A weekend in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is often pinpointed on the map for all the wrong reasons. Yes, we all know that a certain something is legal over there and that the red light district is both a novelty for some and a disturbing feature all at the same time – but those factors aside, the city has so much more to give and far more to be renowned for. It’s been on my bucket list for a long while and so with a weekend free, we made the surprisingly short flight over to the Netherlands to explore. If you’ve just started reading, you may want to grab a cup of tea, sit back (take a deep breath) and prepare yourself for a little insight into our weekend away.

We were to be staying at the beautiful Mercure Arthur Frommer, a hotel belonging to the Accor collection, of whom I have stayed with many times before and so trust that they have a high quality, yet affordable standard. Although a shuttle did run from the airport, we decided to be real ‘adventurers’ and opt to take the train to Central Station and then a tram to the right precinct, where a short walk (although easily in the wrong direction) awaited before we reached the hotel.

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Upon arrival, slightly worn out from lugging suitcases around and crossing roads and tram lines, split seconds away from being mown down by an overzealous bicycle rider, we were absolutely delighted to be handed the keys to a stunning junior suite – with huge windows and an equally humongous bed. Tucked away down a little side street, the hotel is quiet enough to relax and take yourself away from the mounds of tourists swarming the city, but close enough that all the main attractions are within walking distance.

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Presented with a very clear map of the area (something many cities are lacking these days), we sat down – with a glass of prosecco in hand – to plan out the following day. With just a short weekend to explore what is a very large city, we had to meticulously decide where to go, what to see and how long we had in each place – which is difficult when there are so many museums and places of interest on offer. The Van Gogh Museum is a firm favourite for obvious reasons, however we decided to bypass this in favour of a few others – since I figured paintings – although magnificent in real life – could be seen in books and on the internet, whilst the three attractions we opted for were best seen up close.

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So, after a hearty breakfast spread by the hotel, we made our way through the streets of Amsterdam at around 8.30am, determined to beat the queues and buy ourselves some time. First on the agenda was the Body Worlds museum, which you may have read about on my blog last year on my Vienna post (see here). Controversially, it is the worlds only museum which uses real body donors to display and explore how our bodies work, survive and thrive in the world today.

Each with a different subject focus, the exhibitions are the work of Gunther von Hagen, who invented the ‘plastination’ process two decades ago, which allowed him to essentially ‘freeze’ real human bodies, stop them ageing or decaying any further – and showcase them in an educational (and some may say – slightly morbid) manner. Although the exhibition travels around the world regularly – the display in Amsterdam is a fixed museum, centred on how our bodies are focused on obtaining a state of happiness.

It explained – in great depth, but similarly in a way in which everyone (technical or not) can understand – how happiness will always be a state of mind we strive for. It could never be a continuous state (no matter how idealistic we are) since this would mean it would simply merge into one dull emotion and essentially – the novelty would wear off. Happiness is a electrical signal in our brains and it makes us feel good – but materialistic things, success and money will never give us a continuous state of happiness. It may help in aiding this but the things that make us happy and we can use to make us happy are all around us – and we have to enhance, grasp and seize the moments.

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Being happy is healthy and apparently – success is driven by how happy we are, not the other way around. It’s all getting a little deep for a travel post (sorry to waffle on) however the exhibition was so interesting, regardless of how you feel about science or biology and I would encourage anyone to visit. With an entry fee of 18 euros each, you’d be better off purchasing an online ticket before you go to save money – but if you (like us) only discover it’s there whilst you’re in the city, I would highlight this over any others. Unfortunately no photographs were allowed to be taken, however I don’t think photos do what’s inside any justice. If my biology teacher had taken me here during my school years, I probably would have been far more intrigued and engaged in what the subject had to offer. It does make you feel very mortal, but educated nonetheless.

With plenty to think about, we left the exhibition and headed further into the city for our next stop – the Anne Frank museum. As a young girl, I was given a copy of Anne Frank’s diary by a relative and told many stories about how she, as a young girl just like me, was forced to go into hiding during the second world war, after Jewish residents of her city (and many other surrounding areas) were subject to hideous things – segregation, their families being torn apart and of course, absolutely disgusting concentration and labour camps. Hidden in a secret annex above her father’s old workshop, she, her family and others were shrouded from the world, forced to live in darkness and fear for two years. All whilst the aspiring journalist and novelist wrote about her daily life in her diary – with each entry beginning – Dear Kitty.

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This particular annex was actually based in Amsterdam, and following the family being found out (who spilled the secret has still never been discovered) it has now been transformed into an extraordinary museum, documenting Anne’s life there – with amazing videos from her father, Otto Frank and many of her friends. I won’t give too much away, as how the place feels cannot really be replicated – nor comprehended however if you’re visiting the city, it is certainly worth a visit.

The queues are absolutely ridiculous (especially if your visit, like ours – involves torrential rain), stretching around several corners – so if you are interested in visiting, I would definitely recommend purchasing your ticket online beforehand. We inquired about this before visiting and as a result, were shown to a side entrance – completely bypassing the queues, and let straight in. Although absolutely amazing, the time spent in the museum and the house itself is in my opinion not worth spending two-three hours in the pouring rain. With a whole city to explore, you don’t want to waste that kind of time.

