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Family Fun and Day-Tripping in Amsterdam

Moving into the colder months, be sure to carry an umbrella or rain coat when you visit Amsterdam. Don't let the rain stop you from renting a bicycle. It's still the best way to see Amsterdam.


A city on a uniquely human-scale, there's so much to see in Amsterdam, focusing day trips in a single area will help you enjoy the city at a leisurely pace.   

MUSEUMPLEIN AND DE PIJP

Amsterdam is home to dozens of great museums, not the least of which are the Amsterdam Historical Museum (Kalverstraat 92) , the inspiring Dutch Resistance Museum (Plantage Kerklaan 61), the Filmmuseum (Vondelpark 3), the Foam-Fotografiemuseum (Keizersgracht 609), the Royal Palace (Dam), and the remarkable Hermitage Amsterdam (Amstel 51). 

For a day trip, three of Amsterdam's best museums are conveniently within a block of one another in the Museum Plaza (Museumplein) just south of the city center.  


The Stedelijk Museum (Museumplein 10) houses an impressive collection of modern art. The national art museum. The Rijksmuseum (Jan Luijkenstraat 1) has a collection unique in the world of Old Masters.

The Rijks, as locals call the museum, contains only works created by artists from the Netherlands or works curated by citizens who lived overseas. Which is why you must visit the galleries containing art collected during the period when the Netherlands occupied colonies in Asia.

And, don't overlook the decorative arts collection, especially Room 3 with the amazingly detailed dolls' houses of Petronella Oortman.


Half a block away, the Van Gogh Museum (Paulus Potterstraat 7) awaits you.  The collection is the most comprehensive in the world, as you would expect, given that this is Van Gogh's home.  What is unexpected is the building itself. Light, airy, and spacious, a walk through the exhibit space is invigorating. The museum is one of Amsterdam's most popular.


Having spent several hours in the museums, you're probably hungry.  In the spacious park behind the museums you can have a snack or relaxing lunch at the small stands, like the Kiosk Rembrandt Van Gogh, that serve sandwiches, salads, coffee, and dessert. 

Or, stretch your legs and walk a couple of blocks to the popular Heineken Experience (Stadhouderskade 78) and take a tour of the old brewery.  Because of the crowds, it is recommended to make an on line reservation. The price of admission includes two glasses of beer.  

For dessert, De Taart Van M'n Tante (Ferdinand Bolstraat 10) is around the corner.  The cozy tea shop is famous for its elaborately decorated cakes.  


The always crowded Albert Cuypmarkt in de Pijp (the Pipe) is also nearby.  Part country fair, flea market, farmers' market, and food bazaar, the market stretches for blocks with stalls selling an amazing variety of goods, including freshly squeezed fruit juices, farm fresh produce, meat, poultry, cut flowers, ready to eat food--including freshly made stroopwafels (crispy waffles with a caramelized sugar filling) and frites served the Dutch way with mayonnaise--clothing, fabric, sundries, cell phone accessories, thread and buttons, household goods, furniture, and jewelry.  


After you've checked out all the bargains, you might need some peace and quiet.  Walk over to Vondelpark with its expansive meadows and network of ponds. You can picnic with the food you bought at the Albert Cuypmarkt or stop at one of the two outdoor cafes to have a coffee, beer, or sandwich.

THE JORDAAN

Another full day can be focused around the Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht 267) in the Jordaan.  Bordered by the Prinsengracht and Lijnbaansgracht canals on the western side of the city, the small streets of the Jordaan, originally a working class area, now a favorite home of young professionals and artists, has a unique charm.  

A visit to the Saturday Northern Market (Noordermarkt) is an absolute must.  The market on the northern side of the Northern Church (Noorderkerk) stretches for several blocks and resembles an outdoor supermarket as much as anything else.  Long refrigerated cases are filled with a great variety of meats, cheeses and poultry.  But it is the market on the southern side of the church that you want.

The organic or biologic, open air market on the south side fills the area in front of the church much in the way markets have done in Europe since the Middle Ages.  If the weather is sunny and warm, you're likely to encounter young musicians playing in the courtyard.

For a picnic, you can buy a loaf of just-baked bread, a kilo of ham, and a piece of delicious Dutch gouda.  Or if shellfish is your passion, freshly shucked oysters plucked that morning from the Wadden Sea are offered for sale at a modest price.  


Dozens of vendors sell fresh produce, cheese, baked goods, meat, poultry, and seafood alongside others who offer antiques, jewelry, handmade articles, clothing, paintings, drawings, and used cds and vinyl records.

There are treasures to be found at the market.  Not the least of which are the hand-fashioned wool animals made by Josche Mooyman (Beeldend Kunstenaar, Klassiek Portret, Maskers en Dierfiguren, 020/671 21 47) who sits quietly on a stool, making her wonderfully empathetic miniature animals that sell for as little as 1 Euro each.    

The Jordaan is home to many cafes.  If you want to eat authentic Dutch pancakes, which are more like French crepes than the American version, the Pancake Bakery (Prinsengracht 191) is several blocks north of the Anne Frank House.  Dutch pancakes can be savory or sweet, the choice is yours.  You can feast on pancakes, giant omelets or poffertjes, another local treat, soft little pillows of sweet dough, flavored with butter and powdered sugar.


Cafe Winkel (Noordermarkt 43), across the street from the Northern Church (Noorderkerk), is a favorite of locals who flock to the intimate cafe for slices of apple cake with raisins, topped with a generous portion of whipped cream. The bar menu offers soups, omelets and sandwiches, including one with a "filet Americain," a finely ground beef patty with herbs, kind of a fancy hamburger.


Because this is Holland, there is a Tulip Museum (Prinsengracht 112).  Not one of Amsterdam's major museums but a delightful one, none the less.  Fortunes were made and lost in the 17th century tulip trade and the Dutch passion for tulips spawned an important, modern industry.

Although the floating Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt) is not in the Jordaan, if you love tulips, you owe it to yourself to follow the Singel canal south to Koningsplein, where you will find stall after stall of vendors selling an amazing variety of tulip bulbs.

The centerpiece of a day excursion in the Jordaan is, of course, the Anne Frank House. There is usually a line to enter the museum, so bring something to read and an umbrella because there is always a chance of rain, even in summer.


Visitors take a self-guided tour through the beautifully preserved house.  Moving together in small groups, sharing the small spaces, ducking under the low threshold of the hidden doorway, and climbing the impossibly steep staircases, it is easy to feel the claustrophobia that the Frank and Van Pels families experienced.


Walking through the house is an emotional experience shared with Anne Frank herself. Her words are etched into the walls and her diary, with its delicate, precise handwriting, is displayed for all to see.

In an attic section of the annex, portions of a 1967 interview with Otto Frank are projected on the wall.  He talks about reading Anne's diary for the first time after the war and being surprised by her deep thoughts and self-criticism.  The Anne he read in the diary was "quite a different Anne than the one I knew."  From that fact he comes to a realization felt by most parents who have lived far more ordinary lives, "My conclusion is that parents don't know really their children."


The second floor museum cafe has a simple menu of sandwiches, pastries, and beverages.  What is remarkable about the cafe is not the food but the view.  

In one of the quotes from her diary, Anne talks about how she longs to ride her bicycle and walk the streets of Amsterdam without fear.  The cafe's wrap-around glass wall looks out onto Prinsengracht and the pretty houseboats below, exactly the view that was blocked from Anne's view by the blackout curtains that covered their windows.  We can enjoy the view that she was denied.

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