48 Hours in Amsterdam
Updated: Feb 16, 2022
Amsterdam Central Startion
Sometimes the best way to do things is to follow your whim! Doing something just because you feel like doing it at that moment – so was our trip to Amsterdam and precisely why it was for 48 hours – because it was planned at the spur of the moment. I had an official trip, and casually said I wish you could surprise me at one of my trips by meeting me outside the venue at the end of the day! And so, this idea was hatched – Oviyan (then 6 years old) was super excited to be part of this secret mission to surprise mummy by flying all the way to Amsterdam with daddy! He could hardly keep his excitement to himself the day before I left. And when he finally met me outside our Amsterdam office, I had to bring out all my acting skills to seem genuinely and utterly surprised that my little man travelled all the way to treat me with his cheeky grin and his super loud ‘SURPRISE’!!
It was all going to plan but then we headed to the station to take the train to Hilversum, our abode for the next 48 hours with our amazing friends! The trains were cancelled as something had happened with overhead wires which meant we had to wait for an hour to get into a train which took a detour and finally what could have been a 20 min train ride became a 3 hour ordeal. But what was indeed amazing was the attitude of the people in the train – there was hardly enough place for your rib cage to expand enough to breathe, but the people started cracking jokes and soon that tightly packed space was a riot of laughter!
Finally, we met up with our friends and were greeted with love, more laughter and hearty food! With months of catching up to do we chatted until one by one everyone fell asleep.
The story of Amsterdam
Amsterdam is situated in the north-western province of Netherlands and has a lot of feathers on its cap-apart from being extremely multicultural with over 170 nationalities, it is also one of the most-watery cities in the world. The canal system is hundreds of years old and consists of around 65 canals spanning over 100 km in length and around 1200 bridges!
The canal system of Amsterdam
The name ‘Amsterdam’ means dam on the Amstel river and built concentric canals around it making it a highly accessible city with its waterways which was the main form of transport back in the days. This proved to be highly beneficial to the economy leading to the ‘Golden age’ in the 17th century when the most famous canals Herengracht, Keizersgracht, Prinsengracht and Singel were built, which increased its success as a port city – the warehouses popped up on either side of the canals and were served by barges. The warehouses could store huge quantities of trading goods that could be easily transported through those canals to the harbour from where the ships that sailed far and wide. The wealthy merchants also built lavish houses close to the warehouses. Since then and to this date Netherlands continues to be an economic success and its distinctive personally attracts visitors from all over the world!
The whole story of Netherlands, its history and what it is today can be attributed to its water management. Though this doesn’t really sound romantic, it is the reason why it has this canal system, bikes, tulip fields and even the mouth-watering cheese. The interesting thing is that most of the Netherlands is at or below sea level – so in essence it is ‘sinking’ into the North Sea which keeps eroding the already boggy land and making it a part of the sea. But since the last 400 years or so, the Dutch have decided to fight back the ocean instead of fleeing and so have evolved a fascinating science of hydraulic engineering. So back in the days, they would build a wall around water, and install windmills, which would then pump the water out. They would then dry this land, add layers of sand and peat and insert wooden logs to stabilize the ‘land’ and voila a city would crop on what was once the sea. Then later in 1932 they decided to go a step further and built a huge wall that sectioned off part of the sea creating a fresh-water lake. But they didn’t stop there – they then sectioned off the lake further and created strips of land. So the province of Flevoland is a result of reclamation of land from the sea! So much of Netherland’s coastline is ‘fortified’ to protect it from the might of the ocean. And in 2010 the canal belt was declared a UNESCO World heritage site. It is fascinating to see a country ‘grow’ in size over the years – the Dutch have proved their mastery over water!
The setting at Zaanse Schans depicts Dutch people's mastery over water - the canals, vast lush green fields for agriculture and use of windmill
So this explains why Amsterdam has the canal system (locally called Grachtengordel), the vast stretches of tulip fields due to the peat-sand mixture, fertile soil for cows to graze which then creates some of the best cheeses in the world and the narrow flat lands explain why the Dutch was mostly on bikes! And not to mention the lop-sided buildings that we see today – a constant reminder of the city’s soft foundation!
This tradition of the water affair continues with Amsterdam’s canals playing host to a variety of major events on or alongside the water each year. The King's Day in April, Gay Pride and Canal Parade in August, featuring decorated barges, with the canals bursting with colour and music! Throughout the year, the canal cruises are one of Amsterdam’s most popular attractions and is a great way to get a taste of the city! We decided to explore on foot instead.
Canal walk through the heart of Amsterdam
Morning Canal walk – what better way of exploring the city than to walk around the picturesque canals with beautiful 17th-century houses lining each side of the canal, lovely bridges, and all the beautiful scenery around that you can just walk all day! There are quite a few good Apps that you can use to make the most of your exploration.
Vegan pancake at Mr. Stacks
Breakfast at Mr Stacks – Though there are quite a few good pancake destinations in the city, with our limited time we headed off to Mr. Stacks, a vegan joint for pancakes and bubble tea. And we weren’t disappointed. We were lucky with our timing and got a table quickly without any prior reservation. The food was as pleasing to the eyes as it was to the tastebuds. All the walking in the morning was good enough reason to indulge in some food pleasure! If you want to visit – you can find the details on their website https://mrstacks.nl/
Alber Cuyp Street Market
Albert Cuyp Street Market in Amsterdam – The street ‘Albert Cuypstraat’ is named after Aelbert Jacobszoon Cuyp, a Dutch painter, famous for his landscape paintings. The market is a mish mash of everything. You can find people from different parts of the world selling all sorts of things – clothes, keychains, fish, sunglasses, old comic books and everything in between. If you have visited other well-known world markets, this won’t really blow your mind, but is still worth a quick stroll to enjoy some of the street-food.
