On my return from New Delhi to Atlanta this past week, I had a 11 hours layover in Amsterdam. In a way, I was glad about it. I have traveled extensively in Europe but never had the opportunity to visit Holland (or Netherlands). I was very close to moving there once in 2008 while working at ING as a Portfolio Analyst (long story).
My flight arrived at 5:45 am at Schiphol international airport. It was pitch dark outside but inside the airport, life was bustling. In fact, one can easily spend a whole day at the airport itself. There are showers, spa, casino, library, museum, beer tasting, numerous cafes and what seems like a larger than a mall complex for shopping for everything from fresh flowers, cheeses, and souvenirs to electronics, cosmetics, brand name clothes, watches and accessories.
Since it was pretty early to go outside, I decided to refresh myself at the KLM airline lounge. I had already been on the plane for over eight hours and needed to maintain my hygiene. The lounge also offered some breakfast and really good cafe au lait and Dutch pancakes.
Once the basics were taken care of, I found a tour desk at the airport that offered Amsterdam land and water tours ranging from 2-4 hours. For 59 Euros, I booked myself a two hour bus tour that would show me the historic landmarks of Amsterdam as well as a one hour canal tour around the city. The tour included airport transfers and some time to myself. There are lockers at every terminal at the airport available for 5 Euros but the tour office can also store luggage for free.
At 9 am when it was finally light out, off we went in the minibus, first visiting the countryside, charming bungalows by the waterways, each with their own canoes and boats, vast green pastures with cows and sheep and windmills – it was so picturesque that I could live here (in the summers). Next, we drove past the 18th century homes, Jews quarters and saw some great Renaissance architecture that is quite novel and unique to this area. I saw the house were Anne Frank lived and hid as well as the church she mentions in her book (which left a deep impression on all of us girls in middle school).
After getting a good orientation of the city, I found it easy to stroll around, taking pictures and enjoying the great views of the canals against the backdrop of the row of historic townhouses. I walked around Central Station, Dam Square, Flower Market, Red Light District and China Town. The flower market was my favorite. Holland is known as an international flower trading center and it was lovely to see fresh cut flowers, bonsai and plants that I had never seen before. I bought some bulbs, cheese and cookies to take back home.
Amsterdam is a great place to just walk or bike around, soaking in the views and people watching. It has a nice, friendly vibe to it. The city is small, clean, yet offers a lot to do. If I had more time, I would have visited Van Gogh’s museum and watched a show. After a relaxed lunch at De Roode Leeuw brassiere I took the train back to the airport, just in time for my departure back to USA. I would say I made the most of my eight hours in Amsterdam.