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krisek Amsterdam - A travel report by Krys
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Amsterdam,  Netherlands - flag Netherlands -  Noord-Holland
7877 readers

krisek's travel reports

Coolness of Netherland's constitutional capital.

  8 votes
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Amsterdam's flag has large white XXX on a black and red background. What else is typically associated with XXX? The city might be one of the coolest on Earth with relaxed attitude towards sex & drugs, picturesquely criss-crossed with canals and bridges.


Prinsengracht
Prinsengracht
Over a 100 kilometres of seventeenth century canals, 1,500 bridges and almost 100 islands complete with magnificent and diverse architecture make Amsterdam unique. Yes, the city has many more bridges than Venice but it is not cocky about it. The number of bridges has never been a race and so it should not matter whether it is Sankt Petersburg, Stockholm or Amsterdam that have the largest number of them. And yet none of them escape the comparison with Venice.

The cobweb of canals looks incredible from air, but the city is magnificent and special also from the canal and street level. What makes it great that one can actually walk (often drive) along the canals, many banks of which have also trees planted alongside. This really makes Amsterdam very special.

Often Den Haag is cited as the capital of the Netherlands, but it is just a place, where the government sits. The Dutch constitution states that Amsterdam is the capital city.

Amsterdam was granted city rights in 1306, and its importance grew under the Hanseatic League. But it was in the 17th century that brought the city fame and prosperity. And its current shape. The trade with the Dutch colonies, including those in Indonesia, contributed to that, making Amsterdam one of the richest cities in the world. And the diamonds from South Africa help the city to establish itself as the world centre of the diamond trade. To this day, Amsterdam enjoys the reputation of world's best place for the stones' valuation.

Amsterdam is relatively compact and can be discovered on foot in a couple of days. Long days, but it is possible. It takes about three quarters of an hour to walk from end to another. If one wants to explore the many museums, then one weekend might not be enough... Plus, for the first time visitor, navigation in the city might be tricky, and asking for directions might be confusing. This is because the streets are semi-circular, so turning either right or left from a point can still get you to the same street.

Favourite spots:
Munttoren in the background
Munttoren in the background
The first time I came to Amsterdam ages ago, I immediately liked the Leidseplein with its cafes, restaurants and places to see some unconventional art. It was always full in the evening and it was buzzing with young people chilling and having great time. The second, third and fourth time, I thought exactly the same. But the last time I went to Amsterdam, I discovered the Rembrandtplein, which might have overtaken the Leidseplein as my favourite spot in the city. It was much calmer and somewhat more spacious, but it was still very close to all the joys of the nightlife. Plus it had a few very nice lounges and pubs, so different is style - more woodwork and classic decor. Very agreeable with me, somehow.

I also have always liked the Dam, but last time, it was spoiled by an amusement park created there with crowds losing their breath on the giant swings and mad carousels, screaming to the heaven above, and choking on candyfloss. It all obscured the Royal Palace!

What's really great:
Near the Centraal Station
Near the Centraal Station
Amsterdam's main quality is its laid back atmosphere. It has never failed me and after speaking to many locals and locals from recycling (expats, who decided to stay) I learnt that living in the Dutch capital is about lifestyle. It surely feels that residents of the city have more freedoms than residents of any average metropolis. Seeing hundreds of thousands on their backs rather than in their cars strengthens that feeling. For people on bikes give an illusion of unhurried and relaxed life. Well at least a relaxed way of commuting.

Then, of course there is the population's tolerance and acceptance, and the overall relaxed attitude towards sex, drugs, and those who love differently, for which Amsterdam became legendary. They do not pass judgement on others lightly and it not based on people's appearance and what they are. It is everyone's freedom to choose their way of life, and this is respected. And this is what makes Amsterdam a fascinating and colourful place.

Sights:
The Waag
The Waag
The main sights of Amsterdam include: Royal Palace, Oude Kerk, Nieuwe Kerk, Sint Nicolaaskerk, Waag, Begijnhof, Munttoren, the famous Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt), the Old Jewish Quarter, the Red Light District, Rokin street lined with fabulous 1800s mansions, the Jordaan district with small canals and diverse architecture, and the house of Anne Frank (well, it is firmly on the map, and I guess it worth a visit, if history is a big thing for you).

Amsterdam is also rather famous for its world-class museums. If only to mention the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk's (all three next to each other), the Allard Pierson's, Van Loon's, Jewish Historical, the History Museum... Plus there are houses of Stedelijk and Rembrandt in the city open for visitors.

If I were to recommend visiting the canals, it would be those with best architecture and character: Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Herengracht, Singel, Bloemgracht, Brouwersgracht, Leidsegracht and the main river Amstel.

