Day 2 ( you can read about day 1 here) was my birthday and, like an excited child, I woke up at the crack of dawn. From my bed I was able to watch as Amsterdam gradually came to life. It was a rather grey day and the city looked as if it was shrouded in a fine grey mist, giving an almost tranquil appearance. However, the stillness was broken by the many bikes that started to appear on the horizon, ferrying people to work.
A birthday like the Queen
As we were away for my birthday we had left my presents at home. This was a big birthday and I was determined to milk it for all it was worth. This birthday was going to last a whole week! For months I had dreaded this day but then recently my thinking had changed and I was relishing the celebration. There was to be no crying into my vodka, instead I felt really grateful for the fact that I had reached the grand old age of 40. I was feeling very lucky to be surrounded by loved ones.
We had a leisurely start to the day and met my brother for breakfast at 9am in the hotel restaurant. We were very impressed with the choice of food on offer at breakfast. It was a buffet that seemed to have everything and anything. You could even get sushi. Despite the fact I am now on a restricted diet, which can make breakfast tricky, I was able to find plenty of food that I could eat. You could also help yourself to champagne! This is the first Hilton Doubletree where I have seen champagne offered as part of your breakfast buffet.
After breakfast we rolled ourselves outside and into the cold brisk air of Amsterdam. It was certainly on the nippy side and we were all wrapped up well. Plus, the adults were clutching coffee close to them, warming their hands with it. We had a date at the Van Gogh museum and not much time to get there. So we started navigating our way across the city.
Everywhere we looked there were pretty cobbled streets, narrow houses and bikes. You have to be careful of those bikes. Do not walk onto the wrong side of your pavement unless you want to be taken out. They fly at such a speed and I was surprised that the majority didn’t wear helmets. I guess they are probably well accustomed to riding those narrow, winding streets.
I enjoyed walking across the city and it allowed us to really soak up the atmosphere and stumble upon some quaint and pretty sights. Exploring a city by foot really allows you to appreciate it. I loved peeking into the narrow canal-side houses and was impressed with how effortlessly stylish they all seemed to be. Before I knew it, I was daydreaming about living in one of those beautiful homes.
Van Gogh Museum
En-route to the Van Gogh Museum we passed the Amsterdam University and a flower market. I would have loved to have been able to linger a little but we were pushed for time and so I reluctantly passed these places without being able to have a proper look. Finally, we arrived at the Van Gogh Museum with 2 minutes to spare. The Van Gogh Museum is situated around a green space where there are several other museums. This part of the city is known as the museum quarter and you could easily spend the whole day here. Plenty of museums, an open-air art installation (the famous I amsterdam letters), a park for the children and lots of cafes.
If you are planning on visiting the Van Gogh Museum you will need to book your tickets online. We entered the museum with a steady stream of people, and it might have just been 10:30 am but it was already feeling busy. It’s an impressive modern building that houses the largest collection of Van Gogh’s work. Children under 6 can take part in a treasure hunt through the museum and older children are given an audio guide for free.
Youngest was extremely excited at the prospect of the treasure hunt and she eagerly enrolled Uncle Jon into helping her find the answers to the clues. There is no escaping it, this museum is always going to be busy. However, it didn’t detract too much from the experience. If you were patient you could get to the front of the pictures. It was fascinating to see how Van Gogh’s life progressed and how his paintings evolved. From what seemed like almost tentative drawings, where he was practising his technique, through to bright and bold paintings of those famous sunflowers. His later paintings demonstrated that he had developed a real passion and zest for capturing life on the canvas.
There was so much to take in at the Van Gogh museum, the children enjoyed it, and they loved the treasure hunt. However, after a morning on our feet we were all in need of some respite so we headed to the museum cafe where we grabbed some drinks. We did end up taking a detour into the museum shop though, and I may have picked up some goodies.
