We arrived in rainy, wintery Amsterdam late afternoon on Wednesday Dec. 6th. After a couple missteps on local transit- one train took us to Haarlem thanks to some bad direction from the local information booth director- we arrived to our adorable hotel- the amazing Max Brown! It’s beautifully decorated and the front staff are amazing. The common room and breakfast hall are Christmasy and warm, with libraries and a candy bar, and areas to lounge around. Our hotel room is kitschy and cute, complete with a basketball 🏀 with hoop, bag of local candy already picked up for us 🍭 and top floor views of the museum district! I find myself glad that we chose this location, you can practically see the Rijsmuseum and the Diamond Museum from our window.
We immediately got some rest and didn’t wake again until 10pm, but we weren’t going to let that stop the adventure from beginning! Off we went! There are some late night eats near us, including a favorite we discovered in London, Wok to Walk:
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wok_to_Walk After which, we made some fun new friends at the local gelato shop 😂 and Russell was invited behind the bar to scoop his own, which was hilarious and I thought I captured it all on video only to find that I grabbed 3 seconds and somehow quit filming. Ugh! 🙄 Oh well.
We got a good lay of the land on our walk, and headed home to try to sync up with the local time and go to bed.
Thursday Dec. 7th we woke around 7am and went straight out to breakfast bar for the buffet and found delicious breakfast items of all kinds of fruits and jams, cucumbers and tomatoes, Dutch cheeses, hard boiled eggs, breakfast cereals, probably about 7 different selections of breads including Christmas fruit cake, deli meats, a latte/mocha coffee machine and fresh squeezed orange and apricot juice. One of our favorite bread types of all time was even there, and it’s relatively hard to find- a dense, thinly sliced and fragrant pumpernickel. Needless to say, we enjoyed breakfast QUITE A BIT.
After breakfast, our goal was to get out into the Rijksmuseum, a top reason for our Amsterdam visit.
Amsterdam has incredible museums, and a huge Rembrandt and Van Gogh collection, naturally. I couldn’t wait to see it.
Here are some of my top selections from our visit. Highlights include the loveliest painting of Mary Magdalene by Carlo Crivelli, one of Van Gogh’s Self Portraits, a beautifully intricate doll house for a wealthy orphan girl and the stunning 1800’s library in tact with collectible historic books:
On the walk back, we grabbed some lunch at Wagamama’s (another spot we first discovered in London and love!) and headed home to nap. Here’s a couple shots of the city on our way home.
Friday, Dec. 8th. Russell and I are so excited to visit the Anne Frank house today! Waiting in line, hail begins to fall that later turns to snow.
When researching this trip, I was actually clueless as to the fact that Anne and her family had moved to Amsterdam in the 1940’s before settling into their infamous attic home for two years before being found out by the Nazis.
We weren’t allowed to take photographs once the tour began, but we snapped some while waiting in line when hail began to fall:
I was very surprised to see the livable space they created for themselves above the workshop Anne’s dad, Otto had managed below. We walked behind the hand-built bookcase, and up the steep staircase that was almost entirely vertical, to enter their quarters guided by an audio device. Her room was adorned wth photos of starlets and cute images from magazines that she had collected before the days of the Jewish persecution, which made her all the more relatable as a young teen girl like any other growing up in the world. I was surprised to learn that Anne had always wanted to be an author, and even wrote her diary with the intent to publish. The fact that she re-wrote several portions to better her writing and that she had such a vision for her future at that age was amazing. It’s astonishing to think that she accomplished all of her dreams, even though she died in 1945 and in such a horrific way.
We were able to snap this shot of the layout of the Anne Frank Home below right when entering the exhibit. Only the back two levels were in use by Anne, her family and the two other families it served. It was perfectly concealed for two years, with a fully functioning warehouse operating every day during normal business hours, during which Anne and her family had to speak in whispers and could barely move throughout the house. The plumbing line and water was directly connected to the lower levels, so to avoid being found out they could not run water, prepare food or use the restroom properly.
Afterwards, we continued on our walking tour towards Rembrandt’s house. I wasn’t previously that big of a fan of Rembrandt, but his mark on culture, his art and his gift of teaching students has left me very impressed and I now find myself very drawn to his works. His beautiful home encompasses these elements of his life, and was incredibly charming and kept furnished in the exact style he originally chose.
