Tag Archives: Amsterdam

Photo Break – The White Car Eco-Initiative in Amsterdam

The White Car — an Amsterdam initiative from the 1960s through late 1970s designed to lessen traffic congestion by reducing the number of private cars in the city centre. According to the write up at the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, this was a “playful yet serious response to this problem.”

Members of the White Car Association could rent one of the cars at stations which were scattered throughout the city.

This 1960s version of a ‘car’ may not be particularly attractive, but it is very similar to the ‘green car memberships’ which exist in many larger cities around the world today. Funny little thing — isn’t it?

The White Car: a 1960s Amsterdam Eco-initiative

Copyright ©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.

Teeny Tiny Transport

What fun! I have recently seen some of the tiniest motor vehicles possible on the streets of Amsterdam — so here is a selection of them. Pay particular attention to the size of the vehicle compared to whatever vehicle or bike or person is next to it.

Microvan chained to a ship's anchor to prevent theft

The first vehicle was so brightly coloured that it caught my eye several times during the week and ended up being a repeat performer in my photos. Apparently since these vehicles are so small, they are quite easy to steal. As a result, I noticed that they were frequently not merely parked, they were often chained to something sturdy. The vivid green microvan was spotted the first time chained to a ship’s anchor at the side of a canal!

The second shot gives you a true insight into the diminutive scale of this vehicle as it whizzes by the huge blue truck parked on on the street.

And if you click on the third picture and enlarge it, you will see that the head of the bicyclist nearby is actually higher than the top of the green vehicle.

How delightfully funny it was to approach the entry of the Rijksmuseum and see this tiny white expresso van parked alongside the footpath.

When you click on the picture on the right and allow it to enlarge, can you spot what is inside? It isn’t your imagination — that really is a crystal chandelier hanging on the ceiling of that wee vehicle!

We were walking back from a cafe one afternoon when we spotted this blue vehicle a few feet away. The first thought that sprang to mind was that it looked like a toy — or like one of those cartoonishly tiny cars that full-sized male clowns drive into the ring at the circus.

Over the next few days, I saw several versions of this car called a Canta. I did a bit of research on them and at a starting price of £12,000, these are not inexpensive in spite of their size since they are primarily designed for people with mobility issues.

According to several websites, no driving licence is required and these micro-cars can be both parked on the footpath and driven through a shopping centre quite legally.

Wouldn’t that do your head in a bit to be walking through the mall and have a car glide past you — a car that you towered over? Boggles the mind!

For my final example we have another Canta. — a bright red GLX version this time. We watched the woman driver and her child passenger pull up outside the movie theatre and stop to check the times of that day’s screenings. Look what a tiny portion of a parking space is being used!

Copyright ©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.

6 Simple Steps To Save On Your Trip To Amsterdam

The misty mornings, the postcard-perfect views over almost every canal, the ease of getting around, the sensible and eco-friendly bicycle culture, the friendliness of every single person we met — these are just a few of the joys of travelling to one of my favourite European cities, Amsterdam!

Brouwersgracht Canalside

Here are 6 simple steps that helped us save money by ‘living like a local’ while we were there for 8 days recently.

1. Rent an apartment instead of staying in a hotel. I did a web search on “short term apartments in Amsterdam” and the links that caught my eye were not the very expensive commercial ones. Instead, I was drawn to two very similar sites — Roomorama and AirBnB. After searching through the options on both sites for an arrival on a prime travel-booking date of New Year’s Eve, I chose Roomorama based on the variety of apartments still available and was very pleased with the apartment that we rented in the Jordaan area. Both sites contain a range of prices and neighbourhoods.

2. Cook your own meals in that apartment — and that means shopping for groceries!

Cracker aisle in Amsterdam grocery

Grocery shopping in Amsterdam

Just by getting out and walking around the neighbourhood on our first day, we quickly discovered that Albert Heijn grocery stores were scattered all over Amsterdam in every district.

