We had pre-booked tickets for an 8:45am tour and we made sure we were very prompt.
The only way to visit is with a ticket purchased online in advance for a defined time slot. Tickets are released in phases from two months in advance and demand outstrips supply. 80% of tickets are released exactly two months in advance at 12:00 hours noon (Amsterdam time). If you leave it until the day you want to visit, the remaining 20% of tickets are made available on line at 9.00 (Amsterdam time), but tickets sell out very fast.
The tours are very well managed – you follow an audio guided route, but have plenty of time to see and hear everything without feeling rushed. Seeing the bookcase that hid the entrance to the attic I had read about with such disbelief when I was just a few years younger than Anne Frank herself was a special moment. It is one of the few pieces of furniture in the house, which is a shame – you have to imagine the rest from the pictures. One of the most poignant parts of the diary I remember is Anne’s description of the taunting church bells chiming whilst being a prisoner and unable to go out into the streets. As we walked up the steep little staircase, gazing up the ladder into the attic room itself, the church bells began to chime and the words she had written came to life again. She wrote that she wanted to go on living even after her death and she certainly achieved that. Written in a number of places in the house are the words “All her would haves are our opportunities”, which sums up the history lessons of this place very well.
There were so many choices for how best to spend the rest of the day …
There are so many museums and art galleries it is difficult to decide which to choose, so the pre-trip planning we did proved invaluable. The Museum district was easily walkable from Anne Frank’s house in about half an hour. We had pre-booked an 11.30 tour of the Van Gogh Museum and arrived half an hour early – but we couldn’t join the 11am tour (despite the rain). The museum is well laid out and tells the story of Van Gough’s short life and how he developed his talent as an artist through it very well. You can follow the progression right from his earliest work (the shadowy, crude paintings of the peasants in The Potato Eaters) through the brighter and more famous works of the Sunflowers, the Yellow House and the Arles Bedroom. It is interesting what makes a piece of art famous. I really liked his painting of Quinces, Lemons, Pears and Grapes which his brother Theo described as having the effect of a piece of fabric embroidered with satin and gold, but you don’t see much mention of this in the guidebooks/postcards/souvenir shops? The museum covered his short and troubled life in good detail – so sad that he decided to end it at just 37 when he had lost all hope and assessed himself as a failure. I wonder what he would think now if he could see the self-portraits of himself all over the city on everything from umbrellas to notebooks? The Van Gough Museum takes the prize for the tackiest souvenir though – a bag of crisps with a picture of The Potato Eaters on the front – yes – really!
You need 2 – 3 hours to see everything in the Museum, but that leaves plenty of afternoon to explore the leafy expanse of Vondelpark and enjoy a pause in the sun trap terraces of the pavilion. The bikes are really pretty dangerous here though. There is often little distinction between the pavement and the cycle lane. If you stray into the cycle lane by mistake, which is very easy to do, the bikes will not stop or try to avoid you – the best you will get is an angry bell rung as a warning to get out of the way – quickly. It is bad enough in the park, but out on the streets, the bikes do not stop at zebra crossings and go through red traffic lights too – Think Once, Think Twice, THINK BIKE!
6:30pm Dinner: Bussia – www.bussia.nl
We needed an early dinner to make sure we caught the evening canal cruise, so we pre-booked a table at Bussia. A sumptuously presented gastronomic tasting menu which was a special treat for us.. There is no choice though, so not a good option if you are at all fussy and not keen on tasting menus or the price tag that is usually associated with them.
9pm Evening Canal Cruise
The cruise lasted an hour and a half and departed from Stadhouderskade 30 – a good 25 minute walk from the restaurant. You can’t come to Amsterdam and not see it from the water, and this was a cheap and cheerful way to do it with a set piece audio guide through headphones. We got good views of the skinny bridge, the dancing houses and the seven bridges. Read further for a better option if you only have time to take one tour though. As we were visiting in the middle of June, it was dusk for most of the tour – a later tour would have been better to see Amsterdam lit up at night. By 10.30 though, we had clocked up an impressive number of steps already and opted for an Uber ride back to the hotel – great that the app works over here so easily.
Glad I packed: Umbrella, good walking shoes
Fascinating Fact: If you are a bit timid about sampling the soft drugs they sell in Amsterdam, you can opt for an accompanied guided trip. You are led into a room behind the coffeeshop where the ceiling is painted sky blue with clouds and settled into a comfy beanbag for your magical mystery tour. Are you still curious? Well yes, I have to say, I am …