Continue with the Amsterdam journey. The last post was about all the delicious food I had while I was there, and this post is about the places I went as a first-timer. I was SO EXCITED about going to Amsterdam! Not only because it’s the first time travelling by myself, the Netherlands has always been a country that I have been dying to visit. Part of it is because I have relatives who live in NL, so even as a child I wanted to visit this place where they live. Another reason is because of my love for Vincent van Gogh and Anne Frank. You’ll see more as you read on. 🙂
I’m a huge museum junkie, so I could not miss all the great museums in Amsterdam. When it comes to museums, Museumplein is your good friend (as if it’s not obvious enough, lol). You’ll find two of the popular museums here – Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum – among the others. Also, the Iamsterdam sign is here for you to snap that perfect Instagram picture with the beautiful Rijksmuseum as a backdrop.
Van Gogh Museum
Vincent van Gogh, a figure whom I’ve known since I was little. The Van Gogh Museum is one of the spots I had to visit on this pilgrimage (the other being Anne Frank House, more below), and I was so inspired after this visit. If you’re a fan of art, post-Impressionism, and specifically a fan of Vincent van Gogh, this museum should not be skipped, not to mention if you’re a first-timer to Amsterdam. As dramatic as it sounds, this was a life-changing visit. I learned so much more about van Gogh, and it made me reflect on my own life as well. I didn’t know van Gogh didn’t start his artist career until his late 20s, which is considered towards the end of his rather short life. Yet during that short period of time, he has created so many masterpieces that we all adore today. Never give up on your dreams everyone!!!
ANYWAY, back to the museum itself, a huge collection of Vincent van Gogh’s artwork from the beginning to the very end is exhibited here – including the most famous ones like the Sunflowers and the Bedroom in Arles – and also a smaller gallery that talks more about his mental health issues, and his relationship with his supportive brother, Theo, as well as Paul Gaugin, the artist who was associated with the story behind why Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear. There were some cool interactive features, including an analysis of the technical bits on the conservation of the artwork.
Before you leave the museum, please please please, take a walk to the museum shop! If you’re not buying anything, at least take a look – because they have a lot of nicely designed merchandises, anything from books, bookmarks, posters, to jewellery, clothing, and many more. Even tea leaves! I ended up getting a few postcards and a book that tells the story of his life (which I have yet to get through). The book is visually rich because there are so many images, including van Gogh’s artwork, and from a graphic design point of view it is definitely aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Apart from that, the content itself is very nicely written and summarised as well.
Since I have always had a thing for museums – especially art museums – I obviously had to visit the Dutch national arts and history museum! Allow me to say this, if this is not too cliche, I was so fascinated and also stunned by Rembrandt’s Night Watch – the insane amount of detail, the use of light & shadows and colours in a painting – it was mental. I still cannot believe such a massive masterpiece was created by hand, with the limited technology centuries ago.
A LITTLE TIP: leave at least three hours for this huge museum! I only had less than two hours before the museum closes for the day, and I had to rush through a lot of the galleries, which is such a waste. Because this is the largest museum in the whole of the Netherlands, with over 8,000 objects on display, and more than one million in their collection. ALSO, one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Rijksmuseum was to see their library, yet I completely forgot about it until I saw a postcard of it at the shop, but the galleries were already closed…
In fact, I didn’t know this museum existed before I came across it while on my way to the Van Gogh Museum. Moco Museum (as I later found out, it actually stands for Modern Contemporary) hosts a collection of Banksy’s works. There was also a Salvador Dali collection at the time of my visit. The museum is actually just a small two-storey townhouse, so it’s an interesting sight to spot when you’re in the Museumplein, surrounded by major museums like Rijks and Van Gogh.
I was already so gutted about missing Banksy’s Dismaland project, so I thought I could not miss this chance to see his works at Moco Museum. Also since Banksy is a controversial artist – for example there have been questions like to what extent should his works be considered as art? Or how do you distinguish between art and vandalism – the fact that this museum is located in Museumplein, next to traditional artists like Van Gogh, Vermeer, Rembrandt and many more, it is a very interesting location to have a Banksy collection here. It might have been an extremely smart, witty, and deliberate decision as well. Salute to that.
Anne Frank House
Any first-timer to Amsterdam should not miss the Anne Frank House. And as both a first-timer to the city and a person who has been into WWII history for the longest time, I couldn’t not go to the Anne Frank House. It’s a place I’ve been wanting to visit ever since I learned about Anne Frank’s story and all the ghastly things about the Holocaust, which was at least when I went to Terezin concentration camp as a 9-year-old. In fact, visiting Anne Frank House is one of the main reasons of going to Amsterdam at the first place. After almost 1.5 hours of queueing and (maybe over 10 years of) anticipation, it was so surreal to finally enter the house. Being able to see all these things in your own eyes was such an incredible yet sad feeling. What I learned from this visit: count your blessing.
Markets & others
Albert Cuyp Market // Waterlooplein Market
I thought Albert Cuyp Market reminded me of Whitechapel Market and the bit of Brick Lane market near Shoreditch High Street station. It’s mostly local with a bit of touristy things, with vendors selling cheap daily household items, postcards, and food. It’s such a bummer that I went to the market after breakfast with a full tummy, so I couldn’t try the fresh stroopwafels, poffertjes and herring. What a shame…well at least I’ve learned my lesson – and here’s a tip for you too – always go to a food market with an empty stomach.
