After a memorable, albeit slightly underwhelming, time in Paris it was time to move onto leg 2 of our trip – Amsterdam. In my (incredibly missed) circle of friends in London, I was one of the few who hadn’t visited Amsterdam during my time in the Big Smoke. My travel team-mate on the other hand had already been twice, so he was somewhat of a local (whether that’s a good thing or not is up for debate!) So visiting Amsterdam before heading out to the Mediterranean coast, was an absolute prerequisite for me.
So! Let me start by saying this; I bloody love Amsterdam. What a fantastic, charismatic, beautiful city. Built around the River Amstel, the city was initially a small fishing village which then, over the centuries, expanded into what is often known as the “Venice of the North,” and for good reason. The Dutch capital is made up of over 100 kilometres of canals – making it one if the most picturesque cities I have ever visited (AND a UNESCO World Heritage Listing!)
Luckily for us, our ‘chasing the sun’ strategy was a continuing success and we had the most glorious summer weather in Amsterdam. And of course, when the sun is shining, it almost demands the hiring of bikes! So after arriving rather late at our Airbnb (http://bit.ly/1sZnHJ8 another great flat with the friendliest host, Andreas), crack of dawn hits the next day and we are in search of bikes. As you can imagine, there are loads of bike hire companies to choose from and I noticed most people were on red ones which can be found outside the main train station. However, I believe we found the best deal in town with Rent a Bike – two bikes, three days, for 17.73 euros each. What’s better, is the more bikes you hire, the bigger the discount. As my Dad says, VFM (Value For Money) in my opinion!
So we had our wheels and it was time to explore. What’s great about Amsterdam is you can get ‘lost’ around the canals, without ever really getting lost. I think that is one of the best ways to see a city. We did the same in Venice. Just keep walking – or cycling – and find those hidden gems without needing to rely on Trip Advisor. You can always ask for directions if you need!
Luckily for me, I was riding with someone who had already done his exploring. So we went to one of his favourite spots – Amsterdam-Noord. This is across the harbour. You can actually take a free ferry across with your bike! It is quite picturesque around there and great for exploring! Last time my boyfriend was there, he and mates found what they claim was the “best Heineken in Amsterdam.” Located on a road called Nieuwendammerdijk, is Café Ij-zicht, a quaint local pub located on one of the cutest streets I have ever seen. A local we met described it as the “Doll House” street because all the houses were brightly coloured, wooden and looked like something out of a fairytale. We stayed for a few Heinies in the scorching sun, but even if you don’t fancy stopping in, I would highly recommend checking out this, often unseen, part of town.
Then, that evening, it was time to venture into the infamous Red Light District. Lovely ladies of the night standing behind glass screens around every corner – a lot of them, to my somewhat naive surprise, were absolutely stunning! We hopped across a few bars around the district and managed to befriend some locals. I asked one man who’d lived in A-Dam all his life what his opinion on the controversial red light economy, and he explained that “if it is what the women wanted to do to pay the bills, who are we to judge?” He also went on to say that the city is led to believe that police are quite focussed on ensuring no one is involved that doesn’t want to be. My opinion? I don’t really have one. I can’t say I agree with these girls’ chosen form of profession, however if they are safe, and it is 100% their choice, then I am happy to leave them to it.
Waking up the next day, the pain of that hangover still haunts me to this day. Somehow the night before we managed to bike back safely to our flat (sorry Mum!).I was excruciatingly desperate for a good coffee, so we ventured back to the scene of the crime – Red Light District – which also happens to have some of the best canal-front cafes – and found front row seats.
A delicious cuppa helped get our A’s into G (kiwi slang for getting going) and we went to research booking a canal cruise.
Similar to the bike hire situation, there are so many canal cruises to choose from. Our preferences were one that didn’t have a roof, that would show the canals at night and that had a personal tour guide. I don’t really believe in doing tours when you don’t know what you are looking at. So we settled on this cruise for 16.50 euros: http://bit.ly/1sZuzpW
However, because the boat left at 8:00pm, we had a bit of time to kill. We filled this with a few cold beers (best cure for a hangover actually) and cheese tasting! As you might imagine, there are loads of cheese shops in Amsterdam selling the most delicious gourmet cheese. What you might not know is that these shops are filled with samples. Heaven! My favourite was a place called ‘Cheese and More.’ This place was huge with more cheeses than I thought could exist and each one had a bowl of samples. When you’re on a tight budget, free food (not mention free cheese) is an opportunity one just simply cannot pass up on. So we indulged, and boy was it good – pretending to discuss the in’s and out’s of the flavours, “Oh have you tried this one?” – I had. four times already – “Oh no, what’s that flavour?” Yes, we took advantage, (we visited another three cheese shops…).
To finish our evening on a high, we boarded our boat cruise. We splashed out a little on this but it was definitely worth it. After walking around the canals for so long, it was great to finally be on them! And to see areas of the city that we somehow hadn’t managed to come across. You cannot leave Amsterdam without getting on that water!
Then, sadly, arrived our final day in A-Dam. It started with, what I now tell whoever will listen, is one of my favourite food chains in the whole, wide, world – “Bagels and Beans.” Excelling in offering two of my favourite things – bagels and coffee – this place has the biggest menu of ‘made-to-order’ bagels I have ever seen. Couple that with the seven different choices of bread and the options seem endless. (I miss it!)
We also visited the Rijks Museum. This was a bit of a blow out. Our Airbnb host had informed us this would be a historical museum about the city and the Netherlands, which we were really keen on as the the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman first found New Zealand. Sadly, For 15 euro (each!) we found ourselves in another art museum. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice, and again we managed to download a great app which gave our visit structure and was informative, but it wasn’t quite what we were looking for and definitely wasn’t the Louvre. I believe the Amsterdam Museum would have been a wiser choice, having researched after the fact – rookie mistake.
Sadly, it was then time to pick up the enormous backpacks and make our way to the airport. I was sad to leave Amsterdam! It was a city that really clicked with me. While it didn’t quite knock Berlin off it’s perch, it is very close. I do believe I could do a year or two stint living and working there.
BUT! Portugal was a’calling! Sun, sand, tapas, wine, and hopefully a little more kindness on the wallet! Bring it on.