Monday, January 04, 2016

20151017 Amsterdam with the somber Anne Frank House and delicious kopi

It has been more than 2 months since I returned from my trip. I've been telling my friends that I will be blogging about it. One friend has already booked her flight. If I procrastinate any longer, she will no longer friend me. *sad*

I hope I will complete this series of posts which is about my trip to Amsterdam, Brussels and Iceland before the next friend books their flight to any of these and unfriend me. Then I will be friendless. *sad*

Technically, the trip started on 16 Oct but since most of that was spent in an aeroplane, I think we can skip it and move straight to the more exciting bit. After a 13-hour flight, we landed at Schiphol Airport. Prior to the trip, I was contemplating whether I should buy a SIM card. You know, being unplugged and all those hipster stuff. Then, I chanced upon a tip about travelling which goes something along the lines of "why get lost when you can get connected?". It was a sign. 

You can buy your SIM card at the airport and it costs around 30euros. It's really easy to talk to people at Amsterdam because most of them are really friendly. Sure, the customs guy did ask me a lot of questions (the standard, how long are you staying, where are you staying, purpose of visit etc) but they were just doing their job (I think). 

We bought our train tickets to Amsterdam Centraal and waited for the train. We had a 20kg luggage each and a backpack. Please, please, please if there is one thing you take away from this series of posts, it will be to travel with a backpack. A cross-body means you will have one aching shoulder. A tote means you will be fumbling with it when you have to take care of your luggage. A handcarry means you will have one aching arm. You get the drift. A backpack also means that you can do this:
neh neh neh neh
Pose for a picture with flailing arms and McHammer pants

Anyway, being the blur birds we are, we sat by our luggage, wondering aloud when everyone was alighting at a particular station. A nice lady then came up to us and asked why we weren't jumping off as it was the last station, Amsterdam Centraal. Surely, it hasn't been 3 stops yet? Till today, I am still not sure how we both missed counting one station.

Behold, Amsterdam Centraal:
i'm a big clock, tickory dock
I bring rain on my travels. Be warned. 

We booked our accommodation via airbnb. Unless you have been living under a rock, you would have heard of this wonderful sharing economy that is totally rad. I mean, you'll get bragging rights to travelling in a more "authentic" manner because you are essentially staying where locals stay. We chose our accommodation based on its proximity to Amsterdam Centraal as we knew we would be travelling out of Amsterdam a fair bit. We weren't disappointed with Green Alley, which was a 3-5 minutes' walk from the station.

Ok, for the uninitiated, airbnb is a platform where you can book a room, a bed, an apartment, a condo, a villa, a castle, a treehouse or even an igloo. You select the destination, enter the dates and choose away! You can contact the host to ask questions and settle arrival/departure details. I usually make my selection based on location, filtered by accommodation type and ratings and  finally decide whether I can bear to part with the moolah required.

Sadly, the previous tenant was still at the apartment and we had to be homeless kids for an hour or two. We dropped off our luggage and went wandering for kopi. I NEED MY KOPI! We walked up and down the streets,with me wrinkling my nose at the smell of weed and Peiying asking "where got?". Got, I tell you, got at every corner even though it was before noon.

After narrowing down the finalists, we went with Screaming Beans (Haarlemmerstraat 68) and we were officially on a trip.
la kopi, la la la
Because the kopi damn zai ok!

Before the kopi, we were like x_x. After the kopi, we went like @_@ and can notice interesting things like this:
bicycle bicycle bicycle
All bicycles will be removed. Nope.

And this:
Funny windows. Ha ha.

After a bit more loitering drifting on the streets, we finally gained entry to our apartment for the next 3 nights.

ang ah ang
View from the studio

After a quick shower, we headed out again. This time to haolian. Why? Thanks to a tip from JT, we booked our tickets to Anne Frank House online. Why haolian? Because this was the queue:
actually, queuing anytime is not fun
After a long flight, this is not something you'll want to tackle

We just sashayed in, showed our tickets and waited for the introduction to start. The Diary of Anne Frank must be one of the most famous diaries around. I read it when I was 15 a.k.a a long time ago. I think you should read it before visiting her house because you will get a richer experience. If you're not much of a bookworm, don't worry. The introduction will give you the background you need to begin to appreciate how lucky we are to live in (relatively) war-free times. I felt the optimism of a young girl, her hopes and dreams for her young life, her strength and despair during the war. Anne Frank House is no Disney. It is a solemn affair as we walked through the house, wondering how so many people can cramp into the tiny space, realising with horror how it must have been like to live like a mouse behind black-out shades. You will see the magazine cut-outs she pasted on her walls and the hopelessness of her situation can be overwhelming.

We heard from our host that the queue is around 1.5 hour during winter and can be as long as 3 hours during summer. Yes, please buy your tickets online and a lead time of 1 month is recommended.

Since we were in the city of canals, I have to include this for you:
I bring gloomy weather too

We met up with my uncle for dinner and he brought us to Volendam, a small fishing town. When in a fishing town, what can you eat? Go on, take a guess.

eat fish can swim you know?
Seafood! Did you guess correctly? Duh.

So that concluded our first day in Europe. The weather was around 12 degree C which was a good starting temperature to prepare us for the big boy - Iceland.

In summary, Day 1 tips are:
  1. Use airbnb to find more reasonably-priced  and interesting accommodation, unless you cannot do without room service.
  2. Use a backpack. Keep your hands free to grab your luggage, take pictures, navigate labyrinth-like streets. 
  3. Buy your SIM card. Less stressful when wandering around.
  4. If you're visiting Anne Frank house (Prinsengracht 263-267), buy the tickets online a month in advance. 
  5. Kopi drinker? Go to Screaming Beans (Haarlemmerstraat 68)

Day 2 was the worst day of the trip. Stay tuned for the horrors. 

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