Taking a few days away from the everyday bustle is so worthwhile. That’s certainly how I felt after my getaway to lovely Port Washington, Wisconsin. With the turning of the seasons, I wanted to get out and explore somewhere new. A friend of mine suggested Port Washington, which is just 30 minutes north of Milwaukee. She’s been going there with her family for years. When I heard about the historic downtown, the lighthouse, and the beautiful scenery on Lake Michigan, I was hooked. From my first glimpse of the city, I was awestruck by how picturesque Port Washington is. It reminded me of a charming New England fishing village, yet there I was on the shores of Lake Michigan!Getaway to Lovely Port Washington Wisconsin
My first order of business was to check into the Port Hotel. This elegant bed and breakfast is in the perfect location for exploring the city. It features 10 unique and beautiful rooms, many with gorgeous views of the harbor. I can’t say enough about these wonderful accommodations. Between the fireplace and the whirlpool tub, I had everything I needed for a relaxing stay. The room service breakfast was superb. I can personally recommend the eggs benedict prime rib and the kailua pecan waffles, but I’m certain that anything they serve is delicious. After a big breakfast, it was time to get out for some exercise. Fortunately, the weather was amazing. I asked at the front desk about renting a bicycle, and was pointed in the direction of a local shop. After finding a rental bike for my size, I was off to explore the Ozaukee Interurban Trail. Riding along the 30 miles of the trail just might be the best way to get acquainted with Port Washington and neighboring communities. It’s fully paved, and offers some great opportunities for seeing birds and wildlife.
After a nice long ride, I was ready to explore on foot. I headed into Port Washington’s historic downtown. The shopping here is quaint and incredible. I love that all of the stores are housed in 19th century buildings. It really is a charming area for finding unique, one-of-a-kind shops. I included the harbor area in my explorations, and enjoyed seeing schools of fish, ducks, seagulls, and a few fish jumping. I stopped for a wonderful lunch at the Dockside Deli.
I was completely intrigued by this beautiful town, so I decided to spend some time looking into its history. A guided tour of the Judge Eghart House demonstrated how people lived in Port Washington during the Victorian era. I also wandered to the nearby town of Saukville to visit the fascinating Ozaukee County Pioneer Village. The village features 24 historic buildings from the area. With plenty of costumed re-enactors on hand, visiting here was a lot like stepping back in time. Whether I was cycling on the trails or walking the boardwalk, I encountered many friendly faces. Port Washington is very welcoming of visitors, and the people all have wonderful recommendations for things to do and places to go. I’m already planning a return trip so I can be there for one of the community festivals.
Looking at travel snapshots, including my own, you would think that most travel is a fun, glamorous slice of heaven. Sometimes that is true, but more often than not there is more going on that you can’t see. Bad days, bad nights (the worst), lost direction and anxiety for the future have played a huge part in my travels over the last 5+ years.
Truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way. For those of us who travel for reasons deeper than just sightseeing, these darker moments play a huge role in shaping our lives and personalities.
I think that is why I fell in love with Wild.
The movie version of Wild is already out in select theaters. Although I haven’t yet had a chance to see it, I’m really excited about it.
I read Wild on a plane to California. I mean, I read the entire book in the span of six hours on a plane: I just devoured the thing. As I read it, I grew more and more excited and simultaneously more and more distressed. I honestly have very little interest in the subject of hiking, but Cheryl Strayed’s writing just destroyed me. The way she talked about her trip, and her own bruised and battered twenty-something life was so brutally honest, yet startlingly poetic.
I knew I would give anything to be able to write the way she did. Strayed had the ability to make the most miserable moments sound fascinating and, in their own way beautiful. And she had a lot of miserable moments as she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail.
One thing that I really like about Wild, in comparison to say, Eat Pray Love, is that Strayed didn’t really enjoy most of her journey. It wasn’t a romp through Rome eating gelato, falling in love with cute guys in Bali. Strayed had to suffer to get through her trip. Physically: blisters, aching feet and worse, but also emotionally. She goes through these trials and comes out transformed on the other end.
