In January we went to Amsterdam for the annual Light Festival. Amsterdam is a city I’d wanted to go to for years, yet despite it being just a short flight away, we’d never actually been. The Light Festival seemed like the perfect opportunity to kick off 2017, and after heading to Norway in December, we weren’t worried about it still being winter – anywhere would feel warmer!
While we’re not planning a trip back to Amsterdam any time soon, I still want to photograph the tulips in late spring/early summer. Since we had such a good time this time, I’m definitely up for going again in a couple of years.
We normally fly from London, so this was my first time flying from our local airport, which turned out to be one of the smallest I’ve ever been to (it’s largely a cargo airport). Joe described it as ‘a giant warehouse’, and he wasn’t wrong. It looked like a big shed pretending to be an airport for a fairly low budget TV series. I did spend a lot of time doubting whether there actually were any planes there, and if there were, whether they’d actually a) be from this century and b) be able to fit actual human people.
Our plane was slightly on the small side (I banged my head standing up, which never happens to me in any situation because I’m under 5’3″), but everything went reasonably smoothly. Our flight was delayed slightly on the way out, which meant that even though it was only about 45 minutes long, I managed to get a shot of every part of the sunset and the night itself:
On arriving, we managed to buy a train ticket and take the train a stop to our hotel (citizen m). It was a good 10-15 minutes out of the city centre itself, but we chose it because not only was it cheap, it had a ton of great technology in the rooms and lobby/lounges.
Each room comes with its own iPad, which is used to control the lights, temperature, music, and of course the TV, which had a ton of free films. As it also had Apple TV, we were able to hook up Netflix and stream it from my own iPad mini.
The room was slightly odd in that the toilet and shower were in pods in the bathroom, but it totally worked. And the bed was longer than me in both width AND length, which was pretty amazing.
The lobby/lounge area was also great, with lots of space and a variety of chairs, sofas, and tables to hang out or get work done. As well as several TVs, there was a whole bank of iMacs you could use, and lots of smallish pods to divide the space up and give it a homely feel:
After many hours of playing with the room, we went out to grab some food. The only place we could find open was a burger place that was just about closing, even though it was really early (maybe 8pm? And in a capital city…). It did concern me slightly because Joe didn’t like any of the hotel food (too healthy), but we worked round it and it wasn’t a problem for the rest of the time we were there.
Before we left I asked for recommendations from friends, and almost every single one said the Rijksmuseum. It’s the thing to see in Amsterdam. I did the research before we went, and found out that you saved a couple of euros and could queue jump by booking most museum tickets online in advance. While a couple of euros per person doesn’t sound like much, it quickly added up as we went to a lot of different places. There’s also various Amsterdam cards on offer, but we prefer to do things we want to do rather than feeling like we have to do them because we have a card.
Doing the research ahead of time proved useful, because I found out that the 5 euro ‘Media tour’ upgrade was just an electronic device with an app installed on it. So we ordered the standard tickets, downloaded the app on my phone beforehand, and just used an earphone splitter for the audio. Boom.
You could tour the whole museum this way, but we picked the 45 minute Highlights tour, and that was great. We also arrived early based on advice from the internet, which turned out to be excellent advice as it got incredibly busy by the time we were leaving (around midday).
The museum had a lot of different mediums, including paintings, sculptures, photography, artifacts, and much more.
After the museum we wandered the city, ending up at an amazing burger place called ‘The Butcher’ for lunch. Then we made our way to a slightly less visited tourist spot, De Poezenboot, which is a canal boat of rescue cats. I had mixed feelings about this as it was a reasonably small space and the cats couldn’t really go outdoors or escape humans, but it’s only open to the public a few hours a week and the staff seemed very nice.
Light Festival: Walking
By this time we’d headed back to the hotel for a break, then wandered around the city and taken some more photos, it was dark and we were ready to do the walking part of the Light Festival.
Every year they select sculptures from a huge range of submissions. All of them use light creatively, and a lot had technology of various kinds incorporated in them too, with everything from projections to time lapse videos.
This is an actual bee hive projected onto a wall in real time, demonstrating the importance of bees in nature.
We had a lot of fun wandering round and taking photos of the lights, even though they were hard to find in some places despite having Google Maps to give us a hand! I enjoyed the atmosphere of Amsterdam a lot more in the evenings: it just seemed fresher and happier than in the day time. That probably had something to do with the fact there were a lot of cloudy skies during the day: one reason why most of my photos were taken at night!
We grabbed a late dinner at an Argentinian Steakhouse. From the outside it didn’t look like anything special, but it had great food and we went back to the hotel very satisfied. We chilled out in the bar/lounges, Joe did some work, and I planned our next day.
Even the best laid plans don’t always work out, because the next day we ended up running late. We scoffed down crepes really fast at The Pancake Bakery before rushing off to see Anne Frank’s House.
