Over the summer, my travels were lucky enough to take me, not once but twice, to the Dutch capital of Amsterdam. Some might say I was obsessed.
The first time was at the beginning of a two week Interrailing trip, during which time we crammed in as much as possible over three days. The second was a more last minute adventure; enticed back by the prospect of more stroopwaffles (a local delicacy, which I’ve now discovered can be purchased in Lidl for a very reasonable price) and more lingered street wandering, during which we could really appreciate Amsterdam’s small print and not just its front cover.
I stayed in both a notorious party hostel – which had its own underground nightclub and a perturbing array of propaganda on the walls, with headlines such as, “sorry for being wonderful at not welcoming you” – and then a more typical Dutch apartment – close to the main Prisengracht canal, but on a quiet cobbled back street surrounded by locals. The hostel provided a foam mattress and a dingy locker for belongings. The apartment had a roll top bath tub in the conservatory, and a chandelier mounted on the wall. However, both lodgings meant we only had to walk out the door to be immersed in all the delights Amsterdam has to offer.
There are cafe bars on every corner, selling coffee and pancakes in the morning, rustic sandwich creations at lunchtime, and Heineken long into the night. If that’s not your thing you have the coffee shops – where coffee is never the key item on the menu, but which provide the perfect environment to sit and ‘chill’.
The night life is electric; the whole city buzzes as the arches of each bridge light up, and evening boat tours slide past illuminating the canal waters. There are night clubs galore and the infamous Red Light District (if that’s what you’re after), or you can lazily wander from bar to bar and lap up the various pints of craft beer as well as the general happy ambience of the city. I was asked more than once as a British person why I was not yet drunk at 11am; a trait for which we are apparently renowned. Personally, I’m more the fruit tea type.
On both trips I went for the cultured holiday experience and spent my days taking too many photographs and stopping on every bridge to admire the flowers. The Rijksmuseum is one of the main attractions; a highly impressive museum reminiscent of a fairytale château, sitting on the outskirts of the canal network which was reopened in 2013 after 10 years of refurbishment. It’s a maze of early modern artwork, housing famous pieces by Rembrandt as well as my personal favourite: Johannes Vermeer’s dolls houses, recently used as inspiration for the book The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.
Cycling is the only acceptable mode of transport, something which makes me endlessly happy. You can get around quickly without damaging the environment, and stay fit, but without encountering any sort of hill. Vondelpark is the best place to practise (something I recommended if you’re a tourist, because it’s a slight death trap otherwise.) It’s a green expanse of parkland with wide, flat cycling paths, which meander past fountains, lakes, play parks, and the occasional elaborate band stand. I’d recommend not cycling on the footpaths by accident though, because some locals get a bit angsty. Other than that, they’re a very lovely bunch.
I would be quite happy to go to Amsterdam and never pay for anything. I was happiest left exploring the maze of canals, admiring the architecture, and smiling at the people. There is thoughtful composure behind each street and an intrinsic beam of joy inside the people who live on them. Some might say I was obsessed… and I would unequivocally agree with them. Amsterdam: you have my heart.
Image: Flickr: <Moyan Brenn>