Before I get started on our Amsterdam adventure, let me say that Caitlin and I (mostly Caitlin, I swear), have become a bit of travel snobs. As in, this conversation may have occurred in our house prior to this trip, “I will only fly direct to Europe from now on.”
Living near Salt Lake City airport, this means our options, if we’re going to keep up this snobbery, would be to fly into/out of London, Paris, or Amsterdam. Thus, we embarked on the great adventure to the Netherlands.
Secondly, let me say that of all the people I’ve spoken to who have been to Amsterdam, not a single one acted like it would change their life or anything. In fact, I was told on multiple occasions that Amsterdam was “meh,” or that it was cool but not essential, etc. Then, someone Caitlin knows told her it was her favorite part of their trip across Europe. So I wasn’t sure what to expect, all I knew it we were flying in direct and that was good enough for me.
Our trip to Amsterdam started months before it happened, and it evolved into something unrecognizable…in a good way. Because we own Apericots, we have an awesome American Express Gold Card which gives us 3x points (aka Skymiles) on a category we choose each year. We spent $60,000 on shipping in 2016, so that was 180,000 Skymiles. (Full disclosure, if you click that link and sign up for a card, I would get 10k points and you would get 50k if you spend $5,000 in 3 months). Plus, we get double points on stuff like advertising.
The reason I tell you this? One, if you like to travel and own a business, this card rules. Two, we booked using Skymiles, which, although they’re technically not free, feel free because we get them from buying stuff (shipping) we would buy with or without getting rewarded. Good stuff.
So back in April (ish?), we decided we needed a summer trip, and since we only had 3 European options to fly into/out of, we decided to hit Amsterdam since we’d done London last August. We decided to fly home from Paris about 8 days later, (be sure to check out that post!), and we figured we’d fill in those days doing whatever wherever.
Alas, the plan ran into a snag almost immediately. First, we found super cheap flights to both Paris and Amsterdam from SLC, so we sent them to everyone we knew, hoping for some travel buddies but not actually expecting anyone to come along. Until Caitlin’s mom and 3 sisters booked to Paris. So we figured we’d meet them and still get a couple days together. Cool, right? But wait…there’s more! Then, our friends found cheap flights to Italy, and since I’ve been dreaming of visiting the Holy Land since age 15, we discussed meeting up in Israel…then Caitlin and I decided we can’t do Israel without doing Egypt since it’s so close…and she HAD to see Petra if we were going to Egypt because it’s just RIGHT THERE…so that’s how we ended up going to Amsterdam, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Paris, all in the same trip. (Be sure to check the Middle East post too…it was a crazy time!)
So our original plan was scrapped, and now we were going to do Amsterdam in 2 days instead of the 4-5 we’d originally planned. Here’s hoping we could see it all.
Ok, so I know we are flight snobs, but c’mon, you can’t beat a nonstop flight. Consider this: Our first trip to Europe (shoutout Christmas Eve 2011!) we flew SLC ⇒ Phoenix ⇒ Charlotte ⇒ London Gatwick. And paid something like $700 each for the privilege. And thought we got a steal. And this was back when I still used Facebook, and I checked in on each stop until someone finally asked, “How long is your flight?!?”
So, yeah, compared to that, the flight was awesome. (Side note…one time, for some awful reason which I don’t want to discuss, I thought it would be a cool idea to time the second we stepped out of our hotel in Sydney, Australia, to the second we opened our front door in Provo, Utah. 39 hours. Not cool.)
Delta was cool and moved us to seats next to each other, because for some reason we weren’t to begin with. Aside from the displaced lady, who gave me a combination eye roll/stink eye/murderous look when she got moved, the flight was great. We got 2 meals, had lots of in-flight entertainment, and because we have T-Mobile, we got an hour of free Wi-Fi onboard, as well as unlimited texting/Wi-Fi calling through the whole flight. In fact, this is the second time this has happened, and nobody tell T-Mobile, but my Wi-Fi worked the entire flight, not just one hour. It was awesome reading ESPN and browsing Europe city Wikipedia pages for 8 hours. The flight was about 10 hours and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
ARRIVING IN AMSTERDAM
Schiphol airport is easy to navigate. And, as always, since Caitlin and I don’t travel with luggage (see the GEAR section of this or any other post to see the stuff we take), we got off the plane and were immediately ready to party.