Even though I’ve never had a desire to take a 3 month hike (and I still don’t), I could easily relate to Cheryl’s journey. I’ve suffered for my travels: through long flights, sunburns, blisters and the occasional food poisoning. I’ve been through the existential stuff to: the “what am I even doing here,” the “Am I totally wasting my life” and the “this was all a huge, expensive mistake” stuff.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s been a lot of amazing stuff too, and after time it’s the amazing stuff that crowds your memory, totally pushing off the bad. When I think back on Australia, I barely ever remember the constant rain that made me so unhappy, I remember the Great Ocean Road, and seeing old friends and exploring the Great Barrier Reef. I can almost convince myself I had a good time.
BUT. The hard stuff, the emotional stuff you have to tackle on the road, that is what ultimately changes you as a traveler. It’s the stuff that batters you around, change your course completely and finally takes you somewhere you never knew you were headed. This is particularly true when it comes to long-term travel.
Never, 5 years ago, would I have though I would end up where I have, and for me that not only makes travel worthwhile, it makes it magic.
Wild was released on December 5th. I’m going to take my mom this week. Check here to see if it’s playing in your city.
Disclosure: This post was written by me, brought to you by Fox Searchlight Pictures.
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Planning a trip to Amsterdam and looking for the perfect place to stay? Navigating all of the accommodation choices can be a bit confusing. Which neighborhood? How many stars? What’s in the rooms? What’s a good deal?
We’re here to help, with 14 things that you should understand before booking your hotel.A quick intro
First, a few words to introduce myself. I created EuroCheapo back in 2001 to be a straightforward guide to the best budget hotels in Europe’s most expensive cities. We launched our first Amsterdam hotel recommendations that same year, and have been busy updated our recommendations every year since then.
In fact, just six weeks ago I was back in Amsterdam revisiting, reinspecting and re-photographing all of the recommended hotels in our Amsterdam guide. (I’ve just finished updating all of those reviews, if you’d like to take a look.)
I thought I’d pull together an overview of what you should expect from a hotel, and what you should know before you book. Enjoy, and please post any questions to me in the comments section at the bottom of the page!1. Amsterdam is small.
Let’s start with the basics. Compared to other cities that we cover, Amsterdam is geographically teeny-tiny. You can walk from top (Centraal Station) to “bottom” (well, of the tourist zone, basically in the middle of the Vondelpark) in about 45 minutes. This swath of town covers almost everything that most travelers visit in Amsterdam. Compare that to London, Rome or (egad!) Berlin, and you’ll see why I call it teeny-tiny.
In terms of choosing a hotel, this means that really, almost every hotel in the city is “central”, will be easy to get to, and will give you easy access to the big sights. During my last stay, I arrived into Centraal Station during the city’s marathon, and the event had stopped all the trams in their tracks. My hotel was down near the Rijksmuseum, which seemed like across town, but was really just a 45-minute walk (even though I kind of bellyached about it in this post—it was raining, after all).2. Think twice before staying in the bulls-eye of the center.
When traveling around Europe, I tend to choose hotels that are as centrally located as possible. For example, in Paris I like to be in western part of the Marais or near the Louvre. However, in Amsterdam, the absolute center of the city is Dam Square, an often chaotic spot surrounded by department stores, government buildings and tram stops. Nearby, the Red Light District is also about as “central” as it gets, but its streets, packed with bars, sex shops, and roving stag parties, are not a great fit for most tourists.
Instead, I’d recommend opting for something a bit farther out (yet still very easy to get to). It will be quieter and might have that canal view you’re dreaming of. Unless, of course, you’re part of a roving stag party!3. Watch out for hotels around nightlife.
In addition to the nightlife options lining the raucous, neon-lit streets of the Red Light District, more mainstream bars and clubs cluster around a couple of squares, including the Leidseplein and the Rembrandtplein. If you plan to head out for some drinks or to see a show, chances are you’ll end up at (or at least pass through) one of these two squares.
Hotels cluster around both of these squares as well, especially on, and above, the Rembrandtplein (like the Hotel Rembrandt Square, above). Unless your hotel has excellent soundproofing, budget hotels on these squares will be ideal only for travelers who plan to stay out late, can fall asleep to a thumping beat, or have great earplugs. Travelers looking for a quiet night’s sleep should look elsewhere—at least a few blocks away.4. Okay, so which neighborhoods do I recommend?
