“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”
Freedom, sin, canals, culture, history and beauty, and just a little bit of chaos. I absolutely loved it the first time I visited, back in June 2016, so right at the end of October we both hopped on an after-work plane bound for Amsterdam.
We were staying with a friend over there for the weekend, thankfully, because accomodation in Amsterdam can be outrageously expensive. This does makes sense – the city itself only has a population of about 850,000, but plays host to somewhere in the region of 5 million tourist visitors each year. So space is obviously at a bit of a premium, and the best tip I can give here is to book as far in advance as you can.
Why so many people visit starts to become obvious as soon as you reach the city, though: Amsterdam is a beautiful city, really one of the nicest I’ve ever been. We caught the train from Schiphol Airport into the main Amsterdam Centraal Station (very easy and convenient), and as soon as you walk out onto the streets the whole place just looks endlessly appealing. I began to picture living here very early on in the trip, a daydream which intensified over the course of the weekend.
We’d arrived quite late, and so after only about half the amount of sleep we really need to function properly, we got up and went out to see some of the sights. Our first stop: Anne Frank House.
Anne Frank House, for anyone who hasn’t heard of it, is the hidden annex where Anne Frank, her sister and parents, and four others hid throughout much of Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during WW2. The Diary of Anne Frank is Anne’s chronicle of her life during that time (later published by her father, Otto, who was the only surviving member of the group at the end of the war). I’d read the book a long while ago, and it was a fascinating, if rather sobering experience to get to see where it was set. In particular I was struck by the size – the total floor space shared by these eight people, for the entire two years and one month they remained there (they didn’t go outside once during this time) was only about 46 square metres. Crazy. There’s also a very informative museum under the annex, which I think does the job of passing on a little of what life was like in those times very well.
If you are interested in going to the Anne Frank Museum, it is a good idea to book your tickets well in advance as half the days entries are ticketed, then the afternoon is walk up. We walked back past in the afternoon and the line was astronomical, spanning multiple blocks and looping around a church. Not the ideal way to spend an afternoon in Amsterdam.
Just after exiting, we were offered a great example of why you need to be aware of your surroundings when in Amsterdam: a guy on a bike had a massive collision with a tourist girl trying to take a photo of the museum. The girl had taken a step backwards into a bike lane without looking, but the guy was riding along way too fast considering the huge crowd of people who were clearly not local standing next to the lane. We spent the rest of the trip living in a slight state of fear whenever we needed to cross a road, or at least until we’d calmed the nerves with a beer or two over lunch.
Suitably relaxed, we struck off towards our next activity: a canal cruise. There are obviously about a thousand different options for canal cruises in Amsterdam, but our friend had picked out a very cool one called Those Dam Boat Guys, who I would definitely recommend for anyone visiting. You can bring whatever food or drink you want on board, which we did, and rather than being a bit of a formal tour it was more like just a casual cruise around the city with some cool local guy, having a casual chat about what you’re seeing. We loved it.
Once off the boat, and filled with just the right amount of Dutch courage to fully take advantage of this, we were informed of the free tastings at most of the many cheese shops around the city. Basically these places are filled with an amazing range of delicious cheeses, and there are heaps of bowls with cubes for people to try all the different varieties. It was great, and we tried a lot.
We had a little wander through the famous Red Light District after dinner. It’s a pretty surreal place to be honest, what with all the essentially naked girls at the windows beckoning passersby in (a lot of people take them up on the offer too, we saw) and the increasingly rowdy tourist crowds. Very interesting, though the novelty also wears off pretty quick. Also, despite forming a large part of Amsterdam’s reputation, it is in fact quite a relatively small area.
We didn’t have much of the day on the Sunday before our flight, and spent most of it just wandering around, seeing the many pretty sights and eating food. One highlight was a place recommended to us by our Boat Guy guy – Winkel 43. Their specialty is home made apple pie, and on a cold October day such as we had, it was just fantastic. I see now they have a very high rating on any review site you might care to look at, and I’m not at all surprised. Stop by if you ever get the chance.
Stuffed with food by this point, it was sadly time to head to the airport and back home to London. Just one weekend definitely isn’t enough time to see anything like enough of this wonderful city, and we would definitely be back again in the near future.
Until next time, B & A.