Ah, Amsterdam. Prior to this trip, we had heard so many good things about Amsterdam. It's a city full of culture, everyone speaks English, and there is tons to see and do. All of this is true, but there is so much more that we weren't told.....
It's a crazy city. LOUD. Busy. Crowded. Dirty, with trash strewn in the streets. Smelly. HOT. While I know it has it's good points, these are the main things we remember about Amsterdam.
This was a hastily planned trip so we blame ourselves, mostly, for the lack of preparation. You see, we went to Amsterdam the weekend of the World Cup finals. In which The Netherlands were playing. For THE World Cup. ACK! In our defense, we didn't have television, nor do we have any interest in soccer, so when we planned this trip, we didn't even factor in the fact that the World Cup finals were taking place.
And honestly, we might have had a better time had we have gone to Amsterdam first and then to the beach. As it was, we had an amazing three days at the beach, and then traveled to the busy, loud, crowed city. It was a complete change of pace, setting, everything, and not for the good.
The entire trip wasn't a bust. There were parts of Amsterdam that we loved. The food was amazing! We ate at a lunch shop called B&B our first day there. Eating their sandwiches was a moving experience. No, not literally, but they were damn good. Being the huge wine lovers that we are, we ate dinner that night at an Italian wine bar and restaurant called Vinomio. This was the best part of our trip! The food and wine were fabulous and the staff was so friendly. They let us sample the wines before we bought them to make sure we liked it since they were all house wines. They also came to our rescue when it started pouring before we left. Im talking flood the streets pouring and we were without an umbrella, facing a 10 block walk back to our hotel. They loaned us an umbrella so we wouldn't get soaked. So, so sweet of them.
This is on the back of their menu. We had a great laugh over this. In case you can't read it, it says "Tourists, No Dope Smoking." Ha!
We visited the Anne Frank house on our second day. The line to get in was long, but moved quickly. It is definitely worth the 8.50 euro entrance fee. J and I were both moved. It was an amazing, powerful place to visit, and we are so glad we made the time to see it. We wanted to visit the Van Gogh museum, but the line was blocks long, so we decided to save it for the next time.
I know you're all wondering if we went to the Red Light District. Even though I was slightly uncomfortable with the prospect, J convinced me that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that we couldn't pass up and I knew he was right. So we went. It's actually very clean and almost normal appearing. Except for the prostitutes hanging out in the windows. Oh, and the transvestites sitting on the street benches. The sex shops, live porn shows, and pot stores were a bit out of the norm as well. But other than that, completely normal looking. ;) So now we can check that box off our to do list.
Most of the people in dresses and wigs are guys.
We stayed at the Quentin Hotel. Perhaps if we stayed in the winter it might have been a more pleasurable experience. The best thing about this hotel is the location. It's right on a canal in the center of the city. The staff was also friendly and helpful. Our room was tiny, even by European standards. The bathroom did not have a shower stall, just a fixture on the wall & a drain in the middle of the floor. So when we showered, everything got wet. They did not have A/C or fans, so the room was miserably hot. We were sweating just sitting in the room. It made sleeping impossible. It was hands down the worst night that Ive ever spent in a hotel. We were so uncomfortable because of the heat and the noise. To say that it was loud is an understatement. People were partying all night long, right outside our window. We weren't able to fall asleep until 5 am. The following morning, we asked the front desk clerk for our money back and informed him that we were leaving regardless. He told us that he could not refund our money due to the fact that we booked online. It was a very friendly exchange, and while we were disappointed that we weren't going to get our money back, we decided to leave a day early. We could not stand to stay there another night!
Parking was another nightmare. There isn't any free parking in the city center. It costs 4 euro an hour to park. That gets expensive quick. So we used a "car hotel". Seriously. We'd never heard of it either. This company will pick your car up, park it in a garage outside the city, and return it when you're ready, all for a nice little fee. It was less expensive than parking it at the hotel, so we went for it. The whole deal was a bit shady, but our car was returned to us with nothing more than a few new minor scuffs.
My greatest advice would be this: Know what is going on in the city you are going to visit, prior to booking. Luckily, J and I love adventures and have a great sense of humor, so we don't consider this trip a bust, merely a learning experience.
After this trip I decided that I wanted to share our experience with others looking to go to Amsterdam so they would not have the same experience that we did. I love, love, love Tripadvisor.com. I think this is one of the best websites for finding hotels, attractions and restaurants in any city. The reviews are very personal and tell you what other sites won't. I am now a contributor to this site and am working on posting my reviews of all the places we've been in Europe.
***PS...A few weeks after we returned from Amsterdam we noticed a credit back on our credit card transactions. The Quentin Hotel did in fact refund us all of our money, for both nights! How awesome is that?! We were so surprised and so thankful, because it wasn't cheap! =)