Oh, and another side side note: We don’t do drugs or alcohol or any of the other licentious activities Amsterdam is known for. So if you’re looking for Red Light District posts, look elsewhere my friends.
Transportation to and from the airport is great in Amsterdam. We bought a 2-day unlimited transportation pass, and even though we didn’t really need as much transport as we thought we would, it was still nice to be able to go anywhere and do anything without worrying about using a ticket or having enough change to buy a ticket. I believe a 2-day pass was about €20, and we bought them from a vending machine that accepted our Visa. Just like that, we got on the train and were heading to our hotel.
As I stated in my Seattle post, Caitlin and I try and pounce if we ever see Hotels.com gift cards go on sale on Amazon. It’s rare, but it happens. And we generally use Hotels.com to book stuff in advance because they give you free rooms after 10 nights. So using them, Caitlin found Hotel Casa Amsterdam, which turned out to be one of my favorite hotels we’ve ever stayed in.
Since we arrived in Amsterdam around 10am and we had massive backpacks, we had hoped to be able to drop our bags at the hotel, even if we had to pay a storage fee. We took the train over to the hotel (it’s SUPER close to a train stop, which is probably the #1 thing we look for when booking Europe hotels), and even though check in was 4 or 5 hours away, we decided to ask if we might have a room ready.
Not only did they have a room ready, but the hotel itself is awesome. It’s in a really cool location, right on a canal (OK, pretty much all of Amsterdam is right on a canal, but still), has a café inside, and has a beautiful lobby/lounge area which was perfect for me to work in while taking in the local vibe. It’s a very modern, hip hotel but was surprisingly affordable. It also has a really cool rooftop bar/restaurant with a great view of the city. It’s not the most breathtaking view or anything, but it’s beautiful and really fun to sit and overlook the city and all the water. 10/10 would recommend.
Even better, the guy at the front desk Andrea was so helpful. He was Italian, so it was cool to talk about his awesome country, but his true expertise was in helping us find what we wanted to do in such a short time in Amsterdam. He gave us a map, pointed out some of his favorite places, told us stuff to avoid as well as can’t miss things, and was generally really cool. Since we’d arrived with basically no plans but to wing it, it was really helpful and started our stay off here perfectly.
I have no medical basis for saying this, but one thing I’ve learned from my travels is DO NOT SLEEP until your new time zone dictates it. Our first time in London, we slept as soon as we found our hotel, and it threw off my body clock for days. I was still on Utah time, which resulted in me pacing the hotel room and wandering the streets at 4am. Not fun. So even though we were exhausted (neither Caitlin nor I can sleep on planes), we decided NOT to sleep since by this point it was only noon in Amsterdam. Even if you have to mainline Red Bull, just push through, because otherwise you’ll waste half of your trip sleeping at weird hours. Since we had almost no time in Amsterdam, this was doubly important, so we ditched our bags, took our map, and hit the streets.
Did we listen to Guster’s Amsterdam? Yes. Yes we did. Did we listen to Neutral Milk Hotel’s Holland, 1945 outside the Anne Frank House? Indeed. David Bowie’s Amsterdam? Ja. Music made this trip so much more fun…but more on that later. I will say, having Amazon Music Unlimited made this trip really fun, particularly during our Normandy road trip.
Naturally, the first thing we asked the guy at our front desk was what food we should try. In Prague, we were told to eat “sour cabbage,” which turned out to be awesome. We never would have tried it without that suggestion, so we were excited to try something Netherland-ish. And the guy, being from Italy, told us Netherland food sucked and there was nothing good to try. Oof. Strike one. So we wandered around, ravenously hungry, until we found the most Netherland food we could find…Nutella waffles!
Ok we have no idea if the waffles were authentic or even where they would be considered authentic. All we know is they were phenomenal. A kid who looked about 12 (child labor laws, anyone?) made them fresh and absolutely drenched them in Nutella. To which I did not object. They were about €5 each, but totally worth it. Good start to this city indeed!
