Travel in the Netherlands: Amsterdam and Keukenhof

Over the past two days I visited Amsterdam and Lisse in the Netherlands. When I thought of visiting the Netherlands, I had this vision of riding a bicycle through a colorful field of tulips, with windmills in the backdrop. 🌷🌷 Luckily my trip here did not disappoint! ❤

27843170328_dfd3792350_bNow I’ll start with my experience in Amsterdam. Amsterdam is the capital of Netherlands. The locals here speak Dutch, which reminded me of the movie, Austin Powers. 😂39904779460_280932736c_cBefore I came here, I knew Amsterdam was famous for two things: pot and prostitution.

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The Red Light District in Amsterdam. It makes me think of the song, Roxanne. “Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light…”

Here, pot is sold at coffee shops, where you purchase joints and marijuana brownies. 🌿 As a pro, you know exactly the quality of drug that you’re getting…and sometimes you can even buy coffee there too! Hah! 😂 ☕

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Here is a menu I found at a coffee shop in Amsterdam. You can choose the product you want based on the effect. The drugs are even certified. I also saw plenty of cannabis treats on for sale, like chocolate and lollipops.

The city also has an infamous Red Light District, which is a business area for a regulated form of prostitution. It may sound like a terrible idea, but at least it reduces the black market for the sex trade. Here, the women earn a decent wage, and can at least call for help if they are in danger by blinking their red light. They also have to be medically checked, which makes it more safe for the men engaging in these activities.

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I walked through the district at night, but obviously taking photos is not allowed and slightly strange. Here is one of the red lights outside their door.

Anyway, I had many eye opening experiences during my time in Amsterdam. It helped me understand the Dutch mentality as well. Here’s how my journey all began. 🙂

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crazy Dutchman at Keukenhof 😂

I first took Flixbus from Brussels to Amsterdam. The journey took about 3 hours, and I arrived mid-afternoon at Sloterdijk Station. From there, I took a tram to the Amstel Station near the center, which took an additional 20 minutes. 🚌
41683010361_8414829a80_cCost: 11 Euros for the bus journey and 3 Euros for the tram (only credit cards accepted)
It was there I met my next Couchsurfing host. He was nice enough to pick me up in his car to make sure that I didn’t get lost looking for his place. My host this time was a middle-aged Brit who worked the bulk of his career training staff at Disneyland Paris, then later as a recruiter for MBA candidates at Laureate Education. Now, he was unemployed, but had a variety of interesting hobbies. He reads tarot cards and communicates with the dead. 🤔He’s also into essential oils, and tried to offer up some things like frankincense and pure peppermint to deal with my acne and cramping. He was even in the process of sculpting a bonsai tree when I arrived, and was trying to research the care that goes into shaping the branches. He also had a cancer scare a few years back, so he switched to vegetarianism and occasional detox juicing.🥕🍅 He was a very complex character to say the least. 🤣 He also lived in a renovated attic up a steep, winding staircase.39884602610_45c6f88957_cHe gave me my own key and my own bedroom. He offered city maps, a clean towel, and even this ancient flip phone for contacting him in case of emergencies. Hah!😂 Too sweet!

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my bedroom and the kitchen, plus a picture of his bonsai tree

He also offered free breakfast and dinner each day. Anyway, after chatting with him for a few hours about his various hobbies while having a fish sandwich and watching a bit of BBC, I left to meet up with an old friend in the infamous Red Light District.41643617732_77908e0ab7_cI actually met this friend while climbing a volcano in El Salvador last year, and we’d kept in contact through Facebook. 39876354470_51eabc4581_cWe wandered around the historic city center, the Red Light District and Chinatown for awhile, then headed over to this cool brewery called Brouwerij de Prael, which is actually a social enterprise to help find jobs for the mentally disabled.40791229815_a1e8f96de3_c40791229785_c415122289_c40791229675_7f6c7a6ab5_c41681661121_89cde1b63a_c41681661261_454fc4b2c4_c41681660971_ce402504fa_c41652271432_9bb913708d_cWe sampled a red and pale ale there, while catching up a bit on his life here in Amsterdam.41681661331_6d87acea09_c39884602560_207439ffff_c41652271342_d157c159d5_cThe next day, despite the weather taking a turn for the worse, I grabbed my sweatshirt and umbrella, and made my way to city center for some sightseeing.

