I decided to make the most of my vacation time during the holiday season, and I headed for that beautiful canal city of northwestern Europe: Amsterdam, in The Netherlands.
I wandered through the Jewish Quarter (specifically through the Waterlooplein Flea Market) and stopped briefly at the Portuguese Synagogue and Jewish Historical Museum. I took a guided tour of Gassan Diamonds, which was fascinating. The guide even showed me various diamonds while I sipped on tea. I would recommend this tour to anyone that likes jewelry. On my way out of the area, I visited the Rembrandt House Museum; it was fascinating to learn about the life of Rembrandt.
I took a self-guided city orientation walking tour to visit many of the main sites of Amsterdam. Some quick stops were Magna Plaza and Nieuwekerk (or New Church). I spent some time enjoying the hustle and bustle of Dam Square where the Royal Palace is located. From the square, I meandered down the two main shopping streets, Kalverstraat and Leidsestraat. Here, I tried a famous and delicious Dutch snack: stroopwafel! My final stop of the day was the Amsterdam Tulip Museum. This museum was tiny but educational; I learned all about the production of tulips in the Netherlands.
The Anne Frank House is a must-see site in Amsterdam. Tickets go on sale two months in advance and just a small portion of same-day tickets are available online. The museum is wonderfully put together and walking through the house where the Frank family hid for two years was emotional. Many of the original belongings are on display, and the stories of everyone in hiding in the house are explained. The museum shop sells Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl in many languages for those who have not read it yet.
One of my favorite meals of the trip was to a dark restaurant called Ctaste. Diners eat in complete darkness and the wait staff are all blind or visually impaired. You tell your server of any food allergies and your meal is served as a surprise. It was so much fun teaching myself to use cutlery and pour water without sight. Trying to figure out what I was eating was amusing and it was interesting to see what I was wrong about when I got the menu after my meal. I would enjoy experiencing another dark restaurant in a different city.
I took a bike tour through the city, which was definitely the best way to see Amsterdam. Bikes are everywhere throughout Amsterdam, so it was nice to experience the city how locals do. I took the tour on a Sunday morning which I recommend because most people were not out and about, so the streets were fairly empty and easier to navigate. The tour took us to some main sites but focused on lesser-known courtyards, churches, and neighborhoods. We cruised through parks and crossed many canals.
I ended my trip by spending New Year’s Eve in the city center at DoubleTree by Hilton Amsterdam Centraal Station. I signed up in advance to have dinner at the hotel restaurant and go to their Fifty Shades of Silver party at Level1. The buffet was delicious, and the party was very fun. Close to midnight, the waitress passed out oliebollen, a famous treat for New Year’s Eve in the Netherlands. The hotel offered great views of the fireworks throughout the city. There were thousands of people out celebrating and it was slight chaos. Nevertheless, it was a great experience and definitely a fun way to end an amazing trip!