We stopped for coffee at a cute Cuban cafe near the canals and Amsterdam central. Christmas decorations light up the streets and soon snow begins to fall! I can’t wait for this Sunday when Christmas markets begin!
Next up- when in Rome, err Amsterdam- do indulge in their famous home beer- HEINEKEN! Somehow, it just tasted better here 😉 🍻
All of the restaurants, bars and shops are decorated beautifully for the holidays. It’s almost like they’ve all been done by a professional, and it’s absolutely stunning. Shops are small and each have winding staircases leading up to second floors, and sometimes even third, fourth and fifth floors.
And then, we are hit with a light drizzle of SNOWWWWWWW! ❄️ ⛄️
Saturday, December 9th was casual. We initially had decided to tour the Van Gogh museum, but got to the line and put two and two together… Saturday, the busiest day of the week for touristy activity, paired with the sleet, hail and cold outside had made the museum lines ridiculous. That’s ok though, as we have all week long to come back! So, we decided to play it by ear and do some antiquing in a cute little antique row.
I found the surprise of my life when we discovered a beautiful rare third edition copy of Charles Dickens’ book, ‘A Christmas Carol’, still well bound and in tact, with stunning glossy images and an autograph by poet Lionel Johnson from his personal collection! We couldn’t resist, and as a Christmas present to me, Russell bought it! 😍
I’ve been thinking of acquiring one of these since watching the latest film, ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’, which tells the story of Charles Dickens and his process in creating the story and how his characters came to life. But, upon learning of a $20,000 first edition for sale on EBay, I realized I would very likely never own my own copy.
I must say that I don’t think the antique shop owners knew quite what they had in their store-Just read about the potential value of this book, here:
Since our book is dated 1843, and is the third printing, it would have to have been done between December 19th (the date the book was initially printed at 6000 copies), and December 31st, right before the new year. As many as 7 editions were already printed by May of 1843.
I’m excited to have such a rare and historic item and I look forward to getting it appraised!
After finding the book, we proceeded to gush over it for the remainder of the afternoon and evening. We enjoyed coffees, a nice lunch and a nap to stay out of the chilly weather.
Tomorrow- Christmas markets begin!
🎄🎅 ⛄️ ❄️ 🎁
Sunday greeted us with snowfall! Today, Russell wanted to go do a jiu jitsu open mat so we walked in the snow to Oud-West district to Amsterdam BJJ.
I stayed inside at a local coffee shop and read the Gentlewoman magazine while he was away.
I was very excited about the three Christmas markets today, but unfortunately after finally getting to one in Rembrandt Park through slushes of wet snow which was soaking through my non-waterproof shoes, the market was a disappointment with not much going on.
The park was stunning in the snow, however! Actually I’m realizing now that there was a huge lack in photos due mostly to the weather, unfortunately. I spent most of the day holding both hands tightly around my scarf protecting my face from the wind chill.
At this point I was tired and cranky and desperately needed to warm up, so we hopped on transit to head to China Town to visit a Thai restaurant called Bird, which had been recommended to us by one of Russell’s new Amsterdam/Jiu Jitsu friends; he said, after living in Thailand for several years, and coming to try this food, it was by far the best he’d ever heard! As huge Thai food lovers, we had to check it out.
No disappointment there!
It was in a very fun part of town just past the Red Light District and the food was some of the best I’d ever had- Thai or not!
All in all, it was a very low key day of exploring the city like a local! I hope the Christmas markets next weekend will be better and that we fit the time in to see them! ‘Til tomorrow!
Monday morning continued to drizzle a mix of snow and rain creating a precarious amount of ice on the road… but we made it to Frans Halsstraat where I was meeting a new friend in person that I met on one of the Amsterdam Creative forums on Facebook; Anastasia Andreeva, from Russia originally but a most recent expat out of New York, a hair and makeup artist currently attending school in Amsterdam at United Pop. We both love fragrance and travel 😊 She did my hair and makeup for a few photos.
Her and her boyfriends apartment had a beautiful balcony and rooftop terrace, and we spent the day with them just enjoying good music, chatting and having tea.
Here are a few shots of her home and balcony:
I’m glad we had stayed inside for most of the day. It continued to snow and snow and snow!
When everyone got hungry, we walked a short distance to a local Thai place and then had drinks together afterwards and talked well into the evening.
(Sorry for the blurry photo!)
