This 5 part series on “The Unconventional Honeymoon” talks about our first self-planned and self-arranged Euro Trip. In our short-but-sweet trip of about 7 days we covered Paris, Brussels, Bruges, Amsterdam and Rome. This was about 4 months after our wedding when my husband had to visit Toulouse, France for work. We merrily jumped at the opportunity of converting this business trip to our Its-Never-Too-Late Honeymoon.
The word Honeymoon generally has a very relaxed, luxurious and cozy ring to it. But this being our first trip to Europe, relaxation and comfort took the back seat as we geared up for the exploration ! Our trip involved staying at Airbnb accommodations, walking tours around city centers, travel by local transport, boat tours and cycling around picturesque landscapes.So with all the running around, this was an unconventional honeymoon indeed , but undoubtedly the perfect one for us.
This is Part 4/5 of the series.
Here are the links to the other posts in this series !
From the fairy tale-ish medieval town, we headed to the electric sin city. Our next stop was Amsterdam.
Frankly speaking, the only reason we included Amsterdam in our trip was its proximity to the area we were in. But looking back, I’m extremely glad and satisfied that we spent 2 days in this awesome and exciting city. Amsterdam easily became our favorite destination out of the 5 places that we covered on this trip.
We booked a Eurolines bus from Bruges to Amsterdam and reached Amsterdam at night. We stayed in an Airbnb accommodation with an Italian couple who lived in a suburb Zaandam which is a 13 minute train ride away from Amsterdam. Our hosts were very nice and friendly. Laura gave us tips and directions of how to reach Zaandam and Angelo picked us up from the Zaandam station at night. Their house was in a lovely area about 15 minutes walk from the Zaandam station.
In the morning we had breakfast with Laura and she gave us numerous recommendations of things we must see in the city. On her Airbnb listing she also offered 2 free bikes and we planned to explore the city on the preferred mode of transportation. But she advised against it as it was going to rain that day and she was so right. She also gave us waterproof jackets which came in very handy as it poured all day. We took our bikes around Zaandam and loved the cute neighborhood. Our typical Dutch bikes needed a little getting used to as they did not have brakes and we were supposed to pedal backwards to make them stop. It involved a lot of falling on the road in the beginning but after we got a hang of it, we thoroughly enjoyed the neighborhood ride. We then took a train from Zaandam to Amsterdam Centraal, which is very convenient thanks to the frequent trains.
After alighting at Amsterdam Centraal we first headed to Dam square which was bustling with life in spite of the rain. Then we proceeded to Rijkmuseum and the well photographed Iamsterdam sign. After clicking a few pictures there we roamed around the park and bought some souvenirs. We also had a Stroopwaffel from a street vendor and I’m not exaggerating but it became my most favorite dessert of all time.
After that we headed back to Dam Square as our Sandeman’s free walking tour of Amsterdam was set to start at the National Monument. This was a very fun and informative walking tour and I would highly recommend taking it. Our guide Tim was a local and introduced us to the city with unparalleled enthusiasm.
The tour started at Rossebuurt or the infamous Red Light District of Amsterdam. Tim had warned us not to be tempted to click pictures of scantily clad women in window parlors as it is strictly banned and can result in your camera or phone being tossed into one of the canals by the managers. So we tucked our phones away and strolled along as Tim enlightened us on the history of this major attraction of Amsterdam city. Window prostitution is unique to Amsterdam and is now spreading to other parts of The Netherlands. It might not be as easy to notice, with all the sex shops, erotic museums and window parlors, but this is the oldest and the most beautiful parts of the city with its long winding narrow cobbled streets and charming 14th century architecture. In utter disbelief, we came across the 13th century Gothic Oude Kerk or the Old Church which, as its name suggests, is not only the oldest church but also the oldest monument in the city. Tim narrated that centuries ago, sailors used to come to this part of the town to ‘have a good time’ and then used to line up at the Old Church in the morning to confess and seek absolution for the sins they committed the previous night. We also came across a square where live medical operations used to be carried out for the public to witness. The Red Light District area was not very lively in the morning and Tim encouraged us to return at night when the place is in action.
