp and Oud Zuid districts.  We found it let us see more of Amsterdam than had we stayed in the Jordaan and we loved it.

Comfortable Bed - The bed here was one of the most comfortable I've ever slept on in a hotel.  We looked forward to it every night because it was so comfortable.

Great Shower - I think you can tell a lot about a hotel by the showers.  This shower was amazing, enough said.

Good (and free) Wifi - We hate paying for wifi, mostly because we know how cheap it is the hotel and how exorbitant the feeds are that they usually charge.  So when you get a great reliable and free wifi at a hotel, we're happy.  The Sir Albert had great wifi.

Hotel Restaurant - Izakaya, the Japanese restaurant in the base of this hotel was delicious!  Don't miss a long leisurely lunch here; their udon noodle soup was out of this world.

Our udon noodle soup lunch at Izakaya.

What I Didn't Love
Room Didn't Get Made Up - The first day we were there we were out exploring all morning and came back around 2pm to find our room hadn't been made up or cleaned.  We then left again about 4pm and came back later that evening and it still hadn't been cleaned.  While it wasn't a big deal to us, I felt like someone should at least have come in and changed out the towels and such while we were out.

"Red Light" Area Near By - Right behind the hotel is a small "red light" area with women in windows and while we only saw it one time, I wasn't crazy about it being right behind the hotel.  But it is Amsterdam, so there are going to be a few areas like that.

Notes to Keep in Mind
Ask for a City View Room overlooking the Canal - Our room looked right out over the Canal next door and it was lovely to wake up to in the morning.  Ask to get one of those rooms if you can.

Explore the Surrounding areas of De Pijp and Oud Zuid - While these 2 areas aren't the normal tourist areas to explore, both had so much to offer and the location of the hotel forces you to experience them which I loved.

Rent a Hotel Bike - While we didn't do this (had it been better weather we would have), the hotel has multiple bikes you can rent to ride around the city.  Take advantage of it and see Amsterdam like the locals do!

The canal view from our room.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Day 4 : Amsterdam

Our second full day in Amsterdam and day 4 of our trip was a cold rainy Fall day.  When we woke up and saw the weather, we immediately knew it would be perfect to do a canal cruise to see more of the city but be out of the weather.  So we headed out that morning, grabbed breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien and bought our boat tickets.  We chose the See Amsterdam canal cruise, out of pure luck walking by the ticket shop, but there are lots of companies to choose from that do the cruises.  The Amsterdam canal cruises aren't just a great way to see more of the city, they are also a great way to escape inclement weather.  Our boat happened to be the first of the day and was almost totally empty which made it even nicer.  We spent an hour and a half riding around the canals of Amsterdam and taking it all in.  When we were done mid-day, we headed back to our hotel, packed up our stuff and checked out.  We left our bags with the hotels and grabbed a fantastic lunch at the restaurant in our hotel, Izakaya, just as a major rain storm started down pouring.  Enjoying a long leisurely lunch with amazing Japanese food (their Udon was incredible), we headed back out to explore the "I Amsterdam" sign and wander around the Museumplein area.

For our final day in the city, we then enjoyed another leisurely walk through the Jordaan, then towards the central flower market and circled back to our hotel to pick up our bags, jump on the tram and head to the train station for our Thalys train to Brussels.  Overall, Amsterdam was a place I know we'll be back to many times.  It's such a lovely, thriving city that you can wander for hours and never get tired of it!

Tips for Amsterdam
-Use the trams as transportation if you don't want to walk, they are cheap and easy.  Just pay the driver when you get on.
-Lots of hotel have bikes to rent if you want, had the weather been better we probably would have done it, so take advantage!
-Stay out of the way of bikers when you're walking in Amsterdam, there are bikes and bikers everywhere so be aware of your surroundings and don't block the bike lanes.

Photos courtesy of Nick Nieto Photography

Other Day by Day posts from this trip:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Day 3 : Amsterdam

Before I get full blown back into our trip posts, let me just say I was so very touched by your kind words and thoughts on yesterday's post.  I so appreciate each and every thought, so thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Now getting back into what I'm referring to as Amsterdam Week here on the blog!  Honestly I fell hard for the Dutch city and can't wait to share so much about it all week.  Our time in Amsterdam was one of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip and after visiting numerous times as a child with my family, I was really anxious to see the city again with adult eyes.

To be honest, when I was planning the trip way back when, I got a ton of recommendations from people on what to do, where to stay and sort of how to do the trip.  In reality, by the time we got to Amsterdam after our quick turn around and flight debacles in Copenhagen, we were really ready for some downtime.  So instead of hitting every museum and checking off every tourist spot on the list, we opted for just wandering the city instead, seeing what we wanted to and not worrying so much about everything on the guidebook list.  We didn't go in a single museum, we didn't explore the red light district, we didn't even do the Anne Frank House (I did do it as a kid), and I don't regret it at all.  There will be other times in the future we can do that stuff as I know we'll be back to this glorious city, but this time, I'm so glad we opted to just wander the canal lined streets, watch the Autumn leaves falling and just take Amsterdam in.  It was exactly what we needed at that point on the trip and they ended up being some of my favorite days on the trip.

Amsterdam is made for walking (or biking if you're brave enough) and the city is best seen by spending hours just meandering the streets and taking it all in.  We arrived in Amsterdam around 8pm and went straight to our hotel (which I can't wait to share in the coming days, it was fantastic!).  We decided to grab a to-go pizza from Mangiancora which was recommended by Liz and I have to say, if you're in the De Pijp area of the city, it was incredible genuine Italian pizza.  We grabbed a salami pizza and tiramisu to go and ate it in our room.

We slept in the following day and then headed out to explore.  We started in the Nine Streets area of the Jordaan and had breakfast at The Pancake Bakery.  I'm not sure how I came across this, but I had marked it down on my list at some point and for a traditional Dutch pancake, it's a great spot.  We had a leisurely breakfast and then headed back out to wander the Nine Streets, meander the cobblestone streets of the Jordaan and take in the quintessential Amsterdam with leaning buildings and crooked streets.  After a few hours of wandering we stopped at a local cookie shop, bought some of the famous Dutch waffle cookies and then headed back to our hotel in De Pijp for a few hours of rest.

Around 3pm we headed out again, this time to Vondel Park, while wandering through Oud Zuid on the way, a beautiful residential area of Amsterdam on the way to the Museum District.  Vondel Park was gorgeous, with Autumn colors changing, people walking and biking through and just enjoying the Fall weather.  We finished off our evening with a walk through the park, followed by tapas at a cafe across the street from our hotel.  Our first day in Amsterdam was exactly what I had hoped for, wandering, taking in the aura of the city and immersed in nothing but taking in the scenery.

Photos courtesy of Nick Nieto Photography

Other Day by Day posts from this trip: