Beautiful Dutch architecture, museums filled with art of the greatest and tons of bicycles parked along canals. All of this also can be found in the capital city notorious for legal weed, fried food and prostitutes behind large windows.
City and public transport.
I was in Amsterdam this autumn for the second time around and yet still I’m not convinced. As I don’t smoke weed (I really don’t) nor am I interested in a drunken sexual intercourse, I came here for the Dutch culture. The city itself isn’t too big. There is the main centre which is cut off on one side by a big canal and the Centraal Train Station and from here spreads inlands. The canal network creates kind of a circular shape, that remains obvious within the two inner areas, but further out the centre it rather verges onto square street distribution which resonates with modern urbanism.
Once you land, there is train at the Schiphol airport going straight to the city centre and is incredibly fast! It only takes 6 minutes to Amsterdam-Zuid and couple more to get to Centraal Station. Definitely don’t get a bus from the airport as it takes much longer than that. Through the whole city, there is a metro as well as a pretty great tram network. Not always the trams arrive as scheduled but they fit their purpose. Moreover, they employ two staff members per carriage! A driver (thank you miss Obvious) and a ticket seller. It comes really handy but hey, how can the city afford paying someone sitting in a box in the middle of the tram I have no idea. Anyway, you can only enter trams from the second last door as the others ones are only exits. My friends bought a three day unlimited ticket for 25 euros. I, on the other hand, stuck with one hour tickets, that cost you 2,80 euros which I think is okish.
Almost all the locals though, including the older generation cycle rather than use the public transport. You can see billion bicycles of all different kinds and levels of decay everywhere around the city. Some brand new with cute rattan baskets at the front, others with an old veneer and an empty beer case to put your bag in. I’m not personally the greatest fan of cycling but these bikes in combination with flat roads are damn tempting. We wanted to hire some and go outside the city for the day or just a half but at the end it was really windy and rainy the whole time so we rather stayed in. If you are luckier than us you can choose pretty much any bike rental, as the pricing is almost the same. They usually offer either just the bike rental but also variety of day trips – either around the city or just outside of it to get some fresh air and check on those notorious dutch windmills.
In my personal opinion two full days is more than enough for exploring what the city has to offer. We started our tour at the Rembrandtplein (plein=square) where is a beautiful and unusual Rembrandt’s memorial which consists of dozen of independently standing soldiers that look so typically dutch ike if they just stepped outside Rembrandt’s Night Watch. From here we continued towards the Begijnhof, which is very rare areal that was built to house beguines; religious women who lived in community without taking vows or getting married. The entrance is free and as these houses are still inhabited, please have respect to their inhabitnats´ privacy. : ) In front of Begijnhof we checked briefly a local market with antique books and prints, where I had to buy one.
Orientation for pedestrians in Amsterdam is really simple, as there is signage to the closest sights on each corner. Just a short walk from Rembrandtplein, there is another square Dam. It is quite large and you can find here massive Madame Tussaud museum as well as the Royal Palace to which you can get in for an entrance fee. Right next to it, there is Neuwekerk (The New Church) with temporary exhibitions indoors. All around Dam there are wide boulevards with mountains of more or less fancy stores with clothes if you fancy some shopping. If you head the street right opposite the Royal Palace soon you will get into the Coffee Shop area and the Red Light District. The most curious is when you get to the beautiful building of Oudekerk (the Old Church) and walk around it, because those streets offer the biggest freak show of window prostitutes; some bored digging their nose, others pressing their boobs onto the glass… Further in you can walk all the way to the Rembrandt house which to be honest isn’t worth it. Commercialized object with souvenirs, that’s it.
If you go to Amsterdam a must stop would be the Rijksmuseum, where besides the other treasures the Rembrandt’s Night Watch is exposed. Unfortunately they do not offer any concession discounts for students but in my opinion it is still really worth going. I went there the first time I was in Amsterdam and this time we went to check out the Stedilijk Museum of modern art which is located on the museum plein, right opposite the Rijksmuseum, where is also the Van Gogh museum and many others. The entrance to Stedelijk was 8 euros for students and it excited me heaps. Not only there is modern art but also graphic and other design objects. The top experience though was a huge part dedicated to Jean Tinguely and his kinetic sculptures and mechanisms, that could be switched on and brought to movement. Following his original concept and aim I have to say it was super refreshing to see so many people laugh at a gallery. : ) The bonus was an audio guide (which was for free) that made it so much more interesting even for people without arty education.
