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We’ll Always have Amsterdam

We’ll Always have Amsterdam

Jackie and Clay selfie at Keukenhof

Part of the strategy of buying a flat in Porto is having the ability to easily (and pretty inexpensively) travel to other parts of Europe. I had been wanting to experience Amsterdam’s tulips with my own eyes for a long time, so when our friend Laura planned her visit to Porto, we agreed we’d meet up in Amsterdam first.

So yeah, we got to “go to Amsterdam for the weekend.” And we do enjoy saying that. 

We arrived early on a Thursday morning and waited a couple of hours in the airport for Laura to arrive from the U.S. The second we stepped outside, we knew we had packed very, very badly. We left Porto in the spring and arrived in Amsterdam in the winter, complete with temperatures around 10 degrees Celsius (50° Fahrenheit) and pouring rain. Yes, we could have done a little research and known to expect that, but where’s the fun in that? 

Getting Around

Bikes parked between a canal and the road in Amsterdam

While waiting for Laura, I roamed the airport and found the Amsterdam and Region 72-hour travel ticket, which covered all of our travel for the long weekend we spent there. At €40 (about $43), that’s a heckuva deal, as it covered pretty much everywhere we needed to go. It would have covered everything, but there were a couple of times we wussed out and got Ubers because we were cold. 

Most of the transportation options (shuttles, buses, metros) begin and end at the Amsterdam Airport Schipol, which is designed to get you where you need to go in an incredibly efficient manner. 

Lodging

A cost-effective lodging option we found was the Corendon Apartments, a Marriott property very close to the airport. Our apartment was designed like a large studio, complete with kitchen and a wall-like structure between the bedroom and the living room, where we had a pull-out bed for Laura. This arrangement did require letting go of some modesty and some averting of the eyes, but the price and convenient location made that okay. The apartments share a parking lot (and front desk service) with the Corendon Amsterdam Schipol, a beautiful hotel with two exceptional restaurants. 

Frites & Boats

Houses along the canal in Amsterdam

After dropping off our luggage, we hit the city center to start exploring Amsterdam. Clay and I had visited this beautiful city once before, in 2022, but we did it wrong. We only had a few days then as well, and we went in with a museum to-do list. Though it was unreasonably long, we did manage to visit eight museums in one day. Needless to say, we don’t recommend this approach. Now, having more experience at this, we highly recommend picking one  must-see per day of your trip and then letting the rest of the trip unfold on its own. 

For this weekend, we knew we wanted to see tulips and revisit the Rijksmuseum and everything else would be a bonus. When we got to the city center, Laura reminded us that we needed loaded french fries. It didn’t take long to find the Fry House, which we knew was good based on the lines out onto the street. Service was fast so it took less than 10 minutes to get back to exploring with our delicious fries covered in all kinds of gooey goodness. 

We often use hop-on/hop-off buses to get our bearings in new cities, so we did this in the Amsterdam way – on a canal boat tour. That’s a great way to see so much of the city, while also learning its history and seeing cool spots that you can go explore more thoroughly later. 

After the hour-long tour, we knew it was sleepy time as Laura was still on fumes from an overnight flight and Clay and I had caught our flight from Porto at 5 am (which meant leaving our flat at 3 am). We headed back to the hotel for naps. Afterward, Clay and I worked for a bit (since that was morning time in Nevada). Then we visited the hotel’s skyview restaurant for early evening snacks before heading back to the room to get more work done before heading to bed. 

Pink tulips in the rain.

Raindrops on Tulips

Friday was the day I was most looking forward to, which I had actually manifested through a photo on my vision board. Celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Keukenhof is home to seven million tulips, encompassing 800 varieties. It’s even more magnificent than you can imagine, and I could imagine pretty well. 

We spent five hours there, wandering through the exquisitely laid out and manicured gardens, from English to Japanese to a maze and more. As I would think, “I’ve seen enough beauty for today,” we’d turn the corner into more beautiful amazingness. We knew we had to keep going, even though it was freezing and rainy. The people at Keukenhof are excellent marketers, and we now own beautiful tulip-themed umbrellas. 

