Amsterdam, like Berlin, had been raved about by people we knew that had been there.
Again, like Berlin, it didn’t disappoint.
We met up with close friends (and neighbours) the first night we were there. Keith (from Belgium) and Mascha (from Holland) were in the area visiting family, so it was very special to meet them on their ‘home-turf’ and so revitalising to catch up over a meal together. After eating in the trendy Jordaan district, we spent the evening wandering through the historic laneways of the inner city – through the grassy haze of the famed Amsterdam ‘coffee-shops’ and along the seedier paths of the red-light district.
The weekend we chose to visit Amsterdam might not have been optimum. The Wednesday prior, was Queens Day – when Queen Beatrix abdicated, passing on the status of ruling Monarch to her son, Willem-Alexander. Saturday being Dutch Remembrance Day and Sunday – Liberation Day, as well as the final and victorious match of the championship for local team, Ajax. Needless to say – they won and the city exploded in a wave of drunken soccer fans followed by the ‘Politie’ (on horseback, on foot and in riot vehicles!). All weekend the city was heaving with people – along the canal banks and in the narrow city streets – it was tricky to walk without being pushed or doing the pushing… the next few days we found it slightly easier to get around. The streets were quieter and the city, calmer.
A favourite pastime for us in Amsterdam was to simply wander along the canals, imagining the lives of the people living in the lavish houses along its banks. At night, most residents leave their curtains open as if showcasing their rooms to the passers-by. Oil paintings hung museum-like, lit by crystal chandeliers; bookcases, wine racks, trappings of an opulent and luxury lifestyle in one of the classiest cities in the world.
The Anne Frank museum was high on the list of places to visit, however the queue had to be conquered first! After over an hour of waiting – the journey inside began. The museum is well presented, although extremely crowded and perhaps a little rushed (due to the endless shoving of the people behind you). As I stood in the queue I could hear the Westertoren church bells ringing. It was sobering to think of those that hid, listening each day to those very same bells, I struggle to recall the words of Anne’s book – something along the lines of how she found the bells comforting and when they were taken down to be melted for the war, her confusion as to what time of day it was without the beloved chiming. I found the emptiness of the museum rooms to be strange at first, but that same emptiness made me stop and contemplate a little more, rather than simply walk on by and observe casually. It was a moving experience, which perhaps only truly hit me as I pushed open the final door into the fresh air again – to think of them living all those months – years even secluded, excluded from society and the open air.
A canal boat tour is mandatory in Amsterdam, as is sitting in a café on a canal sidewalk and watching the waterways pass by. We spent many happy hours watching the varied boats and their passengers, while sipping coffee and eating apple pie.
Ironically, we didn’t cycle much in the city at all – because it was so super busy, we felt it safer to be on foot. The cyclists didn’t seem to care where they rode and a number of times sent crowds of tourists (including us) scattering as they rode through red lights and across pedestrian crossings.
Everything felt within walking distance, as everywhere we walked was so picturesque that we don’t notice the time passing. Hours seemed to evaporate as we wandered…the houses stood above us, as they have for hundreds of years, looking down over hundreds of thousands of passers-by – some of them skew, some of them stately – all of them dignified.
… and everywhere we went, there seemed to be a faint waft of weed in the air.
Time in Amsterdam: 5 nights
Best things about Amsterdam:
- The canals, always a hive of activity with something to watch.
- The historic houses along the canals.
- Relaxed and tolerant atmosphere.
- We found the coffee to be very good here (apparently the Dutch are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers).
- Virtually everyone speaks very good English.
- 58% of Amsterdam residents cycle daily, with total bicylces estimated to outnumber people!
- Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is 4 metres below sea-level.
- Watch out when crossing streets or wandering down laneways and along the canals, they are shared by many bikes and cars too!
- Make sure you eat some pannekoeken and poffertjes while in Amsterdam, as well as the delicious home-made apple pie!
- Many (most) shops do not accept credit cards, always make sure you have cash handy.
- Most shops (other than cafes and restaurants) close on Sundays and some on Mondays too.