Strangely (to me), it was pretty cloudy and almost a bit chilly in Amsterdam in August. I have no idea what the weather normally is, or if this is normal weather, but coming from Utah’s 100° F August, I guess I was expecting Amsterdam to at least be sunny. And it wasn’t. Literally, the last thing I put in my bag at home was a pullover sweatshirt (at Caitlin’s insistence) and I’m glad I did. We barely saw the sun the entire time, which was fine, just not super warm.
CRAZY BIKE TRAFFIC
Just a word of caution: bikes in Amsterdam are insane! I am generally pretty aware of my surroundings, but somehow Caitlin and I ended up getting politely honked at by approximately 6,621 bikers during our 2 days here. It’s really cool how every street has its own bike lane, but somehow I continually stumbled into them and had some really close calls. I would be on the sidewalk and them BOOM, I’m in the bike lane without knowing it. And it kept happening! So just be careful. Amsterdam is a very walkable city, and really beautiful, but don’t get so caught up in admiring the city (a la me) that you get plowed by a bike. I am amazed I made it out accident free.
LOATING FLOWER MARKET (BLOEMENMARKT)
One of the “can’t miss” things we’d read about for Amsterdam is the Bloemenmarkt, the world’s only floating flower market. On first glance, I didn’t even realize the shops were floating, but it’s a really cool place to check out. There are heaps of shops selling mostly flowers, seeds, and bulbs (and yes, a TON of cannabis), which, if you’re from the USA, is cool to look at but pretty much impossible to get home (from what I’ve read, anyways). There were flowers I’ve never even heard of or seen before, and so many cool colors and smells. It’s one of those experiences, where there’s nothing that SOUNDS too incredible, and it’s kinda hard to describe to people and make it sound cool, but it’s cool. There’s also lots of cheese shops, and we stopped to sample every cheese we could find. I had no idea, but Amsterdam has amazing cheese. Like, life changingly good cheese. And I want more of it right now.
The flower market was a fun walk, both getting there, and walking through. We didn’t buy anything but it was fun to both people watch and see all the cool stuff for sale. I would absolutely recommend it if you’re in the area and have time.
ANNE FRANK HOUSE
From there, we came to my biggest regret of Amsterdam. Pretty much from the time we booked the trip, the only thing on our agenda was to visit and tour the Anne Frank House. I love learning about the Holocaust (I know that sounds morbid, and I don’t mean it to be. I think it’s one of the most tragic things to study and learn about. To see more about our Holocaust studies, check out our Israel visit, particularly our visit to their national Holocaust museum, Yad Veshem.) Both Caitlin and I had read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, back in the day, and both of us were deeply affected by it, so we wanted to see the house and experience the exhibits there.
Our problem is that we vastly underestimated its popularity. For months after booking the trip, we discussed getting tickets, we even made vague plans to book Anne Frank House tickets, but we never did. I had NO idea it gets booked 3 and 4 months in advance. You have to remember, our travel philosophy is basically, “Figure it out when we get there,” and between our business and Caitlin’s work and school, things had been chaotic. o we didn’t book.
Finally, about 3 weeks before departure, I logged on to book tickets. Can you guess what happened next? Yep, nada. No tickets available. So my advice, if nothing else from this post, is BOOK THE ANNE FRANK HOUSE WAY IN ADVANCE IF YOU’RE WANTING TO VISIT IT! I’ve read mixed reviews on whether or not it’s actually worth seeing/worth the money/worth the time/overhyped/etc., but I am super bummed we didn’t get inside.
We did go to the house though, and had slight hope that we might be able to get in on standby. After all, it was nearing the end of tourist season (or so I read), so we thought we might get lucky. Not so. The lines were OBSCENE. Like, lines stretching around the neighborhood into other streets long. It was crazy, and from what I read, they close the line 1 hour before the house closes, and if you don’t get in? Tough. We didn’t want to spend half (or more) of our first day standing in line, so we took some photos of the house, walked around the neighborhood, and sadly and wistfully walked away. It’s certainly on my list of things to do next time we come.
