Because our AmaWaterways river cruise started and ended in
Amsterdam, we thought it prudent to stay a few extra days in this bustling,
cosmopolitan city. I checked the Internet daily for reasonable accommodations, and also tried Airbnb's 300+ listings for Amsterdam, all of which were booked solid. I checked Priceline and Hotwire, the latter a favourite. Finally, a sale posted on Hotwire offered an airport hotel at $40 Cdn per night. Too good to be true? At the outset, Hotwire does not list the specific hotel, but simply tells you approximately where it is and other hotels with which it compares. My experience is that airport hotels are generally quite decent as is Hotwire, so I booked two nights.
The hotel was the Dorint where we got an early check-in from a pleasant young clerk, the room clean, the bed comfortable and the bathroom fine with the same marble sink top as ours back home. The Dorint's convenient shuttle took us to Schipol airport (10 minutes) from where we took a train (second class) to Amsterdam's
Centraal Station (20 minutes) for €4.10 ($5.74 Canadian). A little inconvenience, but we had lots of time and saved hundreds of dollars on accommodations. Note that a similar transit exercise from Pearson to Union Station (25 minutes) costs $27.50
Just outside Centraal Station, we obtained
"I Amsterdam" city cards, a discount card that gives one free access to several museums, public transportation within the city, a canal cruise, and other small gifts and offers, including a 25% discount at restaurants, car and bike rental, gifts, cheese and multiple other tourist attractions. (Cost ‒ 24 hours: € 49; 48 hours: € 59.
We were determined to visit Amsterdam's key museums but first, we took an "I Amsterdam" 45-minute
canal cruise that allowed us to view the city from its multiple waterways and appreciate
Dutch architecture such as the gabled canal houses from the 17th century (the Dutch Golden Age) and myriad boats either docked or meandering through the canals. The Blue Boat Company has a unique Personal Audio System, which provides every guest with commentary in their own language. It was a great overview of the city nicknamed "Venice of the North," and an opportunity to take unobstructed pictures.
Here are some fast facts learned about this enticing city- 2,332,773 inhabitants in Amsterdam's Metropolitan Area, 881,000 bicycles, 58% cycle daily, 1,281 bridges, 2,500 houseboats, 8,863 - 16th, 17th and 18th century buildings, 8 windmills, 51 museums, 22 paintings by Rembrandt, 206 paintings by Van Gogh, 55 theatres and concert halls, 1,515 cafes and bars, 1,150 restaurants.
Holland is not an alternate name for the Netherlands but rather the name of two provinces within the country: North Holland and South Holland. The government seat is located in The Hague, also the site of the famed
International Court of Justice, even though the capital is Amsterdam. 17 million people claim the Netherlands as their home, but over 20 million around the world speak Dutch. Afrikaans, an Old Dutch dialect, is spoken in South Africa. Dutch is also spoken on islands such as Aruba and Curacao in the Dutch Antilles, as well as in the South American country of Surinam, a former Dutch colony.
Post history lesson, we took in the refurbished
Rijks Museum after a short tram ride from the Centraal Station on tram #5. It's an impressive building and it was crowded. Inside, the paintings reflect the rich Dutch naval history, the mighty Dutch East India Company, the first multi-national corporation in the world and first company to issue stock, as well as the iconic "Night Watch" by Reubens (which I thought was over-rated), a huge centerpiece with people packed around it as with the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum.
Our second day, now seasoned public transit pros, we visited the
Van Gogh Museum and the nearby
Stedelijk Museum featuring "The Oasis of Matisse." The Van Gogh Museum will soon unveil its new impressive entrance. Inside, I realized that Vincent painted many self-portraits probably because of his poverty, and I learned an interesting story about an argument with his friend, Gauguin, after which, he sliced off part of an ear.
Van Gogh painted what he saw whereas
Gauguin and others more frequently used their imagination. During this time, one of their dirt-poor compatriots in Paris, a chap named
Picasso, based a painting upon Matisse's "L'Odalisque, harmonie bleue" (woman in a harem).
"The Women of Algiers" by Pablo Picasso recently fetched $179 million in New York, a new world record for the most expensive artwork to be sold at auction.
For beer drinkers, Amsterdam has been home to Heineken since 1864. The multinational company is the third largest beer maker in the world with 190 breweries, and for those who
want to reminisce about the cannabis culture of the 70s, Amsterdam has more than 200
licensed to sell marijuana. The official coffee shops have green and white stickers in the window. Although tourists are permitted to purchase weed, they can't smoke it in public or export it.
Because the Netherlands is so flat, it's perfect for biking, and everyone here seems to bike daily as I watch business men in suits and ties, mothers with children in neat box-like structures, as well as adolescents all riding on dedicated bike paths throughout the city. The Dutch must be incredibly fit!
Back at the hotel, it was quiet, and we watched a bit of TV on many stations in several languages. When we were leaving in the morning, the Dorint manager readily carried our bags down a flight of stairs, and we were off to
Schipol, a huge airport loaded with shops to occupy us before our flight home.
Mike Keenan writes for Postmedia Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune, Niagara Falls Review and Seniors Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.