Amsterdam is a popular and exciting place for travellers to be, Siobhan Carroll writes about her funny adventures around the Dutch capital.
Standing at the boarding gate, I received a text message from a friend who had already arrived. It read:
“There is danger in this hotel room. The bed is on fire and lizards are guarding the doors.”
He had arrived in Amsterdam at 9am, rushed to a “smart shop” to purchase magic mushrooms, consumed them, and now was unable to leave the hotel room. This was my first impression of Amsterdam, and I hadn’t even boarded the plane.
Two hours later, our plane passed over dozens of neat, regimented fields and landed at the sprawling Schiphol airport under a dazzling blue sky. We hopped on a train from beneath the arrivals plaza (free of charge thanks to our good “travel karma”) and found ourselves at Amsterdam Centraal. The city is know for its iconic tall, slender terraced buildings, but Centraal Station is a beautiful, wide and decorative red-brick building. More than 250,000 people pass through its doors each day.
Just outside the station are several tram stops, probably the best way to get around as a tourist. For € 2.60, you can purchase an electronic OV Card from any driver, and with this you can traverse the city for up to an hour. If you prefer to get around on your own steam, the city has excellent bicycle routes separate from the roads, and of course, walking is an ever-popular mode of transport.
We arrived at the Hotel Prins Hendrik after narrowly avoiding death-by-bicycle. The building was typical of Amsterdam, with the iconic roof shape, and the receptionist was very friendly, with a striking resemblance to Kevin Spacey. Our rooms were cosy, quaint, and fairly cheap, with great views of Centraal Station.
After unpacking and dragging our heavily drugged friend out of bed we ventured into the narrow and winding streets of the inner city. Along these streets are an abundance of small shops selling pizza and waffles, “coffee shops” where you can buy “space cakes” and smoke, small bars, and a fast food chain where you buy burgers and fries from vending machines. There are also plenty of restaurants, but the prices represent Amsterdam’s status as a popular tourist destination. The streets buzz with a mellow liveliness.
At night, the city wakes up, although it never seems over-loud or over-crowded. We travelled to Leidseplein, a vibrant area at the south of the canal rings. In the darkness, the bars are often lit up with neon signs and brimming with the music of a live band. Amsterdam seems to prefer the more intimate, relaxed atmosphere of a bar to the raucous nature of nightclubs, although these do exist, but you must be “on the list”. In the renowned Grasshopper bar and restaurant, we watched the lights of the city reflected in the waterways while sipping strawberry daiquiris.
Of course, we also visited the city’s infamous red light district, ironically situated in the area near the Oude Kerk, or Old Church. Hundreds of men strolled around with their hands firmly in their pockets as women with lovely hair and tiny clothes paraded themselves behind windows in the rosy light. One beckoned to me, and a friend tactfully commented, “Don’t worry, they’ll go for anything.”
When the sun was up again, so were we, ready for some culture. We found a street market, full of cheeses, pastries, handbags and clothes, and bursting with life.
One thing that became clear to us is that Amsterdam LOVES museums. As well as the historic Anne Frank, Van Gogh and Stedelijk museums, there are museums of houseboats, spectacles, funerals, sex, diamonds, cheese and even a Museum of Bags and Purses. We chose the Rijksmuseum, a huge and impressive building, home to many wonderful works of fine art including paintings by Rembrandt. The surrounding area was, for me, the most beautiful in Amsterdam.
On our last day, we boarded a canal boat for a tour of the city’s gorgeous waterways. We passed under arched bridges, chugged past houseboats adorned with flowers, through both narrow streets and wide grass-banked ones, with weeping willows leaning to touch the water. I recommend a canal ride to any visitors.
That evening, we sampled some magic mushrooms and spent 4 hours rolling around a hotel room, chatting to a Native American Chieftain who lived inside the fabric of a red chair, and seeing snakes in the carpet.
Finally, the next morning, we said goodbye to the city. But I look forward to saying “hallo” to it again one day.
If you want to see some more photographs of Amsterdam then check out Maya Acharya’s photo-feature ‘Captured: Amsterdam’