Waterlooplein Market is a flea market, which sells a wide range of things, such as clothes, and (I think) posters and second hand items including furniture and vinyl discs. If only I could take them back to London and (eventually) Hong Kong with me, I would have bought everything. But anyway it was nice to see these vintage stuff being put on the tables, perhaps if they had a life, they were probably anticipating to be handed over to a new owner. Or not.
I know I said that hitting tourist spots isn’t necessarily my top priority, but I could not miss Bloemenmarkt. I had high expectations for this flower market, because you know, the Dutch are very serious with their flowers and plants and whatnot, I was hoping to see a better version of London’s Columbia Road Flower Market, but it was nothing like what I expected. If you have a typical generic tourist mindset, this is an excellent market. Because the vendors sell all kinds of bulbs that visitors can easily buy and bring back to their home countries. So there wasn’t a lot of fresh flowers like in Columbia Road as I wanted, but instead they had those, along with some artificial flowers, and magnets that says ‘Amsterdam’ and all those typical souvenir. Personally I will skip this on my next visit to Amsterdam, but if you’re a first-timer, by all means. But frankly you still wouldn’t miss much if you decided to not go.
De 9 Straatjes
De 9 Straatjes literally means ‘the 9 streets’. And these nine streets together form a cluster full of (mostly) independent shops. I felt that this is a small and quiet area, yet all the little shops are all unique in their own way, which is also what makes De 9 Straatjes a neighbourhood full of character. Despite not being in the mood for shopping, I did go into a few of the shops just to look around. They were all very interesting and quirky, selling all sort of products, a lot of them being clothing. In this area are also vintage boutiques, high(er) end fashion labels, jewellery, homeware, and more. One of the shops that I went into reminded me of the homeware section of Urban Outfitters, where all of the products are really fun, yet you don’t really know what you’re going to do with them if you bought them home. In a good way though. I also went into a jewellery shop, and I liked their minimal and modern designs. I don’t know if it was just me, but there’s a certain hipster and chic vibe to this area. So TL;DR – if you’re after some unique, cool, and hipster shopping experience in Amsterdam, De 9 Straatjes is where you need to go.
For the most part of the trip, I feel like I spent a lot of my time just wandering around the city, walking between the many narrow streets, canals, just looking at my surroundings. Which, I think, was a great way to explore a city, and also the perfect opportunity to enjoy the warm weather and sunshine. I spent some time in the Jordaan area after visiting the nearby Anne Frank House, and indeed there were so many lovely and picturesque houses, and I took quite a few pictures of those. Just couldn’t get enough of the façades, they were basically identical to the image of Amsterdam I have pictured for the longest time. Through walking, I also discovered that there are SO MANY canals in the city!
Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam
aka the Botanical Gardens! I still don’t know why did I go, because I’m not a fan of nature and wildlife… But anyway if you’re into those things, you might want to come here. There’s a butterfly house, a few greenhouses, and plenty of plants and trees…that’s all of the nature vocabulary that I know…pretty much. I should also mention that I was feeling under the weather on that day, so I didn’t really enjoy it as much as I would have, and therefore my opinion might not do justice to what a great place the botanical garden actually is.
More thoughts on Amsterdam
I wasn’t going to go to the Red Light District at all, because I wasn’t really into something like that. But after talking to my dorm roommates after they went one night, I decided I would go on my last day. Because HEY, I’ve made my way here to the Netherlands, I might as well go. If not now, when? So I went on my last day, in the morning. I know, should have gone in the evening, but it was another experience. I didn’t go there at night so I wouldn’t know how it is when everything’s open (perhaps really lively and lit?), but walking next to the mostly empty windows in broad daylight was a weird feeling. Especially on this last day the weather was quite gloomy, it added an extra bleakness to the whole scenario. Maybe the next time I come back to Amsterdam I’ll visit the area at night to get that real experience.
Don’t tempt me already 🙁 Amsterdam is a city that I would definitely come back again. I watched a TV programme recently about 10 places in the city to grab food and drinks recommended by locals, and it made me want to try these spots immediately. Would also like to go to the coffee shops (wink wink), and perhaps a Red Light District tour in the evening. Also I actually missed the Stedelijk Museum (museum for modern and contemporary art) while at Museumplein, which I totally regret, and I HAVE to go the next time I’m in Amsterdam. And perhaps a picnic at Vondelpark would be nice too. On top of that, I would also want to travel to other Dutch cities – Haarlem, Rotterdam, Leiden, and The Hague.
Personally, I feel that there’s a certain charm about this city. A charm that makes me want to visit again and again, unlike other cities. The beautiful houses and canals, the many world-class museums, the carefree culture and lifestyle – these are all things that makes Amsterdam so attractive to me.
Here’s a map of the places I mentioned above, and also the locations where you can get GREAT food in Amsterdam!
Have you been to Amsterdam? Comment down below your favourites places in the city!
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Take care and see ya soon! <3