As we left the museum, the rain was even more persistent than when we had entered, so having (stupidly) not prepared for the bad weather, we made a swift visit to a souvenir shop and purchased something rain proof. As a result, I spent the remainder of the day in a very on trend plastic bag esque see-through poncho. The highlight of my holiday wardrobe so far – yet very handy. I can’t complain. Although I did. Profusely.

Kitted out in my new ‘robes’, we decided to stop for lunch at Sara’s Pancakes, a (funnily enough) pancake house located just short walk from the main museum quarter. Busy, understaffed and very overpriced, it wasn’t the best experience we’d ever have – but they do live up to their namesake and make amazing pancakes. I opted for the chocolate sprinkles, whipped cream and ice cream masterpiece whilst Sion chose a chocolate sauce creation which he devoured in minutes. Famed for its pastries, a taste of Amsterdam certainly lives in its pancakes, so if you’re visiting – they are worth a try.

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Next stop (although with a tram line failure, it meant a long walk for Sion and I) was the Amsterdam zoo, the largest and oldest in all of the Netherlands. At 20 euros per ticket, it’s not the cheapest of attractions but by far – the best. The previous exhibitions (as described above) were inspiring, interesting and thought provoking if not slightly deflating, so we needed something a little more light hearted, fun and equally as interesting. What’s more fun than a zoo?

Although a little disappointed at having parted with the remainders of our travel money, as soon as we stepped through the gates, we knew what we’d spent would not be wasted. Gorillas, elephants, lions, penguins, sharks and giraffes were just some of the animals living in the zoo, and best of all – the enclosures were completely open (with the public protected only by a small brick wall and a moat around the outside – yes really) so there was a real sense that you were seeing the animals, rather than staring at them through a pane of glass. It was amazing really, especially with the lions, that health and safety regulations allowed the public to be so close and open with such amazing animals, but it made for some fantastic photographs.

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I have had the pleasure of visiting my fair share of zoos, especially from a young age, since my granddad was a breeder and rescuer of wild cats, protecting the rarer species of snow leopards and clouded leopards from becoming extinct. He had nearly twenty leopards residing in his garden, in huge specially built enclosures, taking up almost half of his several acres of land. I have very fond memories of watching him with the leopards, interacting with them as though they weren’t the dangerous creatures we all know them to be (and he also knew them to be) but people like you and I. Not content with his animal paradise, we were always visiting local zoos and those further afield, in addition to a few of his (rather crazy) friends who bred crocodiles, wolves and other animals you wouldn’t really advise to be living within close proximity of your bedroom. So when I say that Amsterdam’s version was a great zoo, I certainly mean it.

After almost ten hours straight of walking, we were exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel, and had just half an hour before our dinner reservation at the Bluespoon restaurant, in the Andaz hotel. With a very friendly, quiet yet formal atmosphere, we took pleasure in dressing up for the occasion, the perfect excuse to wear my new Ted Baker playsuit.

The Bluespoon has a unique menu, tied to no specific cuisine but with all items sourced locally, cooked fresh and served with a smile. Our waiter was so accommodating and friendly, taking the time out of his shift and making an effort to talk to us about our trip, what we’d seen and what we thought of the restaurant. Normally, this kind of thing feels forced to me, and I spend the next five minutes awkwardly answering questions and making small talk – but we both agreed that the service had made the meal extra special, in addition to the gorgeous food.

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I opted for a chilled tomato soup to start, a carrot and courgette risotto for my main, with polenta mash, grilled broccoli and roasted potatoes, and (yes, I ate loads – but my excuse was all the walking) chocolate mousse with salted caramel sauce, brownie pieces and cream. Mmm. Sion chose the beef carpaccio, steak and mash and white chocolate, raspberry and mascapone tart for dessert. We left feeling satisfied and full, but without that awful clutching of stomach and groaning sickly full feeling you get when the portions have been a little oversized and the taste a little too overpowering.

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Our meal marked the end of our short but sweet trip to Amsterdam, somewhere I would undoubtably recommend to anyone wanting a city break to remember, with plenty to see, do and eat. If you’re looking for a beautiful hotel, the Mercure Arthur Frommer would definitely be a great place to start. It’s not ridiculously priced, but the rooms are spectacularly decorated and the staff are extremely accommodating, helpful and approachable. WiFi is free throughout the hotel for the duration of your stay, which is a welcome change – and we were given a minibar packed with drinks included within our stay. Usually lovely hotels always have added extras you only find out you have to pay for last minute, but here – everything was transparent, affordable and included. You didn’t feel as though you were being ripped off or taken for granted because you were a tourist.

If you have any questions at all, or are planning a trip to Amsterdam and have any recommendations to make, please feel free to leave a comment below. I love hearing what you think and it makes writing travel reviews all worthwhile to see that you’ve enjoyed reading! I hope to hear from you soon.

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Our hotel stay was provided by the Mercure Arthur Frommer, however in no way affected my view or opinions. I always give honest reviews, regardless of whether it was provided for free and if something was out of place, could have been improved upon or wasn’t to standard, it will always be stated in the review. I aim to provide helpful tips, reviews and city guides – and providing a false review would be detrimental to this.