A WEEKEND IN AMSTERDAM: ITINERARY FOR SOLO TRAVELLERS

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I don’t normally travel by myself these days, but last weekend I took a plane to Amsterdam for a long weekend. I enjoy travelling solo, but for those who are not used to it, my tip is to keep busy – having a planned itinerary works well for me.

DAY 1

RIJKSMUSEUM

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My main objective with this trip was to visit the Rijksmuseum, which reopened last year following a decade-long renovation. I got there early to avoid the crowds.

The museum has a range of exhibits from different periods, but most of the highlights are found in the Gallery of Honour in the second floor. This is where you will find Rembrandt’s Night Watch and Vermeer’s Milkmaid – and it’s also the busiest place in the museum.

The renovated building is the perfect mix of old and new and the displays are beautifully curated.

When I visited, Alain de Botton’s project Art as Therapy was on display alongside some of the artworks, prompting visitors to reflect on specific themes of modern life, such as work, self and anxiety.

ALBERT CUYPMARKT / DE PIJP

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I had heard good things about Dutch market, so I decided to check out one of them. Albert Cuypmarkt is very big and has a wide variety of stalls. It is a good place to get something to eat (I had the fries – yum!).

The market is in De Pijp, a nice neighbourhood with lots of bars and cafes.

VONDELPARK

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This is a very nice park, located within walking distance from the main museums. Although it’s busy, it’s a world apart from the crowded old city centre.

Here you can see the locals going for a run or walking their dogs, but Amsterdam being Amsterdam, it’s also a nice place for a bike ride.

BOAT TOUR

VAN GOGH MUSEUM

Alongside Anne Frank’s house, this is probably the most popular attraction in Amsterdam. Queuing for at least one hour is the norm, so booking in advance is strongly recommended.

This museum has many paintings by Van Gogh and these are displayed in the context of his life.

But this place is simply just too crowded, and fails to allow for the level of contemplation needed to actually take it all in.

DAY 2

FREE WALKING TOUR

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This was a great start to my second day in Amsterdam. Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour through the city centre leaves Dam Square every day at 11.15 and 14.15, and it’s very popular. They offer similar tours in other European cities and they’re supposed to be very good as well.

You are expected to pay what you think is fair at the end (I gave 10€, which seemed to be adequate) and  it was well worth it.
The tour goes around the city centre and provides a lot of context to the sights.

It lasts 3 hours with a 30min coffee break, which initially I thought might be too long, but it was a good amount given how much you see.

It was also a good way of seeing the Red Light District without being worried about being a woman on my own.

JORDAAN / CANALS

ams18_for webJordaan was my favourite area of Amsterdam. This is a laid-back neighbourhood with many nice little shops.

It is a nice place to wander around and have a break. It’s also one of the best areas to see the traditional Dutch architecture of the 17th century.

This is also next to the Canal Belt of Amsterdam full of houseboats and cafes.

haarlem2_for webBecause of how small Holland is, it’s really easy to travel around. I decided to go to Haarlem, a small town reached by a 15 minute train ride.

Haarlem is very nice. The city centre is full of character and it was bustling with life on the sunny Saturday afternoon that I spent there.

After visiting St Bavo’s church (the famous organ was played by a young Mozart), stop for Italian gelato or a beer in one of the many bars and cafes nearby.

Trains leave from Amsterdam Centraal every 10-15 minutes and return tickets cost around 9€.

Our little room looked very bare at first with nothing on the walls; but thanks to Daddy who had brought my film-star collection and picture postcards on beforehand, and with the aid of a paste pot and brush, I have transformed the walls into one gigantic picture. This makes it look much more cheerful…
(The Diary of Anne Frank, July 11, 1942)

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Anne Frank House is open to the public thanks to the work of her father Otto.

Queues here take at least 2 hours during the summer, but after 8pm on Fridays and Saturdays the wait is shorter.

Thankfully, inside the place is quiet and the atmosphere respectful. The display is built around Anne’s quotes and you are taken through each of the Secret Annex’s rooms.

I always find this kind of exhibition difficult to visit in a tourist setting, but it is definitely worth a go.

JULIA’S CUCINA ITALIANA

When I first arrived at the Central Station from the airport one of the first places I spotted was Julia’s Cucina Italiana – and of course I knew I had to stop there.

Not only has this place got my name, but also it’s exactly my kind of place!

You choose a type of pasta and a type of sauce and they quickly prepare it in front of you. The food is served in takeaway boxes so you can have some hot pasta on your journey home. A small portion costs from 5.50€.

I went there twice and also brought back some branded napkins!

 DAY 3

BAR BUKOWSKI

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Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead.
(Charles Bukowski)

I heard about Bar Bukowski before going to Amsterdam and thought it’d be a good stop for breakfast on my way to the airport.

This place is right next to Oosterpark, but completely off the tourist paths (they don’t even have a menu in English, but staff is happy to help you).

