A few years ago after a bad breakup from an even worse relationship, I decided to start taking Thanksgiving breaks for myself. First, I just skipped it and stayed at home to binge watch rom-coms and do laundry. The next year, one of my best friends visited for the long weekend and I participated in my first, and last, Black Friday shopping experience. The next year I went to London with a friend, and last year, I took my boldest step to date and traveled to Amsterdam by myself.
I planned my first solo international trip to Amsterdam five weeks before I left. I planned my travel around a direct flight and also, around using the I Amsterdam Card. Last year, I spent Thanksgiving weekend in London with a friend, but this year, everyone was busy. Although I speak French, I wanted to try somewhere other than Paris. Amsterdam seemed to be perfect as everything I read said there would be no language barrier.
My research into my trip steered me toward using the I Amsterdam City Card. Offering entry at 42 destinations across the city and beyond, I was intrigued. I learned that using the I Amsterdam Card would serve as my public transportation card, my museum card, and it came with a canal tour. Jackpot! Once in my hand, I learned about the additional perks like discounts at restaurants and other many other attractions.
While some people prefer to hit the most famous and popular sites of a city, I prefer the opposite. That’s what quiet travel is all about: the lesser known goodies of a destination. I’ll go to a few “must-see” attractions, and then I try to visit the second or third tier sites of a city. In Amsterdam, while I chose to skip the Rijksmuseum despite its renown, I did go to the Van Gogh Museum. Once inside, I discovered that no photography was allowed inside.
As a Chicagoan, I am absolutely spoiled to live on the same street as the Art Institute.Even so, I appreciated the completeness of the Van Gogh museum, perhaps because of Chicago’s “Van Gogh’s Bedroom” exhibit in 2016. I especially liked the chronological arrangement of the floors and the paintings.
I also like to learn about the history and culture of places I visit. While some people prefer to relax on the beach or see the most photographed areas, I think learning about the past provides great context for the people you see today. The Amsterdam Museum provided that history lesson for me. Located in a former 17th century orphanage, the museum told the story of the creation of Amsterdam and the Dutch empire. For a museum that told the story of the city, I was surprised by how few tourists were there.
A Terrifying Awakening
In just one day, I saw two museums, went on a Rick Steves walking tour, and ate some fabulous food. I enjoyed food like stroopwafel (too sweet for me), pickled herring (tasty with pickles), and dutch apple pie (life will never be the same.) I laid in bed and fell asleep immediately, grateful to get a good night’s rest.
A good night’s rest was not to be. Although my stay at the Max Brown Hotel Canal District was pleasant, an issue with the boiler created so much steam that the fire alarm began screeching at 5AM. After a nine hour flight and nearly 42 hours awake, being awakened so startlingly created complete panic. The story about Kim Kardashian’s hold up a month earlier came to mind, and with blackness clouding my vision, I jumped out of bed and began to scream. My body shook out of fear, shock, and the Amsterdam chill. It wasn’t a scream to try to overpower the noise from the alarm, but the sound of someone convinced that life was ending.
My first solo trip abroad and my family’s fears about the worst were right. After nearly thirty seconds of guttural screaming, I found a light switch and illuminated the room. Grabbing my shoes, coat and purse, I ran out the door only for the fire alarm to stop, and the front desk to explain the issue. Nothing like a terror-inducing wake up to day two.
Finally, a Windmill!
The next day, after lots of coffee, I found myself in the far reaches of the city limits. The I Amsterdam Card provides access to many attractions outside of “downtown” Amsterdam. I headed to visit the Molen Van Sloten windmill and mill museum. Only a 40 minute tram ride away, I was given a private tour of the only tower mill open to the public.
After a day in Sloten, I had the great pleasure of meeting up with Karen aka Wanderlusting K. Karen and I connected after I spent the weeks leading up to my trip furiously reading and pinning her blog articles about Amsterdam. She took me to a tasty as-all-get-out Indonesian restaurant and introduced me to fresh mint tea. Dutch mint tea is an experience and so tasty. It’s just a giant milkshake cup filled with hot water and fresh mint leaves, and is damn good. I ate at some really good restaurants when I was in Amsterdam, and fresh mint tea was my favorite drink.
Dutch Apple Pie and Fresh Mint Tea
For my last day in the Netherlands, I headed to Haarlem on the suggestion of Karen. I am so glad that my I Amsterdam Card included Haarlem attractions. It seemed to be a little more elegant, a bit more local with a neighborhood feeling, and was less crowded than Amsterdam proper. If you don’t like crowds, consider reading more about the 15 least visited countries in the world.
The first thing I noticed when I walked through Haarlem’s Grote Markt (Market Square) was not the bustling Saturday market, but the enormous church. Churches in Europe remind me of my dad. My family’s first trip abroad was a whirlwind tour of the Mediterranean. Marseilles, Gibraltar, Malta, Sardinia, Italy…everywhere we went, we toured churches. As anyone who has ever been to the Catholic parts of Europe knows, there’s a church on every corner. Every time he saw one he would say, “Oh look! A Church!” Thinking about his gusto and feigned surprise makes my family laugh to this day.
I think the homes along the canals in Haarlem are even more interesting than those in Amsterdam. There are some bridges and even some twin homes that look like a ship mast.
As I continued along my way, trying to get to my museum du jour, an elderly man stopped me as I was taking photos of the canals. Knowing the narcissism of today’s society, he assumed I wanted photos of myself. #PhotoOrItDidntHappen. No matter how much I protested, he insisted on staging a mini-photoshoot. At first, I was concerned he just wanted my camera so that he could cut and run, but ultimately I was wrong. (Is it the Chicago in me that makes me not trust anyone?) What I got in return for this man’s time was a collection of about 15 photos of me looking mildly glamorous, but mostly cold.
Using the I Amsterdam Card in Haarlem
My I Amsterdam Card gave me access to a couple of museums in Haarlem, but I only chose to visit one, the Teylers Museum. The oldest museum in Holland, it is part natural history museum, part art exhibit, and part collection of gadgetry. It was not very crowded when I was there on a Saturday morning, but I did get there when it opened. When I left 90 minutes later, there were many more people arriving. My favorite parts of the museum were the beautiful atrium, pictured below, and the gem exhibits.
Don’t Forget a Canal Tour
Finally, the last excursion where I was using the I Amsterdam Card was a dusk canal tour. I must say, these tours were not what I expected. There was much less interaction from the boat captain than I thought there’d be, but each boat had multilingual audio tours and headphones. I listened to part of the tour in English, part in French, and a touch in Italian. It lasted approximately 30 minutes and took us around a few of the Dutch canals. We went through the shortest as well as the narrowest bridge opening, which was a bit of fun along the tour. I was there just a few days before the Amsterdam Light Festival, so I did see some of the exhibits going up.
Using the I Amsterdam Card was a Great Choice
I genuinely had a fabulous time in Amsterdam. Although it was cold, I appreciated the lack of crowds and the openness of the streets. I ate at Michelin starred restaurants and met a new friend. I survived an early morning fire alarm and my first solo trip abroad. Using the I Amsterdam Card provided me access to the best parts of Amsterdam. I would highly recommend it to anyone considering a trip in the future.
Parts of this post contain affiliate links. If you click on them, I may receive a small commission. Many thanks to I Amsterdam and Amsterdam Tourism for helping to host my stay. As always, all opinions are my own.