Keukenhof means “kitchen garden” in Dutch and is a reference to the gardens in the area that used to serve the castle kitchen. The Keukenhof was established by a group of bulb growers in 1949 to showcase their products. It’s only open about two months a year, as they have not figured out the magic to make tulips last longer than their normal spring-time bursts. 

If you’re considering a trip to Amsterdam, I highly recommend going in the spring. There is so much to see there, but those tulips are just wow. With many empty walls in our flat, we knew we wanted to enlarge some of our photos, but I was worried we wouldn’t get what we wanted because of the rain. Instead, we got even better photos, as the raindrops added a whole new dimension to an already magnificent masterpiece. We ended up with way too many amazing photos to choose from, which meant our plans for one enlargement turned into six. 

We had plans to ride bikes through the growing fields, but the rain and wind helped us decide to spend more time in the gardens instead. As Laura is a badass, she would have braved it anyway if she were visiting with more intrepid explorers. I was grateful she accept my ninnyness with good grace. 

As our tulip day ended, our work day began, which we broke up with a quick visit to the international restaurant at the hotel. 

Keukenhof is open seven days a week, from March through May, from 8:00 am. Tickets are available online for a fixed date in a predetermined time slot, though there does seem to be  some flexibility on the timing. 

Exploring Amsterdam with Stefan

Stefan and Clay posing in front of a historic Amsterdam building.

On Saturday, we met one of Clay’s former work associates for a tour of his city. Stefan took us around the very walkable city, showing us places we would have never found on our own. Mostly to get out of the rain, we ducked into the Huis Willet-Holthuysen, a historically accurate canal house that has been converted into a museum. While it was very cool getting to see how the ultra-wealthy citizens of Amsterdam lived in the 17th century, what made this place extra special for me was the Grand March: A Historic House Through a Ballroom Lens exhibit. The proprietors partner with local arts groups on a regular basis, inviting modern artists to reimagine the space. Our timing was fantastic, as we got to experience history intertwined with a look at ballroom culture, presented by House of Vineyard. 

Display of purple mannequins in a historic background

As the website explains: “Ballroom was created for and by Black and Latinx-American trans women and queer people in the 1970s in Harlem, in New York City. Organizers opposed the established, often racist pageants by holding balls for, with, and by LGBTIQ+ people of color. During a ball, queer, trans, and cis participants compete in various categories, including fashion, realness, body, and performance, and winning trophies, cash prizes, and respect. The balls are lively underground events, a manifestation of resistance to the predominance of cisnormative society.”

This very cool exhibit, which was throughout the house, meant seeing an extra large pair of thigh-high boots laying next to a 17th century velvet couch, and there was even a place where we could strut the catwalk to a virtual Ballroom host. Stefan intended ford that to be a quick stop on our way to lunch, but I did have a hard time tearing myself away from such an interesting story with its historically accurate background. 

That extra time did mean faster walking to lunch, though, after Stefan had to change our reservation a couple of times. It was totally worth it when we got to enjoy delicious bites in the Eye Bar and Restaurant on the river IJ across from the Amsterdam Central Station  

The restaurant is part of the Eye Filmmuseum, which is home to a huge collection of Dutch films, which visitors can enjoy before or after visiting the culture center to learn more about Dutch cinema. 

We’ll need to go back and visit the museum next time, as we had reservations for the second thing we had to do on this trip — revisit the Rijksmuseum

Home of Rembrandt

The Rijks (pronounced rikes) is one of the museums Clay and I had gone through way too fast on our first visit, and we were anxious to go back. Laura hadn’t been there on her previous trips to Amsterdam, so we were all excited to visit. 

After standing in a very long line, we got to the front to be told that I had bought tickets for the wrong day. As the tickets I had purchased were for a day we wouldn’t actually be in Amsterdam, Laura put on her persuasion hat and managed to convince one of the attendants to let us in anyway. 