Tomorrow, we are still hoping to enjoy the Van Gogh museum but want to play it by ear. The weather is clearing so getting around shouldn’t be much of an issue. Also, the Efeteling Theme Park keeps calling to me, but until I know I can enjoy it all day long successfully without weather or jet lag issues- we’ve been putting it off. The train ride there and back will take approximately 2.5 hours each way, so we need to be able to power through that AND the full day in the park as well. Hoping for Friday, which is expected to be warmer and partly sunny! For now, enjoying taking it day by day without hustling through the city like a tourist with a time limit! 😊
Amsterdam, a city under construction. You can see here the fascinating repairs being conducted on one of the canals! 👆🏻👆🏻👆🏻
These are the sights today as we cruise the city, and we finally made it to the Van Gogh museum as well!
Unfortunately, they didn’t allow photos inside (I took a couple anyway 😎), so I can’t share too much by way of images. I can say, I’ve always been drawn to Vincent Van Gogh, who despite having a deep appreciation of life, culture and people, was deeply troubled. He seemed like such a kind soul, a very feeling man. The closeness he shared with his brother Theo was aspirational to me, and they shared hundreds of letters back and forth throughout their lifetimes, essentially communicating all of their thoughts to each other. After Vincent took his own life by shooting him self in the chest, his brother Theo died only 6 months later. Very tragic.
Theo’s wife was owed most of the credit for making Vincent Van Gogh the artistic legend that he is today. If it weren’t for her drive to do expositions of her brother in laws work’s after he passed, he may have been simply forgotten…
The above image of ‘almond blossoms’ was drawn for Vincent’s nephew, and is one of my favorites!
Later, we enjoyed a beautiful farmers market with all kinds of colorful and beautiful foods, fruits and clothing.
And more shots of the incredible city and canals:
The past couple days have been spent casually; relaxing, sleeping in and being lazy. We discovered the best little jewelry shop in all of Amsterdam, with amazing vintage gems and an impressive collection of Rose Cut stones (I have a special appreciation for very well done rose cuts). I am crazy about this one:
The benefit and curse of a longer trip like this is that you undoubtedly get wiped out at some point. Fortunately, we had the time to take a mellow couple days- without feeling rushed- because I wanted to be extra rested and caught up with the time zone to properly enjoy EFTELING THEME PARK!
So, this is something I’ve been looking forward to since booking this trip. Before researching Amsterdam, I had never heard of this park- ‘Holland’s Disneyland’. After learning more, I was delighted to discover that Walt Disney himself was said to have been inspired to create Disneyland based on his visit to this park!
Be prepared for Efteling photo spam!
The trip to Efteling is rather long- one hour by train and another hour by bus- but the time flew by. We passed scrawling boggy landscapes reminiscent to me of a London countryside. Cows, horses and sheep hang around large green fields near cute village homes. 🏡
Much to see on the way to our destination!
I think going into this, I had pictured Efteling as a low budget wood-shrouded park with fairytale structures and some funky park characters roaming around. More carnival-like than anything. It doesn’t help that there is very little information about the park online, so when you try to do some research you cannot find much. I purposefully tried not to learn more than I had to, so that I would be surprised. If anything, I had no idea the park would be so charming. Although Disneyland has Efteling beat in the ambiance department, (I’m partial as someone who was born in the states and was raised with Disney), so many other elements of this park are entirely on parr with Disney to my complete surprise! Walking in, you can already hear the music pouring out of the speakers all around you- sparkling, magical- just like Disney. A massive entry point for tickets and entry cue signals the beginning of your adventure, and makes for a great photo op!
I was particularly struck by the little jester character, who like Mickey Mouse, becomes your little mascot and gets familiar with you throughout your time at the park. You’ll see him and his ‘bride’ around frequently, and in rides as well, and there is even an entry clock where he stands on top pointing you the way- much like the statue of Mickey and Walt holding hands in the center of Disneyland.
There is a general timeless vibe throughout. Something a little more classic and less trendy, as you traipse through the little cobblestone streets and happen upon giant open fires and stalls selling hot chocolate and hot wine.
The theme is less of the ‘what’s hot at the moment’ feeling that you get at Disneyland, who jumps on every new film and dedicates entirely new structures and characters frequently to adapt with their changing audience of the newest generation. The Efteling feels unchanged since the 50’s, and really transports you in time.
Shop windows move and display elaborate scenes, some full of candies and foods or miniature stories and themes.
The park is gigantic and much larger than Disneyland- with water and trees in every direction. You can see how large the Anderrijk land is behind me and across the water, which houses the Fata Morgana ride.