I had the Amsterdam Blend tea and a cheese croissant – both delicious! The pancakes they were eating at the table next to mine also looked great. A very nice place to visit to scape the crowded city centre.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Amsterdam is very popular so there are lots of options of flights. Eurostar is a good alternative – book 3 months in advance for the best prices. The train trip from London St Pancras takes only 4h40.
  • Stay: Accommodation is not cheap in Amsterdam, so book in advance. Travelling solo invariably means paying a premium for accommodation, so I ended up staying at Mercure Hotel Amsterdam City, which was not very close to the city centre but only a short metro ride away. In the city centre there are lots of options for hostels, but in Amsterdam these are definitely best for those who want to party hard.
  • When to go: There is lots to do outside, so go when it’s hot to enjoy the canals and cafe terraces. May is the time to go to visit the tulip fields.
  • Museums: The main museums can get very busy, so book online to avoid the massive queues. In the summer some of the larger museums stay open late on Fridays and Saturdays and they tend to be less busy after 8pm.
  • Transportation: Amsterdam is very well served by trains and metro, and because it’s so flat it’s easy to walk to most places. You can buy an OV-chipkaart (similar to an Oyster card) and top up as you go.
  • Travelling alone: I always enjoy travelling by myself and find it really easy. It’s a great way to enjoy a place and do just what you want. I like planning a simple itinerary in advance and keeping busy. And it’s always easy to meet people in pub crawls or hostels.

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HANGING OUT WITH USAIN BOLT: A WEEKEND AT THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES

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We got tickets to see the final of the athletics at the Commonwealth Games, so we hopped on a plane to Glasgow.

I’ve been to Edinburgh many times, but this was my first time in Glasgow.

We have friends living nearby, so we met for lunch at Mono, a nice restaurant and music venue that serves delicious vegetarian food. We then spent the rest of the afternoon around some of the many bars in the city centre.

THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES

glasgow08_for webScottish summer weather meant the athletics session we saw was very wet. The women in the pole vault struggled to get any results, as did the men in the triple jump. But the atmosphere was great and we had lots of fun.

But the definite highlight was the men’s 4X100 relay. Not only did we get to see Usain Bolt competing, but he was right in front of us! We were immensely lucky with the tickets.

Bolt is extremely powerful, and I was really impressed at how he controlled the crowd. And he also seemed to have fun in the process, even dancing to Scottish classic ‘500 miles‘. The Jamaican team won as expected, and this was a climatic finish to a nice day.

 HOW TO DO IT:

  • Tickets: I’ve said this elsewhere, but the key to going to any major sporting event is planning in advance. We applied for a whole bunch of tickets and were lucky to get these.
  • Stay: Glasgow doesn’t actually have that many options, and because this was a busy time we ended up staying at a rented room we found through Airbnb. Aimee‘s flat was ideal for us – a spacious flat close to the stadium and with good links to the city centre.
  • Go: The main airlines fly to Glasgow, but for more options consider flying to (and staying at) Edinburgh, which is quite close and offers more choice.

2 WEEKS IN BRAZIL: THE WORLD CUP

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It was always going to be the case that the World Cup in Brazil was an event of a lifetime.

When we arrived in Manaus, the city was ready to welcome the tourists, with streets decorated in true Brazilian fashion. And before the shocking meltdown of the semi-finals, the atmosphere was very relaxed.

We watched the opening ceremony and first match in the main square in Manaus. The atmosphere was great, and the powerful sign-along of the national anthem set the scene for the rest of the tournament.

We then flew to Belo Horizonte, where we saw two games: Colombia v. Greece and Belgium v. Algeria.

Colombia v. Greece was great fun, with thousands of Colombia fans creating a loud party atmosphere at the stadium.

For Belgium v. Algeria we expected an easy Belgium win, but the Algerians went ahead to make the game more interesting – and slightly compensating for the fact that Belgium didn’t really deliver to everyone’s expectations.

There was lots of talk before the competition that Brazil wouldn’t be ready to receive the World Cup. But what we saw in the stadium was excellent – even the queues to get in were quick and organised.

The problem with anything in Brazil lies elsewhere: many people were unhappy with the political context and as ever, Brazilian infrastructure is appalling at the best of times. Being Brazilian, I can’t help to agree with musician Tom Jobim, who said “Brazil is not for beginners”.

But for us, our experience in the World Cup was great, we had a truly memorable time that lived up to the expectations.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Tickets: All major sporting events require lots of planning. We applied for tickets through FIFA at the first possible opportunity and were lucky to get all the tickets we wanted.
  • Money: Again for any major event, you’re likely to pay premium prices for flights and accommodation. Plan and book everything months in advance – I’d say six months is the minimum to ensure you get your selected options at a reasonable price.
  • Do: Getting in the spirit of the event ensures a trip like this is really worthwhile. Check out what the locals are doing and join them – there’s no better introduction to Brazilian culture than watching football in a local bar!

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