The word “winkel” means shop, so the click-on link above takes you to a map of their shops both within Amsterdam and in other parts of the country.

Even when you are moving past the obvious and easy choices of fruit and vegetables, food looks pretty much the same all over Europe, North America, and Australia or New Zealand in spite of the name on the package being quite different.

Besides, it’s fun to pick up your winkelwagon (shopping cart) and put some items in there like unknown cheese varieties, milk or butter in many shades and sizes, or these crackers to the left with mystery names.

Home cooked dinner in Amsterdam

Here’s an example above of one of the delicious meals that we cooked in the apartment with locally sourced groceries.

3. Use public transport such as trams, trains, and buses.

Tram at Museumplein

OV-Chipkaart for Amsterdam

One of the nicest things about Amsterdam is the ease with which you can traverse the city by using a combination of trams and buses along with trains for the suburban trips. A sensible way to save money is to refrain from buying individual tickets for each journey and to instead purchase a multi-trip pass sold by GVB — the public transportation company.

After doing some online research, we decided to purchase an OV-Chipkaart which would allow us several days of travel on any of the trams or buses in Amsterdam. These durable plastic cards are the size of a credit card, are valid for 5 years, and are rechargeable with a credit card at ATM style machines scattered all over the city. These ‘hole in the wall’ recharge machines are usually located right next to a bank ATM.

There is a wonderful series of network maps and tourism site maps on the GVB website. Just click on the link to find them.

We purchased our cards at the GVB Ticket Office in the Tourist Information building at Stationsplein, directly opposite the huge Central Station. But they are also available from dispensing machines in places such as Schiphol Airport.

4. Buy a Museum Pass and save, save, save!
Most visitors to Amsterdam will be planning on a visit to one or more of the stunning museums here such as the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank House, the Stedelijk Museum, the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, and many more.

For the avid museum-goer, you can purchase the Museumkaart which is sold at the entry of most of the major museums for €39 plus a one-time €4.95 administration charge for issuing the card. We used our card at all 5 of the museums that I have just named and once you get past 3 admissions at an average of €15 each, the card has paid for itself. Our next two museum visits after that were essentially free.

You will receive another plastic card that is the size of a credit card and this one is valid for a full year. It certainly encourages you to come back for another visit during that 12 month period because the card covers over 400 museums, castles, and sites of significance all over the Netherlands, not just within Amsterdam.

5. Shop and eat where the locals do and avoid the streets where the tourists are.

Taking a break in a local cafe

Expresso at a Turkish cafe

Whether you are buying a croissant at a bakery, taking a break for lunch and a coffee, or stopping for a cocktail and some snacks, save yourself a lot of money and get off of the main tourist thoroughfares. Run away from cafes or restaurants where you see tourists with guidebooks on the table! Instead, seek out the neighbourhood cafes where the locals are reading their newspapers in the local language.

A perfect example of the shopping locally concept was the pastry run that my husband made one morning for croissants. He was up quite early on one of our first mornings in Amsterdam and he walked down to one of the main tourist streets and purchased four of them for €7. The following morning, after we had done a thorough perusal of our neighbourhood, he purchased four much nicer and much fresher croissants in our local bakery for €3.20 — a more than 50% savings.

You can apply that same principal to just about everything including the ubiquitous cup of coffee. Instead of paying €3.50 for an expresso or €3.90 for a far-too-milky latte, why not head down to the local Turkish cafe for a rich, fragrant, and strong cup of java at the budget friendly cost of €2.25 or less. Yum!

