I look across the tram at Amber. Her eyes look as bleary as mine feel. Dan’s aren’t much better, but at least he is disguising them with sunglasses. Surprisingly, Tracey and Simon seem ok.
We have just arrived in Amsterdam. But we didn’t land with grace at Schiphol airport like normal people – we arrived on the cheap night bus. Dan insisted that if I got to spend my birthday weekend in Malta, he wanted a weekend in Amsterdam for his. And what better way to celebrate the last year of our 20s?!
So, here we are – bleary eyed and tired, but excited about the imminent weekend of adventures.
As we checked into our hostel’s 20 bed dormitory room, I had to remind myself that I was looking for permanent work when we booked our trip a few months ago and it was decided that we would ‘do Amsterdam’ the budget way. Considering we always seem to be stretching the most out of our travels, I have stayed in very few hostel dorms. Perhaps my “princess on a budget” luggage tag is onto something…
The hostel is huge, complete with a games room, bar, common area and bike hire. But the reason why we have chosen to stay here is because of its location. We are across the road from Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest park at 47 hectares, and a few minutes’ walk from Leidseplein, a busy square known for its nightlife, restaurants and bars.
So, our first task of the weekend? Catch up with Dave and Becs, enjoy the sun in Vondelpark, with a picnic, some €3.79 Presecco and a hilarious game of Cards Against Humanity. It was a great way to recover from the 9 hour bus ride and get settled into a great weekend. You could tell we were all living in London and dying for time in the sun.
At our very first chance we hired a canal boat and spent the afternoon gliding up and down the canals. But of course, in our usual format, it was anything but usual. We were dressed as pirates!
Disembarking the canal boat we felt that we were just like the locals – so what better way to end our first (jam-packed) day in the Netherlands with a truly Dutch dinner? We dined at the Blue Hollander and sampled cheese croquettes, bitterballen and a variety of Stamppot. If you are a fan of mash potato (and who isn’t?), Stamppot is your new best friend. It comes in many different varieties and is a brilliant comfort food or a great way to keep warm on a winters’ night.
On Sunday we collected hire bikes, from Mike’s Bikes, and cycled around the beautiful city. We visited a windmill brewery and then tried to cheat the rain by playing a round of mini glow-in-the-dark golf.
The numerous Indonesian restaurants in Amsterdam are a by-product of Dutch colonialism in Indonesia in the 17th century. Rijsttafel (“ryst-tah-fell”) roughly translates to “rice-table” and is simply lots of small dishes of spiced meat and vegetables accompanying rice, and the meal we all enjoyed at Indupura on Saturday night.
Dan and I had been to Indupura once before, on our first visit to Amsterdam in January 2010 with good friends Helen and BJ. The food was equally delicious this time and we followed it with a couple of drinks in Rembrandtplein with a bit of karaoke thrown in for good measure.
April is an exciting month in Amsterdam. We had missed out on Kings Day the previous weekend, where the entire city turns a violent shade of orange to celebrate the royal family, but we were just in time for the peak of the tulip season, which runs from late March to mid May.
Keukenhof in Lisse is known for its amazing display of over 7,000 tulips, but we wanted the authentic countryside experience. So, after using Google satellite to determine where the most amount of colour was, we boarded our bikes onto a train and headed north towards Den Helder, about an hour outside of Amsterdam. We got off at the small country town of Schagen and cycled 6 miles north through the countryside.
Luckily there were designated bike paths the entire way and we were able to traverse the bulb-growing areas very easily, though I am not convinced the famer in his tractor was very impressed when he saw our group picnicking in his fields…
At night we took to the pretty streets and followed hundreds of other tourists as they made their way through the infamous Red Light District. It was interesting to see the crowded shops and shows, pubs and clubs, littered between churches and galleries. A glimpse down numerous narrow alleyways adorned with glowing red windows made it clear that the working ladies were indeed alluring, and the tourists were indeed intrigued.
After a jam-packed weekend we were keen to have a quiet last day in Amsterdam. We strolled through the streets lining the canals, avoiding bikes and trams, and making sure to stop off at every cheese store we passed for the free samples. We visited the floating flower markets and the Delft Blue pottery store, got caught in a passing storm, and then drifted back to our hostel to gather our things for departure.
On my return to work on Wednesday I realised that I would need a holiday from my holiday… thankfully we will be holidaying in Australia before too long!
Looking for more travel inspiration or destination guides?
Check out my recommendations on what to do in: Amsterdam, Bali, Berlin, Brisbane, Bristol, Budapest, Cambridge, Canberra, Cappadocia, Chamonix, Copenhagen, Dubrovnik, Istanbul, Kotor, Kyoto, London, Madrid, New York City, Paris, Riga, Scotland, Tokyo, and Washington D.C.