Amsterdam: pancakes, bicycles, and everything in between

Ok, so if you’re reading these blogs in order then you will know that I am currently travelling as part of a mini-fellowship, which is funding me to visit a number of different research institutes and attend conferences as part of my postdoc research work.
First stop on the trip was to visit the CDC and then it was on to Amsterdam to prep for – and attend – the ECCMID 2019 conference.

Obviously, travelling for work means the main focus of the travel is around the conferences you’re attending, preparing talks and/or posters to present, networking, and also trying to stay on top of regular work from back home. That said, there are still often weekends and evenings during which you have time to do a bit of sightseeing, as well as going out to restaurants for lunch and dinner and so on.

I was in Amsterdam for about two weeks, which gave me a few days before the conference to do all the conference preparation I needed to do, as well as follow up on some other work after a busy week at the CDC. Then the conference, and then a couple of days of work and weekend.

Highlights of Amsterdam would have to include (in a quick summary off the top of my head, before I get into my usual rambling recounts, for some I have more info below in their own little sections, highlighted with an asterisk, for others like food and tulips I think I will do a separate post):

– Vintage shopping*
– Eating pancakes (lots of them, they became a bit of a staple food) and other tasty things
– A canal cruise
– The Anne Frank Museum/House*
– The Moco Museum*
– Wandering and exploring the city in general
– Keukenhof and tulips

Ok, so first things first: my arrival to Amsterdam.

I landed at Schiphol airport after an eight hour flight from Philadelphia – not a long flight by Australian standards but I’d had an super busy week, with a couple of nights of only 5 hours sleep at best. The flight to Schiphol was also not great, and was overnight, so ended up with another night of maybe only 4 hours sleep.

Sleep deprivation is something that you kind of have to be prepared to accept if you travel, particularly if you are flying overnight or if you are and generally I deal pretty well. What I wasn’t expecting though was how long I would be stuck at Schiphol. I have since read some reviews and stories on Schiphol and apparently this is not out of the ordinary, so be warned! I would also recommend taking snacks and making sure you have water on hand (though not too much because you can’t duck out of the line to run to the bathroom!).

Fair warning though, the next little section is a bit of a rant, so if you want to read it, feel free, if not then skip to the section not in italics enjoy some of the tidbits and tales and pretty pictures to follow.

I landed at Schiphol and pretty quickly got off the plane, to walk towards border/passport control and baggage collection. Those were at the base of a set of stairs/escalator and the line I had to join extended way down the hallway before even reaching the top of the stairs. There was a faster line for EU passports, so count yourself lucky, but I was in line for passport control for 2.5 hours. No exaggeration. There is a sign hanging over the line (once you make it downstairs) telling people how long to expect to be in the line from a particular point – when I passed that point it said 30-35 minutes. It was just over an hour for me.

I am genuinely surprised more young kids didn’t flip out/give up and start crying, I was almost at that point myself! In fact, it took so long to get through the line that by the time I got to the other side and out to baggage collection, there was no longer a baggage conveyor belt assigned to our flight, no indication on any signs, and no one around to ask. I ended up wandering aimlessly around the baggage belts, and eventually found my bag, torn in three places and way dirtier than it had been, lying on the ground next to a conveyor belt.

So, welcome to Amsterdam Claire! …

Luckily, things improved rapidly after this. The taxi driver was lovely and the lady who was my airbnb contact had sent very clear instructions as well as offers of help and recommendations.

The only other challenging thing that day was the fact that I’d forgotten my airbnb was at the top of four flights of narrow stairs. If you are staying in an airbnb or local place, keep in mind that many of the more traditional houses don’t have elevators. I don’t mind stairs, but after the flight and standing for so long at the airport, it was a pretty decent effort to carry a 20kg suitcase (plus backpack and handbag) upstairs.

RANT OVER!

I had a lovely little room to stay in with a skylight over the bed, which did wonders for helping reset my body clock and any jet-lag I had. Legitimately. Natural light is always a good way to make sure you don’t oversleep too much from jet-lag.

Over the next week or two of “working from home” around the conference, I got a chance to do a little exploring, including popping out to places for lunch and dinner, and also on the weekends.

I had pancakes quite a few times during my visit to Amsterdam, more-so on the days I had a chance to do a little sightseeing, but also tried a few other places with foods that were not pancakes.

 

There seemed to be a lot of Japanese restaurants around – maybe because of the long trading history of Japan and the Netherlands when Japan closed its borders, I don’t know – but I tried a really great little place called Betsu Bara and would highly recommend their spicy tantan ramen Being perfectly honest I love ramen and Japanese food and went twice in one week.

Another place (alright this was pancakes too, though it also offers other delicious brunch options) was the Corner Bakery – a good place for lovers of patterns and pastel colours!

 

I won’t say too much about food in this post as I tried quite a few food places and might write a proper, separate post dedicated to those.

