Shannon Fennell's Blog

My life, art, travel, make-up, cooking and the occasional rant!


A short trip to Amsterdam (Part One)

One of the reasons I was looking forward to moving to England was the proximity to Europe. When you live in Western Canada getting anywhere other than the US, Caribbean or Mexico can be extremely expensive and exhausting. Heck, even visiting other parts of Canada is expensive and exhausting! Being able to take short trips at a low cost to visit dozens of countries is amazing.

The pandemic delayed me, and as it still isn’t showing signs of being “over” I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. I need to get going while I still am healthy enough to do the walking, stairs, etc. The places I want to see tend to contain a lot of historic buildings, ruins, etc. and I need to be able to physically handle the demands. Amsterdam was a great first trip… it is completely flat!

I wore an N95 mask on the planes and in the airports, and my regular masks while I was roaming around and visiting museums, etc.

I flew over from Bristol on Sunday, caught the train from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Centraal station, then walked 3 kms to my hotel. The weather was glorious.

I got the routes for walking everywhere I needed to go off Google, and had a laminated street map as well that I marked up (I do not use a cell/mobile phone.) Honestly, the walk was way simpler than the written directions and maps made it look. There were around 29 separate directions for the walk from Amsterdam Centraal to the hotel… but it really should have just said: exit main entrance, walk straight ahead until you get to The Dam, cross the square veer right, cross four canals, turn left, then right immediately after you pass a small bridge on the left, cross four more canals, cross the street, sign for your hotel will be visible. I was constantly stopping to peer at street signs, trying to follow the printed directions which was more confusing than it should have been.

I was staying at Hotel De Hallen – which was built at one end of a converted trolley/street car station. It was interesting – there were still tracks in the floor of the restaurant and the patio. The rest of the large complex was a huge food court and commercial spaces.

My room was… well…”industrial” is the word I would use. bare concrete floor, no mats at all for your feet. They did supply hotel slippers but they weren’t comfy to walk on cement with. I was originally put in an inside room with no windows, but there wasn’t a fridge (there was supposed to be one – the desk manager was completely confused about that) so they moved me to this room which had natural light. Which means the entire “outside” wall was glass. I was ground level. My wall was not an exterior wall, there was an alley of sorts between it, and the exterior wall of glass where pedestrians and bike riders were constantly going by. Couldn’t leave my drapes open to get the natural light! And the chairs were… not clean looking and really dated. I put a towel on them if I needed to sit in them. But at least the TV remote worked and I could get BBC and lots of American channels (with Dutch subtitles.) And there was a Nespresso machine – they left two little pods a day but I went to the front desk and the guy gave me two handfuls of them!

And I have to say that the Dutch really know how to do bathrooms. All of the hotels I’ve stayed in in the Netherlands have had phenomenal bathrooms. This shower had a one of those huge rain shower heads on the ceiling and a handheld on the wall, and the doors swung in and out! Sink was large and deep – great for washing out things.

I needed the fridge to keep my groceries in. There were two supermarkets within a block of the hotel, so I picked up cream, meat, cheese, pickles, a roast chicken… that’s what I ate the whole time. I couldn’t find fresh cream so had to settle for the long life stuff… I survived, but it is definitely an acquired taste!

Getting to the Museum District was super simple from my hotel. Just out the entrance, go right, cross one canal, then right and straight on until you get to the museums. I figure I walked a minimum of 15 kms a day… probably a whole lot more if you consider the size of the museums!

Monday was the Rijksmuseum, which included the Vermeer Exhibit (this was the reason for the trip in the first place.) When I booked my trip the Vermeer tickets were already sold out from the first release, so I bought the regular admission ticket online for 9 a.m. entry. Eventually the museum scheduled more opening hours and released more tickets to meet the demand for them… I spent two days sitting at my computer, constantly hitting refresh, as their site was crashing due to volumes, mid-morning the second day the purchase page popped up! So I got my ticket for the Vermeer Exhibit for 4 p.m. on Monday! I was really excited to get it for the same day as my regular ticket.

Tuesday was the Van Gogh Museum – my entrance ticket was for 9 a.m. After I was done there, I decided to go to the Stedelijk Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, which was just across the path from the Van Gogh Museum. They weren’t busy and I bought my ticket at the counter – student discount! Then, when I was finished there I went to the MOCO Museum which is also contemporary art and was on the other side of the Van Gogh Museum – for a ticket I had to go to a kiosk down the park about half a block, bonus, it was cheaper than the museum website! And was also for the next entry time in 10 minutes. So Tuesday was a rather intense day of absorbing art.

The Van Gogh Museum comprised two buildings, you entered the round one, then down a level to a gallery, and then across to the other building where you exited when done.

The Stedelijk Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art also was two buildings, but they were totally connected at ground level. The one facing the park was modern and the one on the street was huge, old and ornate. The entrance and exit were through the modern side. They had the street side closed and the foyer was a gallery space.

The MOCO was a big old house, NO LIFT, original staircases all the way up and down. Was a bit of a struggle for me as my left knee decided to quit, but with the lovely staff member who, without being asked, got in front of me going both up and down, kept people from cutting me off, it wasn’t too awful. He disappeared too fast for me to thank him properly.

Wednesday I had my ticket for the Rembrandt House Museum for 10 a.m. opening time. That is in the historic old town, further away and a different direction than the Museum District. So I had my map out to figure out a route – Google wasn’t much help with that. As I’d already figured out the maps were a bit deceptive, I decided on a route that traced my walk to the hotel from The Dam, then from there I just stayed on the same street as it curved into the old town. I did overshoot the museum and ended up really confused on a university campus, I’d walked right by it without noticing. After studying the map I retraced my steps (as I had been on the right street) and this time really looked at the buildings… as it was a house, not a purpose built museum, it didn’t stand out. Well, except for the house-sized banner on the building beside it which was the entrance! You entered that building, then down to the basement level, where you then entered the actual Rembrandt House.

As I was walking back after the Rembrandt House, I stopped at one of the Ticket stores to check out canal cruises (it was still before noon.) There was a one-hour cruise available in about a half hour, and was about a kilometre walk away. So I bought a ticket and headed to the terminal – which was right in front of the Centraal train station.

Thursday I headed home. My flight was later in the day BUT, the weather had turned to a thick drizzle so I stayed in my room until check-out time then strolled to the train station, shopping a bit on the way (bought socks – Girl with a Pearl Earring and Starry Night!) Got to the airport way too early – my flight wasn’t even on the board yet. Was a long rather uncomfortable afternoon. It could have seemed less long if I’d been willing to remove my mask and kill time in a restaurant, but I do not remove the mask. Eventually I got through security and to my gate area. All the other flights were updating on the board – not mine. Boarding time came and went, no update, no plane. An HOUE AFTER IT WAS SUPPOSED TO DEPART, the board updated to say DELAYED. No shit? Turns out that it was coming from Nice… the French air traffic controllers were on strike that day… so getting over French airspace was, apparently backed up big time. They could have told us way sooner. Eventually the plane arrived and was a quick turnaround. But didn’t actually get home to Plymouth until 12:30 a.m. on Friday.

NOT my plane. It was dark by the time mine arrived.

I’m going to cover this trip in three posts… don’t want to make them TOO long. Part Two will be site-seeing and Part Three will be the art I got to see. I had real problems with focus on my camera in the museums – combination of my deteriorating vision, really dim lighting, bad angles due to crowds, etc. So I need to do some editing… on 556 photos… not all of those are going to be worth showing.