What to See in Amsterdam

In a city like Amsterdam, which tolerates many somewhat controversial practices, such as prostitution, pot smoking, abortion and euthanasia, I thought it was best to take a free walking tour, to get some insider information about this incredibly liberal and progressive place. 🙈🙈41671279682_18c06267db_c40993345694_aa1efe1d50_cMy Dutch tour guide with SANDEMANs was absolutely phenomenal! She graduated from law school, then traveled the world, only to discover that she’d rather be happy than wealthy, which is why she never used her degree, and instead has been blissfully giving tours the past four years, and meeting people from all over the world.🌎🧡26843580597_28f020b016_cAs a tourist, our guide started by breaking down the basics of Amsterdam.26843580547_ba80e3ca9d_cWith all the sex and drugs is this city, she told us that these are not things to fear. They are regulated, which makes them more safe than other places in the world with a black market. Instead, she told us about the greatest danger in Amsterdam: bicycles. Hah! 😨🚴

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enemy #1 😂😂

Bike culture is huge in Amsterdam, and your chances of getting hit by a bike are very high!🤕 She said that at least the Dutch give a warming before they crash into you. Her catchy saying was, “If you hear a bell, run like hell!” Hah! 😂39884602670_ab079237fd_cShe also talked about the layout of Amsterdam. Basically, the city was built near the Amstel River on a swamp, so to protect the city from flooding, the locals built a dam, as well as, a series of canals to channel the water.39881410630_49ea451100_cThe Dutch are practical people, so it only makes sense that this dam and adjacent Amstel River inspired the city’s name: Amster-DAM.26843580627_fc8190d3c4_cNow these waterways really define the city of Amsterdam. There are almost 200 canals flowing through the city. Many people even have houseboats in the water where they live full time.40993266764_cff8658360_c40993266844_7426c47b7f_c40791229595_8b1a8caba0_cNow because of these waterways, Amsterdam became a huge trading hub for boats carrying goods and spices.40993252844_6523881164_c39881410470_004fe52afd_cDuring the 17th century, merchants built their homes along the canals. They would dock their ship in the canal, then unload the goods using a rope and pulley that was attached to a hook on their home. Apparently they still use these hooks to pull goods out of the water today.26843580707_ed0bf34218_cOur guide mentioned how narrow the houses were, because they tried to cram as many merchant houses in as possible, and becomes homes were taxed based on their width.40993365714_05037a8e68_c

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Check out that very narrow red house! 😲

The buildings also lean forward, because they didn’t want the goods to hit the windows while they were being pulled up. Some of the houses also slant sideways, but that’s because these homes are supported by old wooden beams that have begun to deteriorate.

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slanted building

Overtime they’ve lost their strength, and the houses have begun to tilt. Our guide said the beams are expensive to replace, so when the houses begin to tilt, many people just shave off inches from the bottom of their doors instead. Hah!🤣

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tilted restaurant

Anyway, she also talked about the development of these merchant trading ships. Apparently it was a very tough business until the development of the Dutch East India Company. Before the 1600s, a merchant would invest all his money in buying one ship to sail around the world for expensive spices, like cinnamon, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and clove. Voyages to Africa and Asia could take sailors up to 8 months one-way, and with the threat of disease, natural disasters and pirates, there was a high chance they would not survive.41681207221_1b32992eda_c41681207291_572db15992_cWell, the Dutch East India Company invented a system where anyone could buy shares of these goods, which meant they got a lot more money, and could invest that money in multiple ships to sail at once, making it much more likely that some would return and bring in a profit. 💰

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the original building of the Dutch East India Trading Company

Anyway, this merchant trading business flourished for almost 200 years. With that, Amsterdam became a major hub for sailors, who were taking a brief rest after months at sea, and interested in meeting women. Hence, the start of the Red Light District. Now prostitution isn’t the only reason that Amsterdam is such a liberal place. For example, during the 16th century, when Catholicism was ruling much of Europe, the Netherlands became a Protestant nation. This really attracted many progressive scientists and avant-garde artists as well, since they wanted to practice without the persecution from the Catholic Church.

