A Tale of Two Seasons: Amsterdam

Hello all,

As promised in my last post I am writing today to explore the delights of Amsterdam, a city I have visited twice now, each time with one of my two sisters. The first visit was in August 2013 with little sis, Jenn (still referred to as little sis even though she is 22…) and the second time was just a few weeks ago during my half term break with twin sis, Cat. Both times Amsterdam has treated me well with its relaxed atmosphere, friendly people, and interesting history and culture, but there were also certain highlights and drawbacks of both visits. So what was better, summer or winter Amsterdam? Travelling with little sis or twin sis? I’m going to weigh up the two trips to decide which one is the overall winner!

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little sis, Jenn
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twin sis, Cat (left)

Winter Weather v Summer Sunshine

Let’s start with one of the deal-breakers to any holiday – the weather. Going on holiday in Northern Europe in February is not exactly going to guarantee sunshine and there is potential for the trip to be miserable and cold. However, Cat and I were lucky to get two days of clear skies and winter sunshine which was perfect for exploring the city, but I have to say I did get fed up of trampling around in my coat, scarf, hat and gloves, and irritated by the gloves when trying to look at the map and guide book! Small things, but in my memory of the summer trip, I had flounced around the famous 9-streets totally carefree, in light summer clothes, and found that experiencing Amsterdam in heavy and cumbersome winter clothing was on the whole not as enjoyable. One of the good things about a winter visit is that Cat and I enjoyed visiting the comfy and welcoming cafes as well as doing more “inside” activities such as exploring the museums.

Jenn and I were also lucky with the weather on our summer trip, as it was wonderfully hot, with only a little rain on our day in the city centre, and sunshine on the days we spent further out doing outdoors activities such as kayaking and cycling. Another highlight of a summer visit to Amsterdam was the opportunity to enjoy a drink (or two) outside, one at a lovely canal-side pub in the city centre, and one at the IJ “windmill” brewery. Visiting this brewery is one of my fondest memories of the summer trip as I enjoyed sitting in the sun, sipping the beer, and eating a side-order of cheese (yes, just a plate of cubes of cheese – it was wonderful!)

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The “windmill” brewery
Jenn, enjoying the beer and cheese cubes :)
Jenn, enjoying the beer and cheese cubes 🙂

Accommodation

So, if we consider the weather, the summer trip would win hands down, but what about accommodation? It’s another big decision when booking a holiday, but what do you go for? Hotel, hostel, rented apartment, tent? It depends on your budget, it also depends on your preferences on location, who you’re with and why you are going.

Considering the summer trip was made a couple of years ago when I had just spent a year studying my PGCE (and before my first “proper” salaried teacher job), and that I was also travelling with student little sis, the budget was low. We also wanted some time in the city and some time being active (cycling and kayaking). In the end, we went for two days in a hostel and two days on a campsite further out.

The hostel – Cocomama – was in a great location and describes itself as “boutique”, somewhere between a hotel and hostel. The building itself also has a “colourful” history as once upon a time, it was a brothel. These days it is an attractive youth hostel with comfortable rooms and a friendly service. Jenn and I enjoyed our two-night stay there, before we went on to the campsite, Camping Zeeburg.  This was further outside the city centre, but was easily reachable by tram and had all the necessary facilities onsite. We stayed in what was known as a “wagonette”, a small, colourful caravan. Jenn and I ended up referring to it as the “tin can” – it was tiny inside, and hot in the summer weather. However, it was good for the budget, and a bit of a laugh, knowing it was only for two nights, and giving us a great outdoors location for kayaking and cycling. Being novice campers, we didn’t bring a lot of things with us like plates, bowls, or cutlery… but all the things we had forgotten were available at a very reasonable price in the campsite shop. There was also a good restaurant onsite so luckily we didn’t just have to fend for ourselves.

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2-bed dorm at Cocomama
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the colourful caravan/”wagonette” at Camping Zeeburg

Despite the fun of hostelling and roughing it in the wagonette, it was much nicer to be travelling to Amsterdam more recently knowing that I would be staying somewhere more comfortable and private. Cat and I joked that we had gone up in the world as we had swapped the hostels of previous holidays for hotels. Our hotel was also in a great location, situated in the Museum Quarter, just a couple of minutes’ walk away from the Van Gogh Museum. It was also a little different to the average hotel, with some quirky decor (think “loud” wallpaper and cushions resembling Girl with a Pearl Earring, complete with sparkly earring!) Overall it was a good choice for a low budget hotel, and for me, the comfort of a hotel makes the accommodation on the second trip the winner, despite the fun Jenn and I had when hostelling and staying in the “tin can.”

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Exploring the city

So the score stands: Summer trip 1: Winter trip 1.

The deciding factor for the overall winner comes down to the other experiences of the trip – what we got up to. It’s a tough decision, as Amsterdam has a lot to offer, and whatever time of year you go, there will be a lot of things for you to do and see. On both occasions I was not disappointed and have certainly got a lot of fond memories from winter and summer Amsterdam. But which one was better?

The summer trip was a lot of fun and as my first time in Amsterdam, I was keen to explore and to get to know the city. I was somewhat surprised to find that Amsterdam had a very laid-back feel to it, and I really enjoyed meandering the 9-streets with their boutique shops, and looking at the beautiful architecture of the canal-side houses. Jenn and I visited the Van Gogh musuem, bought tulips from the flower market, went shopping in the street market at Albert Cuyp Market and tasted freshly made stroopwaffels, ate authentic Surinamese food in de Pijp district, and experienced the beauty of the Dutch landscape when we rented bikes and went cycling in the beautiful ‘Waterland’ to the north-east of the city.  We packed a lot in to a short time but I still left wanting to see more on my next visit.

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shopping in Albert Cuyp Market

So, as the winter visit approached, I was awaiting it with anticipation and was hoping I would have just as good a time second time around. I would say that the only let-down was probably the weather and hence not feeling quite so comfortable and relaxed. However, the one highlight of the winter trip over the summer trip was that this time, I visited Anne Frank’s house. For me, this was a truly inspirational and emotional experience that will stay with me for a long time. I would recommend it to any body; a few people have since asked me if I found it depressing  – well, we all know the story and how it ends – but actually being there, seeing it, visualising it, the experience goes beyond words and is probably deeply personal to each and every  tourist who sets foot inside it.

And the winner is… 

It’s a tough call… and despite having a great time this February… there is a part of me that just loved the relaxing summer I spent in Amsterdam, and if I went back a third time, I would prefer to go when the weather’s hot, the beer is cool, and you can sit in the sun, have a drink and RELAX! I also think that the good weather brings the opportunity to cycle and get active, which Jenn and I definitely had a lot of fun doing.

But whatever you do, if you visit Amsterdam, don’t miss Anne Frank’s house. It’s well worth a visit, but be warned, be prepared for a 2 hour queue (which incidentally is probably more bearable in the summer sunshine than the winter chill!)

I hope you enjoyed reading, and I’m including a gallery of photographs from the winter and summer trips.

Love,

Jo

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