One one of the days after the conference the weather was super nice and I had a couple of friends from Australia (sticking around after the conference, too) with me so we did some typical touristy stuff. Other than exploring the city generally, we also went on a canal cruise; a great way to quickly and efficiently see a fair bit of the city.

 

In general Amsterdam was a city filled with quiet canals, pretty parks, beautiful old buildings, and friendly people, though if you’re not used to dodging bicycles, keep your eyes open! I’m actually pretty glad I went to America first because it gave me a chance to get used to traffic coming from the opposite side to in Australia. If I hadn’t I am pretty sure I would have been pretty quickly taken out by a silent and swift cycle in Amsterdam. Luckily there weren’t any collisions and walking around the city was one of my favourite things to do.

If you like old buildings and gorgeous architecture then Amsterdam won’t disappoint. Especially along the canals. Plus there are some gorgeous parks and because I was there in spring there were even some ducklings and goslings waddling around.

Ok, so below are some more detailed sections about a select few places so read on for those! Otherwise in summary, Amsterdam was beautiful and I would be keen to return. And I will definitely get around to bombarding the next post with tulips sometime soon!

The Moco Museum

A brief section on this – it’s a cool little museum with works by Banksy and some other more contemporary artists like Yayoi Kusama. As with many museums you can buy tickets online in advance. I bought mine online minutes before I got to the museum, which meant I got to walk straight up and in and skipped past the line of people waiting to buy tickets at the entrance.

Vintage shopping in Amsterdam

I spent a few days working from “home” (my little airbnb studio), going out to wander in my lunch breaks or to stretch my legs and get a coffee. A few days in, when I’d pulled a couple of very late nights preparing some stuff for a conference submission deadline, I decided to have an afternoon off.

Now, if you know me you will know I quite like vintage clothes, but I usually end up in vintage inspired clothes, rather than true vintage. Partly because I’m genuinely a bit obsessed with the Princess Highway brand, partly I’m pretty bad at finding good stuff in vintage stores, and partly perhaps because the choice in Australia is more limited than in somewhere like Europe.

So, I booked a little personalised tour through airbnb that I had seen advertised (https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/226994). Olga, who ran it, has a lot of knowledge and expertise, both about the area and good stores to visit but also around vintage fashion. She also contacted me in advance to check what eras and styles I liked, and to focus the tour stops on that.

I had a lovely afternoon with her, visiting three different stores and ended up buying a gorgeous green skirt, a little brooch, and a pair of shoes that fit as if they were made for me, which had been waiting for years in the store as no one had small enough feet (mine are tiny, as in I can fit kids shoes if need be).

Olga was super helpful, finding colours and styles based on what I’d said I like but also what she saw me glancing at, and what she thought might suit. I actually found some new styles that I never look at for myself but now really like! Also, although I bought a few things, there was no pressure to buy anything. I’d recommend this if you have a few spare hours one afternoon in Amsterdam and looking to do something a bit different.

Anne Frank

I had been really hoping to visit the Anne Frank house/museum, but so are many other people visiting Amsterdam. Some things you should know (and which is said on the website) are that 80% tickets for the day go on sale two months ahead of time at midday, Amsterdam time. 20% of the tickets go on sale on the day itself at 9am Amsterdam time.

Now, I hadn’t organised mine in advance so was after the tickets that go on sale on the day. The first day I tried was a failure.

I got up early and ready to go and logged on around 8am, and was put into a queue. The website says if there are more than 200 in the queue in front of you, then don’t bother waiting, as there are only 200 tickets (that’s the 20% raw number) and obviously some people in the queue will likely buy multiple tickets. The queue slowly counted down and then I got redirected to the page, still before 9am at approximately 8.30am, and found only the standard message saying tickets for that day were sold out but would come online at 9am. So I reloaded the page and ended up in the queue again with 1400 people in front of me at which point I gave up for the day.

The second day I had more success. I set alarms for 5am, 6am and 7am. Each time I ended up in a queue that had only a few people in front and quickly ended up at the page saying there were no tickets available and please long on at 9am. So, at 7.30 I opened up a few different browsers and had the page in each, with each at a different point in the queue. Slowly but surely I made my way to the front of the queue until it was almost 9am and most of my queues had reached the front with only one still going. Even that reached the front just before 9am.

At this point I had a mixture of desperation and also a weird hunch. Although the site implied that the queue was to buy a ticket, the tickets were not yet released. I wondered if the queue was actually to get to the ticket page. So, as 9am ticked over I started clicking repeatedly on the date I wanted the tickets for (today). The page refreshed several times with no luck and then suddenly it refreshed and there were options to buy tickets!

So, if you are looking to get Anne Frank tickets be aware of this when queuing online!

The museum is definitely worth going, so was worth the stress of trying to get tickets. Make sure to get there for your assigned time, and ideally near the start of the queue for that time, as the house gets progressively crowded as people move through taking their time to read everything.

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