Full photo of "Night Watch."

Thank God for Laura, as we would have been very sad to miss this walk through Dutch art and history. The Netherlands’ top museum, it houses more than 8,000 pieces of art displayed throughout almost a mile of galleries. The biggest stars are masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh. But it’s not just paintings, as there’s all sorts of cool stuff, like delicate Delftware and fancy furniture, showing off Dutch craftsmanship at its finest. It’s like a time machine to the Golden Age and beyond, right in the heart of Amsterdam.

Clay and Laura got up close to absorb “The Night Watch,” Rembrandt’s story of. It was given the name “Night Watch” at the end of the 18th century because the painting had darkened so much through the years that it appeared to take place at night. It had just come out of extensive restoration when we were there before, so it’s now less night and more “Militia Company of District II Under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq,” its original title. Dominating the wall at 12 x 14 ½ feet, there was a lot to take in besides Captain Frans Banning Cocq and his crew defending the city wearing their flashy militia uniforms. When you look closely, you’ll see all sorts of action unfolding. There’s a dog barking, a little girl flinching, and even a guy in the shadows loading his gun. It’s like Rembrandt captured a whole story in a single snapshot, and you can’t help but get lost in the drama and excitement of it all.

Close-up photo of Rembrandt's "Night Watch."

While Clay and Laura spent time with Captain Cocq, I was more intrigued by the way the Rijks addressed some of the Netherlands’ problematic histories.

From the colonial era and the transatlantic slave trade to the country’s involvement in global conflicts, the museum is willing to face the tough parts of history head-on. They have teamed up with different communities to gather differing viewpoints and then incorporated them into displays and educational programs. It’s like a crash course in Dutch heritage, but with a dose of empathy and critical thinking thrown in. So, if you’re up for a museum visit that’s equal parts enlightening and eye-opening, the Rijksmuseum is definitely the spot to check out.

Exterior of Cafe Hans & Grietje.

Tickets are 22 euros for adults and free for those 18 and under. They should be purchased online for a specific date and time. Just make sure you get them for the right day and time since you most likely won’t have Laura with you!

More Frites, But No Candy

After our deep dive into Dutch history and culture, we walked around the block to enjoy dinner at the Cafe Hans en Grietje. While it wasn’t covered with gumdrops, we were able to enjoy a delicious dinner in this charming cafe. Inspired by the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel, it has been a popular destination since 1876. We got in without a reservation, but I think that’s because it was very early in the evening.

Experiencing a Parade — Backwards 

Giant float with a pink flamingo made out of tulips

We were fortunate to be in Amsterdam during its city-wide Tulip Festival, which featured the Flower Parade on Saturday, April 20 this year. The parade draws thousands of locals and visitors as it traveled through the streets of Amsterdam, ultimately ending in the suburbs of Haarlem. 

While parades might not typically be our thing, we couldn’t resist the allure of witnessing these stunning creations firsthand. Thanks to Laura’s savvy travel know-how, we discovered that all the floats are parked in Haarlem’s city center after the parade. With Reno friends Elizabeth and Andy now residing in Haarlem, we seized the opportunity to combine a delightful breakfast catch-up with checking out the floats. This unconventional parade experience proved to be a revelation; stationary floats allowed us to appreciate the intricate craftsmanship up close. It’s the ideal way to admire their work, without the hustle of a moving parade. And the festivities don’t end there — carnival rides, delectable food, and more made for a full day for the hundreds of families we shared our morning with. 

After our backwards parade walk, it was time to head back to Portugal. Our lovely tour guides, Elizabeth and Andy, very graciously drove us back to Schipol, where we got through security with plenty of time to spare.

Having this kind of access to these amazing cities is so lovely and takes the pressure off of trying to see everything. Who knows what we’ll do next time? Just kidding. We know what we’re doing next time. Stay tuned!

Jackie Shelton, APR, is a strategic communications veteran who, after 30 years still has a hard time focusing on one particular aspect, so she has stopped trying.

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