Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
Before we flew to Europe, it seemed as though every person that I knew who had been there had something to say about Amsterdam. Whether it was a question of whether or not we would partake of the typical green leaf culture of the city, or comments on the amazing canal systems or lifestyle for expats, everyone had an opinion to offer.
Now that we’ve been there, I can offer my own opinion of the city – wow! Amsterdam really was the perfect city for us to start our travels in Europe as it’s one of the most tourist-friendly cities I’ve ever encountered. From street signs in different languages, to prompt and efficient public transport and pedestrian-friendly routes, to (relatively) affordable food, to its history, architecture, and art spaces. Amsterdam is a city that is hard to top.
The weather was less than ideal when we were there, with scattered showers for three out of the five days of our visit. However, I feel like the poor weather didn’t even interfere with our enjoyment of the city too greatly. When it rained, we ducked into little cafes to have a snack. When it stopped raining, we went and explored different parts of the city on foot. On the days that it rained almost incessantly, there were some fantastic indoor attractions to visit – the Stedelijk and Rijksmuseum for example (read my blog entry on the museums), or Anne Frank House.
Beyond paid attractions like the museums though, simply walking the streets of Amsterdam was a pleasure. K started to make fun of me as every time we turned onto a new street, I would exclaim “Oh, that’s so pretty!” and stop to take a photo. It’s absolutely true though – nearly every street in Amsterdam has some appeal to it whether it be gorgeous reflections in the canals, attractive old buildings in a row, or even just rows of parked bikes.
Now that we’ve gone through Brussels and Paris (and a few other places too!), we can now see with hindsight that Amsterdam also has another appeal, in that it’s a city that’s remarkably clean. In both Brussels and Paris, it’s not uncommon to come across parts of the city that smell horridly of urine (or worse!), and there may be trash everywhere. We never encountered that kind of unpleasant cityscape in Amsterdam.
Food-wise, cafes and other small street snacks along the way were heavenly. We stopped into places like a cheese shop, and got an Old Cheese Sandwich which was literally a dozen slices of cheese in a baguette. We stopped at a bakery, and got sweet coconutty macaroons. We poked our heads into a deli because the smell of smoked meats was particularly intoxicating, and the server made us a smoked salami sandwich to take away. We visited two different stroopwaffel stalls at the Albert Cuypmarket – I liked the one from Echte Goudse Stroopwaffel. I even stopped by a seafood/herring stall at Albert Cuypmarket and asked just for a single pickle without the herring – and the owner gave me my pickle without a question.
Full meals that we enjoyed out included the visit to Restaurant Stedelijk at the musem, the café Coffee & Coconuts, a fancy dinner at De Jonge Dikkert inside a windmill, a buffet lunch on De Pannenkoelkenboot, and a Dutch-Indonesian ‘rice table’ dinner at Puri-Nas with my friends Emma and Jenny, and K’s friend Tristan (see photos in the below gallery).
We couldn’t eat out for every meal though. We are on a budget while we travel, and the more we can cook at home and save, the more we can ensure that we’re not just living on beans on toast for the last month of our trip! We made the decision to stay primarily at Airbnb apartments while we travel, with the express purpose of having some kitchen facilities to prepare some simple meals. In Amsterdam, that meant making our own breakfast every morning (muesli and yoghurt from the Jumbo supermarket close to our apartment), or having a risoni made by my cousin Charlene who was also in Amsterdam at the time.
And of course, before I wrap up this blog entry, I have to make some comment on the seedier side of Amsterdam that draws so many bachelor and bachelorette parties to this city. Seriously, we encountered at least a dozen groups of Brits out for a ‘lads weekend’.
The infamous Red Light District is much seedier than I had envisioned. Drunk men knock on the narrow shopfront windows of prostitutes, trying to bargain for a few minutes of fun in the back room. (I’m told the going rate is $50 euro for 15 minutes.) On their part, the women all look incredibly bored as they stand in their windows – half of them playing games on their phone as they stand there in their lingerie, the other half staring blankly into space as they chew gum. It’s a living, but at what expense?
Marijuana has a constant presence no matter where you go in the city. You could be walking through the most suburban area with young families when you’ll suddenly get a whiff of pot. ‘Cafes’ advertise the sale of marijuana freely in their windows. People stroll past you on the street with a joint in hand. We sampled some in a cake format while we were there, but I found it didn’t have much effect on me. K on the other hand, was struck down with it hours later when we were out for dinner. Honestly I can say that unless you’re a regular user of pot at home and have a desire to be more open about your usage, the fact that Amsterdam offers it freely isn’t really a reason to visit the city – there are far more compelling reasons.
I look forward to returning to Amsterdam in the future, and in particular exploring other parts of the Netherlands which I hope are as quaint and picturesque as Amsterdam.