So that was the only thing on our list, and we failed. We ended up roaming the area for a couple hours. We found an amazing Middle Eastern food place and had phenomenal shawarma (we were heading to the actual Middle East soon, so we had to prepare, right?), and it was a fun time. Amsterdam is one of those cities where we didn’t actually do anything too special, but it was just fun. It’s very atmospheric, if that’s a word, just the kind of place to chill and enjoy being there and enjoy being.
Since we had the next day open with no plans at all, we decided to hit up the museum district that evening. We climbed on the IAMSTERDAM sign, which is in the museum district, and then decided to wander around and decide what we wanted to see in the morning. We looked at each museum from the outside, since by this time they were closed, then looked them up on Google and Yelp to decide what we wanted to see. We decided on the Rijksmuseum. Despite wanting to see the Van Gogh museum too, we saw that the Rijksmuseum had heaps of cool stuff, including a bunch of Rembrandt, and lots of historical stuff about the Netherlands, of which we knew next to nothing.
As a side note, the Museum District is a really cool place to just chill and people watch. We were exhausted from the jetlag and lack of sleep, and this area has a big grass field where we saw lots of cool dogs, cool people, kids playing sports, and other fun stuff. There were tons of people just hanging out, so it was a fun place to just hang. We sat there marveling that we were in Amsterdam, people watching, drinking a Coke Zero, and trying to stay awake. It was awesome.
From there, we caught the tram back to our awesome hotel, bought tickets online, and slept that amazing jetlag sleep that can only be understood by those who have pulled off multiple time zones and flights without a wink of shuteye.
Our tickets, bought online, ended up being $41.46 USD for 2. I can’t remember if there was a line at all, but I think buying online gives you the ability to skip the line. Since we were heading straight to the airport from the museum, we checked in advance if they had a baggage check, and luckily, they did. We ditched our bags and set about to see as much of the museum as we could before our flight to Cairo.
Another tangent: I just read a quote (by way of the Oakland Raiders kicker, of all people) supposedly from Aristotle who said something along the lines of anticipation being the highest form of pleasure (or something). I don’t know how I’d never heard that before, but for me, that sums up my travel obsession. I went to bed the night before we left, amazed that I was currently in Lehi, Utah but my next sleep would come in the Netherlands. And my first night in the Netherlands, I went to sleep full of anticipation and excitement, not only for my next day in Amsterdam, but to think I would wake up in Egypt the next day. As amazing as our trips have been, the anticipation is such a big part of it for me. I’m totally the old school donkey with the carrot on the stick in front of it, always trying to catch it. I need something (travel = my carrot) to keep me going through the drudgery of modern life. And waking up that morning in Amsterdam, my anticipation was at an all-time high. I was in Europe, having just come from America, and was going to see incredible works of art and then catching a flight to Africa. What life was this?!
After checking our bags, we grabbed a museum map and did the typical Mallory thing: Find the “must see” stuff, find the “shouldn’t miss but if we run out of time we’ll have to” stuff, and start plotting our route. Caitlin is an incredible navigator, on both city streets and museum hallways, so since we had limited time, we started with the masterpieces.
THE NIGHT WATCH
I won’t go into great detail regarding what’s at the Rijksmuseum, since they have a great Wikipedia page and website which is far more thorough than I can ever be. But the highlight for me was seeing Rembrandt’s 1642 painting The Night Watch.
I’m no art critic, I have no idea what’s considered good or not (or even what’s considered art, for that matter…see our visit to the Modern Art Museum in Paris for more on that), but seeing this painting was awesome.
For one, the amount of detail makes it the type of painting you can look at for ages. It’s just so lifelike it’s almost creepy. But the coolest thing is that it is HUGE. I remember seeing it in art books from high school or college, but I had NO idea it was this gigantic. I think the shock of it being so big was part of what made it so fun to see, because I had no expectation at all and it still blew me away. (Sorry for ruining that for you). It was fun reading about the painting, finding people in it, and really just appreciating a skill and talent that seems superhuman to someone like me who has no artistic talent at all. Very cool and much recommended.