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For example, the famous artist Rembrandt was drawn to Amsterdam. 🎨Here is his old home, which is now a restaurant.

That doesn’t mean that this Protestant nation persecuted Catholics though. They still had a policy of tolerance, with places like Begijnhof, which is a Catholic sisterhood for women that even contains a chapel. 41671428442_4da88eb23c_c41671428272_02244a557a_c41671427962_26fb38a165_c41671427902_80e580765e_c
41671428372_d2ac28f5ab_cThe tolerance in Amsterdam also attracted many Jews hoping to avoid religious persecution. One famous tale in Amsterdam was that of Jewish girl, Anne Frank. In her diary, she wrote about her life hiding from the Nazis with her family in her house in Amsterdam for over two years before she was sent off to the camps, only a few short weeks before the Jews in the city were liberated. The Diary of Anne Frank is now so popular that it has been written in over 70 languages and published in over 60 countries.

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Anne Frank’s house is on the left-hand side of the river. Side note: to buy tickets to visit Anne Frank’s House, you’ll need to make reservations weeks in advance.
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these plates memorialize resident Jews who were killed by Nazis in concentration camps

Now after that somber tale, only one thing could brighten up our mood: cheese. 😊🧀40993365524_8b0ae63788_cThe Dutch make excellent Gouda cheese from both goat and cow’s milk.40993253094_5a2400f67d_c40993266614_aaa0729d81_cThey sell a variety of flavors like pesto and pepper. My favorite was the smoked herb! Yum!40993345994_7c93efd232_c40993365464_984b534a3d_cI also saw some other Dutch treats including stroopwafel, a sticky wafer filled with brown sugar and butter, and hagelslag, or sprinkles that the Dutch put on white bread.40993345884_86b79512e2_c
40993345784_ce4d19f144_cAfter my tour I took a free ferry from Amsterdam Central Station to NDSM, a wharf that was originally used during the era of Dutch shipbuilding, but is now used for modern art projects with plenty of colorful pieces on display.

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Amsterdam Central Station
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free ferry to NDSM

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old trains full of antiques

40993469514_6fde289f6c_c40993469474_679ef14f1a_cIt’s really evolved into a creative cooperative for young artists, plus they have a variety of chic cafes and a boutique hotel on site.40993474944_1a457ec370_c
41671763042_82e987b825_cNow, while wandering back to my Couchsurfing house, I passed by one final place on my Amsterdam to-do list: the Bloemenmarkt.41671481802_b5cf3f2f23_cThe Bloemenmarkt is the world’s only floating flower market. Here you can buy flower bulbs, live flowers, and even fake flower accessories.40993365574_a1f68947b2_cThe vibrant colors and the flower fragrances were just spectacular! They also had typical Dutch souvenirs as well, such as clogs.40993345594_1c41c927a7_c
41671481872_51ee601c0c_cNow although the Bloemenmarkt had an incredible display of flowers, it was nothing compared to what I would experience next. The following day I planned to visit Keukenhof, the largest tulip garden in the world! ❤