In terms of my favorite neighborhoods in Amsterdam for sleeping, I quite like the western and southern canal rings (referred to in our guide as Grachtengordel West and Grachtengordel South), which are still very much in the thick of things, but offer a bit more serenity, along with some charming canal-side rooms. The “west” neighborhood puts you very near the Anne Frank house and Westerkerk, while the “south” is closer (but not too close) to the museums, Leidseplein and nightlife (around Rembrandtplein).
Now, romantics will swoon for the Jordaan, a more residential neighborhood farther west of Grachtengordel West, today home to lots of great small restaurants and bars. Another quiet option is the more studious Vondelpark and Museumplein neighborhoods. I spent several nights here on the last trip (at the Cheapo-friendly Museumzicht), and found it very convenient for dropping into the Rijksmuseum and attending a concert at the Concertgebouw.
Finally, there’s the Pijp, a neighborhood that was once largely home to the city’s immigrant population, but is now also home to some of the city’s trendiest bars and restaurants. I also spent a couple of nights here (at the Bicycle Hotel), and quite enjoyed the more varied dining options, and the quieter, more residential vibe of the neighborhood.5. Get ready to climb some stairs!
Most of Amsterdam’s central and small hotels are located in centuries-old canal houses that are protected by zoning laws, thus making it very difficult (if not impossible) for the hotel owners to add an elevator. A majority of the hotels we recommend in our guide do not have an elevator. It isn’t that they don’t want to add an elevator, it’s just that, in many cases, they can’t add one to the building.
But wait, it gets better! Many of the stairs are shockingly steep. We’re talking about open-the-front-door, laugh-out-loud, you-gotta-be-kiddin’-me, steep. It’s not (technically) a ladder. It’s a staircase—there’s a railing.
There is some help to be had: Some hotels have devised ingenious rope-and-pulley systems to hoist your luggage up the stairs (see photo below, at the Hotel Prinsenhof). Others will help carry your bags up for you. However, they won’t carry you up. If you don’t feel that you’re up for the climb of your life, book a hotel with an elevator.6. Need an elevator?
Hotels that are situated in newer structures are much more likely to have an elevator. And by “newer,” I mean something built after the advent of “talkies”. Your best bet for finding an affordable hotel with an elevator is to head a bit outside the most central neighborhoods, as the buildings will be newer. Try the hotels around the Vondelpark.7. Hotel rates can be unpredictable.
You might have noticed that hotel rates can be all over the place in Amsterdam. One week it’s €79 a night, and the next it’s €129. That’s because most hotels now use dynamic pricing, which causes rates to swing all over the place depending on their own availability. (This is the case all over Europe, not just in Amsterdam. You can read my entire post on this subject here.)
Interestingly, Amsterdam currently has too many hotel rooms on its hands, which has led to very low rates in the low season (October – March, excluding holidays). How did this come about? Shortly before the 2008 recession, the city permitted the construction of thousands of additional hotel rooms in order to meet the increased demand that the city was experiencing at the time. These new (and expanded) hotels have since opened, but the global recession that followed has caused a slowing of demand.
This all adds up to…8. Hotel rates fall big time during the low season
Thus, during the slower “off season” months, three-, four- and five-star hotels slash their rates to fill their rooms, making for some great deals. This has also made life hard for smaller budget hotels, some of which have closed or just shutter for the winter months.
But bargain travelers looking for hotel deals should be pleased with their choices in these slow months: October, November, December (excluding holidays), January, February, and March. However…9. Hotels try to make it up during the high season
On the flip side, during the high season (late April – late September, plus holidays and special events), those same hotels inflate their rates substantially in order to make up for those cheapo winter months. And I’m not just talking about typical old “high season” rates. Because of the slashed low season prices, hotels have to make up lost revenues like never before—which they do during the summer. Even hostels are in this game, charging rates for dorms that can make a Cheapo shudder.
