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porcupine Amsterdam - A travel report by Bryan
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Amsterdam,  Netherlands - flag Netherlands -  Noord-Holland
4964 readers

porcupine's travel reports

The Matrix Revealed

  11 votes
You don’t have to smoke cannabis or indulge in prostitution to enjoy Amsterdam. Although it may not hurt your experience, it certainly isn’t required.

City at Night...City at Night
City at Night...City at Night
Infamous characteristics aside, among the many charms this city offers are world renowned art, architecture, history and canal side strolling second only to Venice. The crooked streets, narrow sinking buildings of the 1600s, and shimmering canal side reflections create a Dr. Seuss like atmosphere that enthusiasts of hallucination inducing substances can only envy. Just take a deep breath of Amsterdam’s atmosphere and hold it in your lungs for 10 seconds. I promise you won’t overdose.

Favourite spots:
Bird in a boat
Bird in a boat
I was in the city in February 2008 and for Americans it ain’t cheap these days. I can only imagine the suffering your wallet will endure if you brave it in the summer, so be forewarned. Think of it as like traveling to NYC in the 1980s with Canadian currency. Every week will cost you a month’s salary if you’re not careful. Here are some tips to save you some money. Number one, stay at a hostel. At age 36 I felt a little old at the Bulldog which is like a giant college dorm with a lounge that’s half 1970s basement and half Art Nouveau pool hall, but it cost me 1/3 the price of a hotel. Book far in advance or you may not get in. For privacy’s sake I stayed at the Damrak Inn (49 Damrak) on my last night and it was relatively cheap but certainly nothing to write home about. Still it was good to be so close to the train station to catch an early ride to the airport.

What's really great:
Some of the eclectic art on display at Oude Kerk
Some of the eclectic art on display at Oude Kerk
Number two, food is a killer. Try to find a supermarket on your first day and stock up on juice, fruit, cheese, and bread or cracker products. This is how I ate lunch and it saved me a ton of money. For snacks I often indulged in French fries at one of the pomme frites stands. Cost me about €4 ($6) but it was very tasty and it was cheaper than going for lunch anywhere. For about €7 you can get a fine falafel at MAOZ which is the best damn falafel in the world. Holland is home of MAOZ so you will have plenty of locations, but I can tell you there is one right next to the Mint Tower, and another on the way to the Rijksmuseum if you are walking there from Pui Straat. The other place worth mentioning is a magnificent fresh sandwich and omelet café called the Broodje Bert. It’s about 2 blocks up from Pui Straat on the Singel, and you can get a big beautiful sandwich and drink there for around €6. It saved my life.

My favorite hangout - Puistraat
My favorite hangout - Puistraat
That said, you have to go the extra mile and indulge in a Dutch apple pancake somewhere. It’s like a crepe with powdered sugar and I could probably eat about 10 of them in one sitting if they didn’t cost €7 each.

Our Lady of the Attic... no kidding
Our Lady of the Attic... no kidding
Number three, incidentals will bury you. In a town where the Internet can cost €4 per hour, it isn’t difficult to waste $20 on a can of soda, a magazine, and sending some e-mails. Use to find the most recent Internet cafes as the chain EasyInternetCafe was no longer in business in spite of the enticement of several guide books.

Royal Palace at Dam Square
Royal Palace at Dam Square
I was surprised how crummy and uncomfortable the “coffee shops” appeared to be. One would think that a city so infamous for getting people stoned would know how to accommodate the act, but most places were Formica laden dives with green neon everywhere, uncomfortable stools, and loud reggae music. If you are going to smoke weed, I understand the Damp Kring is a fine establishment. There are a few locations, but the one that looked the most inviting was once again near Pui Straat. You can also go to any “Smart Shop” to pick up other forbidden substances. The city is known for cannabis, but I was shocked to discover that fresh mushrooms and ecstasy were also available.

Reflections on a canal
Reflections on a canal
As far as the prostitution goes, it’s there but you don’t have to see it. The red light district is pretty well defined so if you are offended by such scenes then stay away. The city is big enough for everybody. I didn’t indulge in any such activity but you can learn about the trade without participating. I understand that the going rate is €50 for 15 minutes. Prostitution is also legal and regulated in Germany and many non-Europeans may be unaware of this fact so they visit unhindered. The same can be true of your experience in Amsterdam if you so desire. As for myself, I would enjoy the spectacle with a fresh paper cone of pommes frites and that was the extent of my thrill. There are women of all shapes and sizes but the vast majority were surprisingly attractive. Maybe not super models, but certainly porn star quality by western standards.

Settling, and unsettling crooked buildings of Amsterdam
Settling, and unsettling crooked buildings of Amsterdam
My main endorsement is for the streets themselves. Get out there and walk as much as you can. The Bloomengarten is a beautiful and long outdoor flower market, and it is only one of several such canopied markets. There’s an enormous and beautiful park just beyond the Rijksmuseum that is a nice reprieve from the winding ring of streets that are not as disorienting as Venice, but certainly take time to learn. I also enjoyed the many pedestrian areas and if you read this article then you know that I really liked Pui Straat. There’s a kind of plaza there at the American Book Center that is very relaxing and it makes a good landmark. Get thee a map, and get thee to Amsterdam, ye won’t be disappointed.

Other recommendations:
Broodje Bert - Best Sandwiches
Broodje Bert - Best Sandwiches
As for the tourism I will make a few recommendations. Quite frankly you can see a world class museum anywhere in the world. When I travel to far away lands I prefer to visit museums that honor an artist who represents the place, and where I can see the finest examples of that person or people’s work. As such I highly endorse a visit to the Van Gogh Museum and the Rembrandt House. Then if you have extra time go to the Rijksmuseum. I also enjoyed hitting some galleries that were advertised in local art papers. You know you are going to see some cutting edge and unique stuff when you venture to the private galleries. Of these, the best is called FOAM and it is the main photography museum.

I also hit the Tropen (Tropics) Museum which dealt with the colonial history of the Dutch if you are interested in such things, and I found it quite good albeit akin to a school field trip. The Bible Museum was only OK and the History Museum was vast and pretty cool all in all. The Anne Frank Haus is both humanizing and capitalizing on the holocaust so I walked away with mixed feelings. The Catholic church known as Our Lady of the Attic is worth seeing as is the interior of the Oude Kerk and the Neue Kerk (old and new church respectively).

Published on Saturday April 19th, 2008

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Sat, May 10 2008 - 06:08 AM rating by marianne

Good sound advice. I am glad you liked Amsterdam (apart from the high prices, but the time will come that the exchange rate is more favourable for you)

Sun, Apr 20 2008 - 05:58 AM rating by davidx

I agree completely about Museums. Very good report.

Sat, Apr 19 2008 - 03:58 PM rating by krisek

An interesting story, despite a bit of moaning about prices :). With the £ sliding down against the € as well, I know how it feels. I admire your courage not sticking to the pre-defined structure. I tried it only once...

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