Fata Morgana might be the most Disney-ish of them all, featuring a canal boat ride through a forbidden city full of music and animatronic ‘peasants’, and is almost scene by scene a match to Pirates of the Caribbean!
There are all of the fairytale elements in the Fairytale Forest, with all of the characters you already know and love such as Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Pinocchio and Little Red Riding Hood; and then there are the Dutch additions that Americans are a little less familiar with such as The Little Red Shoes, Donkey Lift Your Tale, The Naughty Princess, The Wolf and the Seven Kids, The Six Servants and so many more. The winding walkways and displays of folklore seem to be endless.
One disappointment, which may have even added to the charm a bit, was that all of the rides were in Dutch. A bit of English was normally thrown in, but the bulk of the story was always told in Dutch and therefore we missed out on some it. Dutch is much easier to read and understand then it is to speak and pronounce so surprisingly, we could get the gist of most things fairly well.
Speaking trash bins encourage children to enjoy ‘cleaning up’ as they shout ‘PAPIR HEIR’; Once you plop the trash into their mouths they will say ‘thank you’, or ‘that’s delicious!’
The food was also some of the best I’ve ever had in a theme park… you can buy spirals of fresh cut potatoes boiled in oil to make chips on a stick, and then sprinkled with a topping of your choice- BBQ, cheese, salt or sweet and sour.
Speaking of sweet and sour- the Dutch have a taste for one particular thing that Russell and I found completely nauseating- a salted candy that’s normally paired with either mint or licorice and a candy shell. It tastes like salted dried bugs and is normally hidden- under a layer of candy shell, or as I found out the hard way, tucked into the center of a seemingly innocent lollipop. 🤢
Winter Efteling at night was truly magical, and the park decor was enough to warrant the cost of the visit alone (which, by the way was only £31.50 with our Holland passes!). Fog effects pumps out over the water, and twinkling lights illuminate in every direction. There is even an ice skating rink! We even discovered a peacock roaming the grounds, and of course cats, squirrels and other birds. All had feeding stations that were filled to the brim with yummy delights and seemed well taken care of.
The day ended with an incredible water show called Aquanura with lights, fire and of course spectacular Efteling music!
All in all, it was an unforgettable day full of magical nostalgia and splendor. I hope we are able to make the journey back to the Netherlands to visit again some time!
We are on the hunt for a new bag today. My vintage Samsonite finally buckled on me. Instead of finding a bag, however, Russell discovered a men’s vintage clothing shop and splurged on two new gorgeous jackets- one in brown and one in beige.
We have a couple tickets left in our Holland Pass (something we purchased before-hand that ends up saving you some money when visiting museums and attractions in Amsterdam), and decide to visit the famous canal-side house on Keizergracht 672, now the Museum Van Loon but originally the home of painter Ferdinand Bol (who studied under Rembrandt). It was a gorgeous home, with a selection of Bol’s paintings in an exhibit in the back.
Next up, and I’m so glad we decided to do this one, was an all-you-can-eat Dutch pancake canal cruise! With the lights lit up all around the city, delicious savory and sweet pancakes with all the toppings you could ever want, it was perfect. Plus, we later discovered, the business was owned by our server and we felt great supporting him.
Finally, no trip to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to the infamous Red Light District! There were fun bars placed strategically around nude entertainment halls, and girls for ‘sale’ lit up in the windows- which, surprisingly, was not as odd as you would think. We discovered all of the details about the life of a prostitute in the Museum of Prostitution, which was entirely engaging and super informative. Interestingly, if you ever see blue lights while walking around any sex district, just know that it means you are getting a transgender person. 😉
We were very sad to leave Amsterdam, and were struck with a surprise at the airport: all flights in and out of Iceland were to be canceled due to a mechanics strike. What a shock, as we were provided with a sheet of paper from IcelandAir instructing us to hop on a shuttle to a new hotel for the evening. I must say, they made the whole thing very enjoyable by providing a luxury suite, three meals and shuttles anywhere we needed to go. We took advantage of one final day in our beloved city, toured the streets a last time and visited our favorite vintage shop (a 1970’s Coach bag 💼 and some Kashmir sweaters came home with us 😜).
We will always love Amsterdam during the holidays, and will remember it fondly dusted in white, powdery snow. My greatest hope is to return, and soon! ♥️
Until next time….