Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Amsterdam: More Than Just Canals

Pausing for posing at Amsterdam-Schiphol. Just behind that door and downstairs is the NS train station.

From the moment my British Airways flight from London landed at Schiphol Airport, I knew I would fall in love with Amsterdam. Yes, even in the chill of early spring. I had heard that this was one of the most transit-friendly cities in all of Europe, so now I'm about to see for myself.

On the NS train from Schiphol Airport to Centraal Station. Enjoy the view while you're at it!

From Schiphol Airport station, take any train that says "Amsterdam-Centraal." A one-way fare is pretty decent, no more than €4. Also included in the fare are relaxing views of the serene Dutch countryside.

The sometimes-crazy Centraal Station, a hub for trains, trams, ferries, boats and bikes.

I stayed at the Lloyd Hotel and Cultural Embassy, only a few minutes's ride east of the Centraal Station. To give you an idea of just how awesome this hotel's location is, on one side is a GVB Tram station (Rietlandpark, via trams [26] and [10]) and on the other...the Ij River Bay. Yup! My top-floor room overlooked the calming waters of the Ij, and so it was one of those kinds of window views that can inspire really great writing. It was mid-priced at €100, and I split that with a travel buddy. Between a rowdy hostel near Dam Square and this, I think we made the right choice.

The Lloyd Hotel is on the south bank of the Ij, as well as on the Rietlandpark tram station.

Speaking of Dam Square, that's usually where tourists start their exploration of Amsterdam. But no, not me. First things first: I wanted to be face to face with an authentic Dutch windmill. After all, I'm in Holland! The Netherlands! The Low Countries!

The De Gooyer windmill is the largest surviving in the city. Get here on tram 10 or 14.

Coming from the hotel at Rietlandpark station, I only needed to hop on Tram [10] to reach the De Gooyer Windmill at the Hoogte Kadijk station. De Gooyer is largest surviving windmill within the city and, in my opinion, the most transit-friendly. It also looks exactly like the Monet painting, Windmill on the Onbekende.

The Heineken Brewery Experience Tour. Use Stadhouderskade or Weteringcircuit tram stations.

Also along the [10] route is the Heineken Brewery (use Stadhouderskade or Weteringcircuit). No trip to Amsterdam is complete without a tour here, or at least a photo with the historic building. While [10] and [7] connect the brewery with the east and west of the city, [1] [2] and [5] connect it with Dam Square and Centraal Station.

Sampling Edam cheese near Dam Square. Like Centraal, several tram lines pass through here.

Dam Square is a very touristy area, as you can imagine, but this is where the old Royal Palace is, the National Monument column, Madame Tussaud's, the Giant Clog and some beautiful old churches. From here, take the [13] [14] or [17] westbound to Anne Frank House (use Westermarkt).

I suggest hitting the museums early, too. The Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum are all in the same area, in the middle of which is the giant I amsterdam sculpture.

The familiar I amsterdam sculpture is on the grounds of the Rijksmuseum. Tram 2 goes there.

The majestic Rijksmuseum contains an impressive collection of older Dutch paintings, including its centerpiece The Nightwatch by Rembrandt. Sorry, The Girl with the Pearl Earring isn't here (it's over at The Hague) but Vermeer's other masterpiece, The Milkmaid, is.

Now I understand what he's trying to say .to me; Van Gogh Museum via the Van Baerlestraat station.

You don't actually have to go inside the Van Gogh Museum to see Vincent's famous works; they're on enlarged display right outside. But to truly appreciate this artist's soul, visiting inside is a must. This world was never meant for one as beautiful as him.

More priceless Dutch art just outside the Rijksmuseum.

Want more art, but with a French twist? Monet's other Amsterdam-based painting, Zuiderkerk, features the steeple of a church called, well, Zuiderkerk. The bad news is the closest trams stations to the vantage point aren't close at all. Still, to mimic the exact angle at which he drew his perspective, take the [4] [9] or [14] and use either Muntplein or Rembrandtplein and then walk north to a street-bridge called Staalstraat.

Take the 4 9 or 14 to either Muntplein or Rembrandtplein and walk to Staalstraat...for this view!

For tulips and more green, don't forget to check out Vondelpark, just a short walk from the Van Gogh Museum. For that other thing Amsterdam is famous for, the Red Light District, you can find it just south of the Oude Kerk. The area is called De Wallen or De Walletjes in Dutch.

Well, all good things must come to an end. Like this trip. The morning after, I went on that super-easy voyage from my hotel to Centraal Station, then boarded a Thalys bullet train for...Paris!

NS / Thalys / Fyra:
Paris-Nord (end) <> Brussel-Centraal <> Schiphol Airport <> Amsterdam-Centraal (end)

Trams 2 and 5:
Amsterdam-Centraal (end) <> Dam Square <> Rijksmuseum <> Van Gogh Museum <> Vondelpark

Tram 10:
De Gooyer Windmill <> Heineken Brewery <> Rijksmuseum

Tram 14:
De Gooyer Windmill <> Zuiderkerk <> Dam Square <> Anne Frank House

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