Anne Frank’s House
Anne Frank’s house was a bit of a let down. It was lacking a lot of basic things, like maps, timelines, an overview of the story and events, and was mostly object-led, meaning information was patchy, inconsistent and unbalanced. If you visit, I’d strongly recommend going in the evening, after they no longer sell tickets because apparently it’s quieter then, and reading Anne’s diary and all the info about the topic you can find before you go. It was a cattle market for us having pre-booked our tickets online, and felt just like one long queue through the building. Having said that, it was still interesting and very harrowing seeing everything in real life. Photos aren’t allowed, but I grabbed a lot of postcards.
The NEMO museum
This is a famous science museum, and from what we could tell it’s largely aimed at kids (we didn’t go inside, but killed some time looking at the boats and marina around it). It’s amazing from the outside as it’s designed to look like a big ship, and you can walk the steps all the way to the top for an amazing view. Which we did.
We stayed in the cafe until sunset, and then took photos at night. The views were stunning.
Light Festival: Boat Tour
We headed back to the city centre and grabbed a Light Festival boat tour, complete with unlimited hot chocolate. This covered a few of the light sculptures we’d already seen, but also many we hadn’t.
We also got a lot more out of it as we learned the stories behind each light and also had snippets of information about different parts of the city too – our tour guide was great.
I took a ton of photos and even recorded some short videos which I’ll upload at some point. The lights reflecting in the water were stunning, and most sculptures had animated lighting.
Beautiful lit-up lace.
A sculpture symbolising the thousands of bikes lost in canals each year – the average resident in Amsterdam owns at least four or five bikes!
The Red Light Secrets museum
No trip to Amsterdam is complete without wandering through the Red Light district, and The Red Light Secrets museum is one of the best rated tourist attractions. We didn’t really need to book in advance for this as there wasn’t a queue, but maybe that’s because we went quite late at night, around 9pm. It’s one of the few museums open super late, which was great because our days were packed with activities and night time is when the Red Light District really comes alive (!)
The museum was brilliant. They had a wicked sense of humour (…at least, I hope they did…), and everything was presented in a variety of clever ways to really give a sense of what it’s like to be a prostitute in Amsterdam. It’s not an attraction for everyone, but it’s very well done all the same.
The part where it all went wrong
And then it was the next day – time to pack up our stuff, check out, and head to the airport. We had quite a while to wait before we could go to our gate, so we decided to get some food. There wasn’t a whole lot of choice and I wanted something healthy, so I opted for a glass of berries and a glass of pear yoghurt smoothie.
I developed a random intolerance to bananas a couple of years ago, and they give me severe stomach cramps. I wasn’t thinking at all and reading ‘pear yoghurt’ on the sign didn’t make me think ‘Oh, of course, that’ll have banana in it’. It’s definitely my fault for not checking though – I periodically forget I can’t have bananas anymore. Unfortunately, the smoothie contained a lot of banana. I was feeling pretty rubbish about five minutes after finishing it, and regretted my life choices instantly.
We went through a huge three-layer security queue, and all the way through I was thinking, ‘Please don’t be sick. Please don’t be sick.’ Standing still just made it worse for some reason. We made it to most of the way through the queue before I threw up.12 Another passenger in the queue was super quick and helpfully got some staff members to help…who were…utterly confused by the whole situation. Clearly it doesn’t happen very often. They didn’t have tissues, but eventually managed to track down some of that rough business paper towel stuff, which was better than nothing.
Turns out if you vomit in the airport security queue, you get to skip the whole queue. If I’d known that earlier, we would have saved a lot of time queuing. The staff also suggested going to first aid, which we did end up doing in search of a glass of water and more tissues. The security there was utterly insane, possibly because of drugs and needles? I’m not sure. They weren’t particularly nice there either, and only suggested I see a doctor (which I refused, because I forget to renew my EU medical card and I would have had to pay – I’ve since renewed it as we’re off to Paris soon). But sitting down for a few minutes really helped, especially as I’d thrown up again while waiting for Joe to use the bathroom.
Schipol airport is huge, and it was at least a mile walk from the entrance to our gate. By the time we reached our gate, I was getting progressively worse. I couldn’t even stand up. I collapsed in the chairs by the gate, which was also a horrible choice because they were in blazing sun next to huge windows. I was pretty much out of it, and they were boarding our flight. As much as I wanted to go home, and the flight was less than an hour, I just couldn’t do it. I don’t think I could have even walked the rest of the way to the plane, let alone be crammed in such a small space potentially throwing up everywhere.
Joe was brilliant. He rearranged our flights for the next day, I paid for them, and he tracked down a wheelchair (despite my objections) and off we went to pick our luggage back up from the carousel and head back through security. I gradually started to feel better, especially after not having to walk and getting into a cooler environment. The only slight hiccup came when Joe was trying to steer me, I was trying to steer our suitcase, and we crashed into a wall at the entrance of the Arrivals hall with about a hundred people watching. We couldn’t stop laughing.
Anyway, we ended up checking into another branch of the exact same hotel we’d just checked out of, and it was practically identical and therefore weirdly disorientating. After a couple of hours I felt well enough to cautiously eat something properly, and then we hung around the hotel playing games and watching Dexter until it was time to go to bed. The next day we flew back without a hitch, so all’s well that end’s well, right?!
Check out the rest of my Amsterdam photos on Flickr!