For a city that is famous for its seedy aspects, namely (and, sorry to be crude) prostitution and drugs, I found Amsterdam a refreshing trip. From the minute I walked out of the airport I was impressed by the beautiful architecture, entranced by the tinkle of bicycle bells and by the end of the trip I had been seduced by the many canals that run all through the city.
To get our bearings on a trip that was ill-prepared for, my boyfriend and I started the trip with a walking tour of the city. In the tour we meandered through the red light district, walked past the Dutch East Indies company building, solemnly looked upon Anne Frank’s hideaway, snapped pictures of a lot of old churches and smelt the aroma coming from the many coffee shops that are dotted around. We learnt that Amsterdam, called ‘The Venice of the North’, actually has more (and less boggy) water than Venice. And although many people travel to Pisa to see the Leaning Tower, they could also go to Amsterdam where all the buildings appear slightly tipsy because of the unstable marsh-land foundations upon which they are built.
After deciding that our time in Amsterdam would be a relaxed one, we woke up mid-morning most days. Once we were ready to attack the day we would head to an eetcafe to have a brunch of savoury pancakes, Poffertjes, and Olliebollen. I was flummoxed at the traditional food served in the Netherlands. All authentic dishes that we came across consisted of potato and dough, and were just pure stodge! Having taken delight by indulging in their foods, I found my jeans were miraculously shrinking around the waist, the way they always do after a good meal.
Having lived in London all my life I pride myself on being an expert road-crosser. You have to be if you don’t want to get run over by the many angry buses and cars on the London roads. However, in Amsterdam I fumbled back to the curb many times and narrowly swerved death-by-bike daily. The layout of the city accommodates for vespas, bicycles and trams and is highly disorientating even for a bustling city gal like me. Road rage takes on a whole new meaning as the Dutch cycle past ferociously ringing on their dainty bells telling ignorant tourists like me to stop.
When New Year’s Eve rolled around we panicked. I had been tasked with finding a restaurant close to our hotel, which was situated a two minute walk away from the Rijksmuseum. I had found a modestly sized Italian place highly recommended by TripAdvisor. We arrived at 7.15 and were the second party to arrive. What? Do people not eat on New Year’s Eve?! Is this not a good place?! We were wrong on both accounts, by 8.00 it was buzzing with large and small parties all breaking bread before the big ball drop. After we finished our meal of pasta and champagne we headed to the harbour where fireworks lit up the Amstel River, Nemo building and the Amsterdam VOC Replica ship. There was a DJ, big crowds of drunk people and a countdown to midnight – what more could we ask for on New Year’s Eve? After the display we headed back to our hotel. The usual half an hour walk turned into two hours. As we strolled along fire crackers were lit by our feet, the squares were vacated as fireworks went off in the centre and general anarchy ensued in Amsterdam. We left Chinese lanterns and the smell of gunpowder as we walked back into the calm of our hotel lobby at 2.30 am.
Our days were filled with bike rides and fresh air. We rode through Vondel Park, saw the floating flower markets and went to the Foam photography museum. We saw a man walk out of a prostitute’s lair and we went to the Sex museum full of willies and boobies. We embraced the Heineken Experience, we took a boat cruise around the canal system and bustled through the coffee shops, breathing in the experience.
Amsterdam truly was a great city for exploring as it was the perfect size to walk or cycle everywhere. Roads were bustling with January shoppers and tourists, but just two minutes strolling down the right side roads off the beaten track will have you on an empty street with only the faint twinkle of bells in the distance and not another soul in sight. My favourite find and highest recommendation to anyone going to Amsterdam would be Jordaan. Being only a stone’s throw away from the City centre, Jordaan is a quiet and quaint, and almost suburban, area. It modestly boasts small and cute shops and even smaller and cuter pubs.
I revelled in the short week I had in Amsterdam learning about the Dutch culture and history. Who knew that the Dutch East Indies trading company basically started capitalism, that tulips are actually from Turkey and there is a revered Christian tradition involving holy puke bread?