Accommodations:
In the heart of the city
In the heart of the city
There are hundreds of hotels and a good number of hostels, but few are of good value. Those located in the centre, inside the cobweb of the canals, have tiny rooms, not much larger than a bed inside them, have shared bathrooms or shower cabins fit inside a small cabinet or a wardrobe - all for over €60 per night. Some of the hotels are grouped in clusters, and often there are over ten hotels right next to each other. So, if you have not booked, it makes sense to shop around.

I stayed in a few hotels in Amsterdam. Several times in the Hilton (not terribly in the centre, but can be a great value when they discount weekends), a couple of times in the Le Meridien (plush but really expensive), and a few budget hotels. Last time, I chose the Bema Hotel, at Concertgebouwplein 19b, near the museums. It had small rooms with shared bathrooms (some had a washing basin in the room) for €65 twin, but the common area was very nicely decorated with plush sofas and colourful cushions.

Nightlife:
In the heart of the Red Light District
In the heart of the Red Light District
Well... many would come to Amsterdam specifically for its vibrant nightlife, if the museums were not their cup of tea. The number of clubs, bars, cafes, pubs, discos in the city is not necessarily uncountable, but there is a very good number of them. There are few clusters at the Leidesplain, Rembrandtplein, around Nieuwendijk, Kalverstraat and Oudezijos streets near the Red Light District (RLD). The RLD is safe to walk around at night despite the appearances and the myriad of establishments offering adult entertainment, including theatres showing live sex performances (e.g. live porn), open also during daytime, when organised groups of tourists (no kidding!) come to see the shows. Clubs open at different hours and often follow a specific theme, which changes each night. A regular bar may turn gay on certain nights allowing only guys or gals, but on another night, it could be just a teens' meat market. But there few bars and clubs that stick to their theme consistently.

Hangouts:
Prinsengracht
Prinsengracht
Although I am not a great fan of canal cruises, or river cruises or any kind of cruises, those in Amsterdam are actually worthwhile. The canoe-like but covered long boats glide in the canals fitting under many low bridges. The captains are real masters of navigation. They manage to avoid running into other boats or into the bridges. Sometimes, there are many boats around trying to fit under the low arches...Anyway, the cruises are great to see some of the great architecture of the canals and the 1200 or so bridges. Well, a cruise would only pass through 100 bridges perhaps. I know it sounds trivial to do a cruise like that because almost everyone does it. But it can be a great fun and good hang out.

Amsterdam is famous for its coffee shops. The term is used for a place where one can legally acquire marijuana joints and smoke them there. Of course this is not a requirement and coffee is always available. Incidentally, 'coffee shop' elsewhere in Europe means a completely different thing.

Restaurants:
One the side streets with plenty of eateries
One the side streets with plenty of eateries
What a fabulous thing has been implemented on Amsterdam's streets - a burger machine. It is like cigarette dispenser, but it dispenses hamburgers. One chooses a type and toppings and there it is. The machine heats up the 'item' and no-one walks hungry, even in the middle of the night, when everything is closed.

First time I came to the city, I was impressed with the number of Asian and African restaurants, particularly Indonesian. Many of them did takeaways and even provided semi-finished dishes for people to enjoy finishing up at home - like the rectangular prawn crackers. This is also where I discovered satay sauce. The Sie-Joe (Gravenstraat 24-A, 1012 NM), unpretentious small Indonesian restaurant-cafe is now 25 years old and is as ever very popular (€8 mains).

As addicted to Thai food, I had to try the Top Thai Restaurant (Herenstraat 28, 1015 CB), hoping to be the top one. And it was. The menu was comprehensive, food super, authentic and reasonably priced (€11 mains, €5 starters).

Other recommendations:
Bicycle...
Bicycle...
Driving in Amsterdam is a total nightmare, and finding a parking place is simply a mission impossible. Plus, parking a car in town is very expensive (about €30 per day), so the best way to move around is on foot (Amsterdam is not very big at all) or by bicycle, like the vast majority of the local population do. Hiring a bike is easy and cyclists have right of way almost everywhere. It is rather funny to see how un-fancy the bicycles in Amsterdam are. The all look vintage. The trick is to get a cheap bike, as they are often stolen, and if one loses a bike, it is better to lose a cheap one... Also many bikes are lost in the canals. Legend has it that the canals of Amsterdam harbour more bikes than there are people living in the city.

Published on Monday February 9th, 2009


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Sun, Feb 22 2009 - 07:43 AM rating by fredlonterm

My compliments. You like to love Amsterdam very much. Beautifull city. Beautifull report.

Tue, Feb 10 2009 - 07:18 AM rating by pesu

Krys, I love walking around in Amsterdam and your report reminded me of the reasons for it!

Tue, Feb 10 2009 - 03:56 AM rating by porto

Great report Krys,I remember the tour guide there telling me that people actually go fishing in the canal-for bikes!

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