6. Sort out how to access money before you leave home.
Two of the fastest ways to burn up extra cash are by making too many visits to the ATM machine for cash whilst travelling and by using your credit card too liberally. A far better set of strategies are to
(a) have a few hundred euros with you upon arrival. We ordered this currency from our local bank in Australia and it was free of any transaction fees. Your own bank will almost always give you a much better exchange rate than those airport stands or street-side foreign exchange shops.
(b) keep your withdrawals to a minimum and take out more than you normally would back home. Your linked bank back home will most likely charge you a foreign ATM fee in addition to the foreign currency exchange fee. If you are withdrawing €100 at a time instead of €300-500, you will be paying an average of $8.50 in US or Australian dollars/£5.50 in British funds for each of those €100 withdrawals. So it is far more sensible to take a larger amount out each time.
(c) use a linked banking network. You will probably always be charged the currency exchange fee by your bank since they are simply passing on the cost of conversion to you. But what if you could find a way to bypass the on-average $5-or-more fee for using an overseas ATM machine that does not belong to your own bank? I made a point of opening an account in Australia with a bank that was a member of the Global Alliance. By using a bank that is associated with this international group of banks, I can access my money for FREE (not including the mandatory currency exchange fee) at banks throughout the world. Check with your own bank prior to departure to determine if they participate in such a network. Then you can use the same method to save you some money that you can happily spend on food or fun instead of fees!
(d) find out what it will cost you to use a credit card overseas for purchases. You certainly get the most accurate foreign exchange rate when you use credit cards, but they also attract rather a lot of fees with every purchase. On average, most banks charge a whopping 5% of the cost of the purchase for the ‘convenience factor’ of using your credit card abroad. And on top of that, you will also be charged a currency conversion fee. Save yourself the resultant shock when you check your online bank statement and be informed about your options and the costs involved before you depart on your trip.

Hundreds of euros can be saved by following the strategies that I have outlined above. By doing a bit of advanced planning, you can relax and spend your travel money where you want to spend it, not where you are forced to spend it.

NOTE: All prices were current at the time of writing in 2011.

Copyright © Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.

Marching Through History in Amsterdam

How small they were, those suits of armor. How diminutive were the heroes that defended the realm and bore that metallic outer layer upon their arms and chests. Marching, marching — doing what was expected of them.

Suits of Armor

Suit of Armor

I was surprised when I stood quite close to several of the exhibits and realized that the men who wore those metal suits were, in many cases, quite a bit smaller of frame and shorter of stature than most contemporary 20th or 21st century women. And these tiny men fought quite furious battles on land and sea to conquer lands or defend their homes. They were certainly smaller than I am and I’m not a very big person at 5 and 1/2 feet tall.

Perhaps it was the gloomy palette of the winter day outside and the icy-gusty rain, but between the paintings and exhibits of military life or the life aboard a sailing ship in both the Rijksmuseum yesterday afternoon and the Amsterdam Historisch Museum today, I experienced a strong sense of sadness for those lives that may have had intense boredom or bodily discomfort layered into their daily existence. I actually shuddered at one particularly vivid picture of two ships, side by side, engaged in a fiery, bloody battle. None of it seemed remotely stirring or the least bit grand or glamorous.

Exterior of the Rijksmuseum

Our afternoon at the Rijksmuseum was quite pleasant in spite of the mid-winter crowds and it was marvelous to revisit the work of Rembrandt after two decades, see his evolution as a painter, and compare the work of his contemporaries.


Corbel known as The Milkmaid

Corbel known as The Milkmaid

Wooden statue from 15th century

Wooden statue from 15th century

1960s-70s Kitchen

1960s-70s Kitchen

For me personally, the most enjoyable parts of our visit to the Amsterdam Historisch Museum were the fine wooden carvings that were displayed on the exterior of buildings during the 15th through 17th centuries and the exhibits on daily life in Amsterdam. There were cross sections of model houses that showed how the citizens of this city lived in various eras and set-ups of entire period rooms.

Some of the exhibits were both difficult to view and eerily fascinating at the same time. We had walked through room after room, era after era until we reached the top floor of this large museum and we came upon an entire series of displays that illustrated what life was like for Amsterdam citizens during the 5 year long German occupation of World War II. It was compelling viewing and I have included a few photos below of propaganda posters that can be enlarged if you click on them.