Keukenhof Gardens 

The next day I left for Keukenhof Gardens. I bought a combo ticket which included round trip bus transportation and entrance to the garden. The bus system was actually quite inconvenient and involved a transfer at the airport, but at least I was able to make a few pit stops along the way.27848278508_0871c8a4e7_cNear to the bus station was the Albert Cuyp Market, where I could browse through secondhand goods and drool over more Dutch treats.27847378938_02cfa7ba45_c27847379008_69856e1a58_c27847379128_9c0a4fb145_cI saw a lot of orange clothing for sale in anticipation of the upcoming King’s Day this Friday. For the birthday of the king, the country throws a massive street party and everyone dresses in orange.27847379178_3b3c714492_cAnyway, after about an hour on the buses I arrived at Keukenhof Gardens. 27843170138_3a4768101f_c<3These tulip gardens are the largest in the world, with tulips as far as the eye can see! 😲40812250565_71932f23eb_cThey plant more than 7 million bulbs on their almost 80 acres of land.41711331071_6df70d26ca_cTulips actually came to the Netherlands during the 16th century from Turkey. Now they are the largest tulip producer, with almost 2,000 varieties, and they export about half their goods around the world.26844004937_0f0e0c83f3_cEach year, Keukenhof has a different theme, and this year’s theme was love and romance. ❤
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love themed exhibits

Keukenhof doesn’t just have tulips either. They also have an English garden, Japanese garden, and a variety of inspiration gardens that change each year.40993748044_f1c3815e14_c27843167458_b2e225b27e_c40993668854_10d9778a4c_cThey also host a variety of plant shows each year, including the largest display of lilies.40993747274_8c098aa0f5_c39904401430_9a301f8512_cKeukenhof Gardens was originally a garden full of herbs used for cooking, which is why it has the name “Keukenhof”, which means Kitchen in Dutch.40993667334_3d11e87dd1_c40812250505_281fe8c54f_c40812250485_574efc1ebf_cThese gardens are only open 8 weeks each year. After tulip season the bulbs are dug up and fed to livestock.40993509504_10cdd21e81_c39904176590_331a9697c7_cI found the gardens to be breathtaking and incredibly well-manicured.40993747714_f146174441_c40993747544_0f83421c7a_c</a40993747454_0ee2bdddd1_c26844005437_6fb5f0c346_c26844005327_282cafe449_c41711330951_cfd71baee9_c41711330891_835a036ccf_cIt was a total photo opp for everyone…

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everyone taking photos
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Peace! 😉

…pets included.😉📷🐕39904176550_e4ba5b0e06_cThe gardens are also easy to navigate, plus they have plenty of exhibits, restaurants and cafes on-site. It was enough to keep me busy for almost 5 hours! 😲40993509624_b4c1d91a9d_c

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directional signs in Keukenhof are named after Dutch royalty
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food vendors
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traditional Dutch music box

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39904176520_abf563189e_cPersonal highlights during my visit included the view from the giant windmill’s observational deck, and a rendezvous to the tulip fields nearby.41711331191_380866951f_c41711331151_c2a732ca18_c41716295571_9c8bd168f0_c41711331071_6df70d26ca_cJust breathtaking! 😍26844104217_bf8c3bf303_c27843167398_72f07606ef_cI also met up with a Dutch friend of mine that I met last year while traveling through Canada. She’s also a teacher with the travel bug, and we talked for hours about our future travel plans.26844104347_609a58699f_cOn that same note, I wrapped up my time in Amsterdam in preparation for my next travel destination: India! Stay tuned for the itinerary! Until then! 🇮🇳
Cost: 29 Euro for a combination ticket, which included entry to the park and round-trip transportation

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8 thoughts on “Travel in the Netherlands: Amsterdam and Keukenhof

    1. Thanks for checking out the post! Yes, the flower fields were just gorgeous! Glad you learned something new about the houses. I think walking tours are great for learning new things about a city. Take care and safe travels!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Megan,
    Great images and descriptions of Amsterdam and the tulip gardens! Spring is so late here this year it is particularly nice to see such colorful flowers 🌹🌼🌸🌹🌼🌻🌸🌹🌼🌻🌸 Was surprised to learn that they use their bulbs only one season then feed them to animals. Any chance they gave an explanation for that practice?
    Thanks again for sharing your adventures.
    Suzanne

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback, Suzanne! I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos. I wish I had an explanation for you, but I’ll say that I was surprised to learn that as well. Thanks again for following me on this journey! Take care! 😀

      Like

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