Next, we stepped back outdoors and were greeted by a chilly blast. The temperature seemed to have plummeted whilst we were indoors. After a quick walk around we made our way into the Moco Museum for the Banksy Exhibition. This museum might be small but it certainly packs a punch. Despite it being busy, the museum never felt crowded. It just added to the experience. Looking at Banksy’s work was amazing. I had been very excited about seeing the art up close and personal. It’s easily accessible and it causes moments of reflection and clarity. You come away questioning society and yourself. This art also leaves you full of hope and determined to make a difference.
Both of my children loved this exhibition too and Banksy’s work prompted some very interesting discussions between us all. The children also loved the interactive art outside. Some people may be quick to diminish Banksy and his work but his art has the ability to connect with everyone and anyone.
We took our time going round Moco, savouring the art and enjoying the views out of the windows. We were also feeling rather reluctant to go back into the outdoors. Eventually we couldn’t delay our exit anymore and we bid farewell to the warmth of the museum and hit the streets of Amsterdam again.
Next, we made our way towards the Rijksmuseum. This famous museum has beautiful gardens and is in an imposing building. You walk into the vast museum to be greeted by a huge space, towering columns and a soaring roof. The building was steeped in history and your eyes tore around taking it all in. We decided that we wouldn’t go into the actual exhibitions as the children had reached their limit when it came to museums. Plus, our stomachs were starting to rumble and now seemed like a good time to try and find some lunch.
Getting lost in Amsterdam
We decided to walk in the direction of where we would be having dinner later. The plan being to find a nice little cafe for lunch on the way. The temperatures were now dipping even lower, and we all had our gloves and hats on. However, the beautiful views took our mind off our cold hands and aching feet. We walked for miles, literally. Later we calculated that we had walked at least 13 miles, but none of us had complained because we were so enamoured with our surroundings. We were drinking the whole of Amsterdam in.
I declared that we should head to the Foodhallen for lunch and Mr C agreed and took to Google maps to navigate us. It was now getting close to 3pm and Mr C reassured us that it was just around the corner. We walked around the corner and there was the Food Market, not the Foodhallen. Plus, the Food Market was looking decidedly closed. It turns out that Mr C hadn’t been listening properly. I would have laughed but I was so tired and hungry at this point that I just demanded he direct us to the Foodhallen.
Finally finding the Foodhallen
Luckily the Foodhallen was just a ten minute walk away and it was well worth the walk. Foodhallen is located in the very hip De Hallen neighbourhood. There are approximately 20 street food vendors around the perimeter of the hall. These stalls were serving a wide range of tasty food. We sampled hot dogs, like no other, and crisp and crunchy chips that made our mouth water. There are plenty of benches and tables for you to perch at as you munch your food. Then the centre of the room is dominated by a bar serving a huge range of ales. There are also other speciality bars including a gin bar!
We spent a good hour savouring our food and soaking in the atmosphere. It might have been a Monday afternoon but it was still buzzing. Afterwards we explored some of the shops in the De Hallen. There were so many cool and stylish shops that I had to refrain from spending all of my money. We then continued our trek to where we would be having my birthday dinner. We walked down dark canal paths and down barely lit streets, but we always felt safe. We finally made it to Cafe Restaurant Amsterdam and I was really excited to try the food. Sadly, it didn’t quite live up to expectations.
The restaurant the building was in was incredible and it was obviously a popular haunt with the locals. Huge vaulted ceilings and a vast space that was minimal in its deco. The tables were simply dressed with white tablecloths. The star of the show was the building here.
The restaurant service was incredibly slow and our order was mucked up and some of us didn’t get our drinks. It was a little bit of a disappointing end to my birthday. However, the food was well cooked although Youngest did not like her spaghetti and we had to throw crisps into her mouth when we made it back to the hotel.
On the way back to the hotel we skirted the side of Vondelpark and in the darkness ended up straying into a cycle path. We soon realised that we were on the wrong path when hundreds of bikes started hurtling towards us. Some of the shopping streets had Christmas lights up and everything was bathed in a twinkly glow. The disappointment of the restaurant was soon forgotten as we peered into shop windows, eyeing up sweet treats and pretty window displays.
It might have been my birthday but I was feeling exhausted, so again it was an early night for us. Come back to find out what we got up to on Day 3. There was the Anne Frank House, pancakes and shopping.