Next we walked past the Jewish Quarters, New Church and Begijnhof. It was fun walking around the city, with a mild drizzle, along beautiful canals, dodging hundreds of people on bikes. Amsterdam is a city that lives on a bike. Tourists, office goers in suits, mothers with kids, ladies in dresses, you can find anyone and everyone on a bike. Even though it was raining throughout the day, the city never stopped, it was always alive and running, well cycling, and that’s what made me fall in love with it.
Tim also introduced us to the drug laws of Amsterdam. After immensely struggling with drug problem for a very long time, the Dutch government in the 1970’s made a clear distinction in laws between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ drugs. Thanks to this special tolerance towards soft drugs, hundreds of coffeeshops (No, they don’t sell coffee) have always existed in a legal grey area. Soft drugs such as cannabis in all its forms (weed, marijuana or hash) are legal under condition of so called “personal use”. Walk into one of these coffeeshops, which are abundantly located in all parts of the city, and you can choose your dope of the day from a menu with per gram prices. The maximum restriction on sale is put at 5 grams.
This post would be incomplete without any mention of the beautiful canal houses of Amsterdam. These are extremely cute (and somewhat crooked if you look closely) buildings and they are all extremely narrow ans skinny. Tim explained that all these canal houses were constructed narrow, high and deep as in earlier times, house tax was levied based on the frontal width of your house. They also have a pulley hook on the top so that they could hoist up goods directly from the boats coming through the canals. Some houses were intentionally built with a slight forward tilt to minimize the chance of items colliding with the building on their way up and some houses lean sideways due to foundation problems.
Our very informative and extremely fun walking tour came to an end at the Anne Frank House which serves as a museum in the memory of young wartime diarist Anne Frank. It is agonizing to know how Anne along with her parents and sister and 4 other Jews hid in the small annex of this house from Nazi persecution for 2 long years. Learning about her life in hiding, the betrayal and arrest and her eventual death in a Nazi concentration camp is absolutely heart breaking.
After the end of the tour we continued wandering aimlessly through the streets and canals and landed upon the Holland Casino to try some luck. Lets just say that it was not a lucky day. In the evening we walked back to the Central station and passed through the now-alive Red Light District. The red neon lights shining over the canals was a sight to behold.
Thus we said goodbye to Amsterdam, the city that is so strikingly attractive and flamboyant and literally high on life. We reached Zaandam by train and then cycled back to Laura’s place. It was a hectic and very action packed day but as I slept, I couldn’t wait to wake up next day to embark on another adventure.
The next day we were flying to Rome in the afternoon. We had only a few hours to explore something new and decided to head to Zaanse Schans windmill village which is less than 10 km from Zaandam. We picked up our bicycles on a pleasant day and passed through green parks alongside the beautiful River Zaan. We leisurely cycled around, as we could not resist the urge to stop and click pictures or just sit down on the roadside benches to enjoy all the beauty around us. We passed through beautiful houses, small ponds where ducklings played, a beautiful neighborhood church and some cute bridges on the river. The journey was so pleasing that I was hardly bothered about reaching the destination.
This trip reiterated the notion that more often than not, the journey is as exhilarating as the destination ( … if not better ! ). Our numerous pit stops on the way cut down our time at the intended destination by half but there’s no regrets whatsoever !
After the scenic journey, we reached the Zaanse Schans windmill village. It is an open air conservation area which brings you face to face with the traditional Dutch life of the 17th and 18th century. The area consist of authentic wooden houses, mills and barns, a historic shipyard, a cheese and dairy farm, a age-old grocery store and above all, lots of windmills. Some 250 years ago, well over 600 windmills were cramped into this relatively small area. Now, a few of them remain and are well preserved for the public to witness the early industrial supply workhorse. We walked around the village and were lucky to have covered it in the early parts of the day. This is one of the major attractions around Amsterdam and is visited by busloads of tourists each day. We had some hot chocolate and some more Dutch Stroopwaffel in a cute little cafe here. Then we cycled back to Zaandam.
We would have love to spend more time here but Holland was wonderful for us. The ultra modern city of Amsterdam and the traditional ways of the Zaanse Schans made our trip a contrasting collage of unforgettable memories.
Our must-not-miss list for Amsterdam :
1) Walk around the Red Light District
2) Cycling in the city or a walking tour
3) Dutch Stroopwaffel
4) A visit to the famous coffeeshops
5) Zaanse Schans windmill village
What’s Next ?
Rome ! 🙂