Having just retired, I finally had the opportunity to go along with my wife on her business trip. This is completely unfamiliar territory as I was the one taking her on trips for the last 10 years.
And, having photography and the passion for writing as a primary retirement hobby, I was all in. This blog will share my vision in using photography as a driver for creating a story.
For what it’s worth, developing an outline for a blog about a travel adventure starts with the first thought, then fills in gradually with the flood of experiences that one enjoyed. So, enjoy this ride from Amsterdam to Keukenhof to Antwerp.
Before you go…
Before I visit a new city or country, I am passionate to get a real feel for the history, the people, and the culture of the places I visit. And for this trip, I found an interesting book by Russell Shorto titled Amsterdam…the world’s most liberal city.
Russell does a great job in not just addressing the reasons why Amsterdam is so open to many taboos as seen by the rest of the world (prostitution, drugs, LGBT) but he also delivers how the city and the nation of Holland came into existence and even provides amazingly interesting facts that most locals don’t know. I highly recommend this book.
Like most, we arrived in Amsterdam via plane at Schiphol airport. As we embarked and walked through the concourse, we were somewhat amazed that the airport signage is in both Dutch and English. Seeing the Dutch words with English translations on the same sign provides a great feeling of comfort and security as you set foot in a new country.
This map is for your reference to use to better understand the city and outlying areas. As you can see, on the left side of the map is Schiphol airport. What a great concept — the fact that the airport, train and bus stations are all located together.
Most airlines from the U.S. get you to Amsterdam in the morning. And since we were tired from the long flight, we used a taxi to get to our hotel by following the yellow signs on the floor of the airport that directed us to the “official” taxi stand. The good news is that all the official taxi took credit cards so we did not need Euros right away.
Tip: You will not need U.S. dollars in Europe. Just bring about $100 for incidentals at your domestic airport’s layovers. Get Euros via ATM machines — they are all over. They will give you the best rate. Make sure you notify your bank where you will be before you leave.
After dropping off our bags, we decided not to waste any time so we headed to the Van Gough museum. The challenge is that we did not plan well and it took over an hour waiting in line to get our tickets. However, it was well worth it. There were 4 levels to enjoy and not only did we see great paintings but we received a better understand the life of Van Gough — however, nobody really knows why he cut his ear off except that he was depressed.
Note: the Van Gough museum does not allow photography.
One upside that we learned while standing in line at the Van Gough museum was to pre-book our next museum stop. And, using our phone, we got tickets to the Rijksmuseum for the next morning.
The Rijksmuseum is an amazing historic building to see the Masters — especially Rembrandt. They have free handouts to read while you are looking at the paintings to help you better understand the how the subjects or events ended up being preserved for eternity.
This close-up photograph of the legs of the soldiers helps to showcase how Rembrandt was able to capture light in a most amazing way.
Note: photography is allowed — no flash.
Getting lost on a bike…
I had a free day while my wife was working — nowhere I had to be and a cloudy day. What to do? I decided to rent a bike. At first, it seemed intimidating as earlier in the week I almost got run over by one. But why not be on the other side?
I was able to pick one up at my hotel for 16 Euros for the day. It came with two locks — bikes get stolen here all the time — one for when you could keep an eye on it and one when you were going into a restaurant or museum.
I jumped on the bike and headed to the Willemspark park to practice — not on how to ride but how to manipulate the mass of people riding bikes. Willemspark is a great open space where people were running, walking dogs, and biking in and around the lakes and dirt paths.
Ok, with a little confidence and my game face on, I left the park and headed out into the busy city. The great part about Amsterdam is that they have bike lanes all over — the challenge is that sometimes they just stop and pick up later. Also, they have their own traffic lights. And, there are places that you can’t ride — walk only. It’s up to you to know the rules but for the most part, no harm, no foul applies.
Getting lost was actually so much fun. I saw things that I would never have. This is a photo of a section of town called Jordaan where there were flowers on the canal bridge and the houseboats in the background.
After riding around for 3 hours, I realized I was getting hungry. Not just hungry…I needed a beer. So when in Amsterdam, find a pub with a seat outside and tell the waiter “I’m here”. I ordered an Amstel and a meatball sandwich and sat for an hour just watching and photographing the people.
