Words and Images by Thuc Anh Cao Xuan—
On a holiday trip during winter, I don’t have to be bored because there were many other things to do in this city. Plus, I feel the warm welcome of my friends who have been staying in the Netherlands for a while now. If you are similar to my situation or a fellow from a tropical country who booked a cheap flight to Amsterdam and discovered that it is winter, you can go ahead and check these 5 things on my list:
1.) Visit Van Gogh Museum
One of the most iconic figures of the Netherlands is, of course, Van Gogh. With the movie Loving Vincent having come out still recently, the Van Gogh wave is even stronger. I bought an online ticket that costs 18 euros, plus 5-euro-audio tour to Van Gogh Museum in order to skip the waiting line. The museum building is grey outside, but once you step inside, you will be overwhelmed by different shades of yellow, blue and green. Mind you, if you don’t want to wait in another line to put your backpack in the closet (it’s compulsory), bring a smaller bag.
When you enter, and if you purchase the audio tour, they will give you a tablet and a headphone. When you reach each painting, the story that goes with each will be told. I felt tingling looking at The Sun Flowers with my own eyes, and there were so many other great paintings by Van Gogh. I just felt a bit sad because The Starry Night isn’t there but is now in New York.
In the Museum Square where you find Van Gogh Museum, there will also be many others, but I have another place in mind, so I skipped them.
2.) Visit Anne Frank House
My next historical destination was Anne Frank House. I have never read her diary before, and I was thinking of saving the House for later. But who knows when I’m gonna come back to Amsterdam, so I decided to go. I also bought a 9-euro-ticket online, but when I came in the morning, I still had to wait for about 15 minutes because the house is visibly small for a big group of visitor. Visibly, mark my word.
In Anne Frank House, you don’t need to buy an audio tour. They give every visitor a remote control/personal radio that tells the story of each room when you enter the house. I don’t know much about the holocaust, and that day was an eye-opening experience for me. Though happened so many decades ago, her story felt so real. It is told with the voice of a girl who is supposed to live happily in her young teenaged year, but got locked inside a secret annex instead with such a tense life. It became almost haunting to me, and I know I haven’t read her diary because I was waiting for this moment.
3.) Buy tulip bulbs at Bloemenmarkt
On National Tulip Day (January 20th), they give tulips for free and you can take as many as you want! At Bloenmenmarkt, you can buy packages of tulip bulbs with a cheap price. There were so many to choose and you will get lost in the shops. Remember that the bulbs only last for 1 month, so only buy them if you can plant them in a month’s time.
4.) Try all the fried food!
Looks like the Dutch is crazy about fried food. They have a fast food chain named FEBO, where they put fried food and burgers in a vending machine. Find something you want, insert coins, and there’s your meal.
One early afternoon when walking through an alley, I found people lining up for fries. I joined them and it turned out I was waiting for one of the most famous fries store in Amsterdam, Vlaams Fritehuis Vleminckx. They only have fries, but their sauce list is so long I got lost in order. Then I decided to go for Oorlog mix, which is a combination of mayo, satay sauce and chopped onion. The taste of the fries itself might be plain, but when you eat it with the sauce, wonderful!
Another night I was with my friend and she took me to try pancakes. She found a place named Pancake Upstairs, a rustic pancake shop literally upstairs a typical Dutch house. They have only 4 tables and serves from 1 to 6 p.m., make sure you call to reserve because if you simply drop by, there’s a high chance they will ask you to come back. And the pancake! The pancake was my most favourite food in Amsterdam. It was thin and crispy on the edge, and both the sweet and the savoury types are so tasty it lit up my afternoon.
After finishing the pancake, we walked along the Red Light District when the light has just been turned on. The smell of cannabis filled the air and we could see ladies standing behind the windows calling out for customers. At first I didn’t realize the cannabis smell, then it was everywhere and it started to get under my skin. I don’t do drugs, so I was quite annoyed by the smell. And it made us hungry.
So we went into a pub, ordered beer and some bitterballens. It is a popular pub snack in the Netherlands, which is basically deep-fried meet balls. But once you dip it in the mustard sauce and take a bite, you will realize the texture of the filling is more than just meat. It is like thick tasty sauce with ground pork, so be careful or you’ll burn your tounge.
5.) Take the Canal Tour
The thing that I regretted most was coming to Amsterdam in the middle of winter. The open-boat tour wasn’t available because it was too cold and windy. Instead, they organize big-boat tours that goes along the canal. Pay 11 euros for a ticket, and they take you around the city and tell you stories about the architecture of Amsterdam. When I come back (perhaps no longer in winter), I will try biking along the canal river with one of my closest friends.
6.) Go to Zaanse Schans Village
25 minutes away by train is a small village named Zaanse Schans. Now I’m not sure if people really live here because it’s a tourist destination, not a real village. But it’s so interesting because you get to see windmills, cheese and clog workshop all at one place.
You know the Dutch like cheese, and you can find many cheese shops in the city center. But it doesn’t hurt stepping inside the shop in Zaanse Schans to take a look and taste some cheese. They have cow cheese, goat cheese of different flavours. Some are quite exotic, like the lavender cheese that I saw.
In front of the clog workshop are some pairs of clogs of different sizes that will be perfect for photos. Then you can come inside, look at the traditional and modern clogs exhibit and look at the employees demonstrating the way to make a clog.
Of course there are many other things to see and stuffs to do in Amsterdam, I leave it for next time. You can also plan your one-day trip to The Hague to see the Peace Palace and the royal palace, or to Rotterdam if you want somewhere modern, or to Utrecht to visit the Museum of Miffy Bunny. Remember, travel with a thirst for knew things.
About the author: Thuc Anh Cao Xuan is a lecturer in the English Department of Hanoi University. She is currently in Ferrara, Italy to finish her PhD in English Literature. She goals to travel around 30 countries of all 5 continents before she turns 30.