Gift from the rain God! As we were strolling through the Albert Cuyp Street market, the heavens opened up – from a slight drizzle to outright downpour, the Rain-God decided to accompany us! And so the most painful couple of hours started – with only 48 hours to explore the city, sitting under the shade of a bus-stop was not something we had hoped for! But such is travel – it puts you right in your place, every time you think you have planned it all!
Windmills of Zaanse Schans
Visit to Zaanse Schans for windmills and cheese factory – Finally the Rain God took pity on us and the sun started to shine again – this would later become the only sunny dry spell for the rest of our time in Amsterdam! So we were thrilled to be able to explore the beautiful Zaanse Schans – a truly charming place on the river Zaan. It is a residential area with architecture from the 18th and 19th centuries. With old windmills and picture-perfect wooden cottages, old windmills, barns and all the animals, the charming village almost seemed like page out of a fairly-tale book.
Windmills of Zaanse Schans by the shore of river Zaan
Windmills – So very typical of Netherlands, the windmills look amazing against the serene backdrop of Zaanse Schans. Traditionally set up for emptying water, the windmills started to be also used for sawing wood, extracting oil, or grinding for flour, spices etc. You can buy tickets and climb up to the deck of the mill through the narrow stairs and soak in the panoramic views and also sample spices etc.
Catharina Hoeve cheese factory in Zaanse Schans
The cheese factory – You can attend a cheese-making demonstration at the ‘Catharina Hoeve’. Admission is free and the staff is dressed in traditional Dutch costumes – busy cutting up all different types of cheeses – Gouda, Edam, Maasdam etc. for visitors to sample. They are quite happy to explain the different types of cheeses. In the excitement of tasting and buying cheeses, I dropped by phone somewhere, but then received it back when we went looking again after 20 minutes! Phew! There is so much beauty around, you just go clicking away on your phone! That how I realized I had dropped it 😊. Before leaving we headed to a restaurant and dug into some amazing Bitterballen (little bites of heaven) and some drinks.
The Kooijman Wooden Shoe Workshop
Dutch clogs – Zaanse Schans is also a place to witness the famous Dutch clogs which became popular in the 16th century. Crafted from a single piece of wood, these offered a practical and affordable solution to walking on the soft wet land and were in use until the 20th century. Very few traditional hand crafted artisans remain today and Zaanse Schans is home to one – the Kooijman Wooden Shoe Workshop demonstrates the traditional process of clog making on restored antique machines.
Sunset over narrow houses at Damrak
Watching Sunset over the famous narrow Houses at Damrak – We then headed to Damrak in central Amsterdam which is an avenue and partially filled in canal, running between Amsterdam Central in the north and Dam Square in the south to watch the sun go down.
Amsterdam skyline and canal in the evening
Evening canal walk – With just one more day to go we made the most our time by walking along the canals in the soft evening light (and no rain!)
The ‘Self-Portrait’ of Vincent Van Gogh at Rijksmuseum
Rijksmuseum is home to the world famous paintings of Rembrandt - the Night Watch
The Rijksmuseum – The Rain God show up again with their bounty! So we headed to an indoor venue, the Rijksmuseum – located at the Museum Square in the borough Amsterdam South, close to the Van Gogh Museum, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and the Concertgebouw. As we stood in the queue to get the tickets we were approached by a couple who said they wanted to sell theirs as they had to leave for the airport – filled with some amount of scepticism we looked at each other to see each other’s gut reaction. With the heavens not showing any signs of mercy, we decided to give it a go after having a quick scan of the date etc. It was all good and we were glad to be inside finally – and started exploring the mind-blowing collection. Among lots of other famous art and historical pieces, Rijksmuseum houses world famous paintings of Rembrandt - the Night Watch, the ‘Self-Portrait’ of Vincent Van Gogh, The Battle of Waterloo’ by Jan Willem Pieneman and many more.
Foodhallen - best place to experience gourmet Amsterdam
Lunch at Foodhallen- We wanted to explore the gourmet Amsterdam and what better place than Foodhallen – a food destination under what was once a tram shed is now alive and buzzing with delicious options from all over the world, a place buzzing with people and smelling of flavours! But because of the amazing food, the place is so busy that you have to use all your skills to spot a seat and the agility to move to it quickly!
Gourmet Amsterdam - Foodhallen offers authentic multi cuisine experience under one roof
After the lavish meal, we explored the arts, craft and fashion outlets of De Hellen just adjoining Foodhallen
The Bridges at Leidsegracht and Keizersgracht Intersections – one of the most photographed stops of Amsterdam
As the evening drew closer we walked around the Bridges at Leidsegracht and Keizersgracht Intersections – one of the most photographed stops of Amsterdam and very co-incidentally also near the Museum of Photography!
Flying back home – Though we were there only for 48 hours, we did make the best of amidst the rain but it does leave the desire to dive deeper into this wonderful city – that will be another story for another day!