Picture of Judenstrasse during German occupation

German Propaganda Posters

This is a particularly comprehensive one-city-only historical museum that is housed in a splendidly large building. The exhibits are quite easy to understand, even if you don’t speak a word of Dutch! In fact, almost all of the museum has both Dutch and English captioning. A visit to this museum is a highly recommended way to spend several hours in Amsterdam.

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website.
All rights reserved.

Scooting Through The Stedelijk

Icy, icy cold and gray. With skies as flat and colourless as a dull nickel coin, we headed down the street to catch the tram and the wind set our eyes streaming as soon as we walked out the front door.

Our destination was the Uitburo (ticket office) at Leidseplein where we planned to purchase a Museumkaart, a museum card for both Amsterdam and the rest of Holland that covers more than 400 museums or sites. Two trams later we arrived and noticed that the lights were on in the area around the ice skating rink and on the front of the Uitburo. They didn’t seem out of place because, even at 10:30 in the morning, it was rather dim outside.

Uitburo (ticket office) at Leidseplein

Lights on in Leidseplein at 10:30 AM on a dim winter morning

The charming young woman inside the ticket office apologized to us and explained that she had sold the last of the Museumkaarts the previous day and another shipment was not expected until later in the afternoon. Our plans were rescued when she phoned the Stedelijk, the modern art museum and they did have some in stock. So we thanked her and backtracked via tram to the museum district.

Central stairwell at the Stedelijk Museum

Upper central stairwell at Stedelijk Museum

What we expected to see versus what we did see was altogether different than those expectations that we had as we left the apartment in the morning. The museum is currently undergoing a massive renovation and a new wing will be constructed that will transform both the amount of space needed to house the collections and the climate control for preserving what is on display. As a result, well over half of the building is a series of empty rooms and that was quite disappointing since we hadn’t known that prior to entry.

When a young woman with a clipboard approached me as we prepared to leave an hour later and asked me to rate my experience on a 1 to 10 basis, I told her quite honestly that it was a 5 at best since there was almost nothing to look at.

None of the permanent pieces such as the Bauhaus or Post-Impressionist works that I had been expecting were there. What is within is sparsely sprinkled over two floors with long walks through empty rooms in between.

We had a nice coffee and pastry in the cafe which is still open and fully functional and oddly, that ended up being one of the highlights of our visit to that particular museum.

Here are a few examples of the artwork that is still ‘in residence.’

Exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum

Modern art exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum

Thank you to the staff at the Van Gogh Museum. Someone sent them a copy of my article from two days ago, A Visit With Vincent and they sent a note on Twitter around the world that increased the number of visitors to this site dramatically over the next 2 days. The museum staff also took the time to write me a personal thank you note for the article, so I am reciprocating by letting you know about that charming courtesy.

Copyright © Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.

Consumer Conundrums on Cold Days

The day started well as we left our lovely little apartment a bit later than usual and walked over to the charming shop-filled street, Haarlemmerdijk. It was stunningly cold with just enough wind to cause every face to be sporting red cheeks.

Apartment in Amsterdam

Coffee at Bagels & Beans in Amsterdam-Photo by Mark Harmes

A mere 45 minutes later we were striding into Bagels and Beans for a hot coffee and a bagel with yummy fillings for lunch.

Neighbourhood living — neighbourhood shopping — some of the joys of renting an apartment while travelling. So why was I faced with so many consumer dilemmas today when all that I wanted, in addition to groceries, was bodywash — plain old not-too-fruity-scented bodywash.

Choices of bodywash in Amsterdam shop.

What you are seeing in the pictures below represents a small fraction of the multiple aisles of bodywash that were available in one store here in Amsterdam. And I can understand the desire to use these kinds of products instead of soap when you shower because the air is cold and dry and your skin needs to be kept as moist as possible. But having said that, why do the companies that manufacture these products believe that we want run around smelling like a rather artificial fruit salad?

