I have been to Amsterdam three times in my life and, I admit, only once it was for the culture. And that was when I was seven. The second time was when I was inter-railing with my friends when I was 18. The most recent time was as the start of my first ever solo trip: a 10-day tour of the Netherlands. I wasn’t by myself in Amsterdam though – I piggy-backed along with my friend’s friends, as a way of pushing myself out of the door…
Whether you go for marijuana for Van Gogh, I think we can all agree that it’s a beautiful city with a well-deserved reputation as a fine weekend trip. It can also be incredibly busy, expensive and touristy. With all my experience, I’d love to share with you some tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years.
Tip #1: don’t skimp on the accommodation
It’s expensive wherever you stay, so you have think about your priorities. When I went with my friends we stayed in the cheapest hostel we could find: the Hans Brinker Budget Hotel. It was nice, clean, with a good drinks deal in the early evening. The only problem was that it was just that little bit too far from the centre of town. This meant we spent a lot of time walking up and down the same street, which is very trying when you are high. We ended up spending a lot of time in the hostel because we just couldn’t be bothered any more.
The next time I went, I had to stay wherever my friend’s friends had picked out, and it turned out to be really great. It was called Bob’s Youth Hostel and, despite being a bit more expensive and a bit grimmer, I definitely preferred it. It’s right by the station in the middle of the touristy bit of town, opposite a lovely coffee shop with a fine and reasonably priced selection. From there it was easy to go into town, or Westerpark, or rent bikes and go further afield.
Tip #2: eat nice food
The Dutch aren’t famous for their cuisine, I give you that. They are absolutely smashing desert (alternative tip #2: eat nothing but poffertjes), however their mains are just, like, deep fried meat and potatoes. Which is fine! And definitely better than just eating Maccy Ds and supermarket sandwiches (praise to Albert Heijn), which it what my friends tend to do… but not awesome amazing.
However, Amsterdam has this delightful (colonial) relationship with Indonesia, which means that there’s a certain part of town (don’t ask me where, just find it) where you can eat all sorts of delicious Indonesian snacks. So find it, eat it, and please dear lord stay away from those vending machines.*
*If nobody has mentioned it before, you can get snacks like burgers and chips from vending machines. I don’t know how this is socially, morally or bacterially ok, but there you go. Also, the Dutch eat their chips with mayo, which is how chips should be eaten. If you want ketchup they will look at you funny and have to go to the back to fetch some. You are warned.
Tip #3: look up
The canals are great, of course, and totally iconic. However, the rest of the street is equally fantastic. Dutch houses are designed so that you can hoist the furniture up through the front windows, rather than have to carry it up the stairs. This is why a lot of the houses lean forwards slightly, and most of them have those big iron hooks at the top. It’s nice and unique to the Netherlands (as far as I know), and very pleasingly practical.
Plus, if you don’t look up then you don’t get to see this dog:
Tip #4: don’t expect the sex to be… well… sexy
Here’s the thing: the Dutch aren’t this free-wheeling, liberal, bohemian, sex-mad, hedonistic group of people (I’m sure some of them are but that’s not the point). They legalised prostitution and marijuana because you can’t regulate something that’s illegal, and they knew that regulation was the only way to fix the problem. The whole tourism thing that followed is, in many respects, accidental and not wanted: every now and again the politicians want to ban the tourists or make it illegal again or something, but there we go.
So when you queue up with the Americans and go to the sex show (as I have done), or pick out a woman and pay her for her services (as my friend has done), don’t expect it to be like living in a porno. It’s functional, mechanical, pretend, uninvolved. From my perspective, it was quite interesting, but that is all.
Tip #5: get out of there!
In a nice way, of course. Amsterdam is nice but the Netherlands has so much more to offer. After leaving Amsterdam I went to Leiden, Gouda, Utrecht, Dordrecht and Arnhem, and they were all beautiful places with canals and marijuana and history and bicycles. The Dutch train system is excellent since you pay by distance travelled, so pick somewhere nice and close. You can be back in Amsterdam by supper, if you like.
When I next go to Amsterdam I want to stay in Haarlem. It’s on the other side of the country to Amsterdam (i.e., a 15 minute train away) and looks just so great. Like Amsterdam but cheaper and prettier and with better night-life and food, or so I hear. If you’ve been, let me know!
That is all, although no discussion of Amsterdam would be complete with my famous photo of the double rainbow – the perfect thing to find upon leaving a coffee shop!
Until next time x