On our last trip to Germany for work, we decided to fly into Amsterdam and explore the city for the weekend then drive to Hamburg on Monday. We landed on Saturday morning after the usual grueling overseas trip and, after taking the right bus the entirely wrong way, got into our hotel early to shower then head back out.

Here's the first thing I learned about Amsterdam, the main train station is the center of all activity. No matter where we wanted to go, it was via the train station to get either a bus or a tram. It was actually pretty convenient once you got the lay of the land.

You gotta give Europeans credit for building impressive train stations.
We wandered around like aimless tourists then made our way to the Heineken Experience. I can't pass up a brewery tour. In retrospect, I could have passed this one up. It's no longer a functioning brewery and, while they did give some history lessons, it was more of a "Hey, watch this cool video promoting our beer!" I don't really care for Heineken so I didn't even finish all of the free samples.

Yes, I left free beer on the table.

Not so much a brewery as much as it was a commercial.
And, not worth the 16 EUR we paid.
I have to back up in the story a bit to explain better this next part. We had taken the bus to where we thought was the closest stop to the brewery. However, there were no good signs as to where to go from there. My colleague pulled out his iPhone and tried to look it up on maps. While he was still trying to get it figured out, I walked up to a hostess at a restaurant and she gave me explicit directions. By that time, my colleague's phone had figured out and he announced it was a "six minute walk".

I don't know whose giant steps they use to calculate a six minute walk but it's nowhere near the same pace and rate that I'm willing and able to walk.

It actually wasn't too bad to get the Heineken but then we decided to go to the Sex Museum next. He looked it up on his phone and, you guessed it, it was six minutes away!

Or, more like twenty-six. We wandered all over hell and back only to find that the Sex Museum is riiiiiight by the train station. That would have been a quick bus ride away from where we were and that we could have easily found. But, no, we walked. In circles. And, squares.

Finally found it!
The Sex Museum was well worth the 4 EUR entry fee. Sure, some of it was cheesy. But, they have an impressively extensive collection of pornography from the late 1800s forward. Not surprisingly, people got off on the same types of photos as they do today. They also had quite a few art pieces and some interesting decorative objects. I'm not sure I would be comfortable sporting a penis tipped walking stick but some dude in the 19th century liked his.

One advantage of the six (and six more and the other six) minute walks was that we got to see a lot of a beautiful city.

So many canals, so little time.

Oh, yeah, we were there during World Cup. Lots of futbol decorations.
On our way back to the train station to catch the bus to our hotel, we meandered down several of the Red Light rows. There were some gorgeous women in those windows. I suspect the naughty school girl might have gotten more takers if she hadn't been smoking. I know it ruined the fantasy for me. ;)

The plan for Sunday morning was for my colleague to go running while I went to the Van Gogh Museum. He's a marathoner and seems to really like to run. I'm a museum nerd so it seemed the best way to start our day.

Fortunately, I had read that you should pre-purchase your tickets so I got mine for 9 AM and was proud that I managed the bus then tram trip to get there on the dot. OK, 9:05. But, still.

They were lined up but I got to walk right in!
I opted to pay an additional 15 EUR to get the multi-media tour and it was well worth it. In addition to reading every word on the walls as is my wont, I also got to read additional material, hear someone read some of Van Gogh's letters and saw a couple of videos on painting technique. They also had some hands on activities. Even with doing all of it and taking a short soda break, I was done within 3 hours. Highly recommend it!

I got back on the tram and got to our meeting place (near the train station, of course) then texted my friend that I was done early. My text woke him up. So much for his run. He cleaned up as fast as he could then headed off to my location.

In the meantime, I enjoyed people watching as I had some cocktails outside of a restaurant. I also got to meet some Americans. One of them was quite racist (and clearly too old to change her ways) so I was both amused and appalled that she felt comfortable sharing her opinions and stories with me. No lie, she actually asked me, "Where do all the black people come from?" My answer was, "They live here."

To further explore the city, we decided to take two different canal tours, back to back. What a great way to see things. 

I would drive my car into the canal if I tried to park that close to the edge.

The epitome of picturesque.
It was a very relaxing way to see the city and you could get on and off the boats as you wanted to. Since it was late in the day, we didn't venture off at all but I would recommend this as an all day way to explore the city.

We picked a place (near the train station) for dinner and ended up talking to a guy from Turkey who spoke great English. He looked like a rasta-hippie freak but he was a web designer who had moved from London after being inspired to change his life while attending Burning Man in Utah. He had some great life experiences to share and I was envious of his willingness to just pack up and start over in a completely new country.

The non-negotiable for me on this trip was to see the Anne Frank House. I had tried to get online tickets but they were sold out so, on Monday morning, I had us leave the hotel extra early to be in line before it opened at 9 AM. Thankfully. We got in a little after 9 and, when we left, the line was down the courtyard and spreading out to another street.

This was only the start of the line.
What an incredibly moving experience it was. Anne's Father, Otto, was the only one of the family to survive the war. When they wanted to make the house a museum, he insisted on leaving all of the rooms empty because the Nazis cleaned it out after they were captured. He felt the symbolism of the emptiness the Nazis left in his life was an important message and he was right. 

They did put furnishings in it once but only to take pictures of what it looked like. Those pictures were hanging on the walls of the individual rooms. It's mind boggling to imagine that eight people lived in those rooms for so long. And heart breaking that they almost made it through the occupation before someone exposed them.

You must experience it.
My suggestion if you go to Amsterdam is to get the bus/train/tram pass. We paid 12 EUR for 48 hours and it got us everywhere we wanted to go. The sole exception was to get our rental car on Monday but only because our 48 hours would have expired during the middle of the three mode changes. You could certainly bike as well, depending on where you stay.

As true Americans, we didn't take the train to Hamburg but drove instead. Our German colleagues just shake their heads at us and ask, "How long did it take you? Did you know there was a train?"

We don't care - we love our cars.

It didn't take that long to get back to our German ways and places.
Oh, and in Hamburg? The iPhone still says everything is a six minute walk away.


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