BACK TO SCHIPHOL AIRPORT
We spent about 4 hours in the museum, and I felt like it was more than sufficient time. Like I said, we’re no art critics, so we probably skipped all sorts of amazing things and missed all sorts of amazing details, but we were satisfied. So we grabbed our bags from the baggage check and caught the tram to the central station where we caught the airport train.
Like most of Europe, public transport in Amsterdam was incredibly easy. Again, I cannot stress this enough, having T-Mobile is awesome overseas. Our first Europe trip, Christmas 2011, we didn’t have any international data. We took so many wrong turns, wrong trains, wrong directions, etc. It’s part of the fun memories now, but it was frustrating at the time. When we went to New Zealand/Australia/Fiji in 2012, I bought an international SIM card, which promptly used all the data when I turned it on in Fiji and it fetched a bunch of work emails. Great. So I can’t stress how nice it is to walk out of the museum, pull up Google Maps, and know exactly what train to catch to get to Central, and exactly what train will get us to the airport at what time. It’s literally and truly made travel almost effortless for us. If you have the chance, get T-Mobile if you travel internationally a lot.
A couple years ago, in Rome, we couldn’t find the shuttle back to the airport. (Google Maps told us one place, but it wasn’t there, so Google isn’t always infallible). We ended up jumping on a different shuttle, one that we didn’t realize had a bunch of stops, and TORE through the airport. We were literally the last ones on the plane. We had to take a shuttle from the gate to the plane, and we were the only ones on it. They told us the gates were already closed, but we somehow made it.
Did I learn my lesson? Did I decided to give myself extra time when traveling to allow for issues like this? Of course not! In Thailand in 2017, Caitlin wanted to get to the airport with 3-4 hours to spare. Me? I may never come back here! I’m not wasting my last few hours in Phuket in the airport. I went parasailing, I bought ice cream…wanna guess what happened?
Yep, our Uber/Lyft/whatever they use there didn’t come. It was 3 minutes away, then 5, then 12…then I got a call saying it would be 30 minutes. At this point, we were 2 hours from our flight to Hong Kong. From Hong Kong it went to Los Angeles, and from LAX to Salt Lake. If we missed it, we were royally screwed. Oh, and Caitlin started her grad school semester the next day.
By the time we got to the airport, we were frantic. Caitlin was near tears. I was too, actually. A cool family told us to skip the first security line, which we did, and the airport workers were cool about letting us in. But from there, it was more security, then customs. We finally just skipped the whole customs line and asked the guys next if we could take their place. We had about 150 angry people saying things like “Excuse me!” and “You can’t do that!” but on we went. When we got to the gate, we were told it was too late…to which we begged and said we would do anything, would run, etc., until the lady put down the phone, looked me in the eye, and said only, “Run.”
We made it, but barely. It was not fun. Why do I relate this long and seemingly pointless story? To tell you how much we love our Chase Sapphire Reserve card, and its accompanying Priority Pass entrance.
I won’t bore you with the details of the card, but suffice it to say, the sign-up bonus (Caitlin and I both got a card) paid for our flights to Thailand (with a sweet 2-day stop in Hong Kong), paid for 5 years of Global Entry (so so so so so so worth having), and gives us access to any Priority Pass lounge. The card is expensive but if you travel, even a little, it’s so worth it.
So I told Caitlin (multiple times) after our near-missed in Rome and Phuket, to never let me stall getting to the airport early again. 4 hours early? Sure. If the airport happens to have a Priority Pass Lounge (so far, only Reykjavik and Salt Lake City have been the only places that have NOT had one), even better.
Security was easy, the airport was nice, and into the lounge we went. There wasn’t anything phenomenal, but free Diet Coke and pastries is nice, as are the comfortable chairs, faster Wi-Fi, and quietness of the lounge. Oh, and the bathrooms are generally heaps nicer than the public ones. Basically, it makes being in an airport less miserable. Some (like Egypt and Cambodia) have full on meals, while others just have little snacks. Whatever they have, it’s better than sitting in the terminal, and makes killing 2-4 hours in an airport much more tolerable. Just like that, we were leaving Amsterdam and on to our first trip to Africa, heading to Cairo!