More shelves full of bodywash in Amsterdam

The brand names were familiar in many cases, but I don’t speak Dutch and I was left to interpret the fragrance by the illustrations or English-similar terms on the front of the package. There was nothing soft and light about any of them and the smells inside were certainly nothing that Mother Nature would have ever combined.

I finally succeeded in finding one product with very few additives, a subtle fragrance, and a name brand that I recognized from our health food store back in Australia — but my head was aching from simply reading and sniffing for half an hour and Mark was chuckling at the entire experience.

It was Mark’s turn to be boggled next when he decided to pop into the local hardware store and I quietly came up next to him to take a photo just as I heard him say aloud, “OK???” He was perusing the fasteners and deciding what was the European equivalent was to what he would have used for a task back home.

Hardware choices in Amsterdam

I will leave you with one more humorous photo from our shopping adventures. This was a wedding cake topper in the window of a bakery that we passed on Haarlemmerdijk. How many brides do you suppose have really had to ‘pick up’ the groom who was collapsing from the strain of nerves on their wedding day? Click to enlarge it so you can see just how funny it is as she picks up her prince. Enjoy!

Bride picks up the groom on a cake topper in Amsterdam

Copyright © Deborah Harmes and
©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.

Unless noted, all photography by Deborah Harmes.

A Visit With Vincent

The morning weather report had a forecast of snow and the startling cold air against my cheeks as I left the apartment made me believe that smiling weatherman. He was wrong — and I was relieved. There was already enough residual ice on the pavement all over Amsterdam to make the simple act of walking require alertness, concentration, and good balance.

Appropriately bundled up and laughing about the fact that a mere four days ago we had been at the beach in Australia, we caught the #3 tram and headed for the area known as Museumplein and the Van Gogh Museum at Paulus Potterstraat 7, trying to arrive right at the opening time of of 10 AM. The visitors were quite sparse and, feeling rather smug about that, we headed into the first of four floors of artwork. But by the time we emerged from the last gallery into the museum shop, we were walking in stops and starts due to the sheer number of people who entered the building in the two hour period since our arrival.

Van Gogh Museum exterior side view

This is a moving collection of Vincent Van Gogh’s work that clearly shows his evolution through various stages as an artist. The mental struggles that he endured are evident as you see the colour palette and brushwork change over the years. The pieces produced during his lighter and more upbeat years are a startling contrast to the heavier-hearted and more frantic works of art. I highly recommend this museum if you have at least a two hour window in your own visit to Amsterdam.

We are travelling now — finally — after planning this life change and free-fall adventure for over two years. So we have no place to call home right now, no walls to hang artwork on, no shelves to stack books on, no cabinets to place things within.

Books on display in the shop at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

I looked at the posters, opened the books, touched the scarves and t-shirts, and walked away from them. In the end my sole purchase was a handful of postcards. And Mark had quite a surprised expression on his face when he heard me say aloud, “I have no desire to acquire.” And I meant it!

Posters and prints in the Van Gogh Museum Shop

This is a beautiful museum inside — light and airy and contemporary. But there is no photography allowed inside, so I can only assure you that it is lovely and urge you to go and see it for yourself. Although the artwork is spread out over four levels, there are both stairways and elevators for easy access. And there is one of the nicest self-serve restaurants on the ground floor that I have seen in any museum. We took a break for a coffee and a pastry at 11:30 and were quite impressed with the food that was available.

After leaving the Van Gogh Museum, our plan was to walk next door to the Stedelijk Museum — the modern art museum — but it is closed on Mondays, so we will have to try again later this week.

Realizing that the crowds at the Rijksmuseum would be considerable so late after the morning opening time, we decided to spend the rest of the day gently meandering through the park area in Museumplein and then take a tram into the Central District for some window shopping.

Here are some of the sights that I spotted along the way. Enjoy!

Lunch Kiosk Microvan (made by same company that manufactures Vespa scooters in Italy)

Wooden clog holding sunflower on cafe table in Museumplein

© Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the copyright of all text and photos on this website. All rights reserved.