Tip: Taxi can be a bad word in Amsterdam. First, with all the canals it seems like they are one of the most inefficient ways to get around. Second, they tend to be pretty pricey. However, I had the chance to use a couple and the drivers could not have been any nicer. They are ambassadors of the city, they live, eat and know the city in and out. And as a rule, speak pretty good English.
A good tip — walk as far as you can in any one direction enjoying every turn you make. And then when it’s time, look for a taxi in a plaza for the ride back to your hotel.
You tend to hear that Dutch food is not that good — yes, even considered a joke. Historically, the main course was herring netted from the North Sea — not a taste that most Americans will enjoy. But there is more, much more. This is the country of the largest ever corporation — The Dutch East India Trading Company (VOC). They traveled all around the world bringing spices and dishes to this tiny country. As a result, you can get some of the best food in the world, from around the world.
Located just above France, adjacent to the Atlantic/North Sea, across from England, down the coast from Spain and Italy, there are great European restaurants on every corner. And then, Indian, Greek, and Chinese (like most cities there is a Chinatown), great eastern restaurants are everywhere.
Here is a photo I took of a chicken salad ordered at a local bar. Just a little different that I was expecting — but amazingly good.
A note on tipping. The Dutch are proud that they don’t tip a lot. Asking a retired local — 5% to 10% max, no more, please! The consigner at the hotel relayed that 10% is appropriate. There are many times where the credit card receipt does not have a place to add a tip so have some Euros handy for something to leave your server.
Ok, this is what we all go to Amsterdam for — the canals. First, do your homework. Read up on how and why they were built. It is an amazing story and I am not going to go into it here.
I will share why they call it Amsterdam? Because they built the first dam on the “Amstel” River — no they did not name it after Amstel beer.
If you read all the blogs, all the canal cruises are the same — and, they kinda are. If you like to take photographs, like I do, check out the Blue line. They have an open air deck on the back. And, if you get there early, you can capture a great spot not only to see the sights but capture them.
Enjoy the ride.
My next adventure took me to a very special place on this earth. Once again, to her dismay, she had to work while I played. Just twenty minutes by bus from the airport are Keukenhof Gardens. This amazing property is only open for two months a year — and what a glorious place for that short period of time.
Set in the sandy soil of Lisse, the Keukenhof Gardens is home to the majestic tulip, hyacinth, and daffodil in Holland. The master gardeners take great pride in these spring bulbs in many colors, together in rows and solo throughout the property.
In a 4-hour stroll through the garden, I was totally impressed with the attention to detail. From the rows of flowering bulbs 10 football fields long to the windmill framing the view, to the streams meandering through the property reflecting the colors of the spring. This is a place unto itself — one that people from a distant planet might someday hope to enjoy. Truly, an off-world experience.
Here is a map of the gardens. Get there early and wander around and go to the windmill before the masses arrive. While there, I was amazed by the all people from China, Japan, the Middle East as well as the Germans and French — notably, the U.S. was under-represented.
Just a 2-hour express train ride from Amsterdam airport is Antwerp, Belgium. One of the oldest ports in Europe, Antwerp was the gateway from England to the continent. While not on the coast but at a bend in the River Scheldt far inland from the North Sea, this port provided a safe harbor from which to transfer goods and people.
As we arrived at the Antwerp train station, I was blown away with the beauty. Built in 1895, it has been preserved in all its glory while being renovated for efficiency by digging down to provide different levels for trains to come and go. Just out its doors, you see the famous diamond district, Belgium chocolate stores, restaurants & bars and the Meir — an outdoor pedestrian-friendly shopping mall.
My wife’s colleagues were kind enough to take us out to dinner for an amazing authentic Belgium dinner at Grandma’s. We discussed work of course but I was able to learn a lot about home ownership, parliamentary politics and taxes they have to pay.
At Grandma’s everything was homemade and hearty. I had a local dish with chicken and mushrooms in a gravy sauce served with a puff pastry to pour the dish over.
Of course, we had to wash the meal down with local Belgium beer.
This was a great way to end a 7 day trip to this amazing part of the world.