Note that by “high season” we mean the late spring, summer and early autumn months. However, this also includes major holidays and special events. This includes music and theater festivals, gay pride, the city’s marathon, and business conferences. Dates change every year, so it’s best to check the list on the city’s tourism site.10. Priced out of Amsterdam? Options abound in nearby towns.
So what can you do if you wind up visiting Amsterdam in the heat of the high season or during a business conference that has packed every hotel in town? Consider sleeping in a number of nearby (and also very charming) cities. The train system in the Netherlands is so efficient that you can easily sleep in a half dozen nearby cities and still be in Amsterdam’s Centraal Station in under an hour. Yes, you become a commuter, but it’s a snap.
Cities to consider include: Haarlem (15 minutes by train west of Amsterdam), Utrecht (30 minutes southeast of Amsterdam), Rotterdam (45 minutes south of Amsterdam), even the Hague (48 minutes southwest of Amsterdam).
During my trip this year, I didn’t realize until booking my hotel that I was visiting during the marathon. This event packed every hotel, wiping out every affordable option. Instead, I opted for a charming and much less expensive hotel in Utrecht for my first two nights. It was great to get to know another city, and the commute to Amsterdam every morning was a breeze.11. Most hotels are non-smoking.
Amsterdam might be a city popular with smokers the world ’round, but most hotels in the city are smoke-free. We do list a number of smoker-friendly hotels (such as the Greenhouse Effect in the Red Light District), but these are usually places that have a dedicated patio, deck or room for smoking. That having been said, during these last inspections I did notice a few ashtrays out in rooms—but they were very much the exception. If you’re booking at a “normal” two-, three-, or four-star hotel, you won’t be able to smoke in your room.
To drive the message home to visitors who might be excited to light up in their rooms, many hotels post notices in the hallways reminding guests that, not only will they be charged extra if they smoke, but that the fire department will automatically be called! (Our favorite sign, in the Hotel Abba’s hallway, simply encourages guests to open their windows if they really must smoke!)12. Air conditioning is not needed.
Most one-, two- and even many three-star hotels do not have air conditioning. It simply doesn’t get hot enough in the summer to require it. More upscale three-star hotels and almost all four-star hotels will offer it, however.
In my experience, it really only comes in handy in Amsterdam if the room is stuffy (for some weird reason) or if I’m trying to drown out other noises inside or outside the hotel.13. What’s for breakfast?
Most hotel rates in Amsterdam include breakfast. A typical Dutch breakfast will include coffee/tea, juice, breads, sliced cheeses and meats (usually ham), and maybe yoghurt. It’s a nice start to the day, but don’t come expecting scrambled eggs and bacon.
Ironically, more expensive three- and four-star hotels are more likely to charge you for breakfast (although those breakfast buffets are also more likely to be more extravagant). Always check if the breakfast is included when booking your hotel.
The city is famous for its pancake houses too, of course. (Here are some of our favorites.) While they make a fine hotel breakfast alternative, they’re not just for breakfast in Amsterdam.14. You don’t need to join the party.
Finally, let’s talk about the other guests you might encounter, shall we? Amsterdam is obviously a popular destination for merrymakers from across the globe. These include “hen” and “stag” (bachelorette and bachelor) parties, study abroad students, I-can’t-believe-I’m-turning-30/40/50 binges, etc. If you fit into one of these categories, great—you have nothing to worry about (because you’ll be sleeping just fine).
However, that group is only a part of the city’s tourist population, and a minority at that. If, like me, you value a quiet night’s sleep, consider choosing a hotel outside of the Old Center and Red Light District. In our reviews, we’ve tried hard to sniff out whether or not a hotel attracts a “party crowd”. However, pay attention to the user reviews, and take special note of complaints about noise, thin walls, and loud neighbors.
Yes, it’s easy to find a “party hotel” in Amsterdam. But it’s just as easy to find a nice, affordable and quiet place to call home.More hotel information
• To read more, please check out our list of recommended budget hotels in Amsterdam.
• Also, click here to read more blog posts about ways to save when visiting Amsterdam.Your questions about Amsterdam’s hotels
Have a question about sleeping in Amsterdam? Ask away below!