Wham, bam and thank you ma’am! Amsterdam can pick you up, throw you around like a rag doll and spit you out like yesterday’s old news in a heartbeat, never mind twenty four hours.
I had come to the capital of the Netherlands for some good old fashioned rest and recreation and, knowing the old lady a bit, got just the rewards I was looking for. Stop that you dirty minded reader! I didn’t mean the red light district (more on that later) or the ubiquitous coffee shops, although I have a few tips for the uninitiated. I meant sampling the delights of a great liberal minded capital city with so much to offer the casual tourist and taking advantage of the beautiful weather to amble about its historic waterways.
Amsterdam by night is an amazing place, but watch your back and explore in numbers
A little context is in order here; I have to admit that this took over twenty four hours to fit everything in and in my defence I should point out that time is relative to the individuals’ position in the space time continuum to another. See I told you the coffee shops were fun…oops!
For the newcomer to Amsterdam, cheap flights abounding, you will probably arrive at Schiphol Airport, a spanking airport if ever there was one and just a brief journey by train direct into the main station. Buses arrive at the Amstel station a stop or so away.
There is a new transport pass in Amsterdam similar to the Oyster card in London and if you are going to be in the city for a few days it will work out much cheaper. Check out http://www.gvb.nl for more details and purchase options. Walking is, of course, the cheapest option and to my mind the best way to see the city and explore all the hidden gems.
Where to stay is probably going to be coloured by your travel companion/s, if there are any, and your predilection or aversion to weed. The romantics among you should aim for one of the lovely little guesthouses on the canals (see Trip Advisor for a good rundown on the best of these). A burgeoning supply of hostels is dotted all around the city, the Flying Pig is a well established location, www.hostelworld.com and www.hostelbookers are the way to go here. If you want something smoke free, and let’s face it not everyone goes for the maryjane, then the Stayokay HI at the Vondelpark is a great choice with its central location and proximity to the museums.
Catch a boat and cruise the waterways
A great way to see the city and get a feel for the history is to take a waterway cruise, it may seem a bit cheesy but unless you are fortunate to have a local with a boat it is a good option. You can join one of these at the landing stage near the main station. Another option is to plum for a walking tour, some of these are offered free (tips are expected) or just pick up a map and get to it. During the day there should be little problems walking around the main centre of the city but after dark, especially around the side streets of the red light district, exercise a little caution.
Apart from the canals themselves and the great buildings that line them, including the tourist overrun Anne Frank House, Amsterdam has a wealth of museums on offer, don’t miss the Rijksmuseum Museum with is masterpieces and of course the Rembrandthuis. There are so many great cultural places on offer that it soon becomes obvious that you are coming back to this city sometime soon.
Live music is well appreciated in the Netherlands and with their wonderful command of the English language many bands kick out jazz, rock and modern pop in a familiar way. I was fortunate to see a great festival of Dutch music on my visit with stages all over the city; the best place to camp out was on a stool at one of the bars on the Neumarkt listening to young and old rock out to Acda and De Munnik belting out their many hits. Okay I didn’t understand the lyrics but had a helpful translation from my Dutch friend as she multitasked ordering drinks and maintaining a precarious balance against the tide of merrymakers.
My local tour guides Marjon and Hans
The red light district is changing, pressure on cleaning up the image a little for tourists and kicking out the hard drug dealers has made some progress. Others may be disappointed that the little booths are more and more occupied by fashion designers and creative types, although the regular trade has hardly disappeared. All in all it is cleaner and more welcoming, the summer sees a great rise in traffic on the water as revellers hold parties and even barbeques while touring round the canals in small boats packed with champagne and good friends. It is a real Amsterdam treat to see and must make many a visitor very envious.
Trying out new places in a city you are familiar with is good fun and I was invited to the Zeedijk to see some of the restored bars in the area and mingle with the locals. This street was, for many years, a dangerous place, bars were closed and the streets were left to drug dealers and hustlers, it was not tourist friendly and even the locals avoided it. Sat amongst the ruins of the area lay a small bar; undisturbed inside for over twenty five years as the ravages of time took hold outside. Once one of the first gay bars in Amsterdam the Cafe‘t Mandje, run by lesbian motorbiker Bet van Beeren, was a crazy place to hang out when she took it over in 1927. The bar, frequented by pimps, hustlers, gay men and women alike was unique amongst the bars of its time. After a restoration, some of the original features are in the Amsterdam Historic Museum, it has reopened and has become a lovely addition to the nightlife of Amsterdam with an eclectic set of drinkers and the occasional tourist!
Enough I here you say, I want to go there already. Well Amsterdam is waiting for you, try the unusual, enjoy the rest of the city and drink a beer for me with Bob the bartender in the Cafe‘t Mandje.