If you head North-west all of a sudden the rush and noise of Red Light district and other touristy spots fizzles out and you can finally unwind. Welcome to Jordaan, a magical area of typical canals with parked houseboats and crooked duch architecture made from dark bricks creating flat facades, complimented by beautiful rooftops finished with hooks. Hooks? Yes, almost every single house in Amsterdam has a hook at its top. And the purpose? Moving. You hook a simple pulley there and drag furniture on the outside of the building through the largest window. As the whole Netherlands lays underneath the sea level it is necessary to lighten the materials pressing down the ground. That’s why the walls are hollow, the windows are single and the staircases are super steep and narrow. In Jordaan beside just hanging around you can visit the Westerkerk, where Rembrandt is resting or Anna Frank’s house. For me going into her house wasn’t even an option. I read the book and I find it extremely rude making a commercial attraction from it. Endless queues of people who are so eager to take a peek into this girl’s family tragic destiny while a nearby Jewish quarter and a Portuguese Synagogue sits empty. Ah well.
Food and pubs.
Talking about Jordaan, it is also magical with its tiny pubs, that are not on each corner but they are super cozy and warm. They usually consist of two floors and are only offering a small amount of seats. Cafe het Papeneiland on Prinsengracht 2 was my very favourite. Upstairs therre is a smoking lounge which used probably used to serve as a kitchen in the past as there are still ceramic tiles on the walls. Huge steamed window across the wall and narrow staircases reminds of the Weasley’s house and the bartender girl was super nice and friendly. Any other pubs in this area are very alike, so you can’t make a wrong decision, really. These pubs are great for chatting and I would always choose them over massive riot pubs in the Red Light District : D
If you are a party beast, pretty much everywhere in the centre there is a place to go to. Bars, pubs, coffee shops, clubs, strip bars…anything you like. In the centre I would recommend the Poolbar which not only offers a game at a billiard table, but also plenty of other table games. It is decorated in retro style with signs and posters on the walls and of course accompanied by 80′ & 90′ songs. You can also buy here 1,5 l pitchers of beer or go hard and get the 4 litre beast for only 30 euros! My friend Martin would definitely recommend his favourite bar he named ‘the Redneck’s’ but I have no clue where it is and I think nor he does. That’s just that type of place, that pops up just when you need it… at approximately 2 am. : D
When it comes to food in Netherlands, I have been asking plenty of people about it but it seems, there is no such thing as a traditional meal. I always got answers like: cheese (indeed, the cheese is great!), pancakes / waffles and fries. It is pretty multicultural over there, so you can get any type of food you just feel like, but nothing typically Dutch. There are all kinds of fast foods, kebab places or noodle bars in the streets. My favourite was Wok to Walk; there are many similar ‘noodles to box’ type of places, but this one was the greatest! You can make your own version of noodles which are made from scratch in front of you. And they don’t hold back on coriander, o nom nom! The biggest and maybe the only supermarket chain in Amsterdam in Albert Heijn. The sell pretty damn good cheese and veg over there and Martin’s favourite: custard in a box! : D So why not just to buy some groceries and have a picnic in a park…well only if it’s not raining at the moment.
Amsterdam. It is really all that has been said above. For some, a city with typical Dutch magic regarding its cultural background and art history. For others, a sin city of legal pot smoking and sex trade leniency. If you are one of those who would go there for the second reason, you will definitely appreciate raw and swagy atmosphere of one of zillions of coffee shops, that can be found pretty much anywhere around the centre. You can buy quite a lot of weed for approx. 12 euros and trust me, you will have quite a lot of types and flavours to choose from. You can either buy a sack or a single pre-rolled joints, that are sold in closable plastic tubes from a staff member or straight from a vending machine! There isn’t actually any need to point out any particular coffee shop worth trying, as there are so many, so you can pick the one that you like the best. Well of course, only if you are lucky enough to find a place to sit down. You can smoke pot inside, however, tobacco is not permitted unless there is designated area for it.
Fancy a stripper, blowjob or a quicky? There is a whole variety of girl choices in the Red Light District: fat, skinny, pale, dark, nipples in or out, eating a kebab….they have em all locked down in shopping windows and you can just walk around and pick your favourite. If you are a sex tourist I learned from the locals though, that the pretty girls are ‘on duty’ only later at night while during the day ‘the butcher’ puts out the less popular ones. Don’t want to get involved but only watch? Sure, no probs. There is ‘Live Porn Shows‘ on the play! Also, a kinky souvenir shouldn’t be a problem too, as there is literally sex shops on each corner.
In and out.
If you have spare time on your hands and want to take a break from the city I definitely recommend going to Marken. It is a small coastal village very close to Amsterdam where it looks like the time has stopped. Tiny picturesque houses, windmills, yachts chilling in a little harbour and couple of cute little shops where wooden clogs and hand sewed table-clothes are sold. Sit by the harbour and enjoy a drink in one of local restaurants.
Netherlands isn´t that big so if you have a car, you can see quite a bit in a short time. Go visit some other cities like Utrecht, Rotterdam or Leiden or just cruise around the beautiful dutch countryside with canals, tulip fields and windmills. But remember, always bring an umbrella to Netherlands. : ) Amsterdam and I have a pretty straight forward relationship; I have been there (twice), I have seen it (thoroughly), no particular need to repeat